Summary: Taken from Ephesians 1, this series delves into the riches that we know through our relationship with Christ.
After 13 years, I feel it’s time to come clean, to be vulnerable, to share some deep secrets with this congregation. So here goes:
• My first childhood crush was Agent 99.
• The first time I was on a TV game show was when I was in 6th grade—but it wasn’t the last.
• My nickname in high school was “Bunny”.
• I loved wearing disco shirts and my puka shell necklace.
• I was All-City at 2nd base in junior high in Roanoke.
• I failed twice to make the college soccer team.
• A friend of mine used to refer to me as “the tightest man on earth” (he quit doing that once he had kids).
• I’ve shaken hands with Little Debbie, Mean Joe Greene, Chuck Woolery, and a U.S. Senator.
All of these things, and much more, play some small role in my identity as an individual—but none of them matter a whole lot, frankly. There are, however, some very important truths in Ephesians 1 as to my true identity—and yours. Let’s look at them!
I. A Question of Identity
a. The Ephesian Identity Crisis
Ephesians was written by Paul to the believers in the church at Ephesus, but the letter didn’t stop there; it was sent further, making its way to other churches of Asia Minor, such as Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and perhaps others. This region, as you can see on the map, is modern-day Turkey, by the way. But for a moment, try to place yourself in the shoes of these Gentile believers, and perhaps you’ll begin to understand just why Paul says some of the things that he does in Ephesians 1:
• Received Christ through ministry of Paul; churches established
• Gentiles, not Jews
• At least to a significant degree, unfamiliar with Jewish culture and religious practices
• Rich history/lineage of national Israel was not theirs
• Jews could call readily to mind God’s wonderful works through the patriarchs/prophets; Gentiles couldn’t
• Further, one heresy Paul fought hard against—but which had made the rounds among much of Asia Minor—involved those who taught that Gentiles had to “become Jews” first, submitting to all sorts of Jewish rituals from the odd to the painful, in order to be right with God in Christ.
• Feelings of inferiority among Gentile believers? Outside looking in? 3rd wheel? Last one picked? “Inside joke”?
We can appreciate the identity crisis that might have been operating among some in the churches of Asia Minor, can’t we? Against this backdrop, Paul writes, from a Roman prison cell, of the riches we have in Christ, of the identity that characterizes Ephesian believers. In fact, the key verse for our summer study is Ephesians 1:3, a summary verse that gives advance notice of what is to come:
Scripture Memory verse for the summer:
“How we praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we belong to Christ.”
The believers of Asia Minor are in no way second-class citizens or outsiders looking in on the party; they have received everything that God has to offer them—and Paul spends the next few paragraphs detailing exactly these things. But the question is, of what value is this to us? How do Paul’s words to people halfway around the world two millennia ago have bearing on our lives? To answer that, let’s consider
b. Our Contemporary Identity Crisis
Sociologists suggest, as I’ve alluded to before, that there are three big questions that every person wants an answer to, and the first of these is a question of basic identity: “who am I?” Now, chances are that most of us don’t sit around for hours on end pondering this question, but chances also are that every one of us has sat and thought about our place in the cosmos at one time or another, wondering about life and meaning and purpose and identity. And the fact is that so many people—professing Christ-followers included—take their queues and find their answers to these questions from a whole host of sources, many damaging:
• Parents – “you’ll never amount to anything”
• Spouse – how many believe the lies that their spouses tell them?
• Peers – judged by what you own, your status, your ability, your looks. We have to keep up with the Joneses, don’t we, because so many of us care a whole lot more than we ought what the Joneses think!
• Society – you are a “consumer”; your identity lies in what you do; this is the exact opposite of a Christian understanding, which says that you do because of who you are, instead of being who you are because of what you do.
• Science – you are a product of evolutionary processes