Introduction to Ephesians
General background to the letter
The letter to the Ephesians was written by the Apostle Paul (Eph. 1:1) while he was under house arrest in Rome in AD61-62 (Eph. 3:1, 4:1, 6:20). Paul was surrounded by his friends like Luke, Timothy, Aristarchus, Epaphrus, Onesimus and Tychicus (who delivered this letter to Ephesus – Eph. 6:21). It seems likely that Paul also wrote the letters of Colossians and Philemon during this imprisonment.
The letter is addressed to the church in Ephesus (Eph. 1:1), which was the chief city of the Roman province of Asia (modern day Western Turkey). However, we know that the letter to the Ephesians was widely circulated and read by the churches in the surrounding region.
Ephesus and the church
Ephesus was a thriving and important city with a population of around 200,000 making it the third largest in the Roman Empire after Alexandra and Rome. The city was a major commercial centre located on important transport routes (it was at the end of the Silk Road from China), and people travelled there on business from all over the Middle East. Ephesus was home to a pagan temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Diana (Greek name – Artemis) and home to her cult. The temple was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and it would have attracted many pilgrims and tourists. Diana was a goddess who represented fertility and sexuality, and writers who lived during these times described a high level of immorality within the city.
Paul had founded the church here on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:18-21). However, he had quickly moved on leaving Priscilla and Aquila to continue the work, which Apollos later joined them in (Acts 18:24-26). On a later visit Paul stayed at Ephesus for three years (AD53-55) and during that time he taught regularly at the lecture hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:8-10). Some of those who believed were visitors to Ephesus, and they took the gospel back to their own cities (Acts 19:8-10).
Why did Paul write the letter?
Paul had founded this church and he had spent a considerable amount of time working with them and living alongside them. However, he was now under house arrest in Rome, facing an uncertain future, and he wanted to strengthen and prepare them for present and future challenges.
Paul was aware that the church faced twin pressures from the successful and powerful money-driven business sector on one side, to the highly influential sexually immoral cult of Diana on the other. To be an effective witness, the church would have to be secure in Christ and strongly united in Him (Eph. 4:1-7), united in their diverse roles (Eph. 4:11-13) and united in their relationships with each other (Eph. 4:25-5:2) to show that they were all members of one body.
Paul advised them to be careful to live in the light, and to make the most of every opportunity because the days were evil (Eph. 5:8-16). They were to seek the filling of the Holy Spirit and encourage one another daily, always looking for God’s hand at work and giving thanks for His goodness to them (Eph. 5:17-20). Paul also told them to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21) and explained the importance of having strong close relationships between wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters (Eph. 5:22-6:9). In this way Paul hoped that the church would be able to stand firm and not let the devil gain a foothold (Eph. 4:27).
Paul had not written to address a particular error or heresy that was threatening the church. Instead he wrote to expand the horizons of his readers so that they might better understand the dimensions of God’s eternal purpose and grace. Paul also wanted them to come to appreciate the high goals that God had for His church.
The message of Ephesians
God’s design for the church runs throughout this letter and can be seen in several recurring themes.
The first thing that we see is that the church is not buildings and land, but people whom God has called to follow Him. These people were chosen before the creation of the world (Eph. 1:4, 11), predestined to be adopted as God’s sons (Eph. 1:5, 11), redeemed and forgiven through the blood of Jesus (Eph. 1:7).
The sovereign purpose of God in establishing the church fills the first half of the letter (Eph. 1:4, 5, 9, 11, 13, 20, 2:1-10, 2:11-22, 3:11) in which God’s divine plan of redemption is elaborated. The church on earth is God’s means of displaying His wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (Eph. 1:17-23, 2:6-10, 3:4-6, 4:1-16, 4:17-5:21). The practical daily life of the believer continues to be lived out on earth, and the importance of the believer’s conduct on earth is emphasised in the second half of the letter (Eph. 4:1, 17, 5:1, 8, 15). However, the sphere of the Christian’s activities is not limited to the earth upon which he lives, but includes the heavenly realm (Eph.1:3, 10, 20, 2:6, 3:10, 6:10).
It is through the church that God wants to manifest His glory and salvation to the whole world. In order to accomplish this, He has made the church the one place where all people can be united. In Ephesians 2:11-22 we learn how differences of race, ethnicity, tribe and religion are dissolved, or broken down, in Christ. Ephesus was a great centre of trade and commerce, a mixing together of people from many different cultures and beliefs. Within this mixture of peoples and religions, Christ’s church was to be the powerful witness to the peace and unity that the gospel brings.
Through the church, God has revealed His victory over everything that is in rebellion against Him. In Jesus we are forgiven our sins which the devil used to hold us captive (Eph. 1:7) and God has placed all things (including Satan) under Jesus (Eph. 1:18-23). God has made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our sins (Eph. 2:4-10). We who were once far away have been brought near to God through Jesus’ blood (Eph. 2:13-18), and Gentiles and Jews are now heirs together in Christ (Eph. 3:6-13). Christians are now free to live God’s way (Eph. 4:17-5:21), and we have armour from God to help us win the fight (Eph. 6:10-20).
Finally, through His work in the church, we see the power of Jesus Christ displayed. Jesus is the one who chose us (Eph. 1:4-14) and in Him we have redemption and forgiveness (Eph. 1:7-8). Paul prayed that we might know Jesus’ incomparably great power and position (Eph. 1:18-23); he explained that it was Jesus who united us and brought us near to God (Eph. 2:13-22), and that Jesus was God’s mystery revealed (Eph. 3:3-13). Jesus appointed us to our different jobs (Eph. 4:9-13). His example urges us to live in a new way (Eph. 4:17-5:21) and it is in Jesus that we stand strong (Eph. 6:10-20).
Why should I read this book?
We tend to think about church as the single building which we visit to sing, pray, listen to the Bible and talk with other Christian friends. However, in Ephesians we see a picture of the church as many different people all functioning together as a single body. This is how God sees His church, and we all need to understand church through our Father’s eyes if we are going to play our part within it, in the way that God wants us to.
The church today faces the same pressures from money, sex and power that the Ephesians faced. We are also tempted to live like others in the world around us. We are tempted by other religions and secularism to put Jesus aside and try things their way. If we are to be effective witnesses in our world, then, like the Ephesians, we too must be strongly united with Christ and to other members of His body. We too must live in the light, be prepared to submit to one another, and be committed to right relationships with our fellow Christians.
Many of today’s societies (especially Western ones) encourage us to be individuals who compete against each other to make progress through life. Ephesians reminds us that God wants us to work together to move forward, united despite our differences and stronger because of them.
In a world that is dominated by Satan and his demons and that is becoming more and more accepting of doing things his way, Ephesians shows us that Satan is already defeated. The devil’s plans for us lose their authority when we turn to Jesus in faith. We are then free to live life God’s way, and He has already given us the armour that we need to wear to defend our freedom.
Finally, Ephesians reminds us of the incomparably great power and position of Jesus Christ. The world around us offers many different lords and masters for us to follow, but Jesus is over them all. In the face of great pressure to make Jesus less than He is, we need to be disciplined in regularly reading Ephesians to ensure that we submit to Jesus Christ as our only Lord and King!
1:3-3:21 The believer’s position in Christ
1:3-14 The formation of the church
1:15-23 The consciousness of the church
2:1-10 The life of the church
2:11-22 The agreement of the church
3:1-21 The calling of the church
4:1-6:20 Christ-like conduct in the world
4:1-6:9 The conduct of the church
4:1-16 It's ministry – diversity in unity
4:17-5:21 It's moral standards
5:22-6:9 Standards of behaviour within the church
6:10-20 The weapons available to the church