Have you ever found yourself listening to a preacher give a gospel presentation and found yourself thinking, “This is good. I hope unsaved people are listening!” Or perhaps you looked around and thought, “Why is he preaching about how to be saved? everyone here has already been saved.” We tend to think that the good news of Jesus death, burial, and resurrection on behalf of sinners is needed for those who have to accept Christ. But Paul gives us one of the clearest presentations of the gospel anywhere in the Bible in Ephesians 2:1-10, and yet the whole passage is intended for. . . believers?
Apparently, Paul thought that believers needed to hear the gospel as did unbelievers. Paul talks in generic terms about all that God has done for believers in the longest single sentence in the Greek New Testament (1:3-14). This beautiful hymn of praise extols the greatness of God in all that he has done for us. Then he goes on to share with the Ephesian believers that he is praying that God would open their eyes so that they would really get what God had done for them. At the end of that prayer Paul concludes by praying that believers would know how powerful the God at work within them really is. How powerful? Powerful enough to raise Christ and give him all authority, making him head over the church.
Paul picks up this theme of the church and begins by giving a history lesson on how God is building the church. It begins in 2:1-10 by talking about what God has done individually to build his church, then goes on for the rest of the chapter to describe what God is doing corporately to build his church.
Reminding us what God did for us when we were saved is crucial for our growth in the body of Christ. Reminding us of our past behavior, character, authority, and destiny ought to make us cringe, yet telling us of our current and future position in Christ should make us rejoice. Meditating on how all of this was brought to us, by grace through faith and not works, should humble us and drive us back to our gracious God for help rather than our own strength. Unbelievers need the gospel, but believers need it too!
Food for Thought
"Gospel" is quite the buzz word today, which is great except that when we use words all the time sometimes we forget what they actually mean! What is the gospel?
Why is remembering what Christ has done for us on Calvary so critical for believers? How does doing so fight despair? How does doing so fight pride? What other areas does meditating on Christ's work for us combat?
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers . . . that you may know. . . what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, Ephesians 1:16-18
What makes God rich? Have you ever asked yourself that question? What does someone who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, who owns both heaven and earth look to as his treasure, his inheritance? This passage makes a startling claim along these lines: God views us as his inheritance!
While it might be tempting to see the word inheritance here as referring to what God will do for us, it's actually describing what God views as his riches and the glory of his inheritance. The God who is filthy rich views us as his greatest treasure (compare with Deuteronomy 9:29, Isaiah 47:6, 1 Peter 2:9) . While it is true that God intends to overwhelm us with his rich goodness (Ephesians 2:7), the emphasis here is on the fact that God looks forward to the day when we will stand complete in Christ as his perfected people. God delights in and looks forward to full fellowship with his saints!
Why would Paul want believers to know this? Remember, in Ephesians 4:1, Paul commands the Ephesian believers to walk worthy of their calling. After all God has done and will do, believers ought to be ready to live for God. Understanding God's view on our lives and the important part we play in his eternal drama ought to motivate us to live for him.
Food for Thought
What difference will it make in your relationship with God when you realize that he values those who are in Christ to the point of viewing them as his inheritance?
Our second lesson will cover a hymn of praise that Paul writes in Ephesians 1:3-14. In the original Greek, these 12 verses are only one sentence! That's quite the sentence! At the very beginning of that sentence, in verse 3, we see one word show up 3 times: blessed/blessing.
If you were to trim away everything else from this very long sentence you would get “Blessed [be] God.” So how does Paul take such a simple sentence and stretch it into 12 verses? “Blessed be the God . . . who blessed us with every spiritual blessing,” and the rest of the hymn simply details what those blessings are by examining the blessings that God has given us from one member of the trinity to the next.
Paul is making a very clear connection here between praising God (blessed be God) and what God has done for us (who blessed us with every spiritual blessing). Our praise to God should flow from an understanding of all that went into our salvation. We often think of our salvation in very simplistic terms “God forgave me of my sins so now I can go to heaven and not hell.” That’s a great foundation! But we need to build on that foundation with a deeper, richer understanding of what God has done and is doing for us (cf. Hebrews 5:11-6:3).
Notice that these blessings are called "spiritual blessings." Often when we hear blessings, we think in terms of physical blessings. Too often spiritual blessings are thought of as second rate. But Paul got excited about what God had done for him in the unseen, spiritual realm. In this hymn of praise, Paul glories in the blessings of God the Father (vv 4-6), God the Son (vv 7-12), and God the Holy Spirit (vv 13-14). When was the last time you praised God for the spiritual blessings God has given you?
Food for Thought
Read through the rest of this passage and identify the blessings that Paul is thankful for.
Why is it that spiritual blessings are often thought of as “second rate?” How can we fix such wrong thinking?
As we begin our study on Ephesians, I thought it might be helpful to include the notes on the background and history of the book, as well as the discussion questions we covered for further reflection.
Blueprints matter. When a building goes up, you can be sure that a lot of people have spent a lot of time looking over computer screens and blue paper so that they know where things go and where they shouldn’t. A building will only be as good as its construction plans. If the measurements are off, if the design is flawed, or if the instructions aren’t followed to the centimeter the building is in trouble, because a building is only as good as its plan. Ephesians gives us God’s blueprint for our age. It shows us what God is doing, and what he desires to do, and perhaps most importantly, what our role in that plan is. Many Christians become frustrated and confused by what God is doing, because they don’t understand what his plan is.
Some debate whether the book of Ephesians was intended solely for the Ephesians, or if it was a circular letter to several churches, the most prominent of which was Ephesus. This possibility is included as a footnote in the ESV, NIV, and NASB. There are several reasons for this:
But in the end, there are good reasons for maintaining that this letter was meant for Ephesus.
Paul first visited the city of Ephesus briefly on his second missionary journey, which took place around A.D. 49-51 (Acts 18:18-20). On his third missionary journey, he spent almost three years there (Acts 19), and then after visiting Greece made one final stop on his (A.D. 52-57) way back to Jerusalem and gave a passionate speech to the elders of the Ephesian church at the city of Miletus (Acts 20:17-38). After delivering that speech, Paul travels to Jerusalem and is arrested, eventually traveling to Rome to appeal his case. This is the end of Acts’ description of Paul’s travels.
At a couple of places in Ephesians, Paul reminds us that he is writing from a prison (Ephesians 3:1; 6:20). Although Paul was in prison on several occasions, the most likely candidate for this imprisonment is his imprisonment in Rome. Paul was in prison long enough to have written this letter, and had enough freedom to send it out. Much of this letter parallels his thinking in Colossians, and for this reason many people think they were written about the same time – during Paul’s Roman imprisonment. This would make the letter of Ephesians one of, if not the last letter Paul wrote to a church. (Paul would later write 1, 2 Timothy and Titus, but they were written to individuals and not churches).
From Acts 19 we learn that the city of Ephesus was deeply idolatrous and deeply superstitious. The making of idols was big business, so much so that the idol makers feared that they would lose too much business from the spread of Christianity (at this time called “the Way”). We learn that there was a lot of witchcraft and sorcery, because after coming to Christ the young believers burned all their pagan writings (in a time when writing was not cheap!) which amounted to quite a lot of money (although we don't know how much those silver coins weighed, if they were one ounce coins the total would be over 8,000,000 dollars by today's rates). This explains in part Paul's repeated reference to spiritual powers (1:21; 2:2; 3:10; 6:11-12).
Ephesians breaks evenly into two halves, Ephesians 1-3 and Ephesians 4-6. The first half of the book has one single imperative (command), and that is to remember something (2:11). The first half of Ephesians focuses on doctrinal truths Christians should know and remember. The second half of the letter begins with the a strong call to action, a call to action this is supported by 40 commands in three chapters. 4:1 sets up this interplay well when it says:
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,”
These two words sum up well the first and second halves of the book: the call of the believer (what God has made him in Christ) and the walk of the believer (how that call should change the way he lives). Paul always unites doctrine and application. For him, truth will affect the way you live, and he’s not going to tell you how to live unless there is some doctrinal reason behind it (Titus 1:1).
1-3 The Call of the Believer
1:3-14 A hymn of praise for God’s blessings
1:15-23 A prayer for spiritual understanding
2:1-10 A spiritual history lesson
2:11-22 Spiritual unity in the church
3:1-13 Paul’s mission to the Gentiles
3:14-21 A prayer for spiritual strength
4-6 The Walk of the Believer
4:1-16 Live out your calling in the church
4:17-32 Live out your calling in your conduct
5:1-14 Live out your calling in purity
5:15-22 Live out your calling in your attitude
5:23-6:9 Live out your calling in your relationships
6:10-24 Live out your calling in spiritual warfare
Theme: So what is Ephesians about? In Paul’s opening benediction he mentions three times “the purpose of God’s will” (1:5, 9, 11). In the third chapter, Paul describes his function as an apostle by three times using the word “mystery” (3:1-5, 8-10). Ephesians is the blueprint God has given to show us what God is doing in the world and how we ought to live in light of that.
So what is this mystery that Paul has been tasked to preach?
making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (1:9-10)
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. (3:6)
God’s desire is to unite all things in Christ. This will ultimately happen when he is given his kingdom and the whole world becomes reconciled back to him. But this happens now as a taste of that future glory in the church. Former bitter enemies, Jew and Gentile, are now made one through their changed status of being “in Christ.”
Why would God do all of this?
so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (3:10)
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. (3:20-21)
But what does this mean for us? How do we as a church bring God glory? Ephesians 4:1-3 shows us that we do this by living together in community together as we help each other grow and develop 4:15-16. Paul realizes that God has so designed it that growth in Christ is impossible apart from a community of believers. Paul then takes the rest of the book to outline what that change should look like.
Why did the sun come up this morning? The sun came up this morning so that God could bring himself glory through the church. Sometimes this is hard to believe. It’s hard to believe that a small congregation of 35 people meeting on a Sunday morning is more important in God’s eyes than a presidential briefing in the pentagon. But what God
Your mission (and you had better accept it) is to be a part of what God is doing in the world through the church. You do this by joining a church, being united with that church, growing in that church, and serving in that church to the glory of God.
How clear a picture do most people have of God’s plan for their lives? What do they understand? What do they not understand? Why is this?
In what ways does having a clear understanding of God’s plan for your life make it easier to live for Christ?
How does walking worthy of our calling protect from the extremes of legalism (relating to God as though following a list of rules is everything) and license (not caring about God’s commands)?
“Paul always unites doctrine and application.” Why don’t we? What happens if we don’t?
“Growth in Christ is impossible apart from a community of believers.” Why is this difficult to accept? What does it mean practically?
“It’s hard to believe that a small congregation of 35 people meeting on a Sunday morning is more important in God’s eyes than a presidential briefing in the pentagon.” Would you agree or disagree with this statement? Why is this the case?