The word of the day is “chose.” Today we begin the reading of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians with Ephesians 1:1-9. Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, the residence of the proconsul, and the seat of the courts of justice for the whole region. At the mouth of its harbor stood one of the “Seven Wonders of the World,” the Temple of Artemis (the fertility goddess Diana) (OSB fn. Acts 19:27). Paul spent almost two and half years there, the longest he would stay in one place in his missionary journeys. According to tradition, Paul wrote to this vital center of ancient Christianity while imprisoned in Rome from 61-63 AD (OSB “Introduction to Ephesians”).
In today’s reading, Paul greets “the saints” in Ephesus. He then begins a paean of praise and thanks to God the Father for “every spiritual blessing” He has bestowed on those He has “chosen in Christ” before “the foundation of the world” (vs.4). Imagine! Here in the capital of Asia Minor, the center of government, law, and commerce for the whole religion, Paul has planted a small but growing congregation of those who “trust in Christ” (vs. 12).
Claimed as God’s Own
In comparison to all the business of the empire that is going on in this splendid city, Paul’s assembly of the baptized hardly counts for anything. But Paul says that the Almighty God has singled out and claimed this group—this Church—to be His own. He has chosen them to be His sons (vs. 5) and to redeem them through the blood of Christ (vs.7). He has favored them with “all wisdom and prudence” (vs. 9) and has revealed to them the “mystery of His will” (vs. 9). And His sons, He has given them an indescribable, heavenly inheritance (vs. 11).
God the Father has not chosen them because of their goodness but because of His love for them in Christ (vs. 4). The Almighty’s grace for them was not because of some accident of history. It was His purpose from the beginning (vs. 4). The Creator gave them His favor not because they had deserved it by their good works but because of “the riches of His grace” (vs. 7).
The Purpose of God’s Choice
St. John Chrysostom shows us how to apply Paul’s words to the Ephesians to ourselves. The “Golden-Mouth” asks for what purpose, then, has the Almighty God made us His own sons? (NfPf1: “Homily 1 on Ephesians”). Paul’s answer is “that we should be holy and without blame before Him” (vs. 4). Chrysostom comments that being holy and blameless is a “condition” of God’s choice” (NfPf1: Homily 1). It requires that “our life and conduct” reflect that choice. The preacher says that “He hath himself rendered us holy, but then we must continue to be holy” (NfPf: Homily 1).
God has called us out of all the nations to be His own. That was purely by grace. Yet once adopted as God’s children, we should live as His offspring. Otherwise, this divine selection is in vain. The Orthodox Study Bible states that “God does not nullify human will. In everything, God is the originator, the initiator; we must merely respond, but our response is necessary (OSB fn. Eph. 1:4-6).
Yet even here in the call to live holy and blameless lives, grace prevails. For Chrysostom says that God’s choosing “comes not of any pains, nor of any good works of ours, but of love; and yet not of love alone, but of our virtue also” (NfPf1: Homily 1).
As we think of ourselves, the baptized, as God’s “chosen,” we must steer carefully between many hazards: Among these hazards are the predeterminism of “predestination” in the “doctrine of election” and the Western Pelagian view that salvation is the reward for “good works.” Again, we must make our way between the temptation to spiritual complacency and the anxiety of trying to earn the favor of God. Perhaps Paul gives us the safest way of negotiating these spiritual dangers. It is the attitude of praise and thanks to God for His inestimable goodness and His infinite love that has made us His own