A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians. 2:1-10. 3). Resurrected with Christ.
I sometimes wonder if good and thoughtful people have ever been more depressed about the human predicament than they are today. Of course every age is bound to have a blurred vision of its own problems, because it is too close to them to get them into focus. And every generation breeds new prophets of doom. Nevertheless, the media enable us to grasp the worldwide extent of contemporary evil, and it is this which makes the modern scene look so dark. It is partly the escalating economic problem (population growth, the spoliation of natural resources, inflation, unemployment, hunger), partly the spread of social conflict (racism, tribalism, the class struggle, disintegrating family life) and partly the absence of accepted moral guidelines (leading to violence, dishonesty and sexual promiscuity). Man seems incapable of managing his own affairs or of creating a just, free, humane and tranquil society. For man himself is askew.
Against the sombre background of our world today Ephesians 2:1-10 stands out in striking relevance. Paul first plumbs the depths of pessimism about man, and then rises to the heights of optimism about God. It is this combination of pessimism and optimism, of despair and faith, which constitutes the refreshing realism of the Bible. For what Paul does in this passage is to paint a vivid contrast between what man is by nature and what he can become by grace.
(Read Ephesians 2:1-10).
It is important to set this paragraph in its context. We have been considering Paul’s prayer (1:15-23) that his readers’ inward eyes might be enlightened by the Holy Spirit to know the implications of God’s call to them, the wealth of his inheritance which awaits them in heaven and above all the surpassing greatness of his power which is available for them meanwhile. Of this power God has given a supreme historical demonstration by raising Christ from the dead and exalting him over all the powers of evil. But he has given a further demonstration of it by raising and exalting us with Christ, and so delivering us from the bondage of death and evil. This paragraph, then, is really a part of Paul’s prayer that they (and we) might know how powerful God is. Its first few words emphasize this: ‘And you being dead…’ In the Greek sentence there is no main verb portraying God’s action until verse 5 (‘He made us alive with Christ’); the English versions bring it forward to verse 1 simply in order to ease the awkward suspense of waiting for it for so long. In any case the sequence of the thought is clear: ‘Jesus Christ was dead, but God raised and exalted him. And you also were dead, but God raised and exalted you with Christ.’
1). Man by nature, or the human condition (verses 1-3).
Before we look in detail at this devastating description of the human condition apart from God, we need to be clear that it is a description of everybody. Paul is not giving us a portrait of some particularly decadent tribe or degraded segment of society, or even of the extremely corrupt paganism of his own day. No, this is the biblical diagnosis of fallen man in fallen society everywhere. True, Paul begins with an emphatic *you*, indicating in the first place his Gentile readers in Asia Minor, but he quickly goes on to write (verse 3a) that *we all once lived* in the same way (thus adding himself and his fellow Jews), and he concludes with a reference to *the rest of mankind* (verse 3b). Here then is the apostle’s estimate of everyman without God, of the universal human condition. It is a condensation into three verses of the first three chapters of Romans, in which he argues his case for the sin and guilt first of pagans, then of Jews, and so of all mankind. Here he singles out three appalling truths about unredeemed human beings, which includes ourselves until God had mercy on us.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 2:1-3. a) We were dead.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|