Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians will occupy an important portion of our daily readings during April, and it would be hard to find a more practical and appropriate message for personal, family and Ecclesial life in this day and age.

Paul wrote to a divided Ecclesia comprising Jew and Gentile: he wrote to an Ecclesia assailed by the onslaught of worldliness from without and narrow-minded Judaism from within. His message was a call to unity on the basis of the grace of God—both Jew and Gentile being equal recipients of that “undeserved Divine favour”.

His appeal was specifically directed to the individual brother and sister, to husbands and wives, to parents and their children, and to slave-owners and their slaves. How vitally relevant are Paul’s words to all these categories in our day when the love of many waxes cold, marriage break-down occurs so tragically, children lack respect and discipline and the family unit is threatened, and relationships between employer and employee are far from “just and equal”.

Background

Ephesus, like many cities of the Roman Empire, abounded with orators and philosophers, and the people at large indulged in practices designed merely for the gratification of the flesh. The city was renowned for its idolatry and witchcraft, as well as being a centre of luxury and lasciviousness. The people enjoyed all the facilities of a modern society and this, combined with the mild climate and the fertility of the soil, provided a way of life which made the Ephesians soft and lazy; and in Ephesians 4:17–19 and 2:3, Paul draws attention to the relaxed morals of the Gentile community. It would be impossible to miss the marked similarity with the circumstances of the 21st century!

An Epistle From Prison

Paul wrote this letter about ad62, when he was a prisoner at Rome—“pray… for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds” (Eph 6:20): and it was delivered by Tychicus in company with Onesimus, at the same time as the Epistles to Colossae and Philemon (Eph 6:21; Col 4:7–9).

The absence of the title “in Ephesus” in some manuscripts, has led some to suggest that this letter was, in fact, a kind of “circular letter” addressed to a number of the ecclesias in the Province of Asia, including the ecclesia at Laodicea. It is possible that the “letter to Laodicea” which Paul desired the Colossian brethren to read was this same letter to Ephesus (Col 4:16).

The Epistle has two main divisions:

Chapters 1 to 3 Exposition—Our Wealth in Christ

Chapters 4 to 6 Exhortation—Our Walk in Christ

Note the emphasis on these two themes in each section.

Wealth

“riches of his grace”                                           1:7

“riches of the glory of his inheritance”         1:18

“riches of his grace”                                         2:7

“unsearchable riches of Christ”                   3:8

“riches of his glory”                                       3:16

Walk

“walk worthy of the vocation”                    4:1

“walk not as Gentiles walk”                      4:17

“walk in love”                                               5:2

“walk as children of light”                       5:8

“walk circumspectly”                              5:15

Exposition—Our Wealth In Christ

The doctrinal portion of the Epistle opens with a brief salutation to “the Saints” (v1, 2), and rapidly passes on to a beautiful expression of praise to God who has “predestinated us to the adoption of sons”, “blessed and redeemed us in Christ” and “made known to us His eternal purpose” (v3–14). These thoughts then evoke a prayer from Paul that his readers may be enlightened to know the Hope of God’s calling, the riches of His grace (v15–19), and the magnitude of that power which was displayed in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ—the head of the body—the Ecclesia (v20–23).

“Grace” and “Peace” are two key expressions in the epistle—it commences and concludes with these words (1:2; 6:23,24).

“Grace” means “something which gives joy” or “favour”, and, as used by Paul in this epistle, it has the idea of “undeserved Divine favour” as exemplified in the mercy of God in Jesus Christ for man’s salvation (See John 1:14,16,17). It occurs in Ephesians in the following places—1:2,6,7; 2:5,7,8; 3:2,7,8; 4:7,29; 6:24.

“Peace”—similar to the Jewish salutation shalom—was a most comprehensive term of well-being. It occurs in the following places—1:2; 2:14,15,17; 4:3; 6:15,23.

To those in Ephesus who were really “saints”, and really “faithful in Christ Jesus”, Paul’s words were more than a courteous and affectionate desire for their welfare. His words were with power: they were to bring home to the hearts of his readers a fresh assurance of the “grace of God” and a fuller realisation and richer consciousness of the “peace” and the infinite blessings which that grace conferred on both Jew and Gentile together.

Paul also tells his readers that both Jew and Gentile have been “predestinated” to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ” (1:5). The word “predestinated” (or in the rv “fore-ordained”) comes from the Greek pro-horizo, meaning “to mark out before”. Paul here directs their attention to God’s fixed purpose or predetermination to bestow on Jew and Gentile the blessing of the adoption of sons by Jesus Christ. The word is used in a similar connection in Romans 8:29, where Paul states that God has a predetermined purpose that those who would be justified and glorified must “conform to the image of His son”.

The apostle continues by reminding his Gentile readers that whilst they had once been dead in sin, God had quickened them and by His grace, made them sit in the “heavenlies” in Christ (2:1–10). Whilst once they had been aliens from the Commonwealth of Israel, now they were “brought nigh by the blood of Christ”; he was now their peace; by him both Jew and Gentile together had access to the Father; and on him, as the chief corner stone, they had been built into a spiritual Temple to God (2:11–22).

Paul begins chapter 3 with a prayer (v1), which he immediately breaks off to explain how that to him was revealed the profound secret of Gentile inclusion in the Commonwealth of Israel. It was his mission to carry this message to the Gentiles for their salvation and he exhorts the brethren to faint not at his tribulations (v2–13). Taking up his prayer again (in verse 14), he requests that God will give them strength in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in them by faith and that they may be rooted and grounded in love. The prayer concludes with a final expression of praise to God (v20,21) which then ushers in the more directly practical portion of the Epistle.

Exhortation—Our Walk In Christ

Now that his expositional base has been laid—and there could be no gainsaying—Paul moves on to the exhortational section of his epistle. Having been called bond and free, rich and poor, of differing abilities and educational background, the Ephesians had been rescued from vanity, ignorance and complete indulgence in fleshly passions (4:17–19) and brought into one house, the lineage of which stemmed from the Father Himself (3:15). Paul entreats them to “walk worthy” of their calling and to keep the UNITY of the spirit. There is ONE BODY, ONE SPIRIT, ONE LORD AND ONE GOD (v1–6). Each member has his part to play in the Ecclesia, so that the whole body might be knit together by the combined efforts of every member in a spirit of love (v7–16). In view of this, they must realise that they were now leading a new life in Christ (v17–24); therefore, they were to put off “the old man”, and demonstrate the new life in practice (v25–32). God’s grace had been given to the Ecclesia in the form of Holy Spirit gifts (v7) and, if rightly used, they would cause the Ecclesia to grow unto the stature of “A PERFECT MAN” (the Lord Jesus Christ—the Christ Body), built up and edified in a spirit of love, seeking that peace or completeness and unity, which such a knowledge can give.

In this 21st century, the spirit Word is capable of the same development and where an Ecclesia is soundly and firmly based on that Word of life, growing together in word and doctrine, a spirit of love and unity will be evident in the Body of Christ.

The Apostle moves on from chapter 4:25 through to chapter 5:5 to deal with that new life in practice. He shows how that first mentally and then by allowing that Word to dominate our actions, we must be imitators of God. It involves a “putting off” by “putting on”: it involves both the negative and positive aspects of life in the Truth. It can be simply summarised in the words of Paul to the Romans, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). Paul here illustrates a very important principle—that of overcoming sin, not by the determined effort of the will in destroying that which is evil; but rather by replacing it with that which is good (cp also Matt 12:45).

The principle, which Paul now illustrates in each of the following six sins, can be expressed in these words—“SUBLIMATION IS BETTER THAN REPRESSION”—that is, to overcome sin we must elevate our mind above the problem, until we find that the problem itself becomes of no account.

Brother Carter states:

“When we wish to subjugate an appetite, it is not enough simply to check it, however harshly. All the locks and bolts of mere repression will not suffice. Rather must we seek till we find, and can foster, some other desire in the presence of which, the obnoxious appetite may find it hard to live. If once heart and mind be filled with strong positive interests, the rest will come of itself.”

In enumerating the problem areas, Paul names some but alludes to others which he says “should not be once named among us”. We live in a “liberated society” in which such things are not only named, but openly and publicly discussed! Brother Carter, again, comments as follows: “Under such conditions, Paul may well prohibit the discussion of it. He himself names it only to condemn it. But Saints are separated from the world and it becomes them not to let the mind dwell on the sins of the world. The mind insensibly is affected by the stream of thoughts passing through it, and it is desirable to have the stream as pure as possible. A mind familiarised by pictures of evil is not strongly fortified if sin should assail.” These are powerful and very relevant words which should constantly ring in our ears.

A three-fold application of the life of submission in Christ now follows. Paul deals with the submission of

1 Husband and Wife Yahweh is our Husband                   5:22 to 33

2 Parents and Children Yahweh is our Father                   6:1–4

3 Masters and ServantsYahweh is our Master                    6:5–9

Paul’s advice to husbands and wives should form the basis of all marriage relationships in Christ: “each party is reminded NOT OF RIGHTS, BUT OF DUTIES”. Paul, however, reminds us that he is only using this relationship as an illustration of the relationship between Christ and his Ecclesia. In our day, the words of Brother Thomas are most applicable—“as generations of mankind lose their intellectual and moral likeness to the Elohim and fall under the dominion of sensuality, so the sympathy between men and women evaporates into mere animalism.”

Concerning parents and children, Brother Roberts says

“let it be taught that reverence and obedience to father and mother are duties which must be enforced, it [the child] will grow up in that deferential mood and attitude which will readily be transferred to God, when enlightenment opens the understanding in that high direction. The fear of parents is the best education in the fear of God.”

Here is yet one more area which has been almost totally set aside by today’s society: let us guard against wholesale neglect in our own community also.

Speaking of masters and servants, the Apostle exhorts each to submission in Christ—that masters should be deserving of respect; and that servants should perform each task with diligence not just “with eye-service” (service performed only under the master’s eye).

Finally, Paul draws this monumental Epistle to a close with a “call to arms”—“Put on the whole armour of God”!

“Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with TRUTH, and having on the breastplate of RIGHTEOUSNESS: and your feet shod with the preparation of the GOSPEL OF PEACE: above all, taking the shield of FAITH, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the WORD OF GOD: PRAYING ALWAYS… and WATCHING…”

Analysis

Part 1 OUR WEALTH IN CHRIST             Chapters 1 to 3

The Salutation                                                                 1:1–2

Praise for God’s purpose                                              1:3–14

Prayer and Thanksgiving                                       1:15–19

Christ raised and exalted                                      1:20–23

Christ’s people raised and                                    2:1–10

exalted with him

Unity of all mankind in Christ                            2:11–22

The beginning of a prayer                                     3:1

The revelation of the mystery                                3:2–13

Prayer concluded                                                      3:14–21

Part 2 OUR WALK IN CHRIST             Chapters 4 to 6

An exhortation to unity                                         4:1–6

Diversity in Unity                                                    4:7–16

The new life in Christ                                      4:17–24

The new life in practice                                4:25 to 5:5

Darkness and light                                           5:6–21

Submission one to another                          5:22 to 6:9

(a) Husbands and wives                          5:22 to 5:33

(b) Parents and children                              6:1–4

(c) Servants and Masters                             6:5–9

The Spiritual Warrior                                    6:10–20

Conclusion                                                      6:21–24