Throughout the month of August, we’re taking a close look at 23 verses of the New Testament. They comprise Ephesians chapter one, which paints one of the Bible’s most comprehensive pictures of what it means for ordinary people to be “in Christ.”
“Pound for pound,” the New Testament book of Ephesians is quite possibly the most influential document in human history.
It’s true that Genesis, the Gospel of John, the Psalms, Isaiah, and Paul’s letter to the Romans are the big fish in the biblical pond. But the book of Ephesians, in just 155 verses, packs a theological wallop like no other.
In just a half dozen short chapters, Ephesians provides the home address for the Bible’s most important verses about salvation by grace (chapter 2); the most extraordinary prayer concerning God’s love and power (chapter 3); the most sharply focused statement on the ministry of lay people (chapter 4); the most significant word concerning the filling of the Holy Spirit (chapter 5); the most celebrated statements concerning marriage and parenting (chapter 5); and the Bible’s most vivid and memorable description of spiritual warfare (chapter 6). Throughout the book, the apostle Paul makes his most heartfelt case for unity – how knowing Jesus should break down the walls between different ethnicities and backgrounds.
Ephesians chapter one, however, stands above them all.
In a single, amazing run-on sentence (verses 3 through 14) Paul addresses the questions that still haunt every thoughtful human being: Who exactly am I? Am I a somebody or just another nobody? What do I have to do or who do I have to be in order to go to sleep at night knowing that my life genuinely matters?
Our study will include two special emphases.
First, we’re going to go slowly. We’ll stop to look carefully at words and phrases. Bible study is not a race. While there is obvious value in reading all of Scripture each year – something which many Christians endeavor to do every 12 months – philosopher and author Dallas Willard reminds us that it’s actually more transforming to master just 10 verses each year and to incorporate them into our lives.
The record for going at a slow pace through the book of Ephesians is probably held by Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, one of Britain’s renowned preachers of the last century. Lloyd-Jones took six years to preach through the book of Ephesians. When he got to chapter six, verse 10, which reads, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power,” he presented six consecutive sermons just on the word “finally.”
I promise that we’ll go a bit more quickly than that.
The second emphasis is more counter cultural. I’d like to encourage you this month to memorize Ephesians chapter one.
There’s an idea going around that memorization is for the birds. That’s why we have Bible app’s, right? Since most of us essentially carry portable computers in our pockets, we have all 31,102 verses at our fingertips. That’s a good thing. Praise God for technology. But having access to God’s Word is not the same thing as having God’s Word living within us.
As one observer put it, referring to his smart phone, “I can hold in the palm of my hand all the knowledge humanity has ever obtained. But mostly what I use this for is to look at videos of kittens and to argue with people I’ve never met.” In a recent survey, half of a large group of students interviewed in England – all of whom owned mobile devices – could not recall their own phone numbers. That’s because they didn’t need to know their own phone numbers.
But if you’re a follower of Jesus, you genuinely do need to know what Jesus says and how he conducted his life. It’s not enough to say, “Well, that information is available online should the need ever arise.”
Memorization helps us turn the Bible from just another resource “out there” to a deep well of wisdom “in here.” Scripture’s content slowly works its way into our thoughts, our conversations, our hopes, and our imaginations. We can be doing anything – folding laundry, frying bacon, standing in line at the bank – and the Holy Spirit will suddenly bring to mind something we have committed to memory.
But even if you choose not to do any memorizing this month, just pondering the words of the first chapter of Ephesians – savoring them, taking them to heart – can accomplish amazing things.
“I will set the Lord always before me,” says Psalm 16:8.
There are few better strategies for keeping God always in sight than by mastering a significant patch of Scripture.
And this chapter is a significant patch of Scripture. It helps us remember who we are and what on earth we are here for.
I look forward to accompanying you on this month-long journey!