16 October 2012Ephesians 1:15-23
"I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance amongst the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of this great power." (vv. 17-19)
The body of Christ is a familiar image from the writings of Paul. In 1 Corinthians 12 the focus of the image is the need for all parts of the body to work together. For this writer, however, the focus of the image is Christ, who is the head of the body, the Church. The writer is using the word 'head' in at least two senses. Christ is the head of the Church - without which the other parts of the body cannot be effective - but Christ is also the heading under which every power in the universe is added up (verse 10).
Combining these universal claims with the repeated use of the words glory and power and the notion of election (verses 4, 11) it would be easy to think that here is a triumphalist theology, claiming the power of God for a new chosen people. What is missing from this picture, though, are the actual circumstances of the Christians being addressed. They were not the powerful of the earth, or members of the dominant culture, with the might of an empire behind them, as generations of Christians have been since. Rather, they were a small and persecuted minority, tempted to be fatalistic at the mercy of all kinds of powers and big names.
Authentic Christianity proclaims Christ crucified. This is always a matter of both glory and of shaken-ness. For a powerful elite to take the words of Ephesians 1 and use them to bolster their own sense of chosen-ness in life is quite a different thing from a group of slaves or refugees realising that God is greater than any other power in earth or heaven. When we are strong we need to remember that power is revealed in weakness and to be in solidarity with the world's 'little ones'. When we are threatened and know our weakness, we need to return to this passage, and the assurance that we are not forgotten, but are chosen by God, and that Christ is the one in the end in whom everything will make sense.
Think about the ways in which your church holds together glory and shaken-ness.
- To what extent is it a community that needs to remember that power is revealed in weakness?
- How far is it a community that needs not to be intimidated by powers other than God?