Ephesians is perhaps the most general of all of Paul’s letters. While resembling some literary features of Colossians, it is doctrinally similar to the argument of Romans, detailing God’s work in Jews and Gentiles in the church. Here Paul had in view especially Gentile Christians (cf. 2.11; 3.1), but spoke to a Jewish readership as well (cf. 1.11-14). Although lacking a direct historical crisis, the Epistle to the Ephesians does not lack historical reference. Paul employed a building metaphor throughout (2.19; 3.18; 4.9-16), perhaps in view of the enormous temple of Artemis that dominated the ancient city (cf. Acts 19.21-21-41). Most likely Paul wrote Ephesians from a prison in Rome (cf. Acts 28.30-31). He had a familial relationship with the Ephesians (cf. Acts 19.1-20; 20.17-38), and wished for individual believers to understand who they are in Christ and the corporate body of the church—and to live in light of both. The epistle thus expounds both the blessings (chs 1-3), and the responsibilities (chs 4-6) of being ‘in Christ.’ Ephesians resembles an ancient sermon, in which the first point might have been “(Jew and) Gentile formation in Christ;” it advanced along at least five themes:
- God is to be praised for His benevolence on Jews and Gentiles in Christ (1.1-14). Paul longed for His readers to understand their formation in Christ. They were chosen in Him “before the foundation of the world” (v. 4a), seen as holy and blameless before Him (v. 4b), predestined to adoption through Christ (v. 5), and redeemed through Christ’s blood and forgiven (v. 7). Specifically, Paul reminded the Jewish Christians that they were God’s inheritance in Christ, “predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything with the decision of His will” (v. 11), and the Gentile believers that their legitimacy in God’s household was evidenced by the fact that they received the Holy Spirit, “the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory” (v. 14)
- Believers grow in their understanding of Christ as God opens their minds to grasp His supremacy over all spiritual forces, and the church (1.15-23). Paul’s prayer was for the Ephesians to know, and grow in, Christ. He wanted the Ephesian believers to grasp the prosperity of their identity in Christ, which he called “the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints” (v. 18). The security of this state is maintained by Christ’s exalted status as the resurrected Messiah, the One ruling all spiritual rulers and the church (vv. 19-23; cf. Rom 8.34-39). In v. 22 Paul quoted Ps 8.6: “He put everything under His feet,” so as to advance the degree of Christ’s supremacy over the spiritual forces that attack the church. In the original setting, the Psalm detailed the glory of humanity over the rest of the created order, and the stewardship man received in caring for it. Paul’s use of Ps 8.6 concerns not just any man, but Christ, and not the physical order, but the spiritual forces which come against believers. In 3.10 Paul argued that God’s plan of unifying Jews and Gentiles in Christ was to show off His victory over the spiritual forces of evil—those which seek to divide those unified in Christ. Thus, the degree of Christ’s supremacy in 1.15-23 is also the degree of the believers’ protection from those which would seek to divide them, and destroy the church
- Believers come into Christ from a state of spiritual deadness, made alive as His new creation, prepared for good works (2.1-10). Paul made it clear that both Jews and Gentiles were spiritually hopeless outside of Christ, saying: “you (Gentiles) were dead in your trespasses and sins…We (Jews) too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children of wrath, as the others were also” (vv. 1, 3; cf. Rom 3.9-20). But God’s impartial grace was extended in Christ, saving both Jew and Gentile apart from their works, “so that no one can boast” (v. 9), Paul said. Together Jews and Gentiles are thus made into a new creation—“created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (v. 10)
- The Gentiles have been brought in to this new creation, being built together with Jews as an edifice of God’s glory (2.11-22). That Paul had in mind especially the Gentiles in Ephesus is evidenced from his direct reference to them: “So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh” (v. 11a). The Jews called them “the uncircumcision” (v. 11b), those “without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, with no hope and without God in the world” (v. 12). But in His grace, God brought them near to Himself through Christ, making Jews and Gentiles one, removing the Mosaic Law as a dividing force between the two (vv. 14-15). Paul’s word to his Gentile readers was one of great hope: “So you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone” (2.19-20)
- God’s plan to form Jews and Gentiles into a new corporate body was a plan hidden until the time of Christ, but made known to the Ephesians through the preaching of Paul (3.1-13). In a very real way, Paul was imprisoned for the hope of the Gentiles, having been apprehended for ministering the gospel to them (vv. 1-3; cf. Acts 21.15ff). Paul wished for the Gentiles to understand the times; God’s inclusion of them in Christ “was not made known to people in other generations as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (v. 5). In a panoramic view of God’s work in history, Paul informed his Gentile readers that their inclusion was for the purpose “that God’s multifaceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens. This is according to the purpose of the ages, which He made in the messianic, Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness, access, and confidence through faith in Him” (3.10-12)
Paul’s prayer at the end of Eph 3 encapsulates the goal of the storyline of Scripture. Paul acknowledged that God is the One “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (3.14); that is, God is the source of spiritual life—whether one is a Jew or a Gentile. He asked that both groups would know of Christ’s love, enabled “to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3.17b-19). Thus, God’s fullness was not in Jews only or Gentiles only, but the two groups together in Christ. As this thought challenged the spiritual and national boundaries that dominated Paul’s contemporary world, he prayed that God’s supernatural power in the church would overcome these: “Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think—according to the power that works in you—to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (3.20-21).
*For a complete list of references, please see scripturestoryline.com