Introduction to Ephesians

ephesians

The letter to the Ephesians is fairly short. It consists of six chapters with 155 verses and it should take about 30 minutes to read. Read it – a few times.

‘Pound for pound,’ Ephesians may well be the most influential document in history.

Many pastors and theologians consider Ephesians to be the Paul’s greatest letter:

  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge called Ephesians the divinest composition of man.[1]
  • Klyne Snodgrass said, ‘pound for pound,’ Ephesians may well be the most influential document in history.[2]
  • J. Goodspeed sees the letter as a rhapsody on the worth of salvation.[3]
  • New Testament scholar Ralph Martin says Ephesians is the most relevant portion of the New Testament.[4]
  • Pastor Kent Hughes asserts: Ephesians – carefully, reverently, prayerfully considered — will change our lives. It is not so much a question of what we will do with the epistle, but what it will do with us.[5]
  • James Montgomery Boice states that Ephesians contains good biblical ecclesiology, [which is] a doctrine of the church that begins with God and His work and ends, as all things will eventually end, with God’s glory.

Churched people tend to think of the church as being created and managed BY us and FOR us, rather than BY God and FOR God’s glory. This is why a study of Paul’s letter is so valuable. Boice calls Ephesians a “mini-course in theology, centered on the church.”[6] Ephesians does not begin with a moral code but with a worldview that, when we begin to see it with the “eyes of our heart” (1:18), we will be enraptured by God’s beauty, wonder, grace, majesty, and glory – and we will then serve Him out of love and gratitude.

Ephesus, a city of about 500,000, was famous as a commercial center and the capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor, but it was also a center for the imperial cult and the guardian of the temple of Artemis (whom the Romans called Diana), which housed temple prostitutes and the grotesque idol — sprawling across several city blocks, it was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the churches in Ephesus and the surrounding region in A.D. 62 while imprisoned in Rome (Acts 28). During this time he also wrote Colossians and Philemon. Most of Paul’s other letters are directed at particular problems in a church. For example, he wrote to the Galatians about the threat of legalism. He addressed a variety of problems at the church at Corinth. But his letter to the Ephesians does not address any turmoil.

Some believe the letter has this quality because it was not written solely for the church at Ephesus. Rather, it was probably a circular letter sent to the Christian communities of Asia. While most of his letters are full of personal greetings, no individuals are mentioned here or greeted by name. In fact the oldest and best manuscripts even lack the words in Ephesus (1:1). They are addressed generally “to the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus.” But at an early date the letter became associated with the Ephesian church, so later manuscripts have “to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.” Ultimately, however, this letter is written to us, whoever the original readers were. It enables us to see the full sweep of God’s intention from before creation to the ultimate union of everyone and everything in Jesus Christ. It places all of our issues and problems in the context of eternity.

The Gospel in Ephesians[7]

The book of Ephesians is full of gospel from start to finish. In fact, there may be no other book in the whole Bible that packs in as much gospel per square inch. The first half of the book is almost nothing but gospel explanation, while the second half is almost entirely gospel application — mind-boggling indicatives followed by grace-filled (and grace-motivated) imperatives.

The good news of the first three chapters centers on the word “blessing,” specifically all the blessings we have by virtue of union with Christ (1:3). We were chosen in Him (1:4). We were adopted in Him (1:5). We have redemption in Him (1:7). We have our inheritance in Him (1:11). And in Christ, God is bringing the entire universe to its fulfillment (1:10). Paul goes on to explain that in Christ, God is exercising His mighty power for us who believe (1:19). In Him, we who were dead in trespasses have been made alive (2:4–5). In Him we have been created for good works (2:10). In Him we who were far away have been brought near (2:13). In Him, long-time enemies can come together in peace (2:14). In Him we are being built together into a dwelling place for God (2:22)

All of this is ours in Christ Jesus, which is why Paul prays twice that we may know Christ more and more (1:15–19; 3:14–21). In Him, we find a love that is wide and long and high and deep (3:18), a love that will surprise, and a love that surpasses knowledge (3:19–20).

The glorious gospel in the first half of the book does not fade to the background in the second half. Instead, we see that the good news of chapters 1–3 makes possible, natural, and desirable the imperatives of chapters 4–6. Therefore, as God’s grace-empowered beloved ones, we put off falsehood, unrighteous anger, stealing, unwholesome talk, and bitterness. We put on truth-telling, righteous anger, hard work, edifying conversation, and compassion (4:17–32). Out of love for Christ, we submit to one another (5:21) wives submit to their husbands (5:22), children honor their parents (6:1), and bondservants obey their masters (6:5). Husbands lay down their lives for their wives (5:25), fathers instruct their children in the Lord (6:4), and masters deal kindly with their servants (6:9). Taking our stand in the love of Christ, we stand our ground against the Devil and resist the schemes of the Evil One (6:10–18). In Christ we have become holy, and in Christ we can grow in authentic holiness.

Ephesus was crassly commercial, materialistic, pagan, preoccupied with sex, and superstitious. Not much has changed here in the 21st century. Paul’s message is that when we embrace the love of Christ, we will also embrace the way of life that Christ loves.

Outline:

Part I: Grace To Grow

  1. Intro + Prologue and Praise 1:1-14 (9/12-13) Big Idea: Who we are “in Christ” and the blessings accorded therein.
  2. Prayer 1:15-23 (9/19-20) Big Idea: Prayer for insight and understanding of the wonder and majesty of God — and what has been DONE through Christ (not what we must DO).
  3. Our Salvation 2:1-22 (9/26-27) Big Idea: Made alive in Christ and reconciled to one another through Christ.
  4. The Mystery 3:1-21 (10/3-4) Big Idea: The mystery of God uniting Jews and Gentiles (actually all ethnicities) into one new family by grace and our subsequent freedom to approach God with freedom and confidence. We are rooted and established in the height and depth of God’s love. (KHC Men’s Retreat Weekend)

Part II: Grace To Go

  1. Activating Grace, Pt. 1) 4:1-16 (10/10-11) Big Idea: Viewing grace as a source of power to change and grow. The role of leaders to “equip” God’s people for service. We are to aim at becoming mature enough to “speak the truth in love” to one another.
  2. Activating Grace, Pt. 2 4:17-32 (10/17-18) Big Idea: Grace to grow in Christ and “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Because of Christ’s sacrifice we can let go of bitterness, rage, anger, etc.
  3. Activating Grace, Pt. 3 5:1-20 (10/24-25) Big Idea: “Wake up” to God’s grace to grow and become more like Christ. Understanding God’s will and why we need to be (continually) filled with God’s Holy Spirit (we leak J)
  4. Family responsibilities 5:21-6:4 (10/31-11/1) Big Idea: Grace to grow a strong marriage and family through mutual submission and sacrificial love.
  5. Social responsibilities 6:5-9 (11/7-8) Big Idea: Whole-hearted service in our vocation. (We may want to also acknowledge and repent of the evil of slavery in our nation’s history as well as draw attention to contemporary human trafficking issues.
  6. (Missions Weekend @KHC — 11/14-15)
  7. Spiritual Warfare + Conclusion 6:10-24 (11/21-22) Big Idea: Grace for strength to fight the good fight of faith (see also 1 Tim 6:12).

The essential appeal of Ephesians is that it presents the basic doctrines of Christianity comprehensively, clearly, practically, and winsomely. In the Epistle we have a magnificent outpouring of divine revelation, bringing out the mystery of the heart of God that was hidden from eternity and was given to the Ephesians, not for themselves alone, but with the whole Church in view. What belongs to Ephesus is what God has given to all His saints.

[1] Peter T. O’Brien. The Letter to the Ephesians, Eerdmans 1999:1.

[2] Ephesians, NIV App Commentary, 17.

[3] E. J. Goodspeed. The Meaning of Ephesians, Chicago 1933:227.

[4] Ralph Martin. Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, Westminster John Knox Press, 1992:1.

[5] R. Kent Hughes. Ephesians, The Mystery of the Body of Christ, Crossway 1990:16.

[6] James Montgomery Boice. Ephesians, Baker 1997:xi.

[7] Adapted from the Gospel Transformation Bible.

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Introduction to Ephesians

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