Introduction to Ephesians

Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus rather unique in that it does not address any specific theology error or doctrinal heresy that was present in the church at that time.  Rather, Paul’s writing here seems to be focused more on expanding the understanding of God’s love, grace, and eternal purpose and to link those to God’s goals for the Church as well.

Here Paul addresses a number different aspects of God that we have later formed into doctrines, key aspects of the Christian faith that are drawn out of Scripture.  As He explains God’s great purpose and forethought in the plan of salvation and the goals God has for the Church, Paul then moves on to show the steps toward their fulfillment.  As is almost universally true with Paul, this is the move from theological thought to practical application.

Ephesus itself was one of the most important cities in western Asia Minor, which we know today as the country of Turkey.  Located just inland, it had a harbor along the Cayster River that ran down to the Aegean Sea.  Because of this, the city became an intersection of several major land and sea trade routes.  Acts 19 records Paul’s visit to Ephesus, where he spent over 2 years evangelizing and setting up a church, which is also the time and place that he wrote the first letter to the church in Corinth.

The Apostle John also spent a majority of his later years in the city of Ephesus, from which he rebuilt the Christian community there.  He used the city as a home base for evangelism throughout Asia Minor.  John was exiled from Ephesus to the Island of Patmos, from which he wrote the book of Revelation.  He later returned to the city where he would spend his last days and be buried after his death near the end of the first century.

Paul visited Ephesus on his Third missionary journey. Photo Credit: www.thinglink.com

Paul visited Ephesus on his Third missionary journey.
Photo Credit: www.thinglink.com



Day 342: Ephesians 4-6; Unity in the Spirit

Our reading today beings with a very important key word: “Therefore.”  I think that we have talked about this word before when we got to Romans 12, Paul is saying in this, “because of all that I have said to you in previously, now do this…”

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

This is the main thrust of the second half of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, Unity in the Spirit.  Interestingly, Paul asserts here what we hold as true for the whole church, the upholding of unity, even in the midst of the diversity of denominations.  Paul’s point is very important, and I think it even more important as we look at the church today.  There have been a considerable amount of splitting that has taken place, especially in the church in North America.  Denominations are at odds with each other over little things that are really peripheral in the life of the church.  Paul is saying that we need to make every effort to heal these divisions among us.  I’m not necessarily advocating for the end of denominationalism here because there is certainly room within the church for the diversity of worship styles and even peripheral theological beliefs.  The fact is though, that we all hold (or should be holding to) the same core principles: Salvation in Jesus Christ by the Grace of God alone through Faith.  Those that do not hold to this Gospel, as Paul has written elsewhere, are in essence, not Christians.

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.  Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.  Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.  Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.  Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Keeping in mind that all of this falls under unity in Christ Jesus, Paul moves on from the greater faith community to that of the Christian house hold.  This passage of Scripture has often been misinterpreted to reference the subservience of wives to their husbands.  Sadly, people have used also to be proof that wives are somehow always to be submissive to their husbands in a sort of abuse of power way in which the husband dominates the wife.  This is truly not the case, and Paul says this outright. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”  Marriage itself is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the Church.  Jesus indeed left His Father in heaven to be united to His bride the Church, something that happened through His death and resurrection and something that will happen in its fullness when Christ comes again in His glory.

Finally, as Paul closes out this letter, he talks about the armor of God and Christian living.  Paul says again and again “put on” the whole armor of God.  This is not “armor” is not something that we use for special occasions, it is something we are to wear like clothing, putting it on everyday.  We are to clothe ourselves righteousness, guard our head with the salvation we have in Christ, be always ready with the Gospel of peace.  We have the Sword of the Spirit and the Shield of faith for our defense, and all of it is held up by the belt of Truth which supports all things at all times.  The best news of this whole passage is that this armor is not something that we create for ourselves, but like the salvation given to us by grace through faith, this armor is built up and given to us by God through the Holy Spirit.  These too are meant not just for our own protection, but for that of the protection of our neighbor, our brothers and sisters in the community of faith.  We defend each other and ourselves, fighting the good fight against the spiritual forces of evil that are at work against us.



Day 341: Ephesians 1-3; Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ

The church in Ephesus was arguably one of the most important churches in the western part of Asia Minor, mostly because of the central location of the city of Ephesus, which was the most important city in western Asia Minor, in what is now known as Turkey.  Located on the western coast of what is now Turkey, Ephesus was one of the last cities with which to dock before heading across the Aegean Sea.  It is almost parallel with Corinth, which would have likely been one of the city’s greatest trading partners.  Ephesus, being as busy and important as it was, became home to a great deal of pantheistic worshipers of Greek and Roman gods as well as a home for thinkers and philosophers.  To that end, the city was home to a great amphitheater, the temples of Hadrian and Artemis, and the Library of Celsus, one of the greatest Libraries of the ancient world (which was privately funded by Celsus himself).

Both Paul and John spent a great deal of time in the city of Ephesus.  Paul used it as one of his bases from which he traveled throughout the heart of the Roman empire, starting churches and encouraging Christians as he went.  John also spent a great deal of time in Ephesus, the place from which he likely wrote his Gospel and the letter that he wrote to the churches before he died.  Tradition hold that John died in Ephesus and his tomb is located there in the Basilica of St. John.  The letter of Ephesians, as well as that of Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon are commonly known  as the “prison epistles” because tradition holds that they were written by Paul from prison to encourage the church as it continued to grow.  Ephesians is probably the most uplifting letter that Paul writes to any of the churches, full of encouragement and instruction with little in the way of admonition and disciplinary talk.

The letter to the Ephesians is divided into two parts that actually fall well into the readings that we have for today and tomorrow.  Today, the first half of the book, largely covers God’s plan of salvation in Christ.  Paul beings with an opening, thanking God for all the Spiritual blessings in Christ that have been poured out on the church.  He also touches on what we have just talked about in the book of Ephesians, the idea of identity approaching it this time from the angle of adoption.  He says,

just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.  He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

This passage is where we draw a great deal of our understanding of the doctrine of election and how we understand our identity in Christ.  Like we talked about yesterday, identity is a big deal for us, especially as we look at who we are and whose we are.  The deeper definition of our being one in Christ Jesus plays a big part in our lives.  Paul says that this happens because we were chosen, in the same way that Israel was chosen, not because of anything that we have done, but because of the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  Like a child who has been adopted by someone, we too have become a part of God’s family, or as Paul says in Galatians, heirs to the promise in Christ Jesus.  There is no longer a distinction between Jew and Greek, or any other distinction, we are all one in Christ Jesus.

Paul goes on from here to talk about how this happens.  Most of this explanation comes from the abundantly well known words of Ephesians 2, a place that we get a great deal of our understanding about the nature of grace:

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.  But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—  not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

This is what Paul is working so hard to make known to people throughout the world, and encouraging churches to hold as the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ.  This too is what he is encouraging all people in the community of faith to hold to and to preach and testify to in their lives.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.



Day 324: Acts 20-23; Paul Arrested

After three missionary journeys totally almost 12 years, Paul finally returns to Jerusalem.  Interestingly though, we read that he doesn’t return there to be an evangelist as he had been in other places, he returns because it is the Holy Spirit that leads him there.  What’s more, he goes there knowing full well that he is going to be arrested and imprisoned for the Gospel.  Despite all the discouragement from the other believers that he is with, Paul follows the Spirit’s leading and heads out for Jerusalem.  The people in Ephesus, where he has been staying for some time, weep not only because he is leaving, but because he has told them what awaits him back in Jerusalem and they know that they will probably not see him again.

I can’t imagine the inner turmoil that must have been going on inside of Paul during this time and I honestly don’t think that any of us in the church in North America, or any of the other free countries throughout the world can appreciate at all.  We don’t know what it is like to be persecuted for the Gospel or put in prison for what we believe.  There are those throughout the world that do understand this, and while I can’t speak for them, I know that they would empathize with Paul’s situation.  I would like to say that I would go if the Spirit called me, and even be imprisoned for the sake of Jesus Christ, but we are blessed with the freedom to worship in the United States and as of right now, I don’t know if I’ll ever experience that.  To be honest, I think that some people in the church see such devotion to faith in the same way that we see “religious extremists” blowing themselves up, and somehow think that there may and possibly should be a limit to what we do for our faith.  Clearly, Paul has set an example for us that this is not the case.  While God cannot and would not call us to kill others in His name, something that is contrary to God’s nature in Scripture, He can and often does call us into uncomfortable situations in which we need to trust Him with all that is going on, and with ourselves as well and our futures as well.

One thing that I noticed in the reading of the narrative of Paul’s arrest and trial is the similarities between this and many other narratives in the Bible.  Jesus, like Paul, was arrested and they tried Him unfairly, drumming up accusations that wouldn’t necessarily hold up in court.  If we go back quite a ways we can also see similarities between Paul’s story and Joseph’s story as well.  Arrested and put in a prison (well), Joseph was going to be killed by a plot from his brothers.  Paul too was almost the victim of a plot to kill him from those that he once served with.  Both managed to escape through the work of a person intervening, and are shipped off to other places in what seems like a hopeless situation.  However, God meant Joseph’s situation for good in saving Jacob and the people of Israel from the death of a famine.  Here too God means for good as He is bringing Paul and the Gospel before many people in trials and even before the heads of the Roman government as well.  While Paul doesn’t necessarily become second in command to Cesar like Joseph, the Gospel of Grace reaches what might possibly be thousands of people who wouldn’t otherwise hear it, and countless people are brought to faith because of it.  Praise God!!