The Bible was written to ordinary people. That’s something that can sometimes get lost in the discussion. We can think of early Christians as fundamentally different from us, but they’re not. Paul writes, in Ephesians 1:1, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus.”
We begin with their Status: Paul calls them “saints.” This letter isn’t for super-Christians, as though those even exist. We have a very different understanding of “sainthood” in our day from what the Apostle is talking about. In some churches, to be a saint you must have enough good works to cover yourself and others who will pray through you. It requires a lengthy process. Saint candidates in those traditions are vetted more thoroughly than most political candidates.
On the other hand, others consider saints to be those people who are holier than others based upon their actions. You will sometimes hear someone say, “You’re such a saint!” In fact, it can even be considered an insult to refer to someone as holy or saintly. I remember when I worked in restaurants, some people would apologize for using curse words around me. While Paul will go on to speak of how these saints ought to live, for him it is more a statement about their status than it is about their actions.
To be holy means to be set apart, made holy, or consecrated by God. This is what we read throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament Moses was commanded to make all the parts of the tabernacle and the furniture holy, to set them apart for God’s service. The things were set apart because God had made them so. This is what it means to be a Christian. It means one is set apart. It is God’s will that has saved us, and it is his actions that have saved us and so we belong to him, we have been set apart for his service.
Next, we consider where they lived. There is a great deal of debate about where this little letter was headed. Many of the early manuscripts do not have the phrase “in Ephesus.” Ephesus was the largest city and church of what was known as the Asia Minor region. The letter was most likely circular to all the churches in that area but most of the manuscripts that have been preserved do bear the name of this particular church at Ephesus.
This is an important fact for us to consider. As I said, Paul did not write to super-Christians, and neither did he write to a region where Christianity was spreading like “wildfire.” The early church suffered under a great deal of persecution. But even when there was not active persecution, the region of Ephesus was an incredibly pagan society where believers were tempted at every corner. There were temple prostitutes that tempted men and women alike to sway from their marriage relationships. There were idols on every street corner.
Paul is writing to encourage these ordinary Christians who live in ordinary circumstances to be encouraged in their salvation. By the Holy Spirit, he was writing to us today. We don’t live in Ephesus or any of the other cities of Asia Minor, but we are just as out of place in our culture as they were in theirs. There is a real sense in which they were in “two places at once” — in Ephesus and seated in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 2:6). The same is true of Christians today. We need to hear this message that Paul writes to them in this letter.
Lastly, we note that they are the “faithful in Christ Jesus.” Paul makes clear that the author of his salvation is also the author of theirs. This notion of “faithful” is not necessarily speaking of actions, but of their believing in Christ Jesus. It speaks of how we are saved. The salvation of believers is grounded in the historical work of Christ, but it is applied to the believer through faith. Paul will go on in chapter 2 to detail this faith and show that it is a gift of God and that it is not alone but is accompanied by all other saving graces. Salvation is all of God, but it is worked out in the life of believers. We are called to have faith and to be faithful to the one who has called us.
— Pastor Everett Henes, the pastor of the Hillsdale Orthodox Presbyterian Church, can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.