Tag Archives: Ephesians

Ephesians: A Brief Introduction

25 Jun

If you are studying Ephesians with us this summer, you may find this brief introduction helpful . . .

Ephesians: A Brief Introduction

One of the best books in the Bible for grasping a sense of what it means to be a Christian, Ephesians is a beloved book filled with memorable passages.

Unlike many of the other New Testament letters, there is no clear situation or problem in the church that Paul cites as his reason for writing. This matches somewhat the assessment of the church in Ephesus in Revelation. The church is commended for its practices but challenged that it has lost its first love. Though removed some decades from Paul’s writings, Revelation may nevertheless give us some insight into Paul’s motivation for writing Ephesians. Perhaps even at this early stage, the Ephesian church needed to be reminded of the riches they had in Christ and how appreciation of such riches should shape our lifestyle and make us people of joyful praise.

Many people regard Ephesians as deeply doctrinal (and it is) but this doctrinal focus results in deep practical applications. This little book of six chapters speaks to dozens of issues of everyday life application. Some have called Ephesians a theological song. To be sure, the atmosphere of praise that fills the book is an attraction for most readers. Ephesians is not trying to prove something to skeptics and it is not especially heavy-handed toward believers. Instead, the focus is on proclaiming the earth-shaking gospel with all its implications for living.

Ephesians moves through six chapters in prayer and praise and proclamation. The book is just 2500 words but it is power-packed by the Holy Spirit.

AUTHOR

For the first 1800 years of church history, there was no dispute that Ephesians was written by Paul. But in the 19th century biblical scholarship took on a more critical and even skeptical tone. Authorship of many biblical books began to be challenged, Ephesians included. The chief reason for disputing Pauline authorship, apart from the fact that the vocabulary of the book is somewhat different from some of his other letters, is the difference between the account of Paul in Ephesus and his demeanor in the letter. In Acts, Paul had a deep, intimate, years’ long relationship with the Ephesians. They parted with tears in their eyes when Paul moved on in his ministry. But in Ephesians, there are no prolonged greetings, little in the way of personal reference and nothing much that denotes Paul’s personal involvement in the ministry of this church. This difference caused many authors to question Pauline authorship. But there could be many reasons for this difference other than non-Pauline authorship. The letter may have been distributed, as were some of Paul’s other letters, to multiple locales around Ephesus and so Paul kept it more general. It may also be that Paul wished to focus his attention in a special way in Ephesians on Christ and not on particular people. In addition, the intimacy in the letter may be said to exist in the heart of praise that overflows in Paul. He loves the Lord Jesus and he wants to share His glories with this beloved church. And as John Stott notes in his commentary, FF Bruce said, “The man who could write Ephesians must have been the apostle’s equal, if not his superior, in mental stature and spiritual insight . . . Of such a second Paul early Christian history has no knowledge.”

RECIPIENTS

The church in Ephesus was the primary audience for this book, though it may have been distributed to other locales and through the preservation of the Holy Spirit it has, of course, come down to us. Early church history affirms this, as Irenaeus in his Against Heresies says the letter was written to the Ephesians. This is a reference from the second century, so it is early. A hundred years later or so Cyprian bishop of Carthage says the letter was to the Ephesians as well. Ephesus is the only place name that has ever been associated with this letter, but interestingly, three early manuscripts that have been found of the book omit the reference to Ephesus in verse 1. This has led many scholars to believe that the letter may have been a circular letter distributed among a number of churches in the area.

WHAT SORT OF PLACE WAS EPHESUS?

Ephesus was a large and important city in the ancient world, located in modern day Turkey (Asia Minor). At the time Ephesians was written, Ephesus and its immediate environs likely had a population of around 250,000. Ephesus was called the “Mother City” of Asia because of its influential status as a metropolis. It was a major port city for western Asia. In its part of the world at the time of Paul, Ephesus was the most important city, outstripped only by Alexandria to the south in Egypt and Rome in Italy. Ephesus had a diverse population (including a significant Jewish population). Because of its diversity and the Roman Empire’s desire for peace, religious tolerance was promoted in Ephesus as in other places in the Empire. However, in Ephesus this was especially difficult because of the city’s attachment to the cult of Artemis (or Diana). The temple of Artemis, just outside of Ephesus, was regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Artemis’ influence was found all over Ephesus. Her image was on the money, games were held in her honor, banking was done in the city on the temple premises. Artemis was seen as a god of fertility and blessing and was seen as having authority over the spirit world. In Acts, Luke tells us that the gospel impacted the Artemis cult because many were turning away from it to follow Jesus. This caused a great uprising that nearly led to Paul’s death. So this atmosphere of spirituality pervaded Ephesus.

But the spirituality of Ephesus was not a biblical spirituality. When the new believers in Ephesus saw the power of God at work, they burned their magical texts, texts worth 50,000 days of wages according to Luke. It is important to remember than many people in Ephesus who became part of the church had been deeply involved in the Artemis cult. This explains perhaps why Paul focused on the unseen spiritual world so much in Ephesians.

There was a strong Jewish element in Ephesus, with some estimates saying as much as 10% of the population was Jewish. There is some evidence that some Jews in Asia Minor during this time practiced what is called “folk Judaism,” a blending of pagan and Jewish practice that again believed in magical unseen spiritual forces. So the Jewish-background audience of Ephesians could benefit from Paul’s discussion of the unseen spiritual world in chapter 6 as well.

We also have to remember that in the first century the Jews were under a lot of pressure from Rome politically. Acts talks about Claudius expelling the Jews from Rome in AD 49 and we know of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 clarifying expectations for Gentiles. Based on the things Paul talks about in chapter 2 there may have been Jew/Gentile tensions in the church in Ephesus.

But Paul is careful to emphasize in Ephesians that the big enemy is not other ethnicities nor is it the power of the Empire. The spiritual powers are the key focus of the book. We will be seeking to understand these and how they relate to physical powers as we look together at these things.

DATE

Paul mentions his imprisonment on two occasions (3:1 and 6:20) and this is likely Paul’s two year house arrest in Rome recorded in Acts 28. More than likely this imprisonment was in AD 60-62 and if it is the one referred to in Ephesians that would set the date for us. This would make it one of Paul’s later letters.

WHAT KIND OF DOCUMENT IS EPHESIANS?

Unlike Hebrews, which we said was a sermonic document, or Revelation, which is an Apocalyptic document, or Acts, which is a historic document, Ephesians has all the classic marks of an epistle. There is a brief introduction, a body and a conclusion. There are also items found in Paul’s other letters like extensive prayers, household codes and extended theological discourses. In short, Ephesians is a letter.

WHAT IS THE STRUCTURE OF EPHESIANS?

Ephesians has a classic “Indicative/Imperative” structure. The first half of the book gives us the statements of truth about Christ which provide the theological undergirding for the second half of the book, the imperatives, which provide us with the implications of our theology. What we believe leads to what we do. Ephesians works according to this pattern.

WHAT ARE THE KEYWORDS AND THEMES OF EPHESIANS?

Ephesians has several keywords which give us insight into Paul’s meaning in the book. First, there is the word “walk,” which is repeated throughout the book. This is an important part of Paul’s approach to application. In a way you can understand the book of Ephesians around this word “walk.” We’ll look at that as we continue in the study.

Another key theme of the book is the “mystery.” Interestingly, the mystery in Ephesians is different than the mystery in Colossians. We’ll explore about this too later in the study.

Still another theme, and one of the reasons I am so excited about Ephesians, is the theme of the Church. Paul emphasizes the Church throughout the letter. There is great value here for us as we walk as a local church in today’s world.

Another key theme is the gospel’s power to save and to unify Jew and Gentile under Christ. This will be a big theme we will explore.

The biggest message of the book is the transforming power of the gospel. The good news of Jesus transforms us personally, transforms human relationships from racial groups to families to the church.

Other important themes include an emphasis on prayer (prayers and verses about prayer take up a significant part of the book). There is also an emphasis on praise, particularly in chapter 1.

Finally, Ephesians may be the most Trinitarian of all of Paul’s letters in the sense that Father, Son and Spirit receive somewhat equal attention and emphasis. Romans is somewhat like this too and perhaps it makes sense that Paul’s two most theologically rich works would be his two most Trinitarian work. I hope we’ll be able to explore the significance of the Trinity in our weeks together.

CONTROVERSIES

The chief controversial passages in Ephesians today are the ethical instructions of chapters 5 and 6, particularly the instructions regarding husbands and wives and slaves and masters. We will take our time and face these issues thoroughly and head-on.

So I want to encourage you to come join us each week as we study this great book.

 

Ephesians: A Verse-by-Verse Study

25 Jun

Last night we began a study of the book of Ephesians on Sunday nights. In this post, I want to explain how we can get the most out of this study and where we are going in terms of our schedule . . .

 

How to Get the Most Out of This Study

  1. Read the book of Ephesians often. The more you can read through the book of Ephesians the more connections and applications you will see when we study through it together. If you could read through the book at least once a week for the duration of this study, you would have read through the book dozens of times at a minimum.
  2. Come consistently to the Sunday Night Study. Your attendance on Sunday night is the key to getting the most out of this study.
  3. Participate on Sunday Nights. We have some knowledgeable people here. There are some who have been pastors and missionaries here with us every Sunday Night. I want to encourage you not to be intimidated. Ask your questions. Make comments. No one knows everything and we can all learn from each other. I expect to learn from you even though I am leading the study and giving significant time to it each week.
  4. Make notes. Use the sheets provided each week and insert them into a notebook. It is a good idea to journal about what you read each time you read through the book. Write down questions that arise and applications you see. Write down truths you can praise God for in your daily life.
  5. Pray through the book. Read Ephesians at times in a meditative way, looking to turn the truths you are seeing there into personal prayer. For example, when you come to chapter 6 and the armor of God, you can pray about each item of the armor, praising God and thanking Him for His provision. Praying through the book in this way can greatly enrich your experience in this study.
  6. Watch the Facebook stream on the weeks that you miss. You don’t have to miss a single week of the study because it is streamed every week on Facebook. Just look up West Hickory Baptist Church and you should find it there.
  7. Keep the conversation going. Talk to one another outside of the Study about things you are interested in studying further. Encourage each other about the great truths we are learning.
  8. Keep application in mind. This study is not about learning. It is about learning which leads to life transformation. Think often about how the truths of Ephesians are shaping you. Think often about how your life can more fully conform to the truths of this book.

A Word About Our Approach

We will be studying Ephesians verse-by-verse. Many Sundays we will only cover just one verse. Some weeks we will spend significant time on just one word. At the same time, we will always be trying to keep the big picture in mind. As we close each week, we will be trying to see how the particular verse or verses we’ve studied is connected to its immediate context and to the book as a whole. At times we will also trace how the themes of Ephesians connect to the rest of Scripture. So we will be concerned not only with understanding each verse but also with understanding the message of the book as a whole.

Our Anticipated Schedule

This schedule is subject to change but this is what I anticipate going forward for 2018 as we work through the book.

June 24 – Introduction to the Study

July 1 – NO EVENING SERVICE

July 8 – Ephesians 1:1-2

July 15 – Ephesians 1:3

July 22 – Ephesians 1:4

July 29 – Ephesians 1:5-6

August 5 – Ephesians 1:7-8

August 12 – Ephesians 1:9-10

August 19 – Ephesians 1:11-12

August 26 – Ephesians 1:13

September 2 – NO EVENING SERVICE

September 9 – Ephesians 1:14

September 16 – CHURCH PICNIC

September 23 – Ephesians 1:15-16

September 30 – Ephesians 1:17

October 7 – Ephesians 1:18

October 14 – Ephesians 1:19

October 21 – Ephesians 1:20-21

October 28 – Ephesians 1:22-23

November 4 – PRAYER DAY

November 11 – Ephesians 2:1

November 18 – Ephesians 2:2

November 25 – Ephesians 2:3

December 2 – Ephesians 2:4

December 9 – CHRISTMAS CANTATA

December 16 – Ephesians 2:5

December 23 – NO EVENING SERVICE

December 30 – NO EVENING SERVICE

 

This Never Gets Old

20 Dec

I was reading in Ephesians this morning and came across what has become one of my favorite passages. I wanted to share it with you in the hope that it will bring encouragement to someone.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Eph 2:1–10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Blessed With Every Spiritual Blessing

9 Dec

This morning I was reading through Ephesians 1. As I was thinking through this passage, it struck me that verse 3 is kind of a banner over the rest of the passage. In other words, verse 3 tells us God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ and then verses 4-13 go on to outline those blessings. Below is a diagram (admittedly imperfect) that shows the blessings I saw in thinking through the passage. I hope the alignment will be good when this posts. Maybe you will be able to see connections I didn’t see when you look through the layout of the passage. One thing is for sure. While I am unendingly grateful for my wife and family and church and friends and health and a thousand other things, these are the blessings I hope will make my heart sing above all others. I hope you are encouraged as you consider your riches in Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who has blessed us

in Christ

with every spiritual blessing

in the heavenly places,

even as he chose us (BLESSING #1)

(how?)       in him

(when?)     before the foundation of the world,

(purpose?)       that we should be holy and blameless

(where?)   before him.

(how?)         In love

he predestined us (BLESSING #2)

(what?)    for adoption as sons

(how?)  through Jesus Christ,

(how?)   according to the purpose of his will,

(why?)  to the praise of his glorious grace,

↑   with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

(how?) In him

we have redemption = (BLESSING #3)

(how?) through his blood,

=the forgiveness of our trespasses,

(how?)  according to the riches of his grace,

↑    which he lavished upon us,

↑  in all wisdom and insight

making known to us the mystery of his will, (BLESSING #4)

(how?) according to his purpose,

↑  which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time,

(what is the plan?)   to unite all things in him,

things in heaven

and things on earth.

(how?)  In him

we have obtained an inheritance,  (BLESSING #5)

(how?)    having been predestined according to the purpose of him

↑   who works all things according to the counsel of his will,

(purpose?)             so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

In him you also,

when you heard the word of truth=,= the gospel of your salvation,

and believed in him,

were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, (BLESSING #6)

↑  who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,

to the praise of his glory.   (Ephesians 1:3-14 ESV)