TEXT: Ephesians 1:3-8; 2:4-8
Today we are beginning a summer series entitled “Words Matter.” Over the course of the summer I want to look at twelve or so key words from the pages of scripture, words that for the foundation of the story of God and our theology as Christians. About half of the words are Hebrew words from the Old Testament and about half are Greek words from the New Testament. Many will sound familiar and some will be new to your ears. These are words like shalom, hallelujah, sabbath, hesed, agape, logos, and amen. Some are left in their original form in our Bibles, like hallelujah and amen. Others are translated into English, but it’s easy to miss the riches and depth of the original word. But this won’t just be a series of fancy word studies. Each week we’ll look at the word of the week in the context of a passage of scripture, to better understand how it fits into the big story of God’s Word. And my hope is that you’ll come through the summer with an enriched vocabulary of faith, words woven into your life of faith and obedience as followers of Jesus Christ.
Today’s word is charis, which is a Greek word often translated as ‘grace’. It also serves as a bridge from our study of Galatians, since grace was the opening and recurring theme of that book. Eric did a great job last week not only teaching through Galatians 6, but also reviewing the whole series. Grace is God’s gift of love and salvation, given through Christ to us. It stood in contrast to the strains of legalism and “me-freedom” making the rounds in the early church. A true understanding of grace leads to the freedom to trust and do what God says is best, because God knows us best and loves us most.
Today we’ll look at Ephesians to unpack the concept of charis, or grace, a little bit more.
First I will share a bit of word study. This is what charis looks like in Greek: χάρις
The ‘x’ looking thing is a chi, pronounced with a ‘k’ sound like the ‘ch’ in Christ. The middle letter (that looks like a ‘p’) is a rho, pronounced with an ‘r’ sound. The other letters look similar to our letters.
This Greek word appears approximately 160x in the New Testament and has a range of meaning that includes the following: to show kindness, graciousness, grace, favor, goodwill, or gift.
We don’t have the word charis in English, but we do have several derivative words like charity and charisma. Charity is a gift or act of kindness, not looking for something in return (except maybe a tax deduction?). Charisma describes personality traits or mannerisms that win people over, that create a favorable impression on others. So maybe you can see some of the connections to the original word.
As with almost all the words you find in the original biblical languages, they have a secular meaning and then often some additional theological meaning. We do the same thing in English. We use the word ‘grace’ in an everyday kind of way… someone can be graceful and it simply means they have poise or balance or a pleasant way of moving around. It doesn’t have to mean “God’s unmerited favor.” But in the biblical context, charis or grace can take on an elevated meaning with respect to God. It’s similar to the way I sometimes talk about little ‘t’ truth and big ‘T’ Truth. God’s grace is like the big ‘G’ version of something we’ve experienced day to day. Or perhaps better to say that the graces we experience day to day are a reflection of God’s original Grace.
But the important thing is that charis or grace describes something very important about God and the way God relates to humanity. God does not trade salvation for human works or create a series of increasingly difficult challenges for us to overcome in order to reach Heaven. God created us in His image, loves us with an expansive love, and pursues us in love in order to make things right and invite us home and into His presence. That generous and love-motivated redeeming action and character of God is charis or big ‘G’ Grace.
Let’s look at Ephesians and how God’s grace is described there.
Grace, Freely Bestowed (Ephesians 1)
There’s a lot to unpack in Ephesians 1-2, but I want to stick closely to what is said about God’s grace. In Ephesians 1:3-8 we read of God blessing us in Christ and choosing us before the world was made. (vv.3-4) In love God adopted us into His family. (v.5) And this displays God’s grace, which God “freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” (v.6)
Did you hear that last part…. “freely bestowed on us in the Beloved”? The Beloved is Christ… freely bestowed on us. We didn’t have to pass a test, measure up, be good or righteous or anything else. God loved us and reached out to us for adoption and belonging, and freely gave this gift through Jesus Christ.
What is the gift? It is ‘redemption’ and ‘forgiveness’… again according to the “riches of God’s grace… lavished on us.” (vv.7-8)
This is the Good News, the Gospel: God made you, God loves you, God wants you, and God has provided all that is needed for you to experience life with Him (now and forever). It’s a gift; it’s free; it’s lavished; it’s bestowed. Get the picture?
Grace, the Gift of God (Ephesians 2)
Ephesians 2 just kind of piles on in the same direction. There’s more about God’s character. God is “rich in mercy” … and “loved us with a great love.” (v.4) God’s grace is described as “surpassing riches” and “kindness”. (v.7)
And there’s more detail about what God has done. We were “dead in our transgressions” and God “made us alive together with Christ.” (v.5) God “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places.” (v.6)
This is the presence of God; this is experience of God; this is salvation. And it is “by grace you have been saved through faith… not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (v.8)
I appreciate that Ephesians breaks some of this out. It’s one thing just to talk about going to Heaven. We might be able to convince ourselves that it’s a destination and we might be able to get there on our own. But do any of us really thing we can make ourselves alive from being dead in our transgression? Can any of us raise us up and seat ourselves with Christ in the heavenly places? Thank God that all these things are a gift of God!
That’s God’s charis! It’s God for us, with us, loving us, pursuing us… patiently, persistently, gently when needed, firmly when needed. It’s God’s favor not as something to attain and seek for ourselves, but something to be gratefully accepted as a gift of love.
What shall our attitude be toward a God who is the embodiment of charis, of grace? In just a little bit we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper and receive communion. The elements of bread and juice are tangible reminders of God’s grace in and through the body and blood of Christ. There is another name for the Lord’s Supper that we do not often use in the Presbyterian Church, but it is common in other denominations like the Episcopal Church. The sacrament is referred to as the Eucharist. The word comes from the words of institution, “And when he had taken some bread and given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them.” (Luke 22:19) The words “given thanks” are a translation of the Greek word eucharisteo. Do you hear (or see) a familiar word in the middle of that? Yes, it’s charis. One of the related meanings of charis is ‘thanks’ – kind of like we have ‘grace’ before a meal, which is to thank God for the food.
When we come to the Lord’s Table, we are both receiving signs of God’s grace (charis) and giving thanks (eucharisteo) for it. That’s how we receive and engage God’s grace… with thankfulness, with gratitude.
Think about when you give or receive a present, a gift. Think about the difference between receiving a present and simply nodding and setting it aside versus the joyful and excited opening and celebrating of the gift. That joy and gratitude is not required to receive the gift, but it’s how the recipient enters into the exchange meaningfully.
God loves you extravagantly. God welcomes you into His presence and family, raising you from death into life and seating you in His presence. It’s freely bestowed, the gift of God. Do you want to experience the power and presence of God’s charis-grace in your life? What will you do with that Good News? Is it ho-hum, file that information on a mental shelf and now I know a little more about a Greek word? Or is it tear the wrapping paper off this gift and shout with joy at the amazing grace that is the gift of life in Christ? It’s “surpassing riches, lavished on us!”
That’s God’s charis; that’s God’s grace! Amen!
Some Music Used
- Come Thou Fount/We’ll Feast (Austell)
- How Deep the Father’s Love
- Death Was Arrested
- Your Grace is Enough
- Grace Flows Down
- Behold the Lamb (Communion Hymn)