(71) We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works – Ephesians 2:10

The next three of Paul’s letters – Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians – are written to churches he founded. They have different themes and pack a lot of teaching into their few chapters.

The theme of Galatians is justification – being made right with God – by faith. The churches that Paul and Barnabas founded in Galatia had come under the influence of Jewish Christians who taught that the Gentiles had to adopt Jewish customs, including circumcision, in order to become Christians. Paul emphasises his own Jewish background and heritage and yet says that we “know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). In every generation there has been the tendency to reduce Christianity to a set of rules and regulations – do this, don’t do that – but although this makes it easy to judge ourselves and others it leads to a sense of failure and guilt.

The answer is to live in freedom from the law’s demands and freedom to walk in step with the Spirit. As we do this daily we will see the fruit of the Spirit, which Paul describes as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV), developing in our character and we will be closer to obeying the law than if we try in our own strength.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians starts by describing our redemption as part of God’s overall plan, which was conceived before the world was created and will be brought to full implementation when everything in heaven and on earth will be united. He then describes how God’s grace to us is seen in that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). The best demonstration of love in the world does not come from self-made men and women but from people who allow God to work in them and through them.

When he turns to practical matters Paul emphasises unity in the body of God’s people and love for one another. He addresses relationships between wives and husbands, fathers and children, and masters and slaves, setting out radical teaching, including that husbands should love their wives, “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25) – a very high standard to aspire to.

He ends with advice about how to “take your stand against the devil’s schemes” by putting on “the full armour of God.” Using the picture of the Roman soldier he tells us to stand firm wearing “the belt of truth”, “the breastplate of righteousness,” the shoes of “the gospel of peace,” “the shield of faith” and “the helmet of salvation.” In the same way as this equipment safeguards the soldier in battle so these godly character traits provide us with a strong defence against the attack of the devil and the world around us who would like to see our faith destroyed. The only offensive weapon we have is “the sword of the Spirit,” a reference to the word of God which we are to use under the Spirit’s direction to provide guidance and truth for ourselves. Fully equipped with the spiritual armour we are also to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions” (see Ephesians 6:11-18), maintaining constant contact with our heavenly commander.

Paul wrote to the Philippians to thank them for a gift they had sent him when he was in prison. Despite being in chains his letter overflows with joy, his personal joy and his joy for them. He tells them to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) and not to be anxious about anything but to give everything to God in prayer, a practice that will bring us peace as we learn to trust in him.

Paul encourages them to love one another, humbly putting others ahead of themselves. He quotes from a poem, possibly an early Christian song, which describes how Jesus, despite being “in very nature God”, “made himself nothing” and came to earth as a man and humbly gave himself to die on a cross for us. It was his humble act that resulted in God exalting him “to the highest place” and giving him “the name that is above every name” (see Philippians 2:6-11). We should imitate Jesus’ humility in our relationships.

Those who think that Christianity is an easy option have not read the high standards that Paul sets before us.

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