Sunday School: We Are God's Handiwork
We're so glad you decided to join us today!
When we meet in person, we share our joys and concerns. Take some time to consider the past week, and any prayer requests you might have. You can share these in the comments. Today is also the last Sunday before Thanksgiving and before Advent starts. What are you thankful for at this time? We would love for you to also share something you are thankful for. When you are ready to start the lesson, use this prayer written by Samuel F. Pugh to get started.
O God, when I have food,
help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work,
help me to remember the jobless;
When I have a home,
help me to remember those who have no home at all;
When I am without pain,
help me to remember those who suffer,
help me to destroy my complacency;
bestir my compassion,
and be concerned enough to help;
By word and deed,
those who cry out for what we take for granted.
Today's lesson is on Ephesians 2:1-10.
Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians while he was a prisoner of the Roman Empire. If he wrote during his imprisonment in Rome mentioned in Acts 28:30-31, then he was living in his own rented house and could receive visitors. These visitors could be both his fellow Christian workers and those interested in hearing more about Jesus. He was not in a dark dungeon, as we might imagine a prisoner to be.
Paul's prison letters do not suggest that the misery of his condition dictated his outlook. After all, he could not move about as he pleased. He faced the threat of a judgment against him that could mean his execution. Paul repeatedly emphasized that Christians have an exalted place in God's plan.
Paul's readers were also in a difficult position. Their new faith put them at odds with the world around them. Many of their familiar relationships had been cut off. Those with Jewish backgrounds were sometimes no longer welcome in the synagogue. Those of Gentile background were no longer to participate in the worship rites of paganism. Christians were suspected of wanting to undermine the foundations of their communities.
Paul's message to the Ephesians emphasizes the perspective of God. From God's throne, Christians are not downtrodden but victorious. They are not rebels against the community but God's agents of renewal for the world. Then and now, Christians are the grateful recipients of everything God has done. We live together as God's temple. But this status is not something we have deserved or earned. The work was all God's.
1. Dead in Sin (verses 1-3)
Paul's opening moves from God's display of power in Christ to the results for humanity. Spiritual death is a consequence of our transgressions and sin. Being guilty of rebellion against God makes us deserving of death. Death is the consequence of sin. To die in one's sins is to be eternally separated from the Lord, with no hope of life following death.
Paul talks about "the ruler of the kingdom of the air." Our book says Paul and his readers were acutely aware of evil influences that attacked them. The leader of evil spiritual forces is unnamed here but corresponds to the devil later (Ephesians 6:11-12). It also says that "of the air" refers to the spiritual nature of the influences.
Before they came to love and submit to Christ, Paul's readers may have believed themselves to be free. But that was not always the case. First, they had followed the ways of this world. Second, they were serving the ruler of the kingdom of the air. Third, all people have been driven by personal cravings of our flesh, and its desires and thoughts.
Because of this, everyone deserved the wrath of God. Anyone outside of Christ deserves this fate. Our book notes that Paul says "by nature," indicating that we have an inherent tendency to sin. This means that no one can live a perfect life. We cannot earn salvation.
2. Alive in Christ (verses 4-10)
The only reason we do not face God's wrath is because of his love and mercy. Without that, we would have no hope.
Life before Christ was one of being dead in transgressions. But as Christ has been raised from death to resurrected life, so too are we made alive. We are already transferred from death to life. But it also promises a resurrection to come.
Even more, just as we are resurrected from the death of sin with Christ, we ascend with Christ to the heavenly realms. By God's grace, we share Christ's victory. We will serve as a demonstration of God's marvelous grace forever.
But this salvation is by grace. The salvation God offers is of no effect unless accepted through faith on the part of the one who is dead in sins.
Our book explores a little bit of the original Greek in verse 8. Our translation reads:
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--" Greek nouns and pronouns have genders (male, female, neuter) that must match. Both the Greek words for grace and faith are feminine. There are two pronouns in bold in the verse as written above. The word translated this is neuter, which matches neither grace nor faith. The word it has been added to help reading in English. So our book says that the gift of God being referred to is actually God's system of salvation.
There are no works we can do to be saved. There are no actions we can take to make us worthy. At times, everyone will have failures, yielding to self-centeredness and gratification. We have no room for boasting, only humility.
While works will not save us, we should have purpose. We are instruments of good works. I think this is best summarized in James 2:18b, "Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds."
If we are new to faith, we may feel overmatched by our calling. If we have followed Christ for a long time, we may fall into a habit of thinking we deserve any good things or benefits we have. Paul reminds us to focus on Christ's abundance. Though our best is never good enough, we stand with Christ by his action. Whatever is good in our lives is now the result of freely receiving God's gift.
O God, your mercy is everlasting, and your truth endures through the ages. May we receive your gracious gift afresh. And may we, as your handiwork, live lives that fit the richness of your grace. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Questions for Discussion
Today's benediction is from the New International Version.
Next week's lesson will be on Ephesians 6:10-18.
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We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.