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Sep 28

Read The Whole Letter!

Imagine a soldier in a fox hole in World War II. He receives a letter from the woman he married right before he shipped out to the front lines. As the bullets zip past his head and he hears explosions around him, he finally gets a few moments to pull the letter out from inside his helmet (where he’s held it for safe keeping) and reads the handwritten note. His friend asks him what it says.

“She said she went to the store yesterday!” he answers.
“Is that all it says?” the confused friend asks?
“Of course not. She wrote quite a lot, but I wanted to spend time thinking about this one sentence, I’ll eventually get to the rest of it—but this sentence is really important. It means a lot to me.”
“But why did she go to the store? Why did she tell you about it?”
“I don’t know yet, I really just want to meditate on her telling me that she went to the store.”

That makes no sense! Nobody who receives a letter would take one sentence, ignore the rest of the letter, and meditate on that one small section. That’s not how letters are read. If we did read them that way, we’d miss out on so much. Why did his wife go to the store? Was she sharing about her day to give him a sense of connectedness and normalcy as he’s fighting a war? Or was she letting him know she went to the store to pick up a pregnancy test because she thinks she might be expecting a baby? Context makes all the difference. Without knowing what comes before and after it, the sentence is an abstract statement devoid of any significance in the letter. That’s why people read all of it. At once.

What we know as the book of Ephesians, is a letter. It was written to the church in Ephesus in the first century AD. Just as it makes no sense for the soldier to read one sentence from his letter, it makes no sense for us to read one verse and ignore the rest of the letter of Ephesians. Yet this is what we often do. We take one verse, ignore what surrounds it, and spend time thinking about that one sentence or section. I catch myself doing it all the time. I actually did it today!

In order to prepare to write the sermon study guides every week, I read through the passage of scripture, commentaries, and the sermon Talbot is preaching. As I was reading this week’s scripture, for some reason I honed in on the part about children obeying their parents. I focused so much on verses 1-3 that I completely missed verse 4. Then as I was reading through a commentary, something about verse 4 stuck out to me and I realized I had paid no attention to it. So I read through it and started to think about that. After a few minutes of this I finally realized I was doing only marginally better. I was still ignoring the rest of the letter in forming my thoughts about verses 1-4. So I expanded out until eventually I read all six chapters of Ephesians. When I did that, I saw something I never had before.

The entire letter of Ephesians is based on the foundational argument that Jew and Gentile Christians have been brought together into one family in Christ. Through Jesus, Jews and Gentiles are “…members together of one body, and sharers together in the promises of Christ Jesus.” It is this principle that Paul expounds and teaches over the six chapters of this letter. As we move into chapters 5 and 6, Paul brings this theme of ‘one family’ into the every day lives of people in their own households. He addresses three different relationships from within a first century Greco-Roman household (husbands & wives, children & fathers, and slaves & masters). As a direct reflection of the unity and peace brought between Jews and Gentiles through Christ, Paul urges both parties within each of these three relationships to reflect the reality that has been given to them as members of God’s household. He addresses each group, giving them each tasks which honor and love the other well. Their theology, how and what they think about God, is supposed to have a direct impact on how they treat one another. Far from being an academic exercise, the theology Paul lays out for the Ephesian church, should have a direct influence on the day to day lives of each of the members of this local congregation. This is why not only theology matters, but why reading all of a letter matters. Without this undergirding principle of unity in Christ, the directives he gives to husbands, wives, children, fathers, slaves, and masters would just devoid of real meaning—and ultimately probably fail.

For Further Conversation:

1.) How would you rate the level of anger in the home you grew up in?

Peaceful ————————————————————————-Eruption

2.) If yours was an angry home, how often were you the target?

3.) With the perspective of hindsight and today’s message, how do you reflect on your answer to question #2? Were you merely the target of deflected anger? Meaning: were the adults in the home powerless to express anger to the influential people in their lives so they took it out on you as one who was convenient?

4.) Last week’s message beat up on King David. As you check Wednesday’s reading from II Samuel 9, how does his behavior toward helpless Mephibosheth alter your opinion of him? How would you compare David’s public face with his private one?

5.) Think about the people in your life who bear the brunt of your anger. Are they substitutes for someone or something else? Someone or something too powerful for you to take on? How will you make that situation right?

6.) The message drew a distinction between being aggressive and being assertive. What steps will you take this week towards assertiveness?

7. Who will you invite to Week 4 of Mad People Disease?

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