28 November 2015

Us, them and the extensiveness of grace

After years of studying linguistics and the Old Testament prophets, I have learned to love grammar. There are layers in the text that we don't always see, and grammar is one of the ways that helps us look closely at the text to discover what it means.

I spent the last few weeks studying Ephesians 1. It's a wonderful text, full of praise to God and praise for what Christ has done to save us. There's only one difficulty, and it's significant - the difficulty in understanding and appreciating predestination and election. Many people - both inside and outside of the church - are bothered when they hear the idea that God has elected some (some being Christians, of course). It sounds like Christians think we are better and actually deserve more (even though the text and the Bible do not say that - and most Christians do know and believe that). It's just so easy to get into us vs. them thinking. We are special, they are not.

Looking at the text of Ephesians 1, there's also an us vs. them going on, or more specifically we vs you. In verses 11­-14, the text goes from talking about us – we were chosen in verse 11 - to you in verse 13 – and you also were included in Christ. In the prophets, this switching between them and you is a way for the writer to make sure that the people hearing the text also realize they are included in the message. The switch from them to you can be rather startling, kind of like a teacher calling your name in the middle of a class and asking you to repeat what they just said when you were obviously falling asleep.

Perhaps some of this is going on – that the people hearing or reading this text – are being reminded that you, too, should be praising. At the same time, I would expect us automatically to include ourselves when the text talks about us, especially when it's good news (cf gospel in v. 13)!

So what else might be going on with this switch in pronouns? The you in the text here – the ones to whom the book was being written ­ were Gentiles. The inclusion of the Gentiles in the gospel did not happen smoothly, as can be seen in the book of Acts, especially chapter 15.

As Christians we often focus on election begin about how good I am. Yet, the people hearing the text would have heard again and again that they had NOT been chosen. The Jews were the ones chosen, and not Gentiles. The switch here from we to you thus says not only that they have been included, but also us. When it comes to election that switching of us and them makes all the difference, it's the idea that even I got chosen. I did not deserve it, in any way shape or form, but yet even though I thought I should be excluded I got to be included. It's like getting into med school after being rejected by three other schools, not just this year but also last year.

The text here in Ephesians is pointing to grace being much bigger than we expected. Paul is saying that people who we expect to be excluded – like me, because I know I don't deserve it ­are actually included. We have been chosen, even though we have done nothing to deserve it. If we let this good news settle in, how can this not turn us towards God in praise and thanksgiving and a desire to follow Him?

Much of this text was excerpted from a sermon on Ephesians 1 preached Thanksgiving Day 2015 at River Terrace Church.

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