Over the past few years I’ve taken several N.T. Wright Online courses. A few weeks ago I participated in Dr. Wright’s course on Ephesians, and I can say confidently that this was the most impactful and compelling course I’ve taken yet. I’ve returned to the content on more than one occasion. Without a doubt, this course has helped me become a better pastor. Here are five specific ways it does so.
1. It forces me to frequently ask the question, “How can I help the people in my church grow up in Christ?”
Ephesians can be summed up in two words: Grow up. Yes, that is exactly what I want for the people in my church: to grow into mature Christlikeness – individually, as a local community, and as the Church universal. I hope I never stop asking this question. I want it to drive my prayers, preaching, conversations, and interactions with my people, for it is the very essence of discipleship.
2. It reawakens me to read Scripture with different eyes.
N.T. Wright’s Bible translation, the Kingdom New Testament, is a tremendous resource, especially so with Ephesians. Having used this translation for the past few years, I’ve found the richness of Ephesians to be significant, making Paul’s words pop. Dr. Wright provides an important layer of texture on the canvas of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, helping us to marvel at the masterpiece just a bit longer, allowing us to discern and comprehend it’s depth of meaning.
Here are a few passages where the language “popped”:
“His plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king – yes, everything in heaven and on earth, in him” (1:10).
“I am the very least of all God’s people. However, he gave me this task as a gift: that I should be the one to tell the Gentiles the good news of the king’s wealth, wealth no one could begin to count” (3:8).
“So these are the gifts that he gave. Some were to be apostles, others prophets, others evangelists, and others pastors and teachers. Their job is to give God’s people the equipment they need for their work of service, and so build up the king’s body” (4:11-12).
What I realized later was that all of these verses refer to God as our King – the king’s cosmos, the king’s wealth, the king’s body. As Jesus commanded his followers to seek first the kingdom above all else, it makes sense that Professor Wright wants to draw our attention to what maturity looks like when we focus our attention, energies, and allegiances to the king Himself.
I’m quick to speak of God as Father, Rescuer, Redeemer, Creator – all of which are true. But I am not often quick to speak of God as King – my King and the King of the cosmos. Professor Wright’s reminder of this throughout his translation has pushed me and reminded me that God is our King and we are his subjects, which unleashes a whole slew of implications on how I – and our church – approach worship.
3. It bridges the context of first-century Ephesus to our world today.
In the first few lines of the introduction of the course, Professor Wright states,
“Ephesians is the book that brings together heaven and earth. So often in the West, we thought the whole point was to escape earth and go to heaven instead. Ephesians is the book where Paul emphasizes that the unity of the church is something that symbolizes this coming together of heaven and earth.”
Many churches in the West regularly recite the Lord’s Prayer; this course helps us realize the power of what we are praying in a local-church context when we pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.“ The course helps me remember once again that it is not about teaching our people to take earth to heaven when we die, but to bring heaven to earth as we live – right now. That is the power of the faithful witness of the Church here on earth. It’s Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – and Dr. Wright’s teaching on it – that reminds us that we are not called to participate in a church-shaped view of the kingdom, but in a kingdom-shaped reality of the Church.We're not called to a church-shaped view of the kingdom, but a kingdom-shaped reality of Church. Click To Tweet
4. It Stresses Paul’s theme of unity in the Church.
We need few reminders that our world is deeply divided. Politics, race, economics, terrorism, rights for minorities – this is the reality of the world in which we live on a daily basis. Dr. Wright highlights one of Paul’s major themes in the letter: to develop one new family out of scattered and fragmented humanity, learning to behave in a new way based on the new reality of Jesus.
All of this, of course, was in bringing together Jews and Gentiles, who for too long had been bitterly opposed to one another. God’s work of bringing together Jew and Gentile couldn’t be more poignant to our divided world today. This course reminds me once again that the Church truly is the living, tangible hermeneutic of God’s rule and reign in the world. It is not about unity for the sake of tolerance or any political agenda. Instead, it is about unity being found together in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus through the faithful presence of His people, the Church. To fight (in the best sense of the word) for unity is not simply a good idea; it is the foundation of growing up, maturing into life with Christ and in Him.
5. It reminds me of the essentiality of passion and pastoral presence.
It’s a rare treat when a world-renown academic can teach with both passion and a pastoral presence. Dr. Wright’s passion comes right through the screen of my MacBook Air. Even more so, I found Dr. Wright exhibiting a clear pastoral presence as he taught. Unfortunately, all too often I forget that my calling isn’t simply to love and care about the material being taught, but to love and care for the people who are receiving what is being taught. Professor Wright reminded me once again that a passion and a love for the text and the people are essential in ministry.Without a doubt, this course has helped me become a better pastor. ~J.R. Briggs Click To Tweet
The course found the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates of my life and calling. As Dr. Wright says in the course, “Paul may be in jail, but my goodness – he’s still got plenty to say.” Yes, indeed. In addition to Paul, I’m thankful for Dr. Wright, who brings texture, color, clarity, and passion to the biblical text and helps me to be a better pastor of the people entrusted to my care.