Welcome to Ephesians! There are some people I’d like you to meet.
First, Paul. This man has a special place in my heart, more and more as his letters go on. He is the writer of this letter to the Ephesians.
Both a Jew and a Roman citizen, his father a Pharisee, Paul followed suit, and that is what Paul grew up to be as well. He was educated under the best and knew the law like the back of his hand. He was so passionate about the law that he completely missed Jesus as the Messiah, and ended up killing a lot of Christians because surely Jesus was complete blasphemy! However, you know how Jesus is – he personally showed up to Paul while he was on his way to go persecute more Christians, revealed himself as the Messiah, and then blinded Paul, only to send him to a man of God to be healed (who was afraid of Paul, by the way, and thought Paul was going to kill him). The rest is history – Paul saw Christ as his treasure, the goal he was striving towards; missions was the overflow of that. God chose Paul as his instrument to bring the gospel to the Gentiles and to suffer for him – and that is just what Paul did. He was persecuted heavily for spreading the Gospel; he was in prison in Rome when he penned this letter.
Paul first went to Ephesus in 52AD, about 10 years before this letter, and stayed for 3 years. He planted a church there, but it was Priscilla and Aquila who brought Christianity to the city.
Onto the next – come with me to the city of Ephesus around 60-62AD. It is important that you meet these people; it is they that this letter is written to, after all.
The city of Ephesus was the largest city in the province of Asia with its crowning jewel being a massive temple to the goddess Artemis – the goddess of childbirth and fertility, worshiped by perverse sexual acts, including temple prostitution. Magic was a huge part of their culture, along with the worship of other gods. They were very spiritual – but that spirituality often personified itself in evil & disgusting acts. Mystery religions were a huge thing in the Ephesian society – do a ritual (blood-sprinkling, drunkenness, sexual acts with a priest/priestess, just to name a few), go up a level. However, you could never get to the top, which is where salvation was found. Magic was also a huge part of their culture.
– big picture –
From start to finish, Ephesians will take you 20 minutes to read. Every good movie or book has a story line, right? A progression that the series of events follows. So does Ephesians, and it looks a little something like this:
| Ch 1-3 | Ch 4-6:9 | Ch 6:10-24 |
| SIT | WALK | STAND |
| Ch 1-3 | Ch 4-6 |
| GOSPEL STORY | YOUR STORY |
This letter is all about identity. The first part, Sit/Gospel Story, is all about what God’s already done. This is something the Ephesians can’t control, and can’t earn. It’s already done, decided, gifted. The second part, Walk & Stand/Your Story, is the response and overflow that the Gospel message should have on the lives of those who hear and accept it. It is what the transforming power of the Gospel looks like in real life. Paul addresses how believers can live godly lives in the midst of an immoral, pagan culture, and the Jew/Gentile disunity in the church.
– the details –
*Disclaimer: it is 100% up to you how you use this blog! Read Ephesians first then the blog; read the blog then Ephesians; read through the blog chapters & book chapters together – do it how it works for YOU! My heart is for you to understand Ephesians on a deeper level through this blog – there is no right or wrong way :) *
Take a walk with me, will you? I would like to take you on the path of this letter, through the valleys and forests and mountains. I want you to see the sights, smell the scents and feel the weight of its beauty.
I need you to do something for me first, though – take off your own glasses, the ones with which you see the 21st century, North American world, and put on the glasses of the Ephesians in the AD60s. As you read this book, read it through their culture, their struggles, their thought processes, their experiences.
~ Chapter 1 : sit DOWN.
The Ephesians did not grow up with knowledge of the LORD as God. They grew up with a lot of different gods requiring a lot of different things from them (gifts, human sacrifices, sexual rituals) to appease them – the bigger the sacrifice, the more indebted the god was to them, the bigger blessing they would get. These gods were never pleased, and they did not love people – they were worshiped to fill a need (if you needed rain for your crops, you would go have sex with a temple prostitute to stimulate the rain god Baal, and he would send rain on your crops, for example). Ephesus had a massive, beautiful temple to Artemis that became one of the seven wonders of the world. Along with the city’s practice of magic and seeking after mystery religions, the Ephesians would struggle to get up from under their culture into the truth of who Christ is, and who they are. They would have the mindset that they would have to do a lot, sacrifice a lot, worship a lot, to obtain anything in this Jesus guy. It’s almost as if Paul is saying, “Sit the heck down. This is ALREADY DONE. This is who you are, this is what you’ve been given. Listen. Soak it in.”
Paul makes sure that the readers know in the very first sentences that their salvation is not about what they have done. In verses 3-14 alone the phrase “in/through Christ/him” is repeated 10 times. It all hangs on him. Paul uses past tense – it has already all been done, all been gifted.
He keeps repeating words like “inheritance” and “God’s will/purpose/plan” because these are things that the new Christians in Ephesus would have been wondering about. Their question would have been, “What rituals do we have to do to gain this inheritance?” And Paul’s answer to them is – sit down. Stop. Nothing you do will make God love you more, give you more, bring you to a higher level, because he has already given it all. Let that sink in. He has already given it all, and there is nothing you can do to be given more or less.
In verses 17-19, Paul is saying, “But wait – there’s more. You don’t even know the half of it!” There is this bigness to God that Paul paints and expands throughout this letter. This would have been key to the Ephesians. You see, in the mystery religions that were so popular in their time, they started at the bottom, would perform a ritual, which may include ceremonial washings, blood-sprinkling, drunkenness, sacramental meals, passions plays, or sexual rituals with a priest/priestess, and then you go up a level. The higher you get, the more spiritual you are. The goal was to become the most spiritual and gain access to salvation. The only problem was, you could never get to the top, and so you would never gain salvation, because it wasn’t real. Paul knew this, and he uses words like “mystery” to draw the reader’s attention. He is showing them something that is real, an inheritance that has already been given to them, a new identity that they already have, and a big God who will be the one to give them revelation – it’s not on them to perform the right ritual. They are living in the “now, but not yet” of having been given everything, yet also continually getting revelation from God as their capacity expands.
~ Chapter 2 : before & after
Paul expands God’s bigness. God continues to get bigger and bigger, more and more holy and loving and gracious and powerful – yet as our human capacity expands, it cannot quite fit him into the box…there is simply more space for us to see him more fully. Part of the inheritance Paul is talking about is seeing God in his fullness at the end of time.
He shows the Ephesians the weight of who they were, so that they can begin to grasp how out-of-this-world God’s grace in saving them and giving them a new identity and inheritance as his children is. God isn’t repulsed by their previous life, and he also doesn’t require what the pagan gods did. All of the responsibility hangs on God – it was Jesus’ blood that brought them near to God, not anything that they did to appease him. It was God who gave them a new identity, not they themselves.
Paul ties a bow on this then-and-now contrast by zooming out into the big picture. Not only have they, Gentile Ephesians, been brought near to God and made new, but they’ve been made a part of God’s massive family, which includes the Jews. God’s heart in setting apart a people was that they would reflect him and draw others back to Himself. Gradually, an exclusivity grew among the Jews because they were God’s chosen people, and everyone else was not. There was intense hostility and strict separation between the Jews and Gentiles by the time Jesus came. But now, they are all part of one family…because of Jesus. There is no longer Jew or Gentile because everyone has been made clean. This had always been God’s heart. Can you imagine how this would have changed the way of life of both Jews and Gentiles? No one is on the outside. No one is more loved by God than the other. There’s no fight to the top like with the mystery religions. Imagine the impact it would have on non-believers, to see Jews and Gentiles in unity.
~ Chapter 3: the mystery
THIS IS THE REASON. Those are big words, dear friends. *This* is the reason that Paul is a PRISONER for Jesus — to bring the glorious mystery of the Gospel to the Gentiles. What a beautiful picture. What a beautiful sacrifice. (I have a major bible-crush on Paul, FYI.)
This “mystery” that Paul is bringing to the Gentiles is that they have been made fellow HEIRS, MEMBERS of the same body, and SHARERS in the promise of Jesus through the Gospel. Those are all identity words, God’s way of saying, “You are my kids now.” They have a family. They are a part of something that is so much bigger than themselves.
Paul gave everything for this message, this “mystery”. There is weight to that. Paul was beaten, mocked, imprisoned and likely killed for this message. Don’t miss this. Take a moment to ask yourself, “Why?”
Again, Paul emphasizes God’s “eternal purpose” in v11-12, that all people have access to him through Jesus. THIS IS GOD’S HEART. This is so who he is! It is his character through and through, all throughout the bible. This is the God that the Ephesians are getting to know, he is so different from the gods that they have known all their lives. He actually loves them, he doesn’t need to be appeased, his heart for them is good, he will provide for them for nothing in return.
Paul beautifully summarizes the first three chapters of this letter in his prayer that the Ephesians would come to know the width and length and height of God’s love. That’s his heart through this whole book, because once they know WHOSE they are, they can begin to know WHO they are. Fullness of life is found in God, not in mystery religions, and when the Ephesians are finding their life in him, they will have fullness of life. That is what they have been searching for.
End Scene; the curtains close…
~ Chapter 4: walk it out
The curtains reopen with a big, loud THEREFORE. “I’ve told you of all that God has done FOR YOU, that you cannot work for or earn, I’ve told you who he has made you, and all that you have in him — THEREFORE –” live a life worthy of this. *mic drop*
Wow, do you feel the power of this statement? This is the climax of the letter. Paul has been building on the largeness of God, on what he has done for them, on who he has made them, and now comes the explosion of how beautifully their lives will change because of this magnificent God.
The life that the Ephesians will now life, BECAUSE of Christ and not FOR him, is out of an overflow. It is out of what Jesus has done for them, who God has made them, not in an effort to get to the highest level of spirituality — they are already there.
I love the BUT in verse 7 – live this sort of life, live in unity with one another – BUT LIVE IT UNIQUELY. Don’t be looking over your shoulder at what others are called to do, what others have been gifted with because YOU, wonderful Ephesian, have been given gifts and talents and a calling that is fine-tuned to YOU alone. They weren’t made to be copies, robots of Christ, but to uniquely come together as one massive puzzle for him – and for that to work, the pieces need to look different.
The purpose of these gifts? They are in an “already, but not yet” situation. They HAVE BEEN GIVEN the fullness of God, full access, full identity – and yet they still are themselves, it will be a process to step into all that God has given them. That’s where the gifts come in – they are to equip and build up the body of Christ until ALL reach the FULLNESS. That was then, and it is still now.
The first half of chapter 4 is Paul sharing the WHY of a changed life in Christ; verse 17 onward is HOW. It is very practical and very tuned to their time and their culture. It is not a set of absolute rules that every time and every culture (eg. 2017 Canadian, or 1954 South African). It is so important that we put on our AD60 Ephesian lenses for this part, because Paul is speaking to their time and their culture. Ask yourself, “Why would Paul tell the Ephesians to do this? How would this change their lives, their culture, their families? How would this help them look more like Jesus in comparison to their previous lives?” Once you see it through that lens, you can pull out timeless truths – true for every culture in every year and every social and financial status.
I challenge you, dear reader, to not look at verses 25-5:2 as a list of rules, but to really look at the heart behind it. Paul is saying to the Ephesians, by living like this, you will be LIGHT, it will SET YOU APART and it will DRAW OTHERS IN to Jesus. This goes all the way back to the beginning, to God’s plan to redeem mankind that began right after Adam and Eve at the fruit – he wanted a people who would reflect him and draw others in to be with him also. Does this sound a little bit like the eternal purpose of God that Paul is repeating throughout this book?
~ Chapter 5
Pay attention to the *but* here in verse 3, because you’re about to see a picture of what Jesus DOES NOT look like, and it even plays into inheritance as well. Paul is saying that followers of Jesus will act like Jesus, they will be transformed from the inside out because that is the power of Holy Spirit – the fruits of the Ephesians’, and our, lives are a tell-tale sign of who or what their god is. Notice that the words “light” and “fruit” correspond – there is no fruit in the dark.
Okay, I’m just going to say it, we’re about to get into a bit of a hairy section here – gender roles & family life. This had always been a hard section for me, because even though I knew that the culture was different when this was written and that Paul is actually giving women a higher place by telling their husbands to love them, it just didn’t click. It’s okay if you struggle with it too – but please, don’t stop here because of it. Wrestle through it! Here are some of my thoughts.
A Christian household, whether it’s the relationship between husband and wife, parents and child, slaves and masters, is supposed to be a picture of Christ & the church. That is the point Paul is trying to make here. He is not trying to be oppressive, or put people in a box; he is giving real life examples of how godly relationships within a Christian household should look, because when people see the cycle of a husband loving his wife and his wife respecting him, or of fathers disciplining & not provoking, and children obeying, or of slaves and masters serving God first – non-Christians would be seeing a picture of Jesus and his people, and it would draw them in because it was so different from their culture. That is the goal – live like Jesus, draw people into the family (authentically, by the way).
~ Chapter 6
Finally – stand. Paul has taken the reader through sitting (what GOD has done), walking (how their lives change BECAUSE of what God has done) and now, they are to stand firm in their identity. The purpose of standing is so that they will not be shaken by the devil. Here’s the thing – they have changed, but their culture has not. The Ephesian Christians are still surrounded by magic and mystery religions and temple prostitution and a whole shmozzle of gods. THIS is why they need to know whose they are, who that makes them, and to stand firm in that. They can no longer live as the Gentiles do; they cannot have one foot on each side.
Paul stresses that they need the whole armour – not just parts of it. Miss any piece and they will be left vulnerable – they need truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation and the Holy Spirit. Notice that all of these things have been given to them – they don’t have to level up and earn it, they just have to embrace it.
~ ~ ~
Precious reader, YOU DID IT!!! You have finished your first “road trip” of the series through Ephesians, and I am so proud of you. This book is jam packed, there is so much to gain from it. We’ve talked a lot about what this book would have meant to the Ephesians, but now let’s talk about us.
Maybe you were struck by how the fruit of a Christian’s life will show who they are serving (everyone serves someone or something) and are seeing that the fruit of your life shows something other than Jesus. Maybe you had never realized that you didn’t have to work to level up with God, and you just need to sit in what God has done for you. Maybe you are easily shaken, and you are realizing how important it is for you to stand firm in a world that largely does not look like Jesus. Whatever it may be, sit in the quiet with God and ask him what part of your heart and life he is touching on.
For me, I was really challenged in the “sitting” section, as that’s where God seems to have me in life right now. I am re-realizing his bigness, his majesty, his love, his heart. For the last 7 ish years of my life, my understanding of love is that I had to work to earn it. God is stripping that back from me. Most of the stripping has been painful – but this part is beautiful, as I realize all that HE has done, who HE has called me, the family that I get to walk into.
I feel I’ve been marinating in the first 3 chapters of Ephesians for the entire month I’ve been studying it and writing this blog. It’s freed me, already, of the pressure to do more, to be more, to earn God’s love and people’s love. Constantly at the front of my mind has been who GOD calls me – his beloved. This has been my “application” of Ephesians to my life – to marinate in the truth that my identity is secured, that Jesus is absolutely obsessed with me, and I already have an inheritance of the fullness of God, right here, right now. I’ve pinned a hand-written “note from God” by my coffee shelf where I see it every day – “Arial, do you know that I love you?…then feed my sheep.” I am sitting.
How is digging into the book of Ephesians changing your life? Let me know in the comments! Tell us all what stood out to you – we may have missed some gold that you picked up on! I’m excited to be going on this trip with you.
– – Extra Study Tools
These are words that are either repeated or are used to grab the reader’s attention so that Paul can make a point
God’s will/plan/good pleasure/purpose
Questions To Ask:
As you study, ask yourself these questions, or come up with your own! The sky’s the limit :)
1:3 How would the reader (the Ephesians) be impacted to hear that they ALREADY HAVE been blessed with EVERY spiritual gift, in a culture of mystery religions?
1:10 How would God’s plan being to gather all things to himself take the pressure off of the Ephesians to earn their salvation?
1:17-19 Since the reader has already been given salvation and does not have to work to earn it like in mystery religions, what would be the point in them gaining greater revelation of who God is, if not to go up a level?
1:20-21 In a culture where many different pagan gods are worshiped, why would it be key for the reader to know that Jesus is the highest authority, the only God?
2:3-6 Why would Paul want to show the reader a before and after picture of their lives, before and after Christ?
2:15-16 How would Christ bringing the Jews and Gentiles together into one family show the world a greater picture of who the Lord is?
3:5-6 How will the “mystery” being made known of the Gentiles becoming fellow heirs, members of the same body and sharers in Christ Jesus through the gospel impact their relationship with God?
3:11-13 Why is this gospel message worth it to Paul to suffer so greatly for?
3:18-19 How would gaining deeper knowledge in the love of Christ so that they will be filled with the fullness of God be different for the reader than trying to go up levels in mystery religions?
4:4-5 How would this type of unity among believers, both Jews and Gentiles, impact the world around them?
4:11 How could these different categories of gifts bring unity among believers rather than fighting to get to the top?
4:17 Why can the Ephesians not live both as Gentiles and as Christians?
5:1-2 How would the Ephesian Christians living this way impact their society?
5:5 What does this say about the kingdom of God?
5:33 How would the world see Christ through the Christian Ephesians living this way?
6:13 How would standing firm impact the reader’s life in a different way than the walking out of their faith?