Paul wrote Ephesians sometime between 60-62 AD while he was in prison in Rome. Tychicus delivered the letter. It is quite probable that a number of churches in Asia read this letter, including Ephesus. During Paul’s day Ephesus was a thriving urban center and capital of the province of Asia. She rivaled Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, and Corinth in importance and her strategic location at the center of trade routes attracted people from all over the known world. In Paul’s day thousands of people from all over the world traveled there to worship in the temple of Artemis (Diana), one of the seven wonders of the world. Activities in three gymnasiums, public baths, and a theatre that seated 25,000 people provided some of the local entertainment and recreation. Watch for Paul’s frequent use of the phrase “in Christ” to explain the believers new relationship to the Lord. Note Paul’s systematic enumeration of the many blessings Christians possess in Christ. Look for the clear statement of God’s ultimate purpose for the universe and His plan for the church. Finally notice the word pictures Paul used to describe the church and the importance of unity. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians focuses on two aspects of unity. First, the basis of unity. God’s eternal purpose is evidenced in and accomplished through the church. Christians are chosen to be holy and blameless before God, were created in Christ Jesus to do good works, and have been called to be members of a united household. By His death Christ destroyed every barrier that separated human beings so that believers can have true unity as members of one body. Through the church, the mystery that all believers share a common identity as the one family of God is revealed and fulfilled. Second is the maintaining of unity. Church unity is more than just an ideal. It is a reality to be experienced. Paul gave practical instructions for realizing and maintaining this unity. Old patterns of thinking and behavior, which were characterized by futility, darkness, and sensuality had to be put off. Instead believers were to live in a manner consistent with their salvation in Christ.
Paul is taken up with the overwhelming goodness that God in Christ has showered on believers, and with His amazing plan to unite Gentiles with Jews in a new community, the church, the body of Christ. Though Paul wrote from prison this letter is full of joy, praise, and thanksgiving. It is a fitting reply to the wonder of God’s amazing grace in Christ, poured out in abundance on those chosen to know His love…Gentiles as well as Jews. Paul’s frequent emphasis on the will of God underscores God’s sovereignty in fulfilling His plan. He usually invokes God’s Grace and peace on those to whom he is writing. Grace is undeserved blessing that comes from God’s kindness and peace is a sense of well being and contentedness rooted in the Good News and brought about by the Holy Spirit. Both are gifts from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians is divided into two sections. Chapters 1-3 praise God for his amazing Grace and chapters 4-6 instruct believers on how to live in grateful response. Verses 3-14 finds Paul praising God for all the spiritual blessings He has graciously provided through Jesus Christ for both Gentiles and Jews. This entire section in the Greek is one long complicated sentence; one of the longest in Paul’s letters full of other long sentences. When Paul speaks of spiritual blessings in the heavenly realm he is speaking of what God has done for His people through Jesus Christ to bring people into a saving relationship with Himself. By God’s sovereign initiative God embraces and blesses as His children all those who trust in Christ and they become heirs to all the promises God has made to His people. Believers who once were prisoners of sin are now free from bondage to sin because of Christ’s sacrificial death. When Paul writes about mystery or mysterious will he is referring to a divine truth formerly hidden but now revealed in the Good News. Here it refers to how God will bring everything together under the authority of Christ so that He may be universally recognized and respected as Lord. Ephesians focuses specifically on the inclusion of Gentiles as well as Jews in God’s redeemed people. God will work everything out according to His plan and He has identified you with a seal. Just as a seal in business signifies ownership, the Holy Spirit in a believers life signifies God’s ownership. The Spirit is both God’s guarantee of future blessings and a foretaste of eternal life and power. Paul prayed that his readers might have the spiritual understanding to grasp the full significance of God’s gifts. Confident hope for believers is the anticipation of Christ’s return and His future blessings that they will share. Joined with Christ, believers become joint heirs with Him of all God’s promised blessings. Verse 23 can be a bit tricky. This difficult phrase most likely means that the church, which is the body of Christ, is the full expression of Christ in the world. His presence, which fills the entire universe is reflected in and works through His body.
Paul begins chapter two reflecting on the terrible situation of the believers before they believed in Christ and the grace of God that has spared them. We were once dead in our sins because we were under the influence of the evil one and those yet to be converted are still under the control of their sinful natures. And because they still sin they are subject to God’s anger because God hates sin. It is by Gods loving mercy, kindness, and love that those connected to Jesus are saved from the consequences of their sin and they enjoy the benefits of Christ’s resurrection. Verses 8-9 are a concise summary about how a person is saved. It is a cardinal tenet of the Good News that people are made righteous through trust in Christ rather than through their own merit. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done. It is for those who trust Christ alone to save them. And as a result, none of us have anything to boast about. Good works are the result, not the cause of salvation. God’s Spirit, working through a transformed heart produces a good life. Paul also focuses on the grace that God has given to the Gentiles, bringing them into the family as well. Paul’s emphasis here on the Gentiles indicates that they may have been experiencing some discrimination from the Jewish Christians. Before their conversion they had no part in God’s people or the covenant promises. Now being united with Christ opens the door for the Gentiles for all the good things of the Lord. And Christ brought them peace. Christ’s death on the cross reconciled humans to God and the Jews to the Gentiles and both are now fully members of God’s family. Apostles are missionary evangelists commissioned by God. Here prophets appear to be New Testament prophets. The church is built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets; that is their faithful witness to the saving message of Christ. He is the cornerstone, the most important stone in the building.
The first thirteen verses of chapter three involve Paul describing his role in God’s eternal plan: to proclaim God’s Grace to the Gentiles. Paul wrote to the Gentiles while he was in prison for witnessing to the Gentiles! Paul’s understanding of God’s mysterious plan came as God Himself revealed it to him. And God’s plan that has now been revealed to Paul is that the Gentiles are now included in God’s family, the body of Christ, just as the Jews are. They share equally in God’s blessings. Paul speaks of himself as a servant of the Good News, of God, of Christ, of the church, and of the new covenant. But Paul considered himself the least deserving of all God’s people because he was once a persecutor of believers. We can come boldly and confidently into God’s presence, not because of good deeds that we have done but because of Christ’s all sufficient sacrifice for our sins. Paul knows that suffering, as he is, is to be expected and that it works for good in a believers life. As Paul thinks about everything he falls to his knees to pray. He acknowledges that God is the Creator of everything, including every family, angelic or human, gentile or Jew. He is also the source of glorious, unlimited resources that he gladly gives His children. Having Christ make His home in our hearts is the source of spiritual power for life and ministry. The whole Christian life is based on the experience and personal knowledge of God’s Grace and love in Jesus Christ. But this is way too much to fully understand. Paul ends chapter three with a prayer and a doxology. He gives all the glory to God because He deserves nothing less. The mighty power at work in us is the power of the living God that raised Christ from the dead. By that power He is able to accomplish infinitely more than we might think or ask because God is at work in the lives of his children.
Now we focus on the implications for Christian living. What we will see is that Paul believes that believers lives should be a response of gratitude for God’s Grace. For the Jews and Gentiles, that will play out on how they treat one another in the church. They are called to accept each other just as the Lord accepted them. Salvation can never be earned but believers are to live in a manner worthy of their calling to salvation. Believers are to be Christlike in how they treat others. Verses 4-6 almost sound like they are part of a creed that was a confessed by the early church. All believers, regardless of their background share one Lord and one faith. This means they are to live together in unity. Christ’s one body is the church, and God is present in believers lives. Though believers share a common faith, God has given different special abilities to each individual believer for building up the church. Leading a crowd of captives may refer to Christ’s victory over spiritual powers or to His capture of disobedient sinners and making them believers through the power of the Good News message. The descending probably refers to Christ coming to earth as a baby, leaving heaven and becoming human. In his letters, Paul has four different lists of God’s gifts and none of them is comprehensive. (See also Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28). Here the list is focused on gifts of leadership needed for the growth of the church. Apostles are divinely commissioned missionary evangelists. Prophets speak messages from God for His people. Evangelists proclaim the Good News. Pastors, literally shepherds, care for God’s people. Teachers expound on scripture and God’s truth to the church. God’s gifts are given so that believers will build up the church. It isn’t any different today. We have gifts to help build up the church and make Jesus’s name known too. The goal of ministry is for the whole Christian community to understand and experience the Christian faith more deeply and gain a deeper knowledge of God’s Son. In this way believers will mature in their faith. Once we reach a level of mature faith we won’t be tossed around in the storms of life as much and we will be better able to discern and resist false teachers. But, it is only together that the body will be healthy and growing. Love is the most important factor in Christian growth.
Paul gave believers specific guidelines for living a new life in Christ. God’s people are called to a way of life that is different from that of the rest of the world. People in the world are full of darkness. They have no sense of shame. But believers have a new nature. God’s Spirit expresses His life within the believer. The transforming work of God’s Spirit is part of the gift of salvation. Paul cautions to not let sin and anger control us because anger gives the evil one a foothold. God’s people are to be gentle and gracious, not harsh or angry. And anger must be quickly resolved, not allowed to stew. Believers are called to learn new patterns of speech including how to encourage one another. Forgiving fellow believers is a natural and good response to experiencing God’s forgiving grace in Christ.
We are called to imitate God in everything we do. This occurs primarily by expressing love and just as children follow the example of their parents, believers should follow God’s example. God’s people are called to have a holy lifestyle, avoiding the immorality of the world around us. And the speech of God’s people is to be characterized by thankfulness to God. Here we see another of Paul’s lists of things not to engage in. Darkness is ignorance of God and His ways and being dominated by sin. We are called to do what is good, right, and true. The point is to obey God’s will, not just understand it. The light of Christ will illuminate all things; good, bad, or otherwise. Paul also calls all of us to live our lives filled with the Holy Spirit. This will lead to lives filled with singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Joyful praise, worship, and giving thanks are fitting responses to God’s saving grace. Singing together builds up the body of Christ and the Lord hears music in our hearts.
From 5:21-6:9 Paul gives specific instructions on how believers are to relate to one another in a Christian home. Love and respect are to characterize all relationships in the body of Christ as an expression of believers commitment to the Lord Himself and further submit to one another. This general instruction applies to all three relationships Paul discusses: husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves. For believers, submission is not expressed out of fear or desire for personal gain BUT out of reverence for Christ. Paul states Christian wives are to submit to their husbands showing respect. But just as important Christian husbands are to love their wives. This is not a license to enslave ones wife. Christian marriages become a reflection of the union between the Lord and the church. The husband is to be the head of his wife, treating her like Christ who is the head of the church. Husbands are called to love their wives like Christ loves the church; that is sacrificially for Christ gave up His life for her. The churches sins have been forgiven through Christ’s sacrifice and her life is purified by the Holy Spirit. As a result the church stands holy and without fault before God. Husbands should prize and cherish their wives, for in marriage the two have become one. This unity should motivate the husband to care for his wife. Christian marriages should be marked with love and respect.
The relationship between parents and children is to be a reflection of their devotion to the Lord. Christian children are to obey their parents and Christian parents are to discipline their children gently. Children who honor and respect their parents also honor and respect God Himself, and blessings follow. Being unjust often provokes people to anger so discipline should not be excessive but loving and gentle so that children are not turned from the Lord but are drawn to Him. The relationship between slaves and masters is to be shaped by their commit to the Lord and their desire to build one another up in Christ. Christian slaves are to obey their masters and Christian masters are to treat their slaves kindly. Paul isn’t promoting slavery but teaching Christians to live with it as a fact of life. And a reminder that both master and slave have the same master in heaven.
Paul’s final words here are to remind the believers of the opposition of the evil one and he urges them to protect themselves with all of God’s armor. It is only by the Lord’s protection that a believer can stand firm against all the strategies of the evil one. Most of our opposition comes from the unseen world of spiritual evil and Christ has authority over that realm. God’s armor gives believers the ability to resist the attacks of the evil one in the time of evil, when evil seems to prevail, and those keep standing firm. Paul used the physical armor worn by Roman soldiers as imagery for the spiritual armor used by believers. Paul’s focus is not on the precise functions of each piece of armor but on God’s gifts. Grounding in Christ and scripture provides protection and the ability to stand your ground. Either the righteousness God credits to those who believe in Christ, or the righteous way of life brought about by the transforming work of the Spirit of God in believers lives we find truth. For shoes put on the peace that comes from the Good News. The focus is letting ones life be governed by the peace that the Good News gives. Faith is trust in Christ as savior or trust in God to meet ones needs in evil times. Paul graphically pictures the nature of temptation to sin as flaming arrows. Protect the mind with the assurance that God had indeed saved and given eternal life to those who believe in Christ. The sword of the Spirit pictures using the Word of God to respond to an attack, either with the Good News or with the spoken or written word of God more generally. He urges the believers to pray at all times in the Spirit. Believers are called to make prayer a way of life. Why? Because the evil one is an ever present danger.
Paul closes with some personal words and a benediction that repeats the desires expressed at the beginning of the letter…peace, love, faithfulness , and grace. These qualities highlighted at the beginning of the letter are what Paul most desired for believers..then and now.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W