Today’s reading covers four of the Apostle Paul’s letters: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. The last three of these letters were written by Paul while he was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One of the characteristics of Paul’s writings is his passion for Jesus Christ and for Christ’s people, the Church.
The Church and Christ are so closely identified with each other that one of the most common New Testament images used for the Church is the body of Christ. For example, in Ephesians 5:22-33, the Apostle Paul gives instruction to husbands and wives. In short, Paul exhorts husbands to sacrificially love their wives like Christ loves the Church. And wives are to respect and submit to their husbands like the Church does to its Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the husband and wife are said to be one body or flesh (Eph. 5:28-31, referring to Gen. 2:24), just as Jesus and the Church, His body are one (Eph. 5:32). The oneness of the husband and wife is the basis for their mutual responsibilities to one another.
The oneness that exists between Jesus and His disciples is so important to Paul that he uses the phrase “in Christ” to describe the Christian’s new standing before God over and over again in his letters. For example, in all three of his prison letters that are covered in today’s reading, Paul addresses the Christians in this typical way at the beginning of his letters: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…….To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1). Even though followers of Christ may be citizens of cities like Ephesus or Windsor, and even though we may be teachers or accountants, and even though we may be male or female, the most fundamental part of our identity and position is that we are Christians and we are positioned in Christ.
For example, in Galatians 3:28 we read these words: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Furthermore, when we trust Christ, everything that has happened to Him has happened to us by virtue of our union with Christ. In Colossians 2:11-13 and 3:1-4, Paul teaches that the Christian has died with Christ to our old life, where the flesh (i.e. our self-centered ego which doesn’t submit to God) dominated, and we have been raised with Christ, where the new center of our lives is not “the big I” but the resurrected Christ.
As the Christian lives out this union with the resurrected Christ by faith and obedience to Him, he/she is able to walk in victory over his/her sinful and selfish desires and bear fruit for God (see also Paul’s teaching in Romans 6:1-14). We don’t live a victorious and holy Christian life by trying harder in our own ego strength. This will only bear the fruit of defeat and frustration (i.e. spiritual death). No, I live a victorious and fruitful Christian life as I learn to live out by faith my union with Christ through yielding to His indwelling Holy Spirit.
The most foundational term Paul uses for the Christian in His relation to God as he/she lives out his/her life on this earth is “in Christ”. Our joy and victory depends on understanding this concept and learning to live out of this deep union with God which Christ has made possible through the cross of Calvary. In Christ’s love and service, Pastor John