Date: August 18, 2019
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Category: Biblical Exposition
Scripture: Ephesians 1:1–1:3
Three preliminary considerations for studying Ephesians
Ruth Paxson called Ephesians “the Grand Canyon of Scripture,” meaning that it is breathtakingly beautiful and inexhaustible to the one who wants to take it in.
John Stott writes, “The whole letter is thus a magnificent combination of Christian doctrine and Christian duty, Christian faith and Christian life, what God has done through Christ and what we must be and do in consequence Ephesians shows us the centrality of the church in God’s eternal plan to unite all things - in heaven and on earth - under the rule of Jesus.
The church is central to God’s eternal plan to unite all things under the rule of Jesus.
Three preliminary considerations for studying Ephesians. First, the author, then the recipients, and finally the occasion.
Who wrote this letter? With any piece of literature, the author’s experiences and personality bleed into their work. In this way, this letter is no different. Therefore, we must understand who wrote the letter. Fortunately, we don’t have far to go. The first words of the Epistle tell us. We read in verse 1, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus.”
Paul the Man. Today we don’t often put our names at the outset of a letter but leave it for the conclusion. Near the end of the first century, however, it was customary at this time to begin the letter by identifying yourself. So it is here, the Apostle Paul wrote the letter. This is not his only contribution. He was quite productive in his ministry, writing thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the NT (these include the books of Romans through Philemon if you are looking at the table of contents).
We don’t know the exact date of birth for Paul, but most people estimate that is within a decade of Jesus’ birth. And he died as a martyr in Rome in the mid 60’s AD. His birth name was Saul, and he grew up in a city called Tarsus, which is in south-central Turkey. He was a faithful Israelite of Hebrew ancestry and received training from a chief rabbi, Gamaliel. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the church began to multiply significantly. Paul was then a fierce opponent of Christianity, spending his energy attempting to extinguish this newly kindled flame. He was directly involved in violent persecution. He stood by and watched Stephen be killed, and Acts says he ravaged the church.
But then one day, it all changed. Saul was making the 150 mile trip from Jerusalem to Damascus, with legal authority to hunt down any Christians he could find.
But has he trekked forward to arrest these Christians, Paul was arrested by Christ! He was struck blind and heard a heavenly voice calling him to follow him. And he did. From that point, his life completely changed. The man who went about killing Christians now went out trying to make Christians. He changed his name to Paul and became a significant missionary and church planter, indeed a leading figure in the not only the history of the church but of the history of the world.
We would do well to consider Paul’s story. It’s quite compelling and encouraging.
It reminds us of the power of God, to convert such a rebel and make him an ambassador. Think of the person you know who seems furthermost from Christ. They are not out of reach.
But it also reminds us of the love of God. Paul had caused great harm to God’s people and lived with violent hostilely to God. God loved him and called him to himself. Perhaps there are some here who think that God could not love them because of something they have done or what they have thought about God. Let Paul be an example to you.
Let’s not quickly forget this.
Paul the Apostle. We also read that Paul is an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. What does this mean?
Before we think about what an Apostle is, think about how he got there. He is serving in this way by the will of God. Paul’s emphasizing the fact that he did not choose this, nor did he appoint himself. No, just like his conversion, this apostleship is a result of God’s sovereign work. Paul didn’t ask for the job or apply for it. He didn’t even personally desire it. No, he was divinely drafted for the role. It was God’s imitating work.
What is an Apostle? The word “apostle” strictly speaking means one who is sent. In the New Testament, the word is used in an unofficial and an official sense. Unofficially, there are apostles or people who are sent out by churches to serve as a representative. Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25) and some people in 2 Cor. 8:23 are mentioned in this way. The word is used in this unofficial, broad sense 80 times in the New Testament.
But in the official sense, the New Testament refers to an office. And the best way to remember this is that the Apostles have authority. When you think apostle think authority. They are ambassadors sent to speak and act on behalf of the sending party. Here we see Paul referring to himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus. That is, he is sent out on behalf of Jesus. He comes with his authority.
Are There Apostles Today? Some today claim to have this apostolic authority. But the New Testament forbids this based upon the fact that the Apostles had a foundational role (Eph. 2:20). And, they had a unique set of qualifications. They had to be an eye witness of the risen Christ. This is implied by Acts 1:21-22; 1 Cor.. 9:1, and 15:6-9. But merely seeing the risen Christ did not make someone an apostle, for many saw and heard Him (1 Cor. 15:6) who were not apostles. They also had to be called and commissioned by Jesus for this role (Gal. 1:1; Rom. 1:1,5).
One other note, Paul was in prison (Eph. 3:1, 13; 4:1; 6:20), and the way he requests his readers’ prayers at the end of the letter may mean that he was awaiting a hearing. He urges them to pray that he will boldly make known the mystery of the gospel despite his imprisonment. He is, he says, “an enchained ambassador” (6:19–20).
Putting this together then, the letter of Ephesians is not like any other letter sent by and to someone. It’s a letter to a church from an Apostle. They come with the authority of Jesus himself. Sometimes Bible translations put the words of Jesus in red. When we read the gospel accounts, we can see where the narrator is speaking and where Jesus is speaking. But this might make you think that the words of the rest of the NT don’t have the same weight to them. The words in black don’t have the same authority as the words in red. But, the biblical concept of apostle helps us to see that the words in black weight just the same as the words in red. They are all God’s word. Paul is an apostle writing and speaking, but it is as if Jesus Christ himself is talking to his church.
We need to understand this concept when we think about the Bible.
Who did he write the letter to? Let’s look at the second half of verse 1, “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus”
Notice first he is writing to saints. Depending on your background, this word might mean different things. The word saint comes from a Greek word that means set apart, holy, or sanctify. It refers to people who have been set apart to God. Their lives are to be characterized by this being set apart. They are to be holy. Instead of being used to describe extraordinary people or super Christians, the term saint describes ordinary, everyday Christians. We are set apart by God and for God. Paul here is writing to a church or a congregation of people who have come to believe upon Christ and are set apart together as a people. Like us here, they would have covenanted around the gospel and gathered together to serve Jesus.
Second, the recipients are described as the faithful. The word translated "faithful" refers not so much to their character (they are reliable or trustworthy) but to the activity of their belief, that is their active faith. It is a refreshing reminder again that believers from all ages live with a faith that produces fruit. And this fruit is measurable to the place that they are described as faithful. Their life reflects their faith. This is the pattern of normal, historic Christianity. Apart from a living faith that produces fruit, one has reason to question the legitimacy of the faith.
Third, they are in Christ Jesus. This refers to a believer being united to Jesus Christ. To be “in Christ” means to be connected to him. How so?
There is a spiritual union. Upon conversion, believers are united to Christ by faith. This is an action that cannot be undone. As a result of the union with Christ there is communion with him. There is prayer and closeness.
There is a legal union. Jesus represents his people before the bar of justice. By virtue of the union, we have his righteousness.
There is a living union. We have life in him and grow in him. We bear fruit and, like a branch, grow and demonstrate that life.
What we’ll see in weeks ahead is this phrase in Ephesians is key. In fact, if you drop your eyes down to the next verses, as a preview, look at what we have “in Christ.”
Union with Christ is a critical doctrine for Christians to grasp. And even here in the early words of the letter, he is laying out breadcrumbs for the rest of the letter.
Finally, they are in Ephesus. There are some who maintain that this letter wasn’t written to a specific church in Ephesus but to the region. This is because, in some of the earliest manuscripts or copies of the letter, Ephesus was not listed. The thought is that the letter was brought to Colossae, Laodicea, Ephesus, and other churches. So instead of it being directed to one congregation, it was directed to a broader region. This is possible, of course, and doesn’t change the original content, interpretation, or application of the letter. And, Ephesus would have been one of the cities in the region described. Let’s think about this city for a minute.
Geographically. Ephesus was an important ancient city and it was so for the early church. It was located near the coast of the Agean sea in Modern Day Turkey. With an estimated population of 200,0000–250,000, Ephesus was called the “mother city” of Asia.
Economically, Ephesus was the largest trading center in western Asia Minor. The port city became the main communication and commercial link between Rome and the East. It was a melting pot of nations and ethnic groups. The city was filled with Greeks and Romans; Jews and Gentiles walked about together.
Artistically. But to enhance is cosmopolitan feel, it had a tremendous emphasis upon the arts. They had the largest of all Greek open-air theaters holding 25,000 spectators. They had a large stadium for chariot races and animal fights.
Religiously, Ephesus had the honor of being the “guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which they believed fell from heaven” (Acts 19:35). The temple of Artemis (the Roman goddess Diana) was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and the influence of the Artemis cult permeated every facet of life in the city. Artemis was considered the guardian of the city, her temple served as the primary banking institution of the city, her image graced the coinage, and festivals and games were held in her honor. The worship of Artemis was not restricted to Ephesus. Demetrius, a silversmith in Ephesus, claimed that Artemis was “worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world” (Acts 19:27).
To this city, the apostle Paul came to preach. He went for a quick visit on his second missionary journey and a more extended period on his third journey. And now, in prison, he writes this letter to the Christians in this city and region. In this midst of this paganism, he directs this letter to remind and instruct the believers that the new age has come. Through the work of Christ in his life, death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus has begun the work of putting what is broken back together. And putting that which is rebellious under his authority.
Ephesians shows us the centrality of the church in God’s eternal plan to unite all things - in heaven and on earth - under the rule of Jesus.
He writes to them and bids them grace and peace. Look in verse 2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
At first glance, these might seem like merely polite words or conventional terms used to punctuate a greeting. But rarely does the Apostle Paul waste words. He stewards and deploys them with deftness and skill.
The substance. We read of grace and peace.
First, think about grace. The word means gift. He is orienting his readers mind back to the concept of the free gift of grace.
Second, we have peace. The biblical concept of peace refers to not simply the absence of something, like a lack of trouble or difficulty, but to the presence of something, personal contentment. This peace is not dependent upon circumstances going well (like having a good job, living with favorable health, or lots of money) but internal contentment when external conditions are difficult.
The source. This is straightforward; the peace is from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This sharpens our focus a bit to help us to see more of what he is talking about here. This gift and this peace come through Jesus and from God.
The significance. We read what makes this grace and peace so remarkable don’t we? This is our greatest need, and it exceeds our most bold imagination.
Here’s the reality that Ephesians addresses. The entire world is broken. It is physically and spiritually fractured. The explanation for everything wrong in the world is fundamentally a spiritual problem. The rebellion of humanity against God - our sin - has plunged the world into ruin.
Peace is ideal, it’s a longing of every soul, but it is not the reality we feel.
Ephesians argues that Jesus is the King who brings peace. God is uniting everything under his sovereign rule. This includes two realms, the heavens an the earth.
Look at Eph. 1:9-10 and then 1:20-23.
By virtue of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, Jesus is subduing all rebellion against him and bringing in a new creation. He is putting things back together. And we see this first hand, don’t we? He has done this to and for us.
We read in chapter 6:15 that the good news is the gospel of peace. And also in chapter 2:14 that Jesus is our peace. How is this?
Look with me at chapter two, verses 1-10. We were in bondage to sin (1-3), but God intervenes and saves us (4-9) so that we would live to serve him (10). This all comes to us in and through Christ.
And so this greeting that Paul gives us is a greeting from another world. It is the announcement of a king of grace who brings peace.
And what’s equally amazing is this greeting is there for all who will take it.
When we come to this book, we find a vast treasure before us. The reality of a plan put in place before the foundation of the world and that will extend into eternity in front of us. But it is also to be lived out now in the present time.
So as we enter into this book to consider the treasure, we are greeted with the words grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The words mark our journey and remind us of the infinite love and worth of Christ Jesus.
This is something we would do well to ponder in the days and weeks ahead.