2: Power & Ephesians

This is part 2 of a mini-series on power.  I am working on communication the biblical notion(s) of power in a way that is intelligible.  This post reveals less about the biblical notion of “principalities and powers” and more about what I call “Resurrection Power”.  But one subverts the other.  Many at our church found this example below to be very helpful, so I felt it might work to share it here.

In May of this year,  I taught a class on Ephesians at our church titled “Practice Resurrection.”  As I planned and studied for that series, I couldn’t shake the idea that the context that Saint Paul was writing to needed to be established in a creative way.  My epiphany about the letter itself was this:  Saint Paul is writing essentially about Power & Weakness.  He is calling them to redefine both according to the Resurrection & the Cross.  Paul is asking them to forsake power and give themselves to the self-denying way of the cross, imitating Jesus (4-6).  And he is promising them that their reward is a new sort of power – resurrection, new life (1-3).

The book, according to this model, could be broken down in two basic parts:

(1) “You have access to resurrection power.” (Chapters 1-3)

(2) The Way you access that resurrection power, is through dying to self, cross-shaped discipleship. (Chapters 4-6)

But as I prepared to launch the class, I still felt I needed a creative way to establish the Ephesian context.  How does this message of resurrection power and cross-shaped discipleship sound on the ears of a 1st century Ephesian Christian?

So I came up with this idea.  We would have two people, representing two different segments of Ephesian life, power & weakness.  They would read about life in Ephesus at that time.  I had two guys on my discipleship team read.  They even wore t-shirts that read “power” and “weakness”.

Below is what they read.  A dialogue between power & weakness.

Power – Hello.  My name is Power.

Weakness – Hello.  My name is Weakness.

Power – I know what you are thinking.  You are thinking that the two of us don’t belong together.

Weakness – But we do… belong together. 

Power – Why is it, I wonder, you think we are opposite, when we are not?

Weakness – It is because you have been schooled in a language that is foreign our World.

Power – Yes.  And that language has taught you certain definitions, certain synonyms for who we are.

Weakness – But we are not who you think we are, regardless of your schooling.

Power – That’s right, so perhaps we should better introduce ourselves.  I am Power, and I am a divine force that overcomes all things related to death.  I am found in Weakness.  You think, because of your schooling, that I am found in the high places; where there is wealth, and fame, and influence.   But I am not found in the places that built around self-interests and accumulations.  I am found in Weakness.

Weakness – Yes, and I am Weakness.  I am the means by which you discover true Power – power that overcomes all things related to death.  I am found in dying to self.  You think, because of your schooling, that I am not to be desired.  You think Life is found in pursuing your own agenda, gratifying your personal needs and wants, building in the country of “self”.  But I am not found in those endeavors, yet I am much to be desired.  Where-ever I am, there is with me true Power.  Not just any power.  God-power.  But to see me, you must have the eyes of faith, eyes that cause you to die to self.

Power – Paul wrote about “eyes” that see things rightly in Ephesians.  He said, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be opened so that you may know God’s incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is the same power that was at work in his mighty strength, which he exercised in Christ, when he resurrected him from the dead.”  You hear that, Weakness?  God’s people have access to Resurrection Power!

Weakness – Yes!  But Power, what do you think that means?  Does that mean we are like little gods now? 

Power – No.  That’s how the world thinks about Power.  Power is not just about flexing your muscles, spiritual or physical.  That’s what you call self-aggrandizement, not Power.  True Power, Power that Resurrects, is about triumphing over all things related to death and dying, sin and evil.  Power that Resurrects is about living with Energy and Hope.  Power that Resurrects always aims at the kingdom of God and it’s coming to birth in the world.   So I think about Raising to New Life – Resurrection.

Weakness – Wow!  That sounds mysterious and intriguing.

Power – It is a deep mystery.  Just like it is a mystery that you and I belong together.  What about you?  What do you think of when you think of Power?  What comes to your mind?

Weakness – I think of death.  I know that sounds backward – upside down even – it is what you might call a paradox.  Because you just said, True power overcomes all things related to death.  I would say, being Weakness, that there is one exception to that claim – dying to self.  So, I think of death – death to self.  Since you and I are so closely linked, so inseparable, we know that the only way to Power is through Weakness, self-dying Weakness. …  So I think of Dying to Self – You think of Raising to New Life.

Power – Wendell Berry once wrote in a poem: “Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction, Practice Resurrection.”  What do you think he meant by that?  Surely he didn’t mean for us to intentionally go in some “wrong directions” did he?

Weakness – I don’t think so.  I think he is being clever.  The world will tell you that the ways of Weakness  and of True Power are “wrong directions.”  The world has a lot invested in the things related to death – and pain, and suffering, and loss, and sin, and mourning.  The world has a lot invested in its false notions of Power – power that hurts others, takes from others, is self serving.  I think Wendell Berry is sparking our imaginations to say, “do something unexpected – try something different – don’t let the world catch you in its grip” 

Power – I like that idea – the idea that there is a more clever way to be human – a way to be cunning like the fox to overcome the world of sin and death.  I also like that phrase “Practice Resurrection.”  That’s beautiful!  It’s like Wendell Berry is saying there is a way to put Resurrection Power into practice – to rehearse Real Life, New Life, Resurrection Life, right here, right now, in the country of death.

Weakness – Yes doesn’t that just make your imagination come to life!?!?   But how do we do that?  How do we “Practice Resurrection?”

Power – We could start by reading and praying Ephesians.  Reading.  Praying.  Ephesians is this incredible letter that is both doctrine and practical life – both theology and folk-wisdom.  John Mackay once said, “Ephesians is pure music… what we read there is truth that sings, doctrine set to music…”  So Ephesians is this small but explosive letter that evokes our imaginations.

Weakness – Ooooh.  I like that.  “Evokes our Imaginations”  That’s not really how we think when we read one of Paul’s letters though, is it?

Power – No, not usually.  But we can!  Half this letter is written somewhat poetically.  We think some of the earliest Christians literally sang the prayers in chapters 1 & 3, and recited Targums (long poems) inspired by the verses 3-14 of the first chapter.  We don’t usually think of Paul as an “artist” but he sort of is!  And art – poetry, song, psalms – exists to evoke our imaginations, to fan the flames of vision and love and hope in our minds and hearts. 

Weakness – Yes.  Reading Ephesians well – reading it slowly, poetically, lovingly, patiently – will sort of make you “Come Alive” – In fact, that is EXACTLY what Paul prays will happen to those who read this letter, that they “eyes of their hearts will be opened”  Like when you wake up from a deep sleep and the morning fog in our eyes lifts and you begin to see more clearly!

Power – Amen!  But we need help reading Ephesians well.  What you just said is very beautiful, but how does it work practically?

Weakness – Great question.  First we need to just read and re-read.  Ephesians can be read in about 15-25 minutes depending on your pace.  We should read and re-read until the messages, images, doctrines, theology, rules for holy living, advice and wisdom just “become part of us.”

Power – Yes.  Eugene Peterson calls it “slow spiritual reading.”  It takes patience, but if we are serious about doing it, we wake up one morning and realize we had just been “dreaming scripture.”  So step one is reading and re-reading.

Weakness – Yes. And Step Two is Pray Ephesians.  Ephesians has two explicit prayers within it, and some scholars qualify as many as five sections of it as prayer.  Paul mentions prayer over and over in the letter.  Ephesians is meant to be prayed, and prayed with.  I recommend taking that beautiful prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 and committing it to memory over the next several weeks. 

Power – Yeah, I like that prayer – it mentions my name 3 or 4 times!   Is there anything else?

Weakness – Of course!  The most important piece!  Ephesians is meant to be “lived”!!!

Power – Absolutely!  I can only imagine the glory and beauty and love and transformation that would flow from a church that lived Ephesians – a church that “Practiced Resurrection” as a part of everyday life!  But we haven’t really studied Ephesians yet, so where do we begin?

Weakness – With us.  Power & Weakness.  Weakness & Power.

Power – Explain.

Weakness – Well, Paul paints this incredible picture of Resurrection Power, right?  You already talked about that Power – the sort of Power that overcomes all things related to sin and death.   And Paul woos us, beckons us, calls us, by captivating our imaginations – that we have ACCESS to this “incomparably great Power…”  And he explains later in the letter that Christian living – Resurrection living – happens when we die to self – when we choose Weakness.

Power – Yes!  We’ve all heard the passage in Ephesians 5:1 – “Be Imitators of God…”  but then Paul reminds us to be imitators of God means to be self-giving.  He says “So you should be imitators of God, like dear children.  Conduct yourselves in love, just as the Messiah loved us, and gave himself for us, as a sweet fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Weakness – Yes and at the beginning of Chapter 4, he talks about being patient, and humble, and “bearing each others burdens…”  And in when he talks about marriages he asks husbands and wives to be in mutual submission to each other, and he tells the husbands to “love your wife the way that Christ loves the church, and gave himself up for it.”  Weakness, self-dying weakness is ALL OVER this letter.

Power – Yes, and this letter is in two parts, the first three chapters are the doctrine, theology, poetic, mysterious chapters – and the last three chapters are the “rules for holy living” practical, pragmatic chapters.  The first three chapters paint this artistic and poetic theological vision – capturing our imaginations with this idea that we have access to Power – God Power – Resurrection Power – NOW!  And the last three chapters, tell us in very practical language – where the rubber meets the road language – HOW we get that power – through sacrificial love – Cross shaped love – “Dying to self Weakness”. 

Weakness – Yes and Paul is VERY practical in those last three chapters.  He offers advice for slaves and slave owners – and its all about dying to self.  He offers advice for marriages – and its all about dying to self.  He offers advice to the church family on unity – and its all about dying to self.  He offers advice for advice on parenting – and it’s all about dying to self.  Over and over it’s about dying to self.

Power – Yes, and dying to self requires faith – Faith that God will Resurrect – Raise us to new life – Give us Resurrection Power.  And so when we practice dying to self, even though the world says that is the wrong direction, we are “Practicing Resurrection”.

Power & Weakness – For this reason we kneel before the Father, from who his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  We pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through Faith.  And we pray that you being rooted and established in Love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to him is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever!  Amen.

 

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