Today our journey begins in the book of Ephesians. Now the church at the city of Ephesus was most likely started through the missionary works of Priscilla and Aquila along with Paul (see: Acts 18:18-21 and Acts 19:9, in fact most of Acts 19 serves as a background to the church of Ephesus). Ephesus is also mentioned elsewhere in the Bible such as Acts 20:17-38 and 1 Cor 15:32. Interestingly we get a picture of the more mature church at Ephesus in Rev 2:1-7:
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
2 “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.
4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
We see that the church of Ephesus did endure, but they had lost their first love, their love for Christ. While the church was patiently enduring, staying disciplined, and resisting evil their love for Jesus had grown cold. Perhaps legalism had taken hold of the church or they had lost their focus on Jesus as the center of their faith and works. Whatever the reason, I would hope that they would have dusted off this letter from Paul and re-read it in its entirety.
Now the city of Ephesus was the third largest city in the Roman empire at this time and a growing center of commerce. The population consisted of various nationalities including a large Jewish community. We can surmise that the church itself consisted of both Jew and Gentile. This will become important later on as we investigate the “mystery” of which Paul speaks later in this letter.
Another important point is that Ephesus’ culture was home to vast idol worship. The main god worshiped was the goddess Diana (or Artemis as the Greeks knew her) who represented fertility, magic, and astrology. In fact, the temple of Diana was considered to be one of the seven wonders of the world. It is estimated that around 50 other gods were worshiped in Ephesus. Imagine if our church was literally surrounded by temples to other gods (or to demons) and one of those temples was so majestic that it was labeled as one of the few wonders of the world. I could only imagine the thoughts that would run through my head or the fear of speaking Christ in such a situation. However, God uses the weak to overcome the strong which is why the church at Ephesus persisted all those years even beyond the point in time it was mentioned in Revelation.
Before we jump into Ephesians 1, it would be wise to understand a few of the prominent themes in this book. Understanding the themes of a book gives you a place to anchor your thoughts and helps to act as a guidepost as you are reading. There are two main themes that appear in this book.
The first theme I will summarize as: “What God has done for me motivates me to walk in a way that honors God.” This theme covers the entire book of Ephesians. How did I extract this theme from this text you may ask. Well that’s a very good question. The first step is prayerful reading, that is praying for guidance and help understanding what the text is truly saying. But this usually doesn’t come after just one (prayerful) reading or even two or three readings. The text starts to come alive through the Holy Spirit’s guidance after many prayerful readings. Then, after you have understood the text, it is always wise to consult Commentaries to verify that you are on the right track.
After many prayerful readings of Ephesians, I began to notice that the entire book consisted of two main sections. Chapters 1-3 were the first section and deeply covered New Testament theology. Paul elegantly puts on display in these first three chapters God’s blessings, grace, redemption, purposes, glory, His mystery (more on that later), and much more doctrine. But God’s doctrine is always related to us: Our redemption through His blood, God’s grace freely given to us, that He choose us, that we were made alive in Him, among many others.
Then we arrive at chapters 4-6 where Paul urges us to walk worthy of our calling in Christ our Lord and Savior. In this section Paul shows us how we are to live and God’s plan for His church. We are to walk in love, wisdom, and sobriety. Paul lays out how a family should function and the employee/employer relationship. Finally, Paul gives us direction in using the spiritual armor of God and prayer to help us in our fight against the enemy.
So there we have God’s theology in the first half of this book and our manner of behavior (i.e., our Christian walk) in the second half of the book. You could even restate this as: how we should behave in light of God’s theology.
Consider if Paul had not written the first three chapters of Ephesians. How would the book of Ephesians look? Well, we’d have this very short book of rules to live by. Or, what if the last three chapters had not been written? Then we’d have a short book of Theology with little to no application. So we’d either have theology with little to no application or application with little to no theology. But look what happens when the first three chapters are joined to the last three chapters. We have theology with application. But there’s something deeper at work here. The one compliments the other. That is, the theology in the first three chapters lays a foundation for how we are to walk as Christians in the last three chapters. This foundation shows the immense grace and mercy bestowed on us by the living God. As we study these chapters, we will see more deeply the overwhelming love God has for us. This love, mercy, and grace that we see here are the driving forces of our motivation to walk in a way that honors our Lord and Savior. That’s why we can read the last three chapters and not view them as a list of rules that we must try our best to follow but rather as a way that we can bless, honor, and glorify our Father in Heaven.
The second theme is this mystery that Paul speaks of in chapter 3. We’ll talk about that later as we cover chapter 3 in detail. I just hate to spoil the surprise (granted you probably already know what the mystery is…hint, you are part of it right now).
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is a typical introduction that Paul uses. There is a lot here to cover, but I want to focus in on two things. Paul wrote this letter to “the saints” who are “faithful in Christ Jesus”. This is a letter directly written to us as believers as part of the body of Christ here on earth. This is not a letter written to unbelievers or solely to believers who are either new in the faith or mature in the faith. This letter is written to us as a church body. Let me emphasize that to us as a church body. This is key to keep in mind as you are reading Ephesians.
The other thing we should focus on is the grace and peace that proceed from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Both grace and peace are prominent words used throughout Ephesians.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.
Paul opens his letter with the most important thing he can..praise to God or “Blessed be…”. The word bless is used three times in verse 3 alone. First as “Blessed be…”, that God is fully deserving of our blessings. That phrase was confusing to me back when I was a new believer in Christ. How do I bless the God of creation, the One who holds everything (including me) in the palm of His hand? Am I not too small and weak to bless such a mighty God? I found that through worship (in truth and spirit) and praise (from my voice and my actions) as well as honoring Him through obedience to His word, I was able to bless Him. Of course that is no easy task; thankfully He gave us His Spirit to enable us to bless Him. Without His Spirit we are dead in our sins and no dead (dead in sin, that is) person can bless the Lord.
Next Paul tells us of the blessings that we have incurred from our Father in Heaven. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing! These blessings, as we will see, are not material blessings. Although God certainly does bless us with material things we need, this particular blessing in this context is talking of the heavenly blessings that are now ours through Christ our Lord..through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and His making a way for us to the Father. Surely these blessings far outweigh any material blessings that we could ever receive on earth.
In verse 4 we see that God predestined us to be His children before the creation of the world. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 echoes this:
13 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.
This idea of predestination tells us that God knew us before He formed the world and chose us to become holy and blameless. Notice that verse 4 starts with “just as” (in some versions it will be “even” or “for”). This is a causal conjunction in the Greek and ties our predestination back to our blessings in verse 3. But there’s more to predestination as we’ll see in the next two verses.
5 In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
Verse 5 begins a deeper dive into how God has blessed us with spiritual blessings in Christ. Notice verse 5 starts with “In love…” and then each of the following sections below begin with “In Him…”. These are all supreme blessings given to us that are far greater than any temporal earthly blessings. Blessings such as: redemption, forgiveness, our inheritance, and others…all these blessings which are bestowed upon us in Him. Each time you read “In Him” think of it as “In union with Him”. As we dig deeper in Ephesians and Paul’s train of thought, we will see that by being “In Him” we are truly in union with Him as one body.
Notice there is another repeated phrase, “according to..”. For every “In Love…” or “In Him…” (well, actually not the “In Him…” in verse 13) there is a corresponding “according to…” What follows the “according to…” begins to show us the depth and breadth of Gods love for us. In verse 5b we see that not only was God’s predestination of us due to His love (agape love) but also due to the kind intention of His will. God’s very will towards us was kind. His predestination was out of kindness and love. It is no wonder that Paul begins verse 3 with blessings (praises) towards God.
7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace
8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight
9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him
10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.
Verse 7 begins with the first of three “In Him” statements. Here we have redemption in Jesus and through His blood. This word “redemption” signifies either the act of freeing or the state of having freedom from bondage (in this context, bondage from sin) [this is the Biblical definition]. This freedom only comes through the payment of a ransom. The payment for our freedom from this bondage of sin was given through the sacrifice Jesus made for all on the cross. He gave His life and shed His blood in order to pay our debt so that we may have life everlasting. As we meditate on this greatest of sacrifices that freed us from sin’s chains, we should take time to bless our savior as only his children are able through His Spirit.
One more note on redemption in verse 7, in both the Greek and English it says we have redemption. The verb “have” is in the present tense. In other words, we not only were (past tense) redeemed, but the present tense give a more subtle meaning that we are also now and forever more redeemed…that is we are in a constant state of redemption.
But notice in the “according to” portion of verse 7-8 where He lavished His rich and perfect grace upon us. Grace is the giving of something (redemption in this case) to someone else not based on their merit or abilities; rather, it is given freely. But even more moving is that this freely given gift is given to a recipient (us) that is neither qualified nor deserving of it.
As we begin to understand this grace that bore our redemption how can our response be anything but praise, worship, and obedience to our God…Who considered His own grace something to be lavished upon us. We, who were undeserving, became the recipients of His forgiveness by no effort of our own but by the kindness of His will towards us.
Now the mystery in verse 9 is connected to His plan of redemption. A mystery in the New Testament means something that is hidden. In this context, Jesus’ life and death resulting in our redemption was the mystery that was revealed by God. It is important to understand there is another mystery that Paul reveals later in Ephesians 3 that is closely connected to this mystery.
And in verse 10, to paraphrase, Christ will gather up all things including both Jew and Gentile and all of creation. All of this will be placed under the administration (or lordship) of Jesus Christ our Lord. Sin has wrecked creation, but Christ will be placed over all these things to reconcile all things to Himself. As it also says in Colossians 1:16–20:
16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,
12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.
Through the second “In Him” we see that we have already been given an inheritance. This inheritance is found in Christ. We will receive this inheritance once we are perfected and standing before Jesus in Heaven. What a wonderful inheritance that will be.
This inheritance follows from the fact that we were already predestined according to His will. And we know from verse 5 that His will is kind towards us. Because of this we should, in turn, lavish praise on our most gracious Father in Heaven.
The final “In Him” in verse 13 shows us that by being in unity with Christ we were also sealed in Him. This seal is the Holy Spirit, which was promised by Jesus before He ascended to sit at the right hand of God. Jesus had to physically leave us so that He could send the Holy Spirit to indwell in us, to teach us, to guide us, and to be the promise of our salvation…evidence to the world of the truth and salvation from our Lord.
But the Spirit was not just given to anyone. Notice that it says after listening to the message of truth (the gospel of Jesus Christ) and after believing, people receive salvation through hearing the word of God and believing. How much grace has been poured out on us and our churches from hearing the word of God! Through hearing and belief we have received the Spirit of promise and are sealed forever as God’s own. Never stop preaching, teaching, and speaking the word of God!
What does it mean to be sealed by the Holy Spirit? Well, a seal was usually placed upon a document or letter. Placing a seal on a document meant that document was under the authority of the one who placed the seal. This seal indicated: the authority of the one who placed the seal, the authenticity of the sealed document, security as long as the seal remained intact, and finally ownership by the one who sealed it. Translating this to the Holy Spirit as our seal we know that we are fully secure in our salvation as His seal is unbreakable. We know by Whom we are sealed. We know the authority by Whom we are sealed. We know that we are owned by the One who sealed us. That is grace at work within us. This is more than a just a comforting thought, it is a foundation for how we may bless our gracious Father in Heaven. May we never cease praising Him for what we could not obtain on our own.