This week I would like to survey one of my favorite books of the Bible—the Apostle Paul’s profound letter to the Church at Ephesus.
I think you will agree that these six Bible chapters are worth mastering for the sake of personal edification and wisdom in policy making. Herein is the revealed mind of God transmitted to you for the purpose of thinking the way He thinks on complex issues. Be intent on learning the mind of God from His Book!
Read on, my friend!
Some of the earlier Greek manuscripts from which our modern English translation of the Bible are derived do not specify the Church at Ephesus as the singular recipient of this epistle. Some scholars therefore believe that this book was intended to be an encyclical, a manuscript that first was sent to Ephesus to be circulated and read by all the churches of Asia Minor.
The Apostle Paul is clearly indicated as the author in the opening salutation (1:1; 3:1). The epistle is written during his imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:16–31) between A.D. 60–62, along with Philemon, Philippians, and Colossians. This book is included among the four so-called prison epistles (easily remembered by utilizing an acrostic: PEPC, with the E standing for Ephesians). The letter was sent from Rome to Ephesus via Tychicus (cf. Ephesians 6:21–22).
Aquila and Priscilla, a spiritually gifted couple, first brought the gospel to Ephesus (see Acts 18:26). The Apostle Paul had left them there on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:18–19). Later, on Paul’s third missionary journey, he would spend three years pastoring and building up the church (Acts 19) to the point that they had their own elders, deacons, and female deacons (1 Timothy 3). Some years after this growth, Paul installed Timothy to be the pastor, and he served the congregation for several years. According to the two books that bear his name, Timothy’s job was very difficult as he turned the church around from the heretical teachings of Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:20). These two men had commandeered the church and led it in a heretical direction between the pastorates of Paul and Timothy. These prominent false teachers had nearly ruined the congregation with their pervasive bad doctrine. For instance, they forbade marriage (1 Timothy 4:3). Some 30 years after Timothy had restored the church, it is chastised in the book of Revelation for having left its first love. The congregation remained doctrinally correct but evidently had lost the passion of their personal relationship to Christ and the zeal they once possessed to further of His kingdom throughout the world (Revelation 2:1–7). Paul warned against this tendency somewhat in Ephesians 3:19 when he says,
and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Once a seaport village, the site of Ephesus is in modern-day Turkey several miles inland from the Aegean Sea; unfortunately, the waterway/inlet had long ago become silted in. Ephesus was the location of the Temple of Artemis or Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
III. EMPHASIS AND THEMES
This epistle is evenly divided between positional and practical truths. In the first three chapters, Paul discusses the profound truths of the believers’ position in Christ (cf. 1:4, 11, 2:1, 13). The remaining three chapters discuss what should be the practical outworking of that reality in a believer’s behavior. The pivoting passage, found in 4:1, underscores this idea:
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.
In essence, the whole of the epistle reasons, “Since the believer has been lavished with blessings by God at the point of salvation, does it not follow that the believer should act out in a commensurate manner?!” By means of validation, the word fullness/ filled appears six times in the letter; glory, nine times; grace, twelve times; in Christ, eleven times; and riches appears five times. Believers owe a debt of gratitude to please the One Who saves and empowers them for not only victorious, purposeful living in the present, but eternal security in the future!
The three major themes discussed are as follows:
A. THE BELIEVER’S BLESSINGS IN CHRIST
This book is one of the most important in the Bible in terms of understanding the predetermined destiny of God’s called-out ones. In 2:10 under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul says:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
The believer’s position means he or she is the recipient of God’s richness and fullness of blessing. This theme is illustrated by the following Scriptures: the riches of God’s grace (1:7), the unfathomable riches of Christ (3:8), and the riches of His glory (3:16). Furthermore, and accordingly, Paul encourages believers to be filled up to all the fullness of God (3:19), attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ (4:13), and to be filled with the Spirit (5:18). These inuring riches of Christ to the believer are based on His grace (1:2, 6 , 7; 2:7), His peace (1:2), His will (1:5), His pleasure and purpose (1:9), His glory (1:12, 14), His calling and inheritance (1:18), His power and strength (1:19, 6:10), His love (2:4), His workmanship (2:10), His Holy Spirit (3:16), His offering and sacrifice (5:2), and His armor (6:11, 13). Again, the words, grace, riches, glory, fullness, filled and in Christ are key words that depict the flavor, direction and emphasis of the letter as they repeatedly appear numerous times throughout the letter.
B. THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH AGE
The biblical word for mystery in Greek, musterion, means “unrevealed truth,” appears six times in the letter. The Church Age was a mystery in the Old Testament (cf. 3:5, 9); this epistle clearly spells out and reveals this mystery. Allow me to utilize a California geographical feature as a metaphor to illustrate the point: The Old Testament (OT) saint that Paul reveals in Ephesians is likened to a tourist who is visiting Sequoia National Park on the west side of the Sierra Nevada. If the visitor were to look to the east, he or she may catch a glimpse of the faraway grand summit of Mount Whitney. What the tourist cannot see from his or her vantage point is the vast Kern River Valley that lies between. Similarly, the OT saint looked from his perch of OT truths for his coming Messiah—not realizing the Church Age lay between the consummation of God’s kingdom on Earth. This illustration depicts what Paul is referring to relative to the context of his duty as a preacher in Ephesians 3:9:
and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things.
Paul explicitly states in Ephesians that before the OT believer experiences the Messianic kingdom and shares in God’s eventual earthly and then heavenly kingdom, there first exists the Church Age in which the Gentiles will be grafted-in (cf. 3:6).
C. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE CHURCH
In Christ’s resurrected and ascended absence, God the Father has sent the Holy Spirit to empower the Church to be Christ’s present spiritual body on the Earth. The Church consists of God’s called-out individuals who are truly saved, as evidenced by their trusting in Christ for salvation (2:8–9). The Church properly understood is not an organization, but a living organism composed of men and women who know Christ as Savior and Lord and are mutually interdependent through the use and practice of each member’s unique but limited spiritual gifts, which are bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit at the time of salvation.
Additionally, Ephesians 4:11–12 states that God gave pastor-teachers to His body in His absence to coach and disciple His team to maturity.
IV. CHALLENGING PASSAGES
This book is a benchmark on one of the aspects of the doctrine of salvation: predestination. There is no way around it. At the same time, it does not support hyper-Calvinism1 in that 1:13 states:
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.
The most challenging passage, therefore, is 2:8–9: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Specifically, to what does the phrase, and that not of yourselves relate? I believe it relates to both grace and faith. Each is a gift from God that somehow comes to bear on human will without violating its existence (evident in Ephesians 1:13 and Genesis 3:6, 17). One chooses—via the grace and faith given to them by God—to trust in Christ.
Predestination and human will, which are elements apparent in salvation as seen in this epistle, are antinomies to the finite human mind (cf. Deuteronomy 29:29, 1 Corinthians 13:12) but not to the infinite omniscient understanding of the One Who penned them. The Merriam–Webster Dictionary defines antinomies as “opposition of one law or rule to another law or rule: contradiction within a law.”
Ephesians is remarkable and profound, chock-full of life-transforming truths that can revolutionize a person’s life. It is a book worthy of diligent study.
V. APPLICATION TO GOVERNING AUTHORITIES
A. TO THE PERSON
As a believer, this epistle states that you are a member of the body of Christ and should identify with other believers—not only in your home district, but wherein He has called you to be a missionary—on the Hill! For believers to come to D.C. week in and week out and shun involvement with other believers is incongruous and dangerous! Such behavior runs counter to the thesis of this book (cf. 4:7–16).
Furthermore, God designed His body to be led by the spiritual coaches He gave (4:11) between His first and second advent to equip you relative to your ultimate spiritual calling. These spiritual coaches (pastor-teachers) are assigned the responsibility by God of helping other called-out ones to mature in Christ. It makes no sense for believers to avoid Bible studies and Bible teachers when on the Hill. Not only is D.C. where you have been sent to minister, it is where you live over half the year! Make good use of the Bible teachers and studies He has provided while away from home but make sure they teach the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:27)! Dr. Bill Bright, who founded Campus Crusade for Christ, said, “Several logs burn brightly together; place one by itself on a cold hearth, and it soon goes out.”
B. TO THE POSITION
The “how you ought to walk” section of the book (Chapters 4–6), 5:17 introduces a subsection on how you should walk in wisdom (wisdom: “The skill at living life for God’s glory”). This is the context in which Paul lists three separate authority-submission relationships: the husband to the wife (5:22–33), the parents to the children (6:1–4), and the employer to the employee (6:5–9). In 1 Peter 2:13 the Apostle Peter terms these relationships as institutions, in Greek, anthropinos ktisis, (Lit: “for man created”). (Peter lists the institutions of civil family, commerce, and marriage [2:13–3:7]).
Scripture speaks of five separate institutions in all—marriage, family, commerce, government and the additional one being the Church (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15)—as God’s ordained authority-submission structures that currently need exist prior to His coming earthly, perfect rule. These structures are necessary in a fallen world. Accordingly, the governing authority need defend and fight for an unencumbered existence for these institutions in his or her policy positions. It is fair to say that Ephesians implies that any country that doesn’t have these functional institutions will only accelerate its internal degradation. Therefore, representing these institutions on the Hill as specifically defined by Scripture is critically important.
May God bless your life as you work to master Ephesians in the days and years ahead!
1. Hyper-Calvinism takes certain biblical truths that are soundly and repeatedly taught throughout the Bible and reasons them to an extreme at the expense of other biblical truths. Hyper Calvinists take the unconditional election of God, the sovereign grace of God in conversion, and when they combine those truths to the reality of the spiritual deadness of man they falsely conclude “When God desires to convert a person, He can do it and He will do it without my help.” That may seem logical, but it leaves out another biblical truth in doing so. That truth is alluded to here in Ephesians 1:13 and shouted out in 2 Corinthians 5:20: Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. God calls His called-out ones ambassadors and relative to this passage, He explicitly expects them to make an appeal to the lost on His behalf. Further to this point and illustrative, in the book of Acts, in the apostolic preaching of the first century church, there are numerous examples of God’s disciples proclaiming to the unrepentant masses, “repent,” “come to Christ,” “believe in Him!” Therein is the norm. Therein is God’s way of converting the lost, of calling home the predestined. Yes, God does unconditionally elect. Yes, God does sovereignly convert. Yes, all have sinned and apart from Christ are dead in their trespasses and sin. But Scripture also states repeatedly, in many ways, that God uses believers in the process! He expects His followers to be willingly used by Him in the process of salvation! He expects His called-out-ones to proclaim the gospel to the masses—many of whom (we find out) at the end of the day, are not elect! Therein is the position of John Calvin and historical Calvinism as compared to hyper-Calvinism which is heretical.