Ephesians

Ephesians 6: Doing Battle

Let’s try something visual today.

What does it mean to do battle for God?  Which of the following pictures best depicts how you would envision it?  There are a lot of different, even conflicting, ideas that a question like that conjures up.  Paul gives his thoughts on the question from Ephesians 6 at the end.

Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his power.  Put on God’s complete armor. . . . the warfare we are engaged in, you see, isn’t against flesh and blood.  It’s against the leaders, against the authorities, against the powers that rule the world in this dark age, against the wicked spiritual elements in heavenly places.  For this reason, you must take up God’s complete armor.  Then, when wickedness grabs its moment, you’ll be able to withstand, to do what needs to be done, and still be on your feet when it’s all over.  So stand firm! . . . Pray on every occasion. . . . You’ll need to keep awake and alert for this. . . . Please pray that God will give me his words to speak when I open my mouth, so that I can make known, loud and clear, the secret truth of the gospel. . . . Pray that I may announce it boldly. (6:10-14a, 18-20)

trusting ~ standing ~ praying ~ speaking

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Ephesians 5: Imitators of God

So you should be imitators of God, like dear children. (5:1)

In the first part of Ephesians 5 before Paul gets to the household code of conduct (5:21ff), Paul gives seven characteristics of God we would do well to imitate if we are going to be God’s children, growing in His image.  See if you can find them in chapter 5 while you read.  For variety, my son put these seven traits into a word cloud.

How is it possible for fallen people to become like our magnificent Father?

Be filled with the spirit! (5:18b)

What from this chapter resonated with you?

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Ephesians 4: Put On The New Humanity

Back on Friday we saw that an important part of Paul’s specially tailored gospel message for Ephesus was that the cross has made the kingdom of God open to all people, Jews and Gentiles.  There is one new humanity irrespective of ethnicity.

Today, as Paul turns from the theological to the practical, from the God-part of the book to the Humanity-part, Paul reminds the Ephesians (and us) that God hasn’t just placed a bundle of blessings on their lap, they have a job in the new creation: make that new ethnicity-less humanity a reality in their everyday life as a church (4:1, 12, 22-24).  Paul brings this point home with the many “one another” phrases in this chapter (and also the very popular “one” passage in 4:4-6):

Bear with one another in love. (4:2a)

Be humble, meek, and patient in every way with one another. (4:2b)

. . . with your lives bound together in peace. (4:3b)

. . . held together by every joint which supports it [the church body] (4:16a)

We are members of one another. (4:25)

Be kind to one another. (4:32a)

Cherish tender feelings for each other. (4:32b)

Forgive one another (4:32c)

At the same time, we are not all the same.  Not only have we come from different backgrounds, God has equipped us with different gifts, abilities, and personalities (4:7, 11).  Yet, that diversity is unified by a common purpose:

The purpose of this [diverse gifting] is that we should all reach unity in our belief and loyalty, and in knowing God’s son.  Then we shall reach the stature of the mature Man measured by the standards of the king’s fullness. (4:13)

The “new humanity” we are called to become is best seen in the life and person of Jesus the King.  He died for us.  He saved us.  He is working inside of us and through us, all with the goal of becoming like him, not the world from which we have come (4:22-24).  That’s something that can create unity.

What phrase speaks loudly to you in this chapter?

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Ephesians 3: Ministry Is A Gift!

As I said yesterday, Paul always contextualizes the gospel to fit the audience he is addressing.  Think of it like jazz.  There is a main harmony that is constant throughout a song, but from what little I understand about jazz music a good musician takes that harmony and riffs off in new variations of the same constant harmony.  (Feel free to correct me if I apparently don’t understand anything about jazz!)

Sometimes Paul calls each of these variations a “mystery,” or “secret” as Wright translates it.  These are unique, audience-specific versions of the gospel or the consequences of the gospel.  In Ephesians 3, Paul gives the Ephesian Christians theirs:

When you read this you’ll be able to understand the special insight I have into the king’s secret. . . . Now it’s been revealed by the spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.  The secret is this: that, through the gospel, the Gentiles are to share Israel’s inheritance.  They are to become fellow members of the body, along with them, and fellow sharers of the promise in King Jesus. . . . My job is to make clear to everyone just what the secret plan is. (3:4b-6, 9a)

Paul has a ministry to share this wonderful new message far and wide, with Jews and Gentiles alike.  All are welcome.  This Jesus thing isn’t just for Jews.  Gentiles are welcome too.  And the revolutionary idea that Paul hasn’t really fleshed out in this book as much as he did in Galatians, for instance, is that these Gentiles don’t have to become Jews to become Christians.

This was not as easy a message to preach as we might think.  Sure, the Gentiles would be down with it.  But the Jewish gatekeepers were not as enthusiastic.  The first century Church spent the better part of that first century ironing out all of the details of that “secret.”  It got Paul beaten up more than a few times.  It caused churches to split.  It caused more than a little fuss.  Jewish Christians were content to come behind Paul and slander his ministry, lying about him and painting his ministry as an opportunistic grab at money and power.  I just have to imagine there were days Paul had to have second thoughts and desires to jump the next ship to anywhere.

That is why I am so struck by this line that comes in the middle of this discussion of his ministry:

. . . he gave me this task as a gift . . . (3:8)

Wow!  There was much about Paul’s ministry that I would not see as a “gift.”  I am afraid I am weak enough that there are days I would want to return that gift for another one.  Yet, not Paul.  Oh, to have that perspective!

What stood out to you today? 

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Ephesians 2: Reborn

In every letter Paul gives a grand statement of the gospel, always stated a bit differently for the context of that letter.  Chapter 2 is that chapter in Ephesians.

Paul reminds his readers what they were according to the “flesh” alone.

You were dead because of your offenses and sins! . . . We used to do what our flesh and our minds were urging us to do.  What was the result?  We too were subject to wrath in our natural state, just like everyone else. (2:1b, 3)

So, then, remember this!  In human terms — that is, in your “flesh” — you are “Gentiles.”  You are the people whom the so-called circumcision refer to as the so-called uncircumcision. . . . Well, once upon a time you were separated from the king.  You were detached from the community of Israel.  You were foreigners to the covenants which contained the promise.  There you were, in the world with no hope and no god! (2:11-12)

Before they came to Christ, the Ephesian church, which must have been largely Gentile, were dead, fleshly, destined for punishment, locked out from the promises and blessings of the Jews, without hope.

Can you remember when the same could have been said about you?

Then . . . because of the great grace of God, not because of anything we had done, lest we boast (2:8-9), we were reborn.  This idea of being new birth is very important to Paul at this point.  He punctuates that idea twice in this chapter with creation and resurrection language:

He made us alive with the king. . . . He raised us up with him, and made us sit with him — in the heavenly places in King Jesus. (2:5-6)

The point of doing all this was to create, in him, one new human being out of the two [Jews and Gentiles], so making peace.  God was reconciling both of us to himself in a single body, though the cross, by killing the enmity in him. (2:15b-16)

With rebirth the Ephesians are not the same person.  They died hopeless objects of wrath; they were reborn children of the King.  They died alienated Gentiles; they were reborn part of a greater humanity that does not see ethnicity and the hostility that too often comes with such differences.  They are no longer defined by their flesh.  They are new creations.

Can you remember when you were very aware that the same could be said about you?

That is the gospel.

What struck you in this chapter?

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Ephesians 1: Jesus the King

Over in England, it was the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation this past weekend.  Unless you have just been away from a media outlet of some sort you have seen the celebrations — flotilla, horse races, Sir Elton John, and all.  Now imagine walking into the middle of the crowds outside Buckingham Palace and shouting, “There is another queen, one better and more powerful than Elizabeth!”  Yeah.  I am thinking that wouldn’t go over well, even as fair-weather as the British people are about their royals.

But that is essentially what Paul does as he starts Ephesians.  This is where N. T. Wright’s choice to translate “Christ” as “king” really makes the point.  Eleven times in twenty-three verses Paul calls Jesus the “king.”  But there already was a king in Ephesus: Caesar.  And if that wasn’t enough to fill their hearts they had the blessings of the local goddess Artemis.  This was not a people in need of another king, another power, and more blessing.  Yet, that is exactly how Paul starts.  How confrontational!  Notice how in-your-face these verses sound when you remember where they are being read:

His plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king — yes, everything in heaven and on earth, in him. (1:10)

This was the power at work in the king when God raised him from the dead and sat him at his right hand in the heavenly places, above all rule and authority and power and lordship, and above every name that is invoked , both in the present age and also in the age to come.  Yes: God has “put all things under his feet.” (1:20-22a)

Artemis (Diana)

Artemis was usually depicted with many breasts from which her worshipers were nourished.  Her blessings sustained life.  Yet, Paul packs blessing after blessing into Ephesians 1 as he reminds the Ephesian Christians what they have received from God, not Artemis (1:3):

  • Being holy and irreproachable in God’s sight (1:4)
  • Adoption as God’s sons and daughters (1:5)
  • Deliverance by the forgiveness of sins (1:7)
  • Making known the secret of God’s purposes to us (1:9)
  • Marked by the Spirit as an inheritance (1:11, 13)
  • Being made wise, understanding things others do not (1:17)
  • Enlightenment to the “eyes of your inmost self” (1:18)
  • Knowledge of the amazing power of God towards us (1:19)

Paul also sneaks the real issue into the chapter three times:

To the holy ones in Ephesus who are also loyal believers in King Jesus. (1:1)

I’d heard that you are loyal and faithful to Jesus the master (1:15)

You will know the outstanding greatness of his power toward us who are loyal to him in faith (1:19)

The real question that the Ephesians had to grapple with first was to which king they would be loyal.  To whom would they go for blessing?

What did you notice in this significant chapter?

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BONUS: An Introduction to Ephesians

Though some have doubted it because of the lack of personal greetings so common in his letters, the apostle Paul is stated twice as the author of Ephesians (1:1; 3:1), a letter likely written while the apostle was under house arrest in Rome (3:1; 4:1; 6:20) around AD 60.  The other Prison Epistles — Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon — would have been written at this same time, and we will be reading all four together in the next month.

The Temple of Artemis

Ephesus was an important city in the ancient world and in the life of Paul.  Situated at the nexus of sea and land trading routes, Ephesus became both a commercial and cultural center, by far the most important in Asia Minor and one of the top five most important cities on the Mediterranean.  Home to the Temple of Artemis (Diana), one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, Ephesus also became a religious center as pilgrims flocked to the temple seeking a blessing from the many-breasted fertility goddess.  You may recall it was Ephesus where the silversmiths rallied a large part of the city to chant “Great is the Artemis of the Ephesians” for two straight hours (Acts 19:23-34).  Paul spent almost three years here (Acts 19:10) growing very close to the leaders in the church and using the Ephesian church as a home base for his evangelism of western Turkey.  This Ephesian church is the one to whom Paul sent Timothy in 1 and 2 Timothy towards the end of the apostle’s life in an effort to set them straight when they apparently went off track.  John would warn the Ephesian church to regain their “first love” in Revelation 2.

Ephesians may be the most general of Paul’s letters.  Whereas Paul usually addressed a problem or threat to the church, he only seems to be encouraging the Christians in Ephesus to know how blessed they are and to stand firm in those blessings appreciating the high calling of the Church.  In a unique way, Ephesians talks about how the work of God on behalf of Christians impacts all areas of life — spiritual, religious, ethnic, and social.  The general nature of this letter makes some theorize Ephesians was really a circular letter sent to many churches in western Turkey.

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