Ephesians is a magnificent letter – it is for many believers their favourite Bible book. It is a general letter written to all the church – the entire worldwide church throughout history and throughout the world. The argument that drives the first three chapters is that through the intervening atoning work of Christ the triune God is now centring all of creation around Christ (1:10) and this means very specifically that believing Jews and Non-Jews are united equally in Christ. ‘His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them, (Jew and Gentile), to God through the Cross, by which he put to death their hostility’ (2:15-16).
In the second part, chapters 4-6, Paul instructs believers how to maintain this unity. Essentially four things must happen. First, the church must use the five fold ministry giftings and through speaking the truth in love must build itself up in love; (4:7-16). Second, through changing their thinking believers must live lives modelled on Christ, and must turn from ungodly behaviour (4:17-5:14). Third, through being filled by the Spirit believers must worship God and submit to each other and serve one another in their households (5:15-6:9). The fourth perspective is the spiritual struggle in which this entire re-creative work of Christ is being worked out (6:10-20).
Listen to; Nick’s Podcasts of sections of Ephesians
Download a Bible App for your smart phone and listen when you’re at the gym, travelling in the car.
Read it all at one sitting – and do this on several occasions
each time writing down the things that strike you.
The phrases in Ephesians are much more concentrated than Paul’s usual style, (which indicates in my opinion that each section is a summary of a much longer separate talk). It is helpful to read Ephesians bearing in mind that certain verses direct the entire argument of the letter: 1:9-10, 3:6, 3:10 and 4:3.
Ephesians fits remarkably well into the context described in Acts 19. Read this chapter and note how many of the issues that Paul faced in that three year period of mission and church planting are then addressed here in this general letter. Also read 1 Corinthians 16:9 which gives a tangential insight into Paul’s ministry towards the end of his 3 years in Ephesus.
Watch: The Beach.
A film about Community living. ‘The Beach’ explores utopian living in an Oriental setting. In the film the community fractures but apprentices of Jesus can study the reasons for this in contrast to the sacrificial community life described in Ephesians (especially 4:1 – 6:20).
Study the Bible for Life material and answer the ‘meal course’ questions relating ‘Ephesians’ to 21st Century.
Suggested verses for meditation …
Learn Paul’s (three) magnificent prayers for the church – and use them often!
1:17 – 19a ‘I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that …
3:16 – 19 ‘I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may have power…
6:19 ‘… that whenever (I) open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel …’
The earliest manuscripts do not contain the title ‘Ephesus’, and it is quite probable that Ephesus is not so much the destination, but rather the place of origin of this general letter sent to all Christians, and especially those in ‘Asia Minor’, Western Turkey, who have been converted through the ministry of Paul and his associates during his three years in this leading city. The leading topics of this letter are the same as the issues that Paul confronted while in Ephesus as described in Acts 19. This would date the letter around 55CE.
The leading theme of the letter is that in uniting Jew and Gentile in a new creation, ‘one body’ through faith ‘in Christ’, God has demonstrated to all the powers of heaven his purpose to unite and reconcile the entire cosmos in Christ. His purpose is to ‘bring all things in heaven and earth together under one head, even Christ’ (Ephesians 1:10). The letter of Ephesians therefore both celebrates Christ’s creation of the church through his redeeming work (2:15-16), and describes this new entity with several powerful images: his body, a building, a temple, ‘in Christ’, his bride, a new humanity, God’s family, a marriage. The description of this new creation culminates in a magnificent prayer for the Church’s empowering through the Spirit so that it may know the love of Christ and be filled with the fullness of God (3:14-19).
The second part of this letter states how the unity of this new creation is to be maintained. First, the church must use the fivefold ministry giftings, and through speaking the truth in love must build itself up in love (4:7-16). Second, through changing our thinking believers must live lives modelled on Christ and must turn from ungodly behaviour (4:17-5:14). The apprentice of the Kingdom must now ‘put off the old self’ and ‘put on’ the ‘new self’ of righteousness (at conversion) and holiness (in life). Third, it is through being filled by the Spirit that believers can now worship God and submit to each other and serve one another in their households (5:15-6:9). Fourth, the church must understand the spiritual struggle in which this entire re-creative work of Christ is being worked out (6:10-20).
Question 1 -
Study the leading features of Paul's ministry in Ephesus from Acts 19 and then list the key issues in that chapter that are mentioned directly in the letter of Ephesians.
Question 2 -
Study the way Jesus and Paul address the same issues in Matthew 5:21-48 and Ephesians 4:17-5:20.
Question 3 -
I once saw a Muslim young man with a T-shirt that said ‘I love the Ummah’ (the Ummah is the term referring to the world-wide body of Muslims.) What can you do to ‘make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ between other Christians and churches in the area in which you live (4:3)?
Ephesians 1 - 3 Read with comments
Ephesians 4 - 6 Read with comments
Ephesians - 'United with Christ'
Ephesians - 'The Church'
Date: It is my opinion that the letter entitled ‘Ephesians’ (this title was omitted in the earliest manuscripts) is a circular letter written from Ephesus to all the churches in the area of Asia Minor that were planted as a result of Paul’s exceptionally fruitful ministry during the three year period from 52-55CE as described in Acts 19. This view would mean that this letter was written towards the end of this period. I also think that Paul adapted this general letter into the specific letter to Colossians, and wrote the personal letter to ‘Philemon’ at the same time from his prison cell in Ephesus.
Author: There is some debate about the identity of the author. While it is quite clear that in places the sentence construction, the use of certain words and the theological emphases are somewhat different from Paul’s writing in his ‘undisputed letters’, these differences do not of themselves mean that Paul cannot have been the author. The early commentators and historians all attribute the letter to Paul (as do many leading commentators today). The several long, direct and detailed references to Paul in the letter also strongly point to his authorship – otherwise we are forced to conclude that a pseudo-author is writing beguiling information in a letter that strongly exhorts us to speak the truth! While the author places the theological emphasis on different points, the theology itself is thoroughly Pauline. Great literary authors often use different styles and genres when writing in different contexts.
Situation: Acts 19 gives a good deal of important background information to this letter.
Each of these three aspects feature strongly in the letter to the Ephesians.
‘Ephesians’ follows the straightforward format and content of a New Testament letter, with salutation, thanksgiving, doctrinal argument, ‘paraenesis’ (exhortation and application) and final greetings. There are three prayers that punctuate, and form a reflection on, the argument. Chapter 3 contains an autobiographical section about Paul. Chapters 4-6 teach about Christian living in the households of both the church and the home.
In Ephesians the material is arranged in sections throughout, in a way that is clearer and more discrete than in other New Testament letters. It is my opinion that the material in each of these sections (1:3-10, 1:11-23, 2:1-10, 2:11-22, etc throughout) is drawn from the teaching units that Paul presented and refined while teaching daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). Viewed in this way Ephesians is therefore Paul’s equivalent of an “Alpha Course”, which he developed as a tool for propagating the gospel throughout Asia Minor ‘so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord’ (Acts 19:10). It is perfectly reasonable to consider that men like Epaphras first learned the gospel in this context and then took this presentation to his hometown (Colossae) where he then planted a church. Such a view helps explain the reason for the long sentences and the ‘saturated’ language where phrases are pressed in closely on each other. Paul deliberately concentrates a lot of theology into the successive phrases. Almost all the awkwardnesses of Ephesians is satisfactorily explained when this perspective is taken.
|1:1 - 2||The greeting|
|1:3 - 3:21||Jew and Gentile united equally in Christ by faith|
|>||1:3 - 14||Salvation and the blessings of being in Christ|
|>||1:15 - 23||Prayer for individuals to know their riches in Christ|
|>||2:1 - 10||Saved from the sinful nature by faith in Christ|
|>||2:11 - 22||Jews and non-Jews united in Christ, God’s temple|
|>||3:1 - 13||Paul, the apostle of this gospel|
|>||3:14 - 21||Prayer for the church|
|4:1 - 6:20||Maintaining the unified body by living the Christian life|
|>||4:1 - 16||The body, love, the gifts, unity and growth|
|>||4:17 - 5:14||Christian living and behaviour|
|>||5:15 - 6:9||Community submission|
|>||6:10 - 20||The spiritual conflict|
|6:21 - 24||Personal comments and ending|
Question 1 -
What does Ephesians say about your life in 10,000 years time?
Question 2 -
Why are the seven boundaries significant (4:4-6)?
Question 3 -
Have you been in a church where the truth is preached without love, or, where there is love, but no reference to God’s truth? Why must truth always be loving, and love always be truthful (4:15)?
Question 4 -
One of the key secrets of receiving answers to prayer is to ask for the things our Father already wants to give us; Jesus said that ‘the Father knows what you need before you ask him’ (Matt 6:8). What are the key things we should pray for as articulated in the prayers of Ephesians 1:17-19 and 3:16-19?
Verse by Verse
Introduction to the letter of Ephesians
Although the letter called ‘Ephesians’ plays a leading part in the New Testament -Colossians, 1 Peter and Philemon are each either drawn from it or directly related to it – its context, purpose and origin are not immediately clear. I take the view that Paul wrote this general letter from prison in Ephesus during the extraordinary three years of revival in Asia Minor described by Luke in Acts 19. Paul writes to both Jewish and Gentile believers, some of whom he knows and many of whom he has never met. The distinct, sectional nature of the letter, together with its different tone and the compact, theology-rich sentences indicate that it may be a condensed collection of the key material he preached and taught daily in the Hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9), which men such as Epaphras (Colossians 1:7) then used as an “Alpha Course” equivalent (catechism) for establishing churches throughout Asia Minor. This view is entirely consistent with Paul’s mission strategy and satisfactorily answers the key objections and difficulties regarding the structure of this letter.
The letter falls into two halves. In the first part, Paul argues that Jew and Gentile have been brought into new unified creation (body) by the cross, and the second part describes the lifestyle of the believer and how that unity is to be maintained.
The argument of the letter develops in this way:
Salvation and the blessings of being in Christ (1:3-14)
Prayer for individuals to know their riches in Christ (1:15-23)
Saved from the sinful nature by faith in Christ (2:1-10)
Jews and non-Jews united in Christ; God’s temple (2:11-22)
Paul, the apostle of this gospel (3:1-13)
Prayer for the church (3:14-21)
The body, love, the gifts, unity and growth (4:1-16)
Christian living and behaviour (4:17 – 5:14)
Community submission (5:15 – 6:9)
The spiritual conflict (6:10-20)
Argument and Commentary:
1:1 – 2 Paul’s introduction and greeting
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1:3 – 10 The salvation and blessings of being in Christ
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.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 upon us, in all wisdom and insight9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
This overwhelming sentence overflows in describing all the spiritual riches of being ‘in Christ’.
V3 is a grand summary that introduces all that follows.
V4-5 state that God’s purposes from the beginning of time was to adopt us as his sons and make us holy and blameless in Christ.
V6 introduces ‘grace’ as a description of all God’s kindness to us.
V7-8 Now Paul focuses on the greatest act of grace: the redemption and forgiveness of sins that God worked for us through Christ’s death.
V9 God’s purpose in all this is to bring all things in heaven and earth together under one head; Christ.
This paragraph therefore gives a sweep of the leading issues of our salvation from the beginning of time (v4) to the end (v10): God’s predestining purposes to adopt us as his sons, make us holy and blameless through the forgiveness that comes through the redeeming death of Jesus, and through his grace place everything ‘in Christ’ and then unite everything in heaven and earth in Christ.
Almost every phrase in this paragraph is exceptional.
V5 There are some who get themselves derailed over the complicated doctrine of predestination. Just because Paul states that some who are ‘in Christ’ realise they could only have got there because God worked in their lives to get them there, it DOES NOT MEAN that God creates others with the deliberate intention of burning them for ever in hell! Such a doctrine is an appalling error. God send his son to save mankind, not to condemn it!
V10 This statement of God’s purposes for humanity and all creation drives the whole letter of Ephesians. So, from at least one perspective, this is the leading statement of the entire letter.
1:11 – 14 Our inheritance in Christ
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
This short paragraph turns on the interrelation between ‘we’ Jews and ‘you’ non-Jews. For the Jews, Christ is the fulfilment of all the old covenant promises. The non-Jews enter Christ and are sealed with the Holy Spirit by hearing and believing the message of salvation. The Holy Spirit is the down-payment, the guarantee, as in the case of paying a deposit in a house purchase contract, certifying the future full payment of all the blessings in Christ.
1:15 – 23 Prayer for individuals to know their riches in Christ
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
In this prayer Paul asks that those in Christ will receive revelation about all that is theirs ‘in Christ’. The request centres on three leading words (truths): the hope, (that is the quiet certainty we have about the future blessings), the inheritance, and the power.
2:1 – 10 Saved from the sinful nature by faith in Christ
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Having written with great enthusiasm in chapter 1 about the rich inheritance of all who are ‘in Christ’, Paul now reflects on the status change that God has made for all who believe in Christ. These sentences are effectively a brief summary of his arguments in Romans 5-8 where the liberation from the dominion of the sinful nature is articulated and celebrated. The two passages focus on, and use words such as, transgressions, sinful nature, grace, wrath, dead, disobedience, desires, mercy and salvation. The underlying concept of baptism and doctrine of salvation by faith are prominent, as is the emphasised point that this whole salvation work is from first to last an act of grace by our kind and merciful Heavenly Father.
V6 We are in Christ. That’s where we are now: in the realm of relationship with Christ in the Spirit. We remain there by exercising our faith. Everything about the Kingdom operates on the basis of an active expectancy that the answer to everything in my life is in Christ now. By this faith, this hourly active expectancy, we remain in a place of astonishing and abundant grace; God’s overwhelming mercy and kindness to us, his children.
V9 There really is absolutely nothing that I can personally boast in. Yes I have been and am being saved, but from first to last, even from before ‘first’, before I even had the capacity to be aware of anything to do with Jesus or the Kingdom, my heavenly Father chose to work in me and do what he has and is continuing to do. Absolutely everything about my salvation – our salvation – springs out of God’s mercy and kindness, expressed in all that he has done and is doing through Jesus Christ. And this is called grace.
V10 Paul is quite clear, along with James 2:14-26, that all genuine faith will be evidenced by ‘good works’. Galatians 5:6 expresses this even more clearly: ‘The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.’
2:11 – 22 Jews and non-Jews united in Christ, God’s temple
11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
2:11-22 in the context of the whole letter
Paul celebrated the abundant glories of salvation in chapter 1. In the first part of chapter 2 he described the process of salvation – the way an individual is saved. When a person begins to believe in Christ they begin to participate in the realm of Christ’s activity. The whole process is by grace from first to last. Paul now focuses on the change that has happened to the non-Jews as he describes the extraordinary new creation of God – the Church – which is a temple in which God lives.
The argument in 2:11-22
Non-Jews were completely alienated from the activity of God during the old covenant, but now through Christ’s death all believing non-Jews are reconciled with God. All believers (whether Jews or non-Jews) are at peace with God; they form one body in which all members have the same access to God through Christ and in the Spirit. So non-Jews are no longer foreigners or outsiders in relation to God’s purposes, but are important members of the living body of Christ which is growing into a holy temple where God lives by the Spirit.
The body of believers, the Church, is a living, growing, dynamic creation in which God himself dwells through his Spirit .
Although he describes the body of believers in terms of citizenship, a temple and a unified man, his emphasis throughout this section is that the non-Jews are now fully equal and important participants in this new creation of God on earth. So the focus is on their new status in Christ, in contrast to their previous hopelessness.
V11-12 The five descriptions paint a desperately hopeless condition of non-Jews before the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
V13-18 God’s solution to the hostility between Jew and non-Jew was not to state that one party was right and the other wrong, but to create a completely new ‘party’ in which he united Jews and non-Jews in Christ. His judgement is that ‘Christ’ is in right standing with him, and so in fact both ‘Jews’ and ‘non-Jews’ are equally in the wrong.
V19-22 paints a truly wonderful and dynamic picture of the community of believers in action.
3:1 – 13 Paul, the apostle of this gospel
3 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realised in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
3:1-13 in the context of the whole letter
In Chapter 1 Paul celebrated the exceptional blessings of salvation and prayed that believers would come to understand them fully. In chapter 2 he focused on the inclusion of believing non-Jews in this work of God as he described the process of salvation through believing – a process that is initiated from beginning to end by God’s kindness (his grace).
In 3:1-6 Paul states that he has received revelation and grace about God’s inclusion of the non-Jews in Christ through the gospel.
In 3:7-13 Paul is open and frank that God appointed him to propagate this revelation: the Church, his new creation, not only includes non-Jews but is a demonstration of God’s great wisdom to all the powers of earth and heaven.
V1 and 13 openly state Paul’s imprisonment and suffering. Suffering and imprisonment are THE evidence of genuine apostolic ministry – which is cruciform.
V8 Paul truly considered himself the least believer (1 Cor 15:9, 1 Timothy 1:16) because he violently persecuted the Church of Christ.
V10 Since this verse articulates God’s purpose that the Church is the instrument through which all powers in earth and heaven learn true wisdom, it is considered to be the leading verse in Ephesians.
3:14 – 21 Prayer for the church
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
3:14 – 21 in the context of the whole letter
In Chapters 1 and 2 Paul has described and celebrated the rich results and benefits of the salvation work that God has established through Christ, and throughout has highlighted the inclusion of believing non-Jews on an equal basis with believing Jews.
In the first part of chapter 3 Paul digressed in order to describe his own privileged commission and responsibility to preach these truths to the non-Jews (3:3,8). This description ended with a bold statement exhorting all believers to approach the Father in Christ and through faith (3:12). Paul immediately does this in a prayer (3:16-19) that both builds on the petitions first expressed in 1:17-19 but also serves not only as a summary of the first half of the letter, but as an introduction to Christian behaviour and lifestyle in the second half of the letter.
3:14 – 21
Paul records the two specific petitions that he prays for all believers. First, he asks that believers be ‘strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being’ (v16). The following clause explains this in terms of Christ’s presence in our hearts. Second, he prays that believers may know the immensity of Christ’s love, in four dimensions.
We should note the close relation that this prayer has to that of 1:17-19. They are both addressed to the Father, they both request the intervention of the Spirit, and both address issues of power, knowledge and fullness.
These two petitions reflect the statement in Romans 5:5 that ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit …’. Since ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16) and the greatest commandment is to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart … and soul …and mind’ (Matthew 22:37-40), and since the new commandment is ‘to love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13:34), and, ‘The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love’ (Galatians 5:6), it is absolutely and entirely logical that this is Paul’s primary request for the entire Church (of Jews and non-Jews) throughout the world and throughout history. Following his majestic description and appeal in 1 Corinthians 13 that agape love is central to every aspect of a believers life, Paul immediately states that ‘he who speaks in a tongue edifies himself’. Once we realise this, we will plunge ourselves into the Holy Habit of speaking in tongues in prayer. We shall see in the following section that the body, spiritual gifts and love always go together.
4:1 – 6:20 Maintaining the unified body by living the Christian life
4:1 – 16 The body, love, the gifts, unity and growth
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
4:1 – 16 in the context of the whole letter
In Chapters 1 and 2 Paul described the rich results and benefits of the salvation work that God has established through Christ for all believers, both Jew and non-Jew. He then described his privileged commission to preach this gospel to the non-Jews and ended the first half of Ephesians with a prayer that all the church will be strengthened by the Spirit in the love of Christ.
In 4:1-16 Paul addresses the issues that maintain the unity of the body, and cause it to grow. Although addressing the community of believers, this passage begins to include individual exhortations that will mark the rest of the letter.
4:1 – 16
Although Paul is shifting towards a section where he will address the believer’s individual lifestyle and behaviour, these verses are about the interpersonal relationships in the body of Christ. The first six verses are a deep appeal that every believer, individually and corporately, seeks to maintain the unity of the body of believers by living out the very love of God (prayed for in 3:17-19) through the Christ-like interpersonal virtues of humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance and love.
Verses 4-6 are an overview of the believing community – the body. There is one God who operates in three persons: as Father he oversees everything, as Son he is Lord of the body, and as Spirit he works within the body, leading, transforming and guiding the believer from the beginning at baptism to the end (the future) hope. The whole existence and progress operates through faith.
Within this context, grace is given to every individual member in different ways (v7-13). In Pauline thought, the body (of believers), love and the spiritual gifts always operate together (study; 1 Corinthians 12-14, and Romans 12). Since in this letter Paul is describing ‘the big picture’ – the sweep of God’s overriding salvation work and purposes – it is unsurprising that when addressing spiritual gifts he focuses on the key giftings. Although commonly referred to as the ‘five-fold ministry’, there is a close link to the threefold hierarchy of 1 Corinthians 12:28. Apostles are always mentioned first, and prophets second. The third gifting of ‘teacher’ is linked to the shepherding function here, but first subdivided to the teaching of outsiders through the category of evangelist. The function of these giftings is to ‘prepare’, to ‘build up’ and to ‘reach unity’, so that body becomes ‘mature’.
‘Speaking the truth in love’ (lovingly) will have a double function, both protecting the body of believers from destructive heresies and causing its members to become in character like Christ (O’Brien specifies this: in faith, knowledge, unity, and especially in this context, in love – p312).
Although v16 summarises a good deal of what has been argued to this point, we should note the articulation of a third growth dynamic which is the emphasis on ‘each part doing its work’.
4:17 – 5:2 Christian living and behaviour
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
5 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
4:17 – 5:14 in the context of the whole letter
In Chapters 1 2, and 3 Paul described the saving work of God through which Jews and Non-Jews are saved through believing in Jesus. From the beginning of chapter 4 he has been describing the inter-relational life of the believing community. In this section he teaches about the behaviour and lifestyle of the individual Christian.
4:17 – 5:14
v17-21 describe the hardness of unbelieving (Gentile) heart and the absolute necessity for the believer to live differently.
V22-24 Describe the imperative that the believer must put off the old nature and put on the new nature; this concerns the following areas:
V25 – Truthful speech
V26-27 – Anger
V28 – No stealing; hard work
V29-31 – No critical speech; use speech to build other up.
V32- 5:2 – Be kind, forgiving and love others sacrificially
5:3 – 7 – Sexual immorality is strictly out of bounds
V8-14 Summarise these imperatives with the illustration of ‘walking in the light of Christ.
There is a close parallel between this passage and Jesus’ exhortations to his apprentices in Matthew 5:21-48, both of which build on the 10 commandments.
|Sermon on the mount
Ephesians 4:17 – 5:14
|6 – No Murder||Anger – v21-26 (18:15-35)||Anger – v26-27|
|7 – No Adultery||No Lust – v27-30||No Immorality – 5:3-7|
|Divorce – v31-32|
|8 – No stealing||Hard work V28|
|9 – No False witness||Speaking truth – v33-37||Speech – v25 & v29-31|
|10 – No Coveting|
|Revenge – v38-42|
|Love your enemies v43-47||Kind & loving V32 – 5:2|
5:3 – 21 Sexual purity and worship
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
5:3 – 21 in the context of the whole letter
In Chapters 1 to 3 Paul described the saving work of God through which Jews and Non-Jews are saved through believing in Jesus. From the beginning of chapter 4 he has been describing the inter-relational life of the believing community and specifically the new Christian lifestyle. In this section he warns strongly about immorality and then exhorts believers to worship in the Spirit.
Throughout scripture Genesis 2:24 is the highroad around which the entire field of marriage and sexual ethics is orientated. When questioned, in Matthew 19:1-12, Jesus returned immediately to this verse and affirmed it as the full expression of both God’s creation and his will. To depart from this is to be immoral, so that even the person who marries a divorced person commits adultery. Paul’s exhortation is not only that there is no immorality in the community of believers, but that even the talk of non-believing immorality is limited.
V4 – Instead of dirty jokes believers should be openly thankful for the pleasure of sex
V5 – gives a severe warning that those who indulge in immorality forfeit their inheritance in the kingdom. The kingdom of Christ is Christ’s rule now, before the consummation of the age, when it will blend into the Kingdom of God. The person committed to immorality
V6 – The wrath of God, (during the age of the kingdom of Christ) is best understood in terms of Romans 1 as simply the results of sin. So the very life with Christ, (which of course is in obedience to God’s commands), protects us from being in a place where we sin and experience the results of that sin (Romans 5:9&10 – note how verse 10 explains and enlarges on v9, a typically Pauline way of arguing).
V7 – Parallels 2 Corinthians 6:14
V18 – The contrast between drunkenness and the Spirit is instructive. The Spirit leads the believer into love for God expressed in worship, and love for other believers expressed in submission.
5:21 – 6:9 Community submission
… submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
5:21 – 6:9 in the context of the whole letter
In Chapters 1 to 3 Paul described the saving work of God through which Jews and Non-Jews are saved through believing in Jesus. From the beginning of chapter 4 he has been describing the inter-relational life of the believing community and specifically the new Christian lifestyle. In this section he addresses Christian marriage. He will then address relations between parents and children, and then owners and slaves.
5:21 – 33
In an age where an average of two women are killed in domestic violence in Britain each week, and thousands more throughout the world, it is understandable that these sentences are approached by many with extreme caution. But the apostle of the free Spirit cannot have intended us to think of slavery. Submission means yielding, and this is best understood as not forcing her agenda on her husband. In any case the introductory statement in v21 is mutual submission by both husband and wife to each other. The picture is perfectly illustrated in the first story; it was from Adam’s rib, (next to his heart), that God created Eve, not his foot bone or his skull. Paul begins his teaching on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 stating that husband and wife are one flesh and sexually equal having mutual authority over each other’s bodies. (Anathema to Roman patriarchal society.) Both husband and wife protect each other but in different ways. It is as co-partners that both help and serve each other and inherit salvation together. And therefore in v25-29 the husband is called to love his wife as he loves himself. In such a context almost all decisions will be mutually and equally made. And the calling on the husband is to lay down his life for his wife, and when this is happening, it is an easier calling for the wife to yield and not to feel that she must force her agenda on her husband in order to protect herself.
It is a very great pity that the rage and anger ignited by our contemporary misunderstanding of verses 21-24, almost always blinds 21st Century Christians to Paul’s even more radical and astonishing teaching in v29-33. It is bewildering that the most liberal protagonists almost universally miss this point, because here Paul’s theology is more radical than theirs. Indeed even he openly states that it is a profound mystery. But Genesis 2:24 is an axiom not only for humanity, but far beyond humanity, because it describes an axiom in the very ontological existence of God! That Christ should leave his Father and Mother, (the most powerful argument in scripture that God is our Mother!), and be united with humanity in an everlasting covenant. This picture describes the very essence of the axiomatic test of all orthodox theology as articulated in 2 John 7, (where the divine comes into and partners with the human), and Jesus’ prayer of John 17:21-26. Furthermore it perfectly articulates Jesus’ own teaching in Matthew 22:30 and Paul’s summary comments to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 7:35. The point is that the more that believers are aware of the all consuming love of Christ, (the prayers of 1:17-18, 3:17-19), the more they will want to live in undivided devotion to Him, and therefore these earthly marriage covenants, wonderful as they truly are, are nevertheless only rehearsals for the very great marriage covenant that every believer will enter into with Christ at His return. And so this passage is by implication a very strong endorsement of the celibate life where a believer out of sheer love for Jesus Christ forgoes the (very good, and God ordained) pleasures of human marriage and family, in order to serve Christ and Christ alone. This is a very high calling, but the one who can accept this should accept it (Matthew 19:12).
6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honour your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
The key work here is ‘provoke’, or ‘exasperate’. Christian parents are prone to expect very high standards of their children, (which they themselves seldom reached when they were their children’s age). This is a dangerous mistake. Children must be given freedom to learn to love Christ for themselves. Setting a high bar merely discourages a child and ‘provokes them to anger’ so they are exasperated, angry and reject Christianity as soon as they have the chance. Children respond to life, to what is authentic and genuine, not to severe discipline. It is kindness, appreciation, encouragement and understanding that wins a child. And from that context they are secure to explore the life of Christ.
5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
The ESV has very consciously chosen the word ‘bondservant’ to describe not only the nuance of the Greek word, but to also stress a different type of contractual slavery – an institution practiced with considerable variation across the Roman Empire, and in some cases offering terms of protection for the vulnerable. These verses describe relationships and service motivated by an overriding higher love for Christ worked out in sincere and respectful consideration of the welfare of the other, whether master or ‘bondservant’. Dissembling, deceit, false pretences, along with forceful coercion, threats, (and by implication all violence), must go in the context of a more powerful overriding respect and love for the Lord himself, conscious that all parties answer to the Lord both now, and at the final judgement.
6:10 – 20 The spiritual conflict
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
6:10 – 20 in the context of the whole letter
Having described in chapters 1-3 the work of Christ in saving Jews and non-Jews Paul has taught about the outworking of this faith in relationships in both church and the home. In 6:10-20 he gives a final overview from a different perspective – spiritual conflict.
6:10 – 20
The two key verses that lead us into this section are; 1:10 ‘his will … to bring all things in heaven and earth together under one head even Christ’, and 3:10; ‘His intent was that now through the church the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.’ We are in conflict with; ‘the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit that is now at work in those who are disobedient’ 2:20. It is ‘in the heavenly realms’ that the spiritual forces of evil operate.
So what is our armour? Well, first of all it’s God’s! We are to do what God himself does.
Our aim in the conflict is to Stand Firm – a direct reference to Matthew 24:13 – and when the ‘evil day’ is past to still be standing.
Our strategy whereby we can withstand the conflict in the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ is;
A personal comment: It is wise not to attribute every problem to the devil, nor to deny that the evil day never comes. Spiritual attack does happen sometimes. It is almost always very horrible. It comes suddenly often in a form and occasion which you are not expecting, and as a result it may be a while before you realise what is actually happening. This is why every apprentice must be strong in prayer. Those who are not are much easier prey and are usually badly wounded quickly.
6:10 Psalm 61:1-5 is the key image to understanding this exhortation. We are strong when we get into the ‘Strong Tower’ which is the Lord.
6:21 – 24 Personal comments and ending
21 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts. 23 Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.
6:21 – 24
This final greeting is typical and v22-22 are almost word for word exactly as used at the end of Colossians. Tychicus seems to have been ‘Paul’s Postman’ travelling the region giving copies of the general letter of ‘Ephesians’ to churches (note the ‘you also’ of v21), and delivering the more carefully and specifically crafted ‘Colossians’ to the church in that city.
Question 1 -
This letter contains powerful imagery about the church: a temple, a body, an army, a house, a new man in Christ. Spend some time thinking about your place in each of these. What are you to do in terms of your identity in each image?
Question 2 -
Are you aware of spiritual powers? How do they present themselves? Should Christians fear evil? Are you frightened of evil?
Question 3 -
Should Christians ‘cleanse’ a room of evil spirits before worshipping (2:2)?
Question 4 -
Why does Paul absolutely insist on sexual purity (5:3-14)?
Question 5 -
If God’s plan is to unite (bring together) everything in Christ (1:10), what can you do to get closer to him?
Question 6 -
Look at the world in 21st Century; is Jesus really Lord?
Question 7 -
Unity: What is it? How is it established? How is it maintained? What are the attacks on unity? Where do the attacks come from? How do we resist the attacks on unity?