Toss the old labels
Some cringe at the question. Others beam with excitement.
“Tell me about your family?”
Maybe there’s a stigma. A bad reputation in the community. A poor support system. And this question makes you insecure.
Maybe there’s a helping hand. A good reputation in the community. A support system allowing you to thrive. And this question makes you prideful.
I’m excited to begin a new series today called “Family of God” through the Book of Ephesians. This week, I’m looking at Ephesians 1:1-2.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV).
A big part of family is identity. And identity influences how we live. Paul describes himself to his brothers and sisters in Ephesus as an apostle of Christ by the will of God (v. 1). He includes himself among them as he writes “our Father” (v. 2).
But Paul is also known as Saul. Notice what Acts 13:9 says. Luke writes, “But Saul, who was also called Paul …” (ESV). Not only does Paul have two names, he has an interesting background.
In Acts 9, we read about his miraculous conversion. While traveling to Damascus in order to persecute Christians, he is stopped by a bright light from Heaven.
“And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do’” (vv. 4-6 ESV).
Paul soon learns that he is God’s “chosen instrument” to share the gospel with the Gentiles (see v. 15).
So, the same man who once persecuted Christians is now identifying with “the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1 ESV). The apostle Paul now recognizes who his true family is. In Philippians 3, he makes this really clear.
He once described himself as “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness under the law, blameless” (vv. 5-6 ESV).
Now, he says, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (v. 7 ESV). He views everything else as dung compared to knowing Christ (see v. 8).
Paul has a new family. He has a new identity. And this drastically changes the way he lives.
Regardless of where you come from, what matters most is who you now belong to. Paul is a new creation in Christ, so he tosses away his old labels.
No longer is he a Pharisee. No longer is he a persecutor. No longer is he a legalistic Jew. He belongs to Christ now.
One of my biggest pet peeves is the following statement: “That’s how his [or her] family is. He [or she] will turn out the same way.”
The gospel destroys this thesis. When we come to Christ, we’re no longer defined by our past.
The words and ministry of Paul show this to be true. And it must be true for all of us who know Christ.
In Ephesians, Paul describes who we are in Christ. He describes a community that finds common ground in belonging to God and what it means to walk worthily as a member of that family.
If you’re a follower of Christ, you belong to the family of God. So, no matter how good or bad your earthly family is, you’re loved by the Father. No matter your past, you have a place at His table. And that’s a reason to rejoice.
The family of God is greater than our most disgusting labels. Just ask Paul.