Ephesians, Part 1

What's left of the Temple of Diana

What’s left of the Temple of Diana

Samuel Taylor Coleridge thought that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was “the divinest composition of man.”  As he mentioned several times in this letter, Paul wrote it from prison, probably from Rome around the same time as he wrote letters to the Colossian church and to a man called Philemon.  The date was probably some thirty years after his conversion, the very early 60’s AD.

We can thank a fellow named Tychicus that we have a copy of Ephesians (and Colossians and Philemon) as he was Paul’s personal mailman, delivering Paul’s letters to their destinations.

Coleridge’s high estimation of this letter is shared by many who have read it and studied it.  This survey of Ephesians will try to hit some of its high points and give you a good sense of why Paul wrote it and of its lofty themes.

Acts 19:1 – 10 

Unlike so many of the churches mentioned in the New Testament, we actually have a record of how the Ephesian church began: during the apostle Paul’s third missionary journey.

Ephesus was where the Roman proconsul was located.  It was a city of prominence and power and was the greatest commercial center in Asia during that time.  It was also a “free city,” with its own Senate and Assembly.  But for all its prosperity and influence, Ephesus was a steadfastly pagan city, boasting one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the temple of Diana.  It was a huge structure with its 127 columns, 60 feet high, taking up an area of 425 feet in length and 220 feet in width.  It was a hustling, bustling center of heathen activity.

If Paul had thought about planting a church there, he would have had his work cut out for him.  He once made a pit stop there long enough to preach in a local synagogue.

They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus.  (Acts 18:19 – 21  TNIV)

Well, it wasn’t for a while, but God did send someone else to lay the groundwork for a church in this pagan city.

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.  (Acts 18:24 – 26  TNIV)

Apollos was a stand-up guy; a man who knew a lot about salvation, but he didn’t know the whole story.  Remarkably, he was completely clueless about the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Priscilla and Aquila, a power couple if ever there was one, and close friends of and co-workers with Paul, heard Apollos preaching in Ephesus and gently took him aside to teach him a more complete version of the Gospel.  Then he went on to Greece to preach there, and even spent time ministering in Corinth.  The Word of God graciously explained to and accepted by him corrected any shortcomings he had concerning the complete Christian message.

It wasn’t too long after these events that Paul found himself wandering back to Ephesus.

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”  (Acts 19:1, 2  TNIV)

So where did these believers come from?  They might have been some of Apollos’ early converts or they may have been some lost disciples of John the Baptist.  But they were genuine believers, as evidenced by this –

Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.  (Acts 19:4 – 6  TNIV)

Genuine believers, like Apollos and these men, have no problem with being told they don’t have their faith quite right.  They don’t mind being corrected and having their beliefs straightened out.  True believers love to be taught because they are able to recognize or discern the truth when they hear it.

Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.  But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.  This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.  (Acts 19:8 – 10  TNIV)

Three months was a long time for Paul to preach in any synagogue without being kicked out.  It seems like a lot of the Jews in Ephesus were at least receptive to Paul’s ministry and message.  Even when he first visited with them a while back, they didn’t want him to leave.

But it was inevitable that he would rub enough people the wrong way, so the intrepid apostle went elsewhere in town to preach and teach, to a place called the lecture hall of Tyrannus.  Tyrannus wasn’t a dinosaur; he was a man.  So, who was he?  He was a teacher or lecturer who was popular enough to have his own hall.  Most scholars think that Paul would have worked at tentmaking until 11 am, when Tyrannus was finished with his lectures, at which point Paul would take the lacturn.  This carried on for two years and Paul made many converts who in turn became evangelists.

Ephesians 1:1 – 14

That’s the short story about how there came to be a Christian church in Ephesus.  Let’s take a look at how Paul began his letter.  After his customary greetings, Paul dives right into one of the most wonderful doxologies in Scripture.  It’s made up of three stanzas, each concluded by the repetition of a phrase (see verses 6, 12, and 14) and each stanza deals with a different Person of the Trinity.  This incredible piece of writing covers the theology of our redemption, from the election of God to our final inheritance; redemption’s consummation.

First Part:  The Father Who Chose Us, verses 3 – 6 

Some Christians get bent all out of shape when they hear the word “election,” but it is a legitimate Biblical doctrine.  It is not an invention of the Reform wing of the church.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  (Ephesians 1:3 – 6  TNIV)

We’re not told what these “spiritual blessings” are, but they are numerous and they are “in Christ.”  That’s not an unimportant phrase.  The blessings are “in Christ” for those who are also “in Christ,” which refers to a “union of persons.”  The relationship between a believer and His Lord is spiritual in nature and transcends any kind of intimacy that can be experienced in the material world.  When one is “in Christ,” he shares his whole life with Christ and is completely dependent upon Christ for his very existence.

These blessings which are being held in trust for the believer, are a result of a plan established in God’s mind since before the creation of the world. Believers have been chosen by virtue of their being “in Christ” to be redeemed and blessed.  This is what “election” is all about.  Summarized, God’s election looks like this:

  • Election says that it is God, not man, who takes the initiative in bringing about man’s redemption. Salvation is totally a work of God.
  • God’s election is not arbitrary, so that some people are destined to be saved, other damned without regard to the disposition of the individual person. The offer of salvation goes out to all people, everywhere.  So “the elect” are constituted, not by absolute decree, but by acceptance of the conditions of God’s call.  Yet even at that, it is the drawing power of the Holy Spirit that enables a sinner to choose Christ.
  • Those who, by faith, respond to the Gospel are called “the elect.” They are also known as “the chosen” and “the Church.”
  • Part of the election of God involves an ethical purpose: the elect are to be holy and blameless in God’s sight.  Christians – the elect – are to be demonstrably different from non-Christians in attitude and actions.

Second Part:  Christ Who Redeemed Us, verses 7 – 12

The second part of this doxology deals with the job of Christ.  Here, Paul mentions two aspects of His work:  redemption and heritage.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.  In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.  (Ephesians 1:7 – 12  TNIV)

Paul’s idea of redemption here deals involves a transaction.  Sinners who were enslaved to sin and in hopeless debt to the righteousness of God were redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Further, this redemption secured the forgiveness of their sins.  The essential idea of forgiveness is the removal of all guilt.

The profound thought behind verse 8 is staggering.  Jesus Christ not only provides redemption and forgiveness of sins, but also wisdom.  Wisdom is given from God to His people so that they can discern His will.  This will is for the “big picture,” God’s ultimate management of His universe.  You can’t get this particular kind of knowledge from a book or from a professor, which is why non-believers don’t get it and which is why they are so opposed to things like, creationism or teachings about the Second Coming of Christ.

Further, Christians are predestined to become all that God wants them to become.

Third Part:  The Spirit Seals Us, verses 13, 14

Finally, but by no means least, come the indispensable work of the Holy Spirit.

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.  (Ephesians 1:13, 14  TNIV)

Up till now, Paul had been dealing with believing Jews.  Now he turns his attention to the Gentiles who have become Christians.  Their spiritual journey took place over three stages.  First, they heard the Gospel – they heard the facts of salvation and they responded.  Hearing the truth, especially spiritual truth, demands some kind of response – obey or disobey.  There is no neutrality when it comes to the Gospel.

Second, they believed in the truth; they believed in Christ.  The Christian faith is not a “blind faith.”  It has an object:  Jesus Christ.  Christians don’t believe in everything, they believe in what Jesus taught.  We know what He said, we know how He lived, and we know what He is like, and we trust Him.

Third. Christians (Gentiles here, but all Christians) are sealed with the Spirit.  This sealing follows believing.  The Greek words suggests a marking, like the mark left by a signet ring in hot wax.  To be “sealed” by the Holy Spirit means to be declared to be genuine.  To be “sealed” by the Holy Spirit also means to be owned outright by the Spirit.  Christians belong totally to Him.

This sealing of the Spirit also involves the believer’s inheritance.  It guarantees the eventual possession and experiencing of all aspects of our redemption.  While it is true that we belong to God now and even now we experience glorious aspects of our intimate relationship with Him, it’s not a full experience; we experience it merely in part.  One day, we will experience the presence of God the Father, the Son, and the Christ in reality, forever.

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