July 2, 2018
General Remarks on the Book of Ephesians
The city of Ephesus is on the southwest coast of the area known as Asia by the Romans (Acts 19:22). Today the area is often called Asia Minor, and is the land of modern Turkey. John Chrysostom (349-407), Archbishop of Constantinople, wrote in his homilies on Ephesians that Ephesus was “the metropolis of Asia.” His statement is echoed by many commentators, for it was the dominant city of the area, noted for its wealth and luxuries.
In the Apostle Paul’s time it is well known as the location of the temple of Diana, whose followers caused a riot over the preaching of Paul (Acts 19:24-41). The moral laxity that accompanies much of Greek paganism abounds in Ephesus, but so do philosophers, so beloved by the Greeks.
Paul founds the Ephesian Church during his second missionary journey, making a brief but telling visit to the city (Acts 18:19). He returns to Ephesus during the third missionary journey to spend about two years in the city. Later, the Apostle John will settle in Ephesus. From there he will make Apostolic visits to the Churches in Asia, especially those mentioned in the book of Revelation.
The book of Ephesians is written by Paul from Rome, where he is a prisoner due to his appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:10-12). This is why Paul calls himself a prisoner ( Eph. 3:1 and 4:1), and an ambassador in bonds (6:20).
Like Galatians, Ephesians addresses two main issues. First, what is salvation and how is it accomplished? Second, is Christianity to be absorbed into Judaism, or does it grow out of the Jewish faith into a global Church? These issues have been discussed in the comments on the Gospels, Acts, and Romans. Reiterating them here would add unnecessary length to this commentary, but those unfamiliar with them may want to return to Matthew and work your way back to Ephesians.
Verse 16 stands out in Ephesians 1 because it is the only verse that does not mention God directly. Look at the other verses: "an apostle of Christ Jesus," "from God our Father," "Blessed be the God," "he hath chosen," "Christ himself," "in whom we have redemption," all of them have some direct reference to God by name or pronoun. This chapter, and the entire book of Ephesians, is about God. It is about who God is, what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do. It is also about why He does what He does; why He created us, why He became a Man, why He died on the cross, and why He continues to work in us and in this world through His Holy Spirit. He does all of these things to "gather into one all things in Christ" (1:10). This is what D.M. Lloyd-Jones called, God’s Ultimate Purpose in his book by the same title This is why God created us, endures our sinful and foolish ways, went to the cross, and will return in power and glory. It is all about God gathering all things together in Christ, for His own glory.
It is very important that we understand that everything is about God, not us. Most people are accustomed to thinking everything God does is about us, about saving us, loving us, and blessing us. They are shocked to think our creation, preservation, salvation, and everything God does is all for the greater purpose of the glory of God. This means most of us have to turn some of our thinking around and begin to see ourselves as existing for the glory of God (1:12) instead of God existing for our benefit. We can read 1:10 as the statement of God’s ultimate purpose, and 2:7 as the reason for that purpose. The purpose is to gather all things together in Christ. The reason for His purpose is to “shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Jesus Christ.” The emphasis is on God, not us.
The first chapter of Ephesians ends with the subject of the Church, which chapter two continues. Note that the reference is to the Church, not the churches. The idea that churches exist in independence of one another without accountability, and that the Bible always mentions "churches," but never "the Church" as a whole is false. Paul never considered any of the congregations he corresponded with independent of him, or as anything but a local manifestation of the universal Body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:9-17, for example, is about The Church primarily, and, secondarily, how the church in Corinth is to function within the wider Church. The Church, collectively, is the Temple of God. Local churches are part of the greater Church, all together form the spiritual Temple, or house of the Holy Spirit of God. The Corinthian church had its own ministers, yet Paul, writing from Ephesus in A.D. 57, excommunicated members of that congregation, and told the ministers and remaining members to stay away from them (1 Cor. 5:1-13).
Far from being independent congregations, the Church is God's appointed way of bringing people together into one body in Christ. God is already working in this world to achieve His ultimate goal. Ephesians 1:10 is not just something for the end of time; God is at work now, accomplishing His purpose in the Church. The Church is that people which has already become one Body, one Temple, one Family, one Nation, in Christ.
Chapter two reminds us how God has brought us into the Church. There was a time when we lived apart from God, and were under His wrath (2:3). By His own grace (2:8 & 9) and for the purpose of showing the riches of His grace and kindness (2:7) He raised us out of the death of sin and placed us in Himself and in His Church where we are one in Christ (2:6-7, 1:10). Thus, even while we live in this world, we sit in heavenly places and have a foretaste of the great and final goal of God which will one day be brought to its completion. Thus, as His workmanship we are to do the things of Godliness, to which we have been called and for which we have been created (2:10).
The great purpose of God to bring all things together in Christ is continued by His bringing Gentiles into the Church. The Gospel of Christ is for all who will receive it in faith. Heaven is for all who will enter through Christ. The Church is for all who will believe. In Christ there are no strangers or foreigners (2:19) only one Nation and Household. In Him all believers are being built up into one holy Temple in the Lord (2:19-21). There was a time when most Gentiles were excluded from the House of God (2:11-12). Having chosen to exclude Him from their own lives, God allowed them to live apart from Him, and to reap the just rewards of their sin. But God's ultimate plan of gathering all things together in Christ was not blocked by human rebellion. He gathered Abraham and his descendants, to whom He gave His Word and Commandments, and through whom He would give His Messiah. In the New Testament era He began to bring in the Gentiles. In His New Israel, meaning, the Church, all believers, Jews and Gentiles are made one body in Christ. The work of gathering all things together in Christ continues, and will continue until the Last Day, when all of His people will be gathered Home to Him, all of His enemies will be cast out forever, and the heavens and earth will be made new.
The great and ultimate goal of all the work of God in this world is to gather all things together in Christ. Everything He does, from creating us, to giving His Word and means of grace, to entering into history and dying on the cross, even His daily providential care and guidance in our lives is done primarily to achieve that goal. Most Christians have wrongly been taught to believe God's ultimate goal is our salvation, and that everything He does is done to save us from Hell. In reality, our salvation is a means to accomplish the end of gathering all things together in Christ and showing the richness of God’s grace. It is primarily about Christ, not about us.
It is for the purpose of gathering all things together in Christ (3:1) that Paul has been made an Apostle and sent to the Gentile people. His calling is to bring Gentiles into the body of Christ and the promises of God as full participants with the Jews (3:6).
It is for this purpose that God has brought His people together into the Church (3:10-11). The Church is the people already brought together. The Church Family will ultimately and fully inherit the Kingdom of God, and, indeed, is already dwelling in it. Those not in the Church will still be gathered together in Christ, but in a much different way. They will be gathered together to face His wrath, while the Church is gathered to receive His grace. If we think of the Kingdom of God as a great Castle, the Church is the people who have been elevated to the status of courtiers and friends. Those outside the Church are also gathered, but they are the enemies of God and they are gathered into the dungeon. One day the entire land will be gathered under the authority and reign of the King. Many people will become His friends and will be welcomed into the full fellowship of the Castle. Others will persist in rebellion and hate. They will be thrown into the dungeon. Either way, the King will gather all things together and will reign over all.
Verse 10 again uses "church" to refer to the entire body of Christ rather than a local congregation. In the time of Paul, the Apostles are still living and consider the Church one organisation.
Verse 14 begins a great prayer to the Father of whom the whole family is named (3:14-15). That family is the Church, and it includes those in Heaven and those on earth. Paul prays that the Church will be strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man (3:16). This "might" is power which enables us to know what God wants us to know, be what God wants us to be, and do what God wants us to do. What God wants is then given in verses 17-19 culminating in the phrase, "that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God." Yes, the ultimate purpose of God is to gather a people for Himself, a people to exist in Christ and glorify Him forever. But those blessed to be part of that People, are given the highest gift God can give to any created being, the gift of living forever in such closeness, fellowship and love with Him it can only be described as being perpetually filled with the fullness (greatness and presence) of God. This fullness will ultimately only be realised in Heaven, but we can know some of it here and now by the indwelling Spirit of God and the means of grace.
This necessarily means that separating yourself from the means of grace also separates you from the means of being filled with the fulness of God. The means of grace are the things God uses to draw us into Himself and enable us to trust and love Him more. The Bible is a means of grace. The faithful preaching and teaching His word is a means of grace, as are Holy Communion, Baptism, worship, and prayer. And the Church is a means of grace, for it is primarily in the faithful Church that the means of grace are dispensed to the people. Yes, it is possible to pray, worship, and read the Bible outside of the Church; and the Christian should do so faithfully. He should, even, must, also be a part of the body of believers in a Church where the word is faithfully taught, and lived, and the means of grace are ministered to the people.
Note again the reason Paul prays for these things for the Church. They are not just for the benefit of individual people. They are for the Church as a whole, and they are "For this cause" (3:14). This is the very same cause Paul has been writing about throughout this Epistle; the cause of gathering all things together in Christ. His prayer for the Church is given in verses14-19. Notice that the prayer ends with an affirmation of the glory of God (20, 21) emphasising that the things Paul prays for are for His glory, not just the edification of the saints.
What does all of this talk about the fullness of God and His gathering a people together in Christ have to do with us in everyday life? Everything! If we are a part of that people, and if we are called into that people gathered into Christ, we are to live our lives in conformity with the will and nature of Christ. As Ephesians 4:1 states the issue, ""walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.” Thus, being the people who live for and in the glory of God is every Christian's vocation. It is your life's work. The remainder of Ephesians is about how to live worthy of your vocation.
Those who are gathered into Christ as members of His Body and Church, are gathered into a new identity and way of life. They no longer live according to the patterns and values of the godless people and cultures around them (4:17). Nor do they live and act merely on the basis of their own desires and ideas, which have been corrupted by human pride, greed, and a general inclination to go our own way instead of God's. Instead, they put off their own ways, called the old man in verse 22, and put on the new man of righteousness and holiness, which is created in them by God (4:23-24). The rest of chapter 4 (vss. 25-32) shows just what they have put off and what they have put on. The verses give a word picture of discarding a wardrobe of rags (our sin) and putting on a new wardrobe, given by God, and consisting of righteousness and of the character of God Himself.
The heart of chapter 5 is found in verses1 & 2. Following God, as His dear children gathered into Christ, walk in love. Love is not a nebulous feeling. It is primarily an attitude of doing good for others as Christ has done for us. These verses remind us that we have strayed from God like lost sheep, offended against His holy laws, left undone much good we ought to have done, and done many things we ought not to have done. In Biblical language, we have sinned against God. But, part of God's plan of gathering together all things in Christ includes calling a people out of their sin to live in restored fellowship and harmony with Him. This is impossible without His forgiveness, which He purchased for us by becoming a Man, taking our sins upon Himself, and dying for them in our places on the cross. This is the great expression of Divine love. It is also our example of real love, and the way we ought to love one another. The rest of the reading contrasts works of hate with those of love. Fornication, uncleanness in thought and deed, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk and jesting, and other evils listed here are sins and are out of character for those gathered into Christ. They are so far out of character that the person who habitually lives in them shows that he has no part in the inheritance of Christ (4:5) but is still outside of God and remains among the children of disobedience and under the wrath of God (4:6). "Be not ye therefore partakers with them" (5:7).
The Christian home is a sacred place. It is almost, as Matthew Henry said, "A Church in the House," for a Christian home is a place where God is loved and worshiped daily and where Christian living happens every day. God's plan for the family begins with Biblical faith in Him as Lord and Saviour, and one of the primary tasks of parents is to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Baptism, Confirmation, daily prayers, and the fellowship of the Church are the minimum children can expect from parents, and the family is the first mission field of every Christian. Ephesians 5 & 6 refers to the relationship between family members under the assumption of real, Christian love in each heart, operating on the principle of mutual submission rather than individual assertion. In other words, it is the role of each member of the household to exalt the others by serving them in Christ. Any authority given to any member is the authority of service, not lordship. Christ is Lord, and the overall goal of the home is to honour Him.
The husband/father is called to the role of lead servant. He bears the responsibility of leading the family into the Word and ways of God. The wife/mother is his helpmeet and completer (Gen. 2:18). These two willingly submit their goals and wants to the other's, and to the overall goals of God and the needs of the family. Together, they are one in mind, heart, values, goals, and faith. They are partners in the task of ordering their home and family under God. Young children are obedient learners, who by their obedience and learning exercise considerable influence over the direction of the home. Young adults still living at home are responsible partners in the home, and the spiritual climate of the family is one of their primary goals. Happy is the home where Christ is Lord and all in the family gladly work together in His service.
Ephesians closes appropriately with an exhortation to be strong in the Lord (6:10). This is followed by several verses describing the Christian faith in terms of the armour of a Roman soldier. It has often been noticed that armour is protective in nature, designed to keep the soldier safe in the deadly field of battle. The soldier's weapon is the sword, which, for the soldier of the cross, is the Scriptures, the Word of God (6:17).
The reason for putting on the armour is stated in verse 12. We are at war with powers of darkness that oppress and destroy souls and cause the havoc and destruction that so characterises life on earth. We are also at war with the forces of evil in our own lives. We wrestle against the inclinations and temptations that attempt to draw us back into the darkness of sin and hate. We wrestle with forces that attempt to prevent the fulfillment of God's purpose in our own lives and in all creation. "Wrestle," refers to hand-to-hand combat, a life or death struggle that Christians face daily in the service of God. We must expect to fight. We must be prepared for battle. We must stand our ground at the approach of the foe (6:14). This is our part in the eternal purpose of God to bring all things together in Christ.