Two of a Kind?
One interesting (and probably meaningful) thing about the books of the Bible is that some of them seem to go together. There are books that form pairs or sets with other books. Sometimes this is because these books touch upon the same topic or theme. Other times it is because they are set in the same time period. Still other times it is because they have similar qualities.
And I’ve always thought Galatians and Ephesians were such books. I’ve always thought these two books go together. To be honest, my reasons for thinking this are pretty superficial. I’ve thought this simply because Galatians and Ephesians are next to each other and are about the same length as each other. I know that Galatians really makes a pair with Romans as far as content goes and Ephesians really makes a set with Colossians and Philemon.
But even though I know this, I still see Galatians and Ephesians as going together in some way. In fact, I see them as a kind of bridge or middle ground from the big and difficult books of Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Corinthians to the shorter and simpler books of Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. They seem to form a kind of the core or backbone of all Paul’s epistles. They cover much of the same topics as Paul’s other books but in a different way and/or with a different approach. I see them covering the entire Gospel message, in fact. But they cover the entire Gospel message with two very potent words: bewitched and blessed.
Bewitched is Galatians’ word. It comes in Galatians 3:1. There, Paul says, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” That statement summarizes the entire letter. It tells us that there was a problem in the Galatian churches, a problem much different and far worse than the problems in Corinthian churches, a problem that could be rightly compared to magical enslavement.
The Galatians had been tricked by false teachers who were using an ancient spell which is technically known as “works salvation” or “legalism” but which we might call “The Jesus And Spell”. These false teachers told the Galatians they needed Jesus and something else to be saved. They told the Galatians they needed works as well as faith. In fact, these teachers told them they needed works above faith, that they needed their own deeds more than they needed Jesus.
Falling Under the Spell
And the Galatians fell under this spell. They believed what the false teachers said, and as a result, they began to drift away from faith in Jesus. I’m not sure they realized they drifted away from faith in Jesus. Part of the nature of bewitchments is that they keep you unaware of what they are doing to you. But they drifted away from faith in Jesus nonetheless and fell into a way of life that was ugly, anxious, and mean.
This is something Paul could not let stand, and so he spends the entire book attacking it in various ways. He attacks it with history, showing that “Jesus And” is not and never has been the teaching of Jesus or the church of Jesus. He uses Scripture, quoting that same Habakkuk 2:5 verse he quotes in Romans 1:17. He goes after it with logic, showing that works are always inferior to faith. He attacks it with appeals to the new relationship with God people of faith have, saying that they are not slaves but children. He shows the Galatians the place works and obedience have in The Faith. He attacks it every way he can.
With these attacks, he makes a clear statement about what the Gospel is not. That’s what Galatians really is. It is a statement about what the Gospel isn’t. It tells us that the Gospel is not this ugly, anxious, mean “Jesus And” thing the false teachers of that time were claiming it to be it and the false teachers of our time still claim it to be.
Blessed is Ephesians’ word. It comes in Ephesians 1:3, which is effectively the first line of the epistle. There, Paul says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (By the way, Ephesians is one of three epistles which start with the phrase, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The other two are 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter.) Just as the “who has bewitched you” phrase summarized Galatians, so “who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ” summarizes Ephesians. Ephesians is about how God has blessed us through Jesus, about what blessings we have received from God through Jesus.
And Paul expresses these blessings in a very unique way. He expresses them with lyrics. Galatians was loaded with arguments and attacks. It had to be as it was written to combat a serious problem. But Ephesians is loaded with verses. Ephesians is, in fact, very much like a worship song.
This is why there are so many run-on sentences in Ephesians. You may have heard that Ephesians 1:3-14 is all one long sentence. This is true. But that is not the only long sentence we find in the letter. 1:15-23 is also one long sentence, and so is 2:1-7, and so is 2:8-10. The letter is full of them. Well, guess what else has long sentences? Worship songs. Worship songs don’t have punctuation or sentence structure. They just have chains of ideas. And Ephesians does as well.
A Lyrical Letter
So I think of Ephesians as “song-like”. It is not a song proper. Paul probably did not intend it to be set to music and sung. But it is lyrical like a song. It sets forth a simple and beautiful truth like a song. And that truth is a truth about being blessed. That truth is the truth of what the Gospel is.
So maybe Galatians and Ephesians go together, and maybe they don’t. Either way, what we have in these two books is error and truth. What we have in them is the ugliness we bring upon ourselves when we drift away from Jesus and the beauty we enjoy when we abide in Jesus. What we have in them is bewitchment and blessing.