Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Are you without blemish?

Summary Statement: of Ephesians 1:3-5
God finds pleasure in adopting us into His family. He does not see all the ways we fall short or fail to live up to the standards we absorb from the world around us. God sees us as holy and perfect without defect.

Historical Context:
Alexander the Great had conquered vast territories in a shorter time than anyone else in recorded history. One of the reasons he was so successful because imported Greek values to all the areas he concurred. Alexander insisted on making major cities the center for education and philosophy.1 2
Alexander was driven by certain ideals. These ideals are reflected in Greek myths and poetry. The Greeks saw humans as the center of everything. The naked human form was the highest for of beauty and worship. The Greeks were driven by their ideal of beauty, courage, achievement. How good are you , how well can you climb to the top, how good looking are you, how brave are you... So Alexander wants to make the world Greek. He wants to take the Greek world view and wants to make it everyone’s world view everywhere.
He would conquer a city and in the process destroy it and then re-build. He would build a gymnasium A key idea of the Greek worldview is that it is holistic. So you would go the the Gym and you would offer incense to the Gods, you would do all these sports (discus, javelin,) sweat, work out, tone your body. And then along the edge of the gym would be all these classrooms where you would learn to write classical Greek, learn poetry, and philosophy, and the myths of the Gods. So you would send your kids to school each day and he/she would be immersed in the Greek world view. Ephesus had all the conveniences of a modern Roman city: a gymnasium, a stadium, theaters, and a central marketplace.3
The Greeks would build a beautiful temple to the Gods. In Ephesus Alexander would incorporate the Greek goddess Dianna and Artemis. The Greeks restored a huge temple to this goddess and increased its splendor and reputation 4 They made it the banking capitol of Asia minor bringing wealth and success.
The Greeks were masters of using mass media for propaganda. The theater in Ephesus, which had a seating capacity of some twenty-four thousand,5 would put on the stories of the Greek Gods. Often times a Greek theater would have no back and would be built in such a way that the back of the stage would overlook the city. So when you sat in the theater and watched these dramas featuring Greek mythology and philosophy your own city would be the backdrop 6, People would quickly begin to see their stories in the myths they encountered in the theater.
The main street of Ephesus connected the theater with the harbor and was flanked on either side by a colonnade. Another important feature the Greeks added to the the city was the agora, the marketplace, located southeast of the harbor bringing goods from all over the world to their doorstep.7 The people of Ephesus were able to dine on food from far off lands, wear fashions from exotic regions, and read literature from scholars they would never meet in person.
The Greek worldview was designed to just move in and take over. Something happens, however, when you begin to place the worth of a life on how much you achieve and how pretty you are. If your value comes from how pretty you are, if you worth comes from how you do at athletics, if your merit and standing in the community is based on how well you do in class and how clever you are you begin to view others in that same light. What subtly happens is you are going to end up putting worth on human life.
Soranus of Ephesus wrote “a practical guide to gynecology, obstetrics, and pediatrics.” In it he described a method of assessing the health status of newborns titled “How to recognize the newborn that is worth rearing.” He suggests that the following characteristics are indicative of a worthy infant: “... its mother has spent the period of pregnancy in good health, it has been born at the due time, when put on the earth it immediately cries with proper vigor, it is perfect in all its parts, members and senses, its ducts are free from obstruction and the natural functions of every member are neither sluggish nor weak ... conditions contrary to these indicate the infant not worth rearing.”
Classical Greek literature asserts this same philosophy. Aristotle said “As to the exposure of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live.” In his work The Republic Plato writes: “The offspring of the inferior, and any of those of the other sort who are born defective, they will properly dispose of in secret, so that no one will know what has become of them.” A deformed child just doesn’t fit into the Greek world view.
An infant that was deformed or even weak was viewed as a sign of divine displeasure. It was thought to be a curse from the gods. A family with a deformed baby must somehow have a problem with the gods. So they had to get rid of the baby because they didn't want any of that divine displeasure to rest on their household, and they certainly didn't want their neighbors to know, that would be a blow to the status of the whole family.
This gruesome practice, that was perfectly legal under roman law, is sometimes translated as exposure and encouraged throughout ancient Rome. To get rid of an unwanted infant one might resort to abortion (very risky in those days) or drowning, but the preferd method was infant exposure where, “the family would simply take the child out beyond the city and abandon it to die from exposure to the elements.”8
Ephesus had a mountain on the norther edge of the city. This mountain is considered by some scholars to be the sight of the baby dump, others place it closer to the main city gates. If you lived in this city in the ancient world, this is where you would take a deformed, weak, or unwanted child and leave it to die.
Since Ephesus was a large port city with commercial traffic coming and going to both Rome and Asia Minor it also became a slave trade center. A common practice in the ancient world was to raise children into young adulthood to be slaves. People would go up and would sort through the rejected babies looking for ones who might make good slaves. So they would look for deformed babies who still held some potential. They would then bring babies back home and raise them ether as personal slaves or to be sold.

Literary Context:
In Ephesians Paul addresses masters and slaves, so his intended audience is both masters and slaves. The people who first heard this letter would have included folks who had gone up on that mountain and sorted through babies who they thought might make good servants and it would also have included folks who had been raised as slaves, knowing full well their status was because they had been rejected at birth.

I. God sees us with our blemish (1:3-4)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 9
The word for blameless is ἄμωμοςa and it means “without defect, without blemish.’10 God chose you before the creation of the world to be holy and without defect. He looks at you and He doesn't see a long list of how you don't measure up. He sees you as holy and with out defect.

II. God chose us (1:5)
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will9
This is the verse that cinches it. God chose to go up the mountain and rescue us not to raise as slaves but for adoption into His divine family even before we were born. He did not just do this on a whim it is all part of His eternal rescue plan.

Original meaning:
It is doubtful that the first people who heard this got into a heated discussion about predestination vs freewill. The first people to hear this probably wept. Adoption for them was going up the mountain and taking the abandon babies that were all screwed up and raising them as your own.
Paul begins “in love God decided beforehand to make you His children.” This text calls out the idea that a deformity is a sign of Gods displeasure. This text says God is the God who hikes up on the mountain and brings home the unwanted, the discarded, and makes them part of his family.

Modern meaning:
Think of the messages we are sent about our value, our worth, and how we measure up or more likely all the ways we don't. We live in a culture that constantly reminds us that we are not good enough. If you go through a checkout isle you are confronted by a plethora of magazines telling you are not the right shape, you don't make enough money, you have bad hair... If you turn on the television or radio you are blasted by marketers telling you how bad your life is and how if you just had their product you could finally measure up.
According to this text the gospel is me coming to the place of realizing I was the baby on the hill left for dead and God hiked up there to get me. God created each of us, He chose us to be adopted into His family. He looks at us and does not see all the ways we fail or don't measure up to some standard. He looks at us and loves us, He takes pleasure in bringing us into His family.
If we can live this text it will profoundly effect the way we live. Every time we are reminded about our deformities about all the ways we fall short this text should leap into our hearts and onto our tongue. If we can take this text seriously we must recognize that God has some weird kids and He loves them all, even if we find them strange or even offensive.

Implications for Ministry:
The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once said "It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning.” The Church has a way of becoming a social club. If we are going to take this text seriously we need to accept that we are not called to be tolerant!
The very idea of tolerance implies enduring or putting up with something you don't like or value. Tolerance does not value people but simply puts up with their behaviors or beliefs. We cannot build authentic relationships with each-other on tolerance alone, because tolerance can only look the other way.
Tolerance might deal with differences, but it can't embrace us in full. God far exceeds mere tolerance, He showers all of us with grace. We are to represent God and so we must not just occasionally tolerate people we don't like, we too must show grace and acceptance.
The church should be a gathering of people where we can stand up and say we are wretched, and everyone will nod and agree and then remind us that we are also beautiful...
When we look through the eyes of Jesus, we begin to see new things in people. In the murderers, we see our own hatred. In the addicts, we see our own addictions. In the saints, we catch glimpses of our own holiness. We can see our own brokenness, our own violence, our own ability to destroy, and we can see our own sacredness, our own capacity to love and forgive. When we realize that we are both wretched and beautiful, we are freed up to see others the same way
God loves each of us just as we are, but he loves us so much he doesn't want us to stay that way. We must never confuse acceptance with agreement. Acceptance is not an agreement of people’s choices, beliefs, or behaviors. We must see ourselves as in-process, none of us has arrived or achieved some ultimate level of spiritually superiority. While we must always extend grace and acceptance to everyone, we should always hope and pray that none of us will remain spiritually stagnate.
There is a place for "appropriate judgment," but only among disciples who are in close personal relationships with each-other in which they have invited one another fully into their lives. This kind of judgment is done only in private and it takes the form of discernment and loving feedback. The end goal is for both disciples to be continually transformed by this relationship.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing.
The Apostle Paul to the church in Rome 58 A.D. (Rom 7:15-20)

Works cited:
1. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Ac 18:23). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
2. Discipleship Journal, Issue 32 (March/April 1986). 1986. NavPress.
3. Discipleship Journal, Issue 122 (March/April 2001). 2001. NavPress.
4. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Ac 19:27). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
5. Myers, A. C. (1987). The Eerdmans Bible dictionary (342). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
6. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Ac 19:29). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
7. Myers, A. C. (1987). The Eerdmans Bible dictionary (342). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
8. Price, Christopher. 2004. “Pagans, Christianity, and Infanticide.” www.christiancadre.org
/member_contrib/cp_infanticide.html Last accessed August 11, 2012.
9. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Eph 1:3–4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
10. Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (699). New York: United Bible Societies.

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