Rev Lindsay Johnstone, former chaplain at a major teaching hospital in Sydney, Australia
The focus of these thoughts is not on outward practices of spiritual and pastoral care, but on what may occur within the inner spirit of a person involved in such ministry. This is not about what we are saying or doing with patients or clients. It Is about what may be going on inside of us, whether on ministry location, at home, or wherever. It is about connectedness and intimacy with God, with a conviction that this will impact one’s involvement in chaplaincy.
Where are we actually in the present, now that we know Christ, that is different to or additional to where we were when we were without God in the world? Do we think of ourselves, despite the future nature of the Parousia, as in some way sharing already within the ascended state that Christ shares, in intimacy with him?
Ephesians presents doctrine and exhortation in, and arising from, an expression of worship. The epistle is itself an act of worship. Throughout, Paul addresses the Ephesians in praise to God, making melody in his heart, and encouraging them to mutual submission out of reverence for Christ.[i]
1 The Epistle commences with Paul, a prisoner for Christ leading the saints and faithful, in an ascription of praise to God the Father who has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3)[ii]. Whilst suffering much in the unjust fallen world, he could see himself positioned near Christ in Heaven! He was chained to a guard and under house arrest,[iii] not knowing whether Nero Caesar would acquit or behead him. The letter’s initial celebration is that we are already in a sense ascended in union with Christ. All that the epistle says seems intended to be seen from that perspective.
The Message[iv] paraphrase of 2:6 reads, “Then he picked us up and set us down in the highest heaven in company with Jesus”. It is the Ascended Church that deals with Satanic opposition whilst we are still living in the fallen world- “…that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places…” (3: 8-10)
2 The faithful are prayed for in two prayers (1:15-23 and 3:14-21) to experience intimate love and empowerment for which words are inadequate. They would experience such a knowing of his heart and his mind that there would be an overflow of wisdom, knowledge, discernment, expectation, empowerment and love. This would lead to impactful loving of people and of knowing relevant aspects of God’s mind for them. With increasing intimate knowledge of Christ, there would come increased wisdom and revelation (1:18), especially understandable as we are in the heavenly places.
Believers are encouraged and empowered to do truth in love, to live a life-style of truth and truthfulness in love (4:15). The Church is in relationship to Christ as a bride is to a husband (5:23ff). If the church is the bride of Christ, why does it often look like that the groom is living upstairs, but the bride is living in the basement?
3 The readers are urged to be repeatedly and continuously filled with the Holy Spirit (5:18ff), resulting in praise and humility. The parallel exhortation in Colossians 3:16 is to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. The word of the Word is enlivened by the Spirit of the Word. It is the Holy Spirit who makes possible not only our reception of the manifold grace of God (1:11-14), but also present enjoyment of intimacy with Christ as the groom, and with our adoptive loving Father.
4 There is an expectation within Ephesians that in our spiritually ascended state we experience the ongoing progress of the outworking of God’s Plan. Jesus is continuing to manifest the resurrecting and ascending power of God in the ongoing process of bringing all things towards the ultimate destiny associated with “the fullness of the times” (1:10, 22). There has been no cessation of the exercise of his works of power.[v] Incorporation into the ongoing plan of God, outlined in loving terms, overflows into the prayer that God’s people will experience such union with Christ that they shall bask in the security of hope, apprehending the power that He is working within them.
Christ, the chef suprême à l`Église as one French translation[vi] offers, is continuing to bring to fullness the church body which belongs to Him (1:22). As Head and Chef, He is both leading and nourishing His people.
Practically, the epistle’s teaching on our ascended-ness may potentiate pastoral practice in three ways:
1 An increased confidence that the Lord will be present in patients or other clients, and in our communications with them, whether or not spiritual conversation is occurring;
2 We may have a heightened sensitivity to pick up and respond to cues of spiritual and pastoral significance in conversations. We may experience God giving us specific discernment and wisdom of people with whom we are ministering, either for private prayer, or perhaps to prompt some of our conversation;
3 In situations where work-place protocols, treatment procedures or even lack of privacy may seem to limit what may be done openly, there is a reassurance that God is not bound.
[i] See 5:18-21.
[ii] Cf 3:20-21
[iii] Acts 28:16,20.
[iv] Eugene H. Petersen, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (NavPress, Colorado Springs, USA, 2002)
[v] The Greek of 1:22-23 indicates the dynamic of present continuous action leading towards the ultimate completion of the Plan.
[vi] Louis Segond version (1910)