Embracing Mystery: Reading Somebody Else’s Mail

Reflections from Dr. Howell

We might think of Ephesians as a “book of the Bible.” But it was a letter, probably dictated by Paul to a scribe, jotting down his words as he paced a room, talking out loud. I wonder if the scribe had to say Slow down! Or if his jaw dropped in wonder at what was rolling off Paul’s tongue?

With Ephesians and other letters in the Bible, we are reading somebody else’s mail. It wasn’t private, but it was personal. Paul expected it to be read aloud to the handful of Christians that were the church in Ephesus, and then circulated to other little house churches around the Mediterranean. I doubt he anticipated we’d be reading it 2,000 years later. But God is good, and here we are.

God’s Word works like that. It’s a personal letter to people in a historical situation long ago and on the other side of the earth. But it still speaks to us, not because Paul muttered timeless truths, but because he spoke a timely word to them, and as we overhear, we detect something timely for our day and situation. That’s how the “inspiration” of the Bible plays out, doesn’t it?

Paul, like all ancient letter writers, signs his letter with his first word: his name! Did he ever have a reputation! He had been a ferocious foe of the Christians; he “had persecuted the church and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13). He looked on with approval as Stephen was stoned to death for his faith in Christ (Acts 7:58). Then Jesus, in a bright light and loud voice from heaven, laid him out – and nothing was ever the same for this ex-persecutor.

Imagine the shock, the trembling fear Christians thus felt when Paul showed up after his conversion! And yet, what more compelling witness could there be than this zealous foe of all things Christian then risking life and limb to be its most zealous ambassador?

So on Thursday we will begin our slow, reflective read through Ephesians. I’ll release it in small portions, via more frequent but very short emails, FB posts and Instagram videos. Enjoy! Share with friends. Respond as we move along. And thanks for sharing in this pilgrimage with me.