Thomas Winger, the author of the Concordia Commentary series volume on Ephesians, convincingly writes that the hinge on which Saint Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians turns is baptism. It is everywhere in this epistle. Now, preachers should be mindful how we are still in the Christmas season, which stretches twelve full days until Epiphany, and baptism and Christmas connect in our appointed pericope.
Having penned his epistolary salutation, the Apostle launches into a multi-chapter didactic and very Jewish berakah prayer. This prayer teaches as well as intercedes. It also offers worship to the one and only living God — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the kind of prayer that prayerfully addresses the Lord in the hearing of others for their edification and instruction. Ephesians 1:3-14 opens the prayer (that ends at 3:21 with a doxology and Amen!) with one long multi-clause sentence.
Preachers should not get lost in the weeds grappling with its structure but focus on the big picture of the message, replete with rich liturgical function and rhetorical elements. Winger, again, is helpful when he writes that verses 3-14 serve as a, “…summary or table of contents of the material to be dealt with in the rest of the letter.” The chief theme stands rather inconspicuous: “In Christ.” So, all points discussed throughout the epistle will be articulated through the abiding reality of what it means to be, “In Christ.” Indeed, how being “In Christ” reorients our perspectives on creation, predestination, world history, personal identity, and the eschaton. As Winger states it: “In the unique context of Ephesians [this berakah prayer] also lays out Paul’s chief argument that all Christians find their true spiritual unity in their common, baptismal incorporation into Christ. They are, “In Him,” because they have been baptized into Him.” Verses 13-14 clearly illustrate Paul’s authorial intention to narrate the personal relevance of all points of doctrine in conjunction with baptism:
“But now in Christ Jesus you who at one time were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of partition, the hostility, in His flesh.”
Being “In Christ” reorients our perspectives on creation, predestination, world history, personal identity, and the eschaton.
There are consequences to viewing this epistle rightly through the lens of baptism. Predestination, mentioned here in verses 4, 5, and 11, cannot be divorced much less understood apart from baptism. Neither can the seal of the Spirit stated in verse 13 (and 4:30) stand apart from baptism. Nor, indeed, the Christian’s relationship to creation and the trajectory of global as well as cosmic history. Winger wonderfully sums up the all-encompassing scope of the pericope with these words:
“St. Paul, therefore, by alluding to Christ’s Baptism in a Berakah which praises God for all His cosmic saving works, sets down a presupposition for the argument He will make in the body of the epistle. It serves one of His major themes: The unity of Jew and Greek (all people) in Christ. Not only is Holy Baptism a Sacrament of which all Christians have partaken, but it also serves as a unifying act even more deeply in that every Christian who has ever been baptized has participated in the same act of Baptism and thereby has been joined to the one Christ in one body in his one death and resurrection.”
Thus, neither this text nor the Gospel text appointed for this Sunday can be articulated apart from how the Gospel of God, indeed, the very purposes of God in creation and redemption, bear upon each Christian personally and by name through their Baptism into Christ, which is the re-creating, saving act of God. In other words, Ephesians 1:3-14 is Paul’s repacking of the Christmas gift in terms of the personal and corporate implications of God so loving the world that He gave His only begotten Son.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Ephesians 1:3-14.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Ephesians 1:3-14.