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How to Read the Bible Book by Book: Ephesians

Ephesians 1:8-10: “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 have reached their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”

One of the places that Paul spent the longest during his missionary journeys was in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was a major city of Asia Minor. Not only was there a temple to a well-known goddess, but it was a popular place of travel and commerce. Ephesus is especially known for the occult, which is why when the power of the gospel started to take hold there, many magicians came and started burning their books in the streets (Acts 19:17-19). God seemed to show extraordinary power through the Apostle Paul to counter this influence of the magic. So great was the power of the Spirit upon Paul that people would simply take things that Paul had touched and bring them to the sick and demon-possessed, and they would be cured. However, with great power comes great opposition. While Paul had some peaceful times in Ephesus, lecturing in the school of Tyrannus daily for two years, he was also greatly opposed by those who profited from the tourism of goddess worship. Paul will later speak in the letter of 2 Corinthians and say that he had a terrible time while in Asia, far beyond his ability to bear. But God was faithful to him and delivered him from such trouble.

The letter to the Ephesians is Paul’s correspondence with the church in this great city. Some early manuscripts of the letter do not have the opening being addressed to the saints in Ephesus, so there is some thought that this letter might have been a circular letter to churches in the area of Asia Minor. This may be correct. Ephesians has a note of generality that is a bit different from some of Paul’s letters which are much more specific to a place. But whatever the actual case may be, the letter that has been left behind is one of the real jewels of the Christian faith. It is here, more than any other place in the New Testament, where we learn about the mystery that had been kept hidden for ages, but has now been revealed to Paul and the other apostles.

As is often true of Paul’s letters, the book can be split into two main sections. The first section is very theological in content, proclaiming central doctrines and truths about God. And then the second half of the letter is given to practical matters—how the church is to live out its life in light of the things he has just taught them about God. The first section covers chapters 1-3, and the second section covers chapters 4-6.

The letter begins with one of the longest sentences in the New Testament, going all the way from 1:3 to 1:14. It is a long praise to God for all of the blessings he has given us in Christ. Those blessings include six things: we are chosen in Christ to be holy and blameless in his sight; predestined to be adopted to sonship to Christ; we have redemption through his blood and the forgiveness of sins; he made known to us the mystery of his will to unite all things under the authority of Christ; we were chosen for the sake of his own glory; and finally, we are marked by the Holy Spirit who serves as a seal or deposit, guaranteeing our future inheritance in Christ. As long as the sentence is, perhaps there is no greater sentence that has ever been written. Paul closes chapter one with a prayer that those who read this letter might have their eyes enlightened so that they know the power of God that is at work on their behalf.

In chapter two, Paul contrasts who they used to be in comparison to who they now are in Christ (2:1-10). They used to be dead in the transgressions and sins. They used to follow the ways of the world and were dominated by the cravings of the flesh. They were by nature people who deserved wrath. But now, thanks to God’s great mercy, he has saved those in Christ from the just punishment that would have fallen on them. They are saved by grace, not by their own worth or their own actions. Before they were dead, but now they have been made alive in Christ. Though we are not saved by works, Paul will go on to say that they are saved to do good works. God has good things for them to do.

One of the good works that they have been saved for is to be reconciled to one another as well as to God (2:11-22). In Ephesus, as in so many other places where Paul ministered, the dividing line was between Jews and Gentiles. But in Christ, the wall that stood between them and God, and between them and other people has now been torn down.

Paul goes on to explain in chapter 3 how his specific mission is to preach to the Gentiles this great message of salvation and reconciliation. A mystery has been revealed to Paul (and the other apostles) that previously had been a secret. The mystery is that Gentiles are called to be heirs with Israel of all of the promises of God. Paul was made a servant of this gospel message so that he could make known to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ. Part of the purpose of the church is to demonstrate to the evil principalities and powers what God has been up to and the incredible wisdom of his plan. Paul ends chapter 3 and the whole theological portion of the letter with a prayer for strength; strength in their inner being through the Spirit, and strength to grasp the great love of Christ that has been shown.

The rest of the book then spells out the practical implications of this doctrine. First, they are to make every effort to have peace and unity among themselves (4:1-16). They are no longer to live as the Gentiles and the godless do but are to put off their old life and put on the new life in Christ (4:17-24). They must put off falsehood and any unwholesome or filthy talk. They must guard again giving anger a foothold in their life and avoid even a hint of sexual immorality (4:25-5:7). They must not get drunk with wine, but instead must encourage one another by singing spiritual songs together (5:15-20). They must live holy lives in their marriages (5:21-33), in the home and work (6:1-9) and must use all the resources of God’s armor to fend off attacks of the devil (6:10-20).

Ephesians is a favorite of many people, and for good reason. It is rich in theology and practical living. Take a moment or two to read this short letter—and then read it again. Its content will never fail to enrich your life.

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