“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:1-2, ESV).”
Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians with his standard greeting. Many of his New Testament letters begin this way with slight variations. At first glance, the greeting may seem innocuous to readers of Ephesians. It doesn’t flow that smoothly due to its complex syntax, and its endless stream of key bits of information multiply without pauses. In my estimation, this is a good thing because the richness of it requires the reader to digest it one clause or phrase at a time. Paul jam packs his greeting to the Ephesians with foundational truths about God the Father, God the Son, and their followers.
The apostle Paul starts the greeting by identifying himself as an apostle of Christ by the will of God. This brings to mind the apostle’s testimony before Agrippa about his Damascus road conversion wherein Christ reveals to him his mission and purpose (Acts 26:12-18). Paul doesn’t stop with identifying himself as Christ’s apostle. He adds a crucial qualifier that his apostleship is by the will of God. This commissioning by Christ reveals that the Father’s will was for Paul to become an apostle of Christ. Paul’s conversion and commissioning by Christ demonstrate the partnership between God the Father and God the Son.
There is a distinction between the Father’s role and the Son’s in Paul’s conversion and subsequent commissioning as an apostle. First, Jesus calls Paul on the road to Damascus, and tells him what he is to do as Luke records in Acts 26:12-18. Second, Paul uses the greeting to reveal to the Ephesian believers and to subsequent readers of his letter that his conversion and apostleship had been the Father’s will. Another way to say this is that the Son’s conversion and commissioning of Paul not only carries out the Father’s will, but it demonstrates it, too. The implications of this in Paul’s life are at least two: 1.) His ministry to the Gentiles bears witness to the character and life of Christ; and 2.) as Paul bears witness to the Gentiles about Christ, he’s demonstrating and acting on the Father’s will.
Finally, Paul reveals two important truths of his message to the Gentiles or in this case the Ephesians. He mentions these at the beginning of the second verse by saying, “Grace to you and peace…” (Ephesians 1:2, ESV). Grace refers to the unmerited favor extended toward undeserving sinners by the Father in the Son through the Spirit. On the Damascus road, Christ chooses and empowers Paul with his grace to be his messenger. This is stunning considering the fact that only hours previous Paul had supervised the martydom of Stephen. Clearly, Paul did not deserve such favor from Christ; however, this shows the sovereignty of Christ and the Father as demonstrated through the work of grace in Paul’s life. Because Paul experiences this sovereign grace in his life, he has the foundation and authority to declare grace in his ministry to the Gentiles.
When it comes to peace, Jesus’s words to the apostles in the upper room come to mind: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you…” (John 14:27a). No doubt Paul understands this truth even though John’s gospel wasn’t written at the time of Ephesians. Paul understands sovereign grace enough to know that peace comes with it; therefore, peace has its source in the Father and the Son. After all, Paul knows the Old Testament backwards and forwards, upside down and inside out as a former Pharisee. When he ministers to the Gentiles, Isaiah’s words might be fresh in his mind: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…his name shall be called…Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, ESV).
On the road to Damascus, Paul experiences grace and peace in Christ, who saves him and commissions him as a messenger of his grace and peace. Paul becomes an example of a life testifying of Christ to the Ephesians. The apostle’s entire letter is a reminder to the Ephesian believers of what they have received and how they should live in light of what they’ve received. This means that the Ephesians are examples of Christ’s work of grace, too; therefore, the scope and impact of Christ’s redeeming work extend beyond the Ephesians in Paul’s day, to all believers throughout history until he returns in glory. Anyone who encounters Christ, encounters his grace and peace, which leads to a life bearing witness to those divine attributes in her/his own life.
The apostle Matthew records the following words of Jesus: “…freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8b). May that characterize our lives as ambassadors of Christ’s grace and peace until he returns.