St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.
Whilst the letter is addressed to the Ephesians it is thought more likely to be a circular letter to various Christian Communities in that part of Asia Minor. Paul wrote this letter as a prisoner in Rome. Because of its general nature the letter provides few clues to the situation in the churches. But it is clear that the gentile Christians predominated, and that they tended to look down on their Jewish fellow Christians.
The central thought of the letter is the mystical body of Christ, through which God pours out the divine life of grace in a most generous fashion to its members, the Christians, in and through its head, Jesus Christ. Finally comes the exhortation to lead the new life that befits those incorporated into the sublime unity of the mystical body.
Address and Greetings.
1. The address and greeting is very brief. (The following twelve verses are very profound. Ephesians). 1:1-2.
The Eternal Plan of the Father.
2. God has poured out his love in us, blessing on blessing. Paul catches his breath in wonder at the very thought of it: ‘Let us give thanks… Let us praise God… Let us praise his glory’. (The text is so hymn-like that the New Jerusalem Bible sets them out as verse whereas other bibles write them as ordinary text.) From the very beginning God determined to share his spiritual riches and glory with us – ‘in Christ’ (the key phrase of Ephesians). Christ stands at the very heart of God’s plan. As we believe in him, his death sets us free: we can be forgiven. We can also share his new, risen life. We are made one with him. And in him we too are caught up in God’s great world-plan as we live to his glory. Ephesians 1:3-14.
Thanksgiving and Prayer.
3. It warms Paul’s heart to hear of the faith and love of these Christians. He prays that they may have a greater understanding, a surer grasp of their glorious destiny, and increased awareness of the power at their disposal. The power of God exercised in raising Christ from the dead and setting him in supreme control of the universe is at work in us, too!
Salvation in Christ a Free Gift.
4. Because of our disobedience and sin, we were ‘spiritually dead’, cut off from God. But in and through Christ, God has brought us to life again. He has made us part of his new creation. We are saved to live as God wants, here in this world – and to reign with Christ in the spiritual realm. Ephesians 2:1-10.
Gentile and Jew United.
5. In the ancient world Jews were separated from gentiles by racial, religious, cultural and social barriers. (Non-Jews were, for example, forbidden on pain of death to enter the inner courts of the Temple in Jerusalem.) The Jews were God’s chosen people, near to him: the gentiles were sinful heathens, far off. If Christ could bring these two together, there is no human gulf too great for him to bridge. And he did. His death on the cross is the one means of peace with God for all people, without distinction, those who are near and those who are far off. And all who belong to him have a common bond which is deeper and stronger than any of their former differences – of race or colour or status or sex or background. Jew and gentile are one in Christ, a new people.
Paul a Servant of the Mystery.
6. Before Christ came, God’s promises were confined to the Jews. The Old Testament gives only glimpses of his purpose for the wider world. The gospel of Christ is itself largely a ‘mystery’, ‘kept secret’ until now – and at the heart of this secret was God’s intention to make the gentiles, too, heirs to all his promises. When Paul was commissioned to bring them the message of salvation, a new phase in God’s plan was begun.
They Must Not be Discouraged by Paul’s Present Sufferings.
7. As people of all nations are brought together in Christ they demonstrate God’s power and wisdom to the watching world. Through faith in Christ we can be confident of access to God. Since such benefits flow from the spread of the gospel, Paul’s readers must not let his present suffering (he was writing from prison) discourage them. Ephesians 3:10-13.
8. Paul has prayed that the church might have understanding. Now he prays more urgently than ever that they may have love; that they may be strong; that Christ may make his home in their hearts; that God may fill them completely. Ephesians 3:14:21.
A Call to Unity.
9. Christian unity is a fact. Christians are bound together by a common faith, a common life, common loyalty, common purpose. They serve one Master. He is the head, they are the limbs of a single body. But they are not all identical in temperament, personality or gifts. The bond must constantly be cemented by a loving, forbearing attitude to one another, and by using the different gifts for the common good. We have to grow up together until we are all Christ wants us to be. Ephesians 4:1-16.
A New Life in Christ.
10. Salvation is God’s free gift, but it carries with it the obligation to live and behave from that point on as God wants. This means deliberately discarding the old, selfish way of life, shedding former habits – and letting the new life change our thinking and remould our pattern of behaviour. Ephesians 4:17-24.
Vices to be Avoided
11. Paul does not stop at generalities: he is quite specific in his ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. The new life calls for truth and honesty; no harboured grudges, no spite or bitterness – instead kindness and a new readiness to forgive.
In a word, we are to copy God’s own character, living lives of sacrificial love which will bear the searching light of God. Once we belonged to the dark: now we are ‘children of the light.’ Ephesians 4:25-32 & 5:1-20.
The Christian Home.
12. Wife and Husband. ‘Submit yourselves to one another,’ Paul says, speaking to all his readers, men and women alike. So the Christian wife gives her husband complete respect and loyalty: the Christian husband cares for his wife with unselfish, undemanding love. Each depends on the other, and both model themselves on Christ. Their relationship, in turn, reflects the relationship Christ has with his church. Ephesians 5:21-33.
Children, Parents, Slaves and Masters.
13. In the family, children owe their parents respect and obedience. Parents must exercise discipline – not behave like petty tyrants; Christian slaves serve their masters as willingly and well as they serve Christ. Christian masters will not bludgeon or bully, knowing that they must answer to a Master themselves. Ephesians 6:1-9.
The Spiritual War.
14. Put on the Armour of God. Paul does not pretend it will be easy to maintain these standards. There is a need for ‘body building’. The fight is on. We are up against powerful forces in a spiritual struggle. We need spiritual weapons – and these God provides. Like the Roman soldier, we have a belt and breastplate, shoes and shield, helmet and sword. God fits us out with all the armour we need for defence and protection. With these we can make our stand against all comers. Ephesians 6:10-17.
15. Most important of all, is the unseen weapon of prayer. The prayers of his readers can help Paul keep his courage and speak up for God in that faraway prison. Ephesians 6:18-20.
Personal News and Final Salutation.
16. So the letter closes on a personal note. (Tychicus, Paul’s postman, also carried the letters to the Colossians and Philemon.) Paul’s closing prayer for his brothers and sisters in Christ matches and expands on his opening greeting: may God grant peace, love and faith to all – and his grace be with them. Ephesians 6:21-24.