Chosen in Christ Before the Foundation of the World (Thurs. Sept. 29)

The word of the day is “chose.”  Today we begin reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians with Ephesians 1:1-9.  Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia.  It was the residence of the proconsul and the seat of the courts of justice for the whole region.  According to tradition, Paul wrote to this vital center of ancient Christianity while imprisoned in Rome from 61-63 AD (OSB “Introduction to Ephesians”).  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.

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

Compared to all the business in his splendid city,  Paul’s assembly of the baptized hardly seems to count 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 to His sons, He has given an indescribable, heavenly inheritance (vs. 11).

God the Father has not chosen the Ephesians because of their goodness.  He has selected them for His special grace  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 has the Almighty God also made us His sons?  (NfPf1: “Homily 1 on Ephesians”).  Paul’s answer is God willed that “ we should be holy and without blame before Him” (vs. 4).

But Chrysostom comments that being holy and blameless is a “condition” of God’s choice” (NfPf1: Homily 1).  God has chosen us so that “our life and conduct” would reflect that choice.  The preacher says, “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).

For Reflection

As the baptized,  we must steer carefully between many hazards.  Among these dangers are the fatalism of the doctrine of predestination on the one hand and the Pelagian idea that salvation is a reward for good works on the other.  In general, we must make our way between the temptation to spiritual complacency and the anxiety of trying to earn the favor of God.  The safest way is taking Paul’s attitude of praise and thanks to God for His grace.

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