Setting and background: politically, the capital of the Roman province of Asia; spiritually, the center of pagan occult worship; morally, a cesspool of wickedness. Ephesus became the epicenter of a powerful work of God among the Gentiles, spearheaded by the apostle Paul during a three-year period (Acts 19; 20:31). The ripples from that work spread to other cities such as Colosse and Laodicea. The epistle was written possibly five years later, during Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome (Acts 28). The parallels with the Colossian letter and its connection with Philemon suggest that it was written about the same time, and may be the letter referred to in Colossians 4 as “the letter from Laodicea.” While clearly addressed to the saints in Ephesus, it seems to have been intended for a wider distribution, as the Colossian letter was (Col 4:16). This is substantiated by the absence of personal references, despite his extensive time in Ephesus and the intimations of more indirect acquaintance in chapter 1:15, “After I heard of your faith…,” and chapter 3:2, “If ye have heard of the stewardship … given me to you-ward.” Three times in the epistle Paul refers to his imprisonment, relating it to his ministry to the Gentiles (3:1; 4:1; 6:20). Ephesus was clearly a key center of God’s work among the Gentiles, and also a focal point of Satanic counterattack.
Ephesians has been called “God’s love letter.” Since God is love, it is fitting that the great divine secret, hidden from angels and Old Testament prophets, should center on Christ and the Church, His Bride. In Ephesians, we discover the inexhaustible, inexpressible love of God in Christ and the teaching of the Church. It is impossible to think of God’s acting toward us in such overwhelming grace, pouring out on us the sharing of all that He has, apart from love. In it the earthly distinction of Jew and Gentile must be dissolved totally.
We truly possess an “embarrassment of riches”! In Ephesians, we are introduced to our inheritance in Christ: it is so vast and wonderful that our imaginations are staggered. It begins with His choice and purpose, before the foundation of the world. It involves the “true riches” of spiritual blessings that flow from relationship with God Himself. It is evident that Christ is the focus of God’s favor and purposes: we come into the blessings in association with Him. The search for meaning, security, and significance is over, as we discover the ultimate secret of the universe: God most fully represented and revealed in Christ, and the Church, His body, His bride. The “great mystery” of Christ and the Church was purposed in eternity, prefigured in Adam and Eve, and is the purpose for the ages to come (3:8-11, 21; 5:30-32).
A valuable key to understanding any epistle is: how are God, and Christ, presented? Chapter 1:3 gives us the primary key to Ephesians: “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us…” This rare form of address links God to us through the risen, triumphant Man Who is the Son of God and our Sovereign and Savior. Blessing is secured in Him, and relationship to God is established: our God and Father! The apostle’s two prayers for the saints highlight this progression. In 1:17-23, addressed to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he prays for the Spirit’s enlightenment, that we might know our inheritance, and His power working toward us. In 3:14-21, addressed to “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he prays for the Spirit’s enablement for us to enter into its fulness, according to His power working within us.
1:3, 17 “The God . . . of our Lord Jesus Christ”: Divine Blessing In The New Creation
1) His Irreversible Purpose:
a) Christ – Head, Heir, Administrator over all things in heaven and on earth (1:9-10).
b) Church – “in Christ”: chosen, predestined to sonship, accepted, redeemed, forgiven, co-heirs, predestined to glory (1:1-14).
2) His Irresistible Power: (1:19-23; 2:1-10)
a) Christ raised out of death, enthroned above every authority, everything subject to Him.
b) Dead Sinners (Jew and Gentile) made alive, raised together, seated together with Christ – created in Christ Jesus, His workmanship!
3) His Inexhaustible Grace: (1:2, 6-7; 2:1-22)
Jew & Gentile redeemed, reconciled to God and to one another in one body in Christ.
4) His Inestimable Glory: (1:6, 12, 14, 17, 18; 3:16-21)
“The Father of Glory” and “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” … willing and able to bestow … that we might be “filled with all the fulness of God.”
Another intertwined key to the epistle is the ministry of the Holy Spirit toward us and in us. Christ is one day going to “fill all in all” and “fill all things” (1:23; 4:10), with the Church as His complement and companion. While the world is still alienated, at enmity, and empty, we are now the focus of His filling work through the Spirit, and the ministry of one another as fellow-members of His Body. Chapters 1-3 are primarily doctrinal, revealing the wonder and wealth of the mystery of Christ and the Church. Chapters 4-6 are concerned with living in the precepts and power of this great relationship with Christ, and one another. Relationship determines responsibility, and the successive areas of relationship dealt with in chapters 4-6 reflect this clearly. Chapter 6 contains a subsection highlighting our spiritual conflict with the rulers of the darkness of this age, a sobering reminder that Satan still seeks to destroy God’s beautiful workmanship.
Ephesians: Christ and the Church – God’s Great Secret Revealed!
1) Chs 1-3: Our Wealth in Christ – Calling Key Verse 1:3
Blessings in Christ: Christ and the Church
Jews and Gentiles Together in Christ: One New Man
God’s Eternal Purpose: The Mystery of Christ
2) Chs 4-6: Our Walk in Christ – Conduct Key Verse 4:1
Relationships, Resources, Responsibilities of Life in His Body
Relationships, Responsibilities in the World, in the Family
Obedient Sons, Servants, Equipped Soldiers
3) Ch 6:10-24 Our Warfare – Conflict
Key Verse 6:11
(to be continued)