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Two Services Based on Ephesians and James

These two services are based on the full texts of the letters of Ephesians and James, providing worshipers an opportunity to hear, dwell in, and reflect on God’s Word to each of us. This echoes the way the early church would have experienced these words—prayerfully listening as the letter was read aloud. In planning these services, we let the Scripture guide the order, pausing for praise, prayer, and reflection where the text suggests.

Our church has recently adopted this format for our monthly evening services, but it is adaptable to a variety of contexts. The Scripture and responses may be read by the pastor or worship leader, or shared by several members of the congregation. Any of the suggested hymns could be replaced by a choral anthem, instrumental music, or another appropriate congregational song.

Worshiping with Ephesians

Prelude

Welcome

God’s Greeting: Ephesians 1:1–2

Mutual Greeting

Unison Declaration of Our Blessings in Christ
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.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world
to be holy and blameless in his sight.
In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship
through Jesus Christ,
in accordance with his pleasure and will—
to the praise of his glorious grace,
which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
In him we have redemption through his blood,
the forgiveness of sins,
in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.
With all wisdom and understanding,
he made known to us the mystery of his will
according to his good pleasure,
which he purposed in Christ,
to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—
to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

—Ephesians 1:3–10

Opening Hymn: “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” LUYH 601, PH 142/143, PsH 471, TH 296/297, WR 100/106, GtG 263

God’s Gifts in Jesus

First Reading: Ephesians 1:11–23

Introduction to Ephesians (see sidebar)

“All Things Coming to a Head”: An Introduction to Ephesians

Paul writes this letter to the group of growing Christians at the church in Ephesus somewhere around a.d. 60. They are living out this message of the good news but doing so with threat of persecution and with many questions.

Paul reminds them—and us—that God is up to very big things in this world. The overarching theme of this book comes in verses 9–10 of the first chapter: “[God] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”

To bring all things. God is doing something through Christ that involves all things. This is what brings God pleasure. The action here is described as God bringing unity to all things. God takes pleasure and delight in bringing unity to all things.

Paul’s original Greek words mean “to bring things together under one head.” Other ways of putting it are to sum up, to gather up, to recapitulate, or to bring to a head.

Usually when we hear things have “come to a head” it is not a good thing. Some definitions of that phrase include reaching a point of intensity at which action must be taken—or, more specifically, to reach a stage in a difficult situation when someone takes a strong action to deal with it. So, for instance, we might say this about North Korean military/missile activity and threats. It feels as if things are coming to a head. It is rare to think of this phrase in positive terms, but that is the case in Ephesians. It is God’s delight to bring everything together under the headship of Jesus Christ.

Rob Bell’s book What is the Bible? (HarperCollins, 2017) says that what’s happening here in Ephesians is that God is retelling everything. When we look at the world we might notice a whole lot of broken parts lying scattered all over the place. Well, it brings God pleasure to bring it all back together in unity in Christ. But do we really believe that everything is brought back together in unity? All of it? All of history? Everything every human has ever done? Why does Paul use the word “all”? Why does he include heaven and earth? Why didn’t he put some boundaries on it? Why didn’t he say religious things, or Jewish things, or redeemed things, or good things that deserve it? Why is he so blatantly inclusive? Why is he so clear and insistent that nothing is left out of this coming to a head in Christ?

Because what we hear in Ephesians is what is hinted at by the prophets, fulfilled in the gospels, and echoed throughout the New Testament. God is all about restoring, reconciling, and renewing. He is persistent in putting everything back together again as they should be, as Bell describes: “Your broken heart? All things. Poverty? All things. Abuse? All things. Racism? All things. Fractured relationship? All things. All things. All things. All things. All things. All things” (43–44).

God is retelling and restoring, bringing all things under the head of Jesus Christ. That includes you and me and the fractured parts of our lives. And it is not just that this is what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are doing in the world and in us. We are participants in this very urgent work. The church plays a vital role in this massive redemptive work. You’ll hear a lot about the church in this little letter, most notably in the fourth chapter, but it is always in light of this larger story of redemption that the church finds significance and purpose.

King Jesus has as his hands and feet his agents within the present world, the church. In Ephesians Paul tells us it is “[Jesus’] body, the fullness of the one who fills all.” As N. T. Wright says, “If only the church would realize this and act accordingly!” (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004).

—Pastor Christian Pederse

Alive and United

Second Reading: Ephesians 2:1–22

Unison Response
And God placed all things under his feet
and appointed him to be head over everything
for the church,
which is his body, the fullness of him
who fills everything in every way.

—Ephesians 1:22–23

Hymn: “The Church’s One Foundation” LUYH 251, PH 442, PsH 502, TH 347, WR 544, GtG 321

The Mystery of Grace for All

Third Reading: Ephesians 3:1–13

Hymn: “I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace/I Know Whom I Have Believed” LUYH 690, PsH 495, TH 705, WR 407

The Fullness of Love

Fourth Reading: Ephesians 3:14–21

Congregational Prayer
Write a congregational prayer based on Ephesians 3:14–21 especially focused on how the love of Christ manifests itself in our relationships with God, others, and creation. You may find The Worship Sourcebook S.1.4.3 and S.2.2.2 helpful.

Living Together through Grace

Fifth Reading: Ephesians 4:1–16

Unison Response
And God placed all things under his feet
and appointed him to be head over everything
for the church,
which is his body, the fullness of him
who fills everything in every way.

—Ephesians 1:22–23

Hymn: “Christian Hearts in Love United” LUYH 727, PsH 513

Imitators of God

Sixth Reading: Ephesians 4:17–5:20

Hymn: “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” LUYH 730, SWM 207, SNC 77, WR 248, GtG 377

Submitting to One Another Under Christ

Seventh Reading: Ephesians 5:21–6:9

Unison Response
And God placed all things under his feet
and appointed him to be head over everything
for the church,
which is his body, the fullness of him
who fills everything in every way.

—Ephesians 1:22–23

Hymn: “Jesus Shall Reign” LUYH 219, PH 423, PsH 412, TH 441, WR 341

Litany of Commitment
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
Put on the full armor of God,
so that you can take your stand
against the devil’s schemes.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers,
against the authorities,
against the powers of this dark world
and against the spiritual forces of evil
in the heavenly realms.

Therefore put on the full armor of God,
so that when the day of evil comes,
you may be able to stand your ground,
and after you have done everything, to stand.
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth
buckled around your waist,
with the breastplate of righteousness in place,
and with your feet fitted with the readiness
that comes from the gospel of peace.

In addition to all this,
take up the shield of faith,
with which you can extinguish
all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Take the helmet of salvation
and the sword of the Spirit,
which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions
with all kinds of prayers and requests.
With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying
for all the Lord’s people.

Pray also for me,
that whenever I speak,
words may be given me
so that I will fearlessly make known
the mystery of the gospel,
for which I am an ambassador in chains.
Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

—Ephesians 6:10–20

Parting Blessing: Ephesians 6:21–24

Postlude

Worshiping with James

Prelude

God’s Greeting and Mutual Greeting

Joy in Trials

First Reading: James 1:2–18

Unison Response
Loving God, you are very good,
and all good and perfect gifts come from you.
May knowing how good you really are
keep us from anything bad that tempts us to sin.
We want to live as that first taste of your good new world.
Amen.

—Lora A. Copley and Elizabeth Vander Haagen, Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-Centered Family Worship through the Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Calvin College Press, 2016), 497. Used with permission.

Silent Reflection

Opening Hymn: “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” LUYH 351, PH 376, PsH 568, TH 529, WR 358, GtG 366

Statement of Faith: Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony, 26

Introduction to James (see sidebar)

“Faith and Works, Hand in Glove”: An Introduction to James

In Matthew 22 Jesus is asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” You likely know that Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

In teaching, you might often hear the love of God described as a vertical (up and down) relationship and the love of neighbor as a horizontal (back and forth) relationship. They are different things that require different postures and different habits. They are distinct but can never be separated or segregated. This is where James comes in. His emphasis is strongly on the horizontal, on the love of the other, on neighborliness. It is for this reason that James is very popular among many Christians, including many of us. He is a very practical theologian—you don’t have to talk or think too hard about what he is saying. Doing it is another matter, and most of us will always feel the thrust of challenge in what he says.

If you read Paul’s short New Testament letters, you read a lot about the vertical relationship between God and human beings. You get in-depth discussions about the person and work of Jesus Christ. But you have none of that in James. For James faith means being and staying engaged in the affairs of the world. He makes two core points.

First, fellow followers of Jesus are to be careful not to be caught in or stained by the assumptions and practices of the world. That is the world order of Rome. So there are lists of things to be avoided—anger or unbridled speech, for example. You can’t compartmentalize—one day speaking and praising God and another day cursing others. There are many behaviors to avoid, and ways of life that lead to death. Stay away.

Second, “pure religion” is to care for those who are widows and orphans. In James’s time, widows and orphans are those who are forgotten or at risk in their society. The poor in Rome lived in rickety tenements that often caught fire or collapsed. Running water was hard to come by. We still have this category of orphans and widows today. In the twenty-first century this now includes the LGBT community, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, people with disabilities (including emotional challenges), and people of other religions. The church must always wrestle with extending grace to anyone and everyone. James doesn’t answer the specific questions we now ask. But James does remind us that gospel love, in the form of inclusion and addressing inequities, has to be extended to all people in society. You can’t ignore the needs of “these things” or “those people,” and yet we do all of this in a very holy/distinct manner.

James presents us with a gospel wisdom. Wisdom in the Bible is defined as skillful living. James reminds us of the tension of living as Christians in the world but not of the world, a tension you’ll always navigate this side of heaven. You can stay out of the affairs of the world and be a “holier than thou” type. You can be active in the world but lose your distinctiveness—as Jesus called it, being “salt [that] loses its saltiness.” Struggling to be holy and loving between these extremes is the call of faithfulness.

James strongly emphasizes doing the Word. The ancient understanding of hearing and listening is synonymous with obeying. In other words, you can’t just hear and say, “Sure, okay.” James says “even the demons believe” there is one God (James 2:19). They hear, and they believe, but the knowledge doesn’t shape their lives. It is an active and open defiance to the truth.

By definition, faith has to find action. Here is a wonderful paraphrase of James 2:18 from The Message: “I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, ‘Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.’ Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.”

As you hear James today, “gospel wisdom” is a helpful phrase. James is giving a lot of application. He isn’t preaching what you must do to get in with God’s good graces. He is preaching what to do once you’ve been given grace—how grace continues. May we hear God’s word today and not merely listen, but do what it says and live well in the gospel.

—Pastor Christian Pedersen

Right Action Under the Law

Second Reading: James 1:19–2:13

Unison Prayer of Confession
Speaking God, your holy Word
provides us all we need for righteousness,
but we are quick to stray from the laws you have given us.
We would rather look after our own desires
than the needs of our neighbors.
Forgive us for our forgetful pride,
which causes us to favor the rich and insult the poor.
We pray that you would show us mercy,
and teach us to live out the fullness of your love.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

Silent Confession

Hymn: “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love” LUYH 299, PsH 601, SWM 249, WR 273, GtG 203

Assurance of Pardon
Dear brothers and sisters, in Jesus Christ God’s love overflows for us. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, all our sins are washed away and we are free to live in humble obedience to him. Thanks be to God!

Faith and Works Together

Third Reading: James 2:14–26

Unison Response
Generous God, you give us the gift of faith.
Bring our faith to life and call us to action.
Help us to see those who need our help,
and strengthen us to provide for their needs.
Let us be your hands and feet in this world.
Amen.

Silent Reflection

Hymn: “Breathe on Me, Breath of God” LUYH 747, PH 316, PsH 420, TH 334, WR 461, GtG 286

Words and Wisdom

Fourth Reading: James 3:1–18

Unison Response
Jesus, it is so hard sometimes
for us to control our mouths.
We say things we shouldn’t,
and we can’t take them back.
Please take over our mouths
so what comes out will be fresh and life-giving.
Take over our hearts,
so your love will come out
in our words and in our actions.
Amen.

—Lora A. Copley and Elizabeth Vander Haagen, Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-Centered Family Worship through the Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Calvin College Press, 2016), 503. Used with permission.

Silent Reflection

Hymn: “Lord, Speak to Me That I May Speak” LUYH 754, PH 426, PsH 528, TH 560/561, WR 593, GtG 722

Humility Before God

Fifth Reading: James 4:1–17

Unison Response
Lord of all time, the future belongs to you.
We can plan all we want, but you are in charge.
Instead of worrying about what might happen,
help us to do the good things we know you want,
and to trust you to take care of us. Amen.

—Lora A. Copley and Elizabeth Vander Haagen, Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-Centered Family Worship through the Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Calvin College Press, 2016), 505. Used with permission.

Silent Reflection

Hymn: “Be Still, My Soul” TH 689, WR 451, GtG 819

Patience for Heavenly Riches

Sixth Reading: James 5:1–12

Unison Response
God of all seasons,
we know that every good gift comes from your hand.
Help us to trust you in every situation.
Grant us humility and patience,
and remind us that nothing we gain or lose in this life
can compare to the riches we have in Christ.
In his name we pray, amen.

Silent Reflection

Hymn: “I’d Rather Have Jesus” Rhea F. Miller

Option: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” LUYH 897, PFAS 41B, PsH 579, SWM 172, TH 629, WR 473, GtG 465

The Power of Prayer

Seventh Reading: James 5:13–18

Hymn: “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying” LUYH 896, PsH 625, SWM 170, WR 489, GtG 469

Prayers of the People

Words of Commitment: James 5:19–20

Parting Blessing

Postlude