By Barney Keith
One of the most profound sections of the New Testament is Paul's short letter to the Ephesians. No book surpasses it in setting forth the marvelous grace of God toward a recreant race of rebels and in focusing attention on Christ and his church in God's plan for man. Ephesians peels forth the majestic sound of the song of human redemption. Found in this book is the very essence of the story of man's rescue from his sins, along with the divine purpose back of it all. It is always good for the student of the Bible to have an appreciation of the message of a book as a whole. The intent of this article is to take an overall view of Ephesians with the hope that it will serve to deepen our reverence for him who brought it all to pass "in the Beloved" (1:6).
No effort is here made to deal with the various critical issues relative to the linguistic and stylistic arguments some men make against Paul's authorship of this book. The letter purports to have been written by that apostle (1:1; 3:1), and there is sufficient attestation to the truth of that claim, both externally and internally. Nor do we take time to examine arguments over whether the phrase "in Ephesus" belongs in verse 1. From the earliest times the epistle has been associated with the Ephesian church. Our concern is exclusively with the content, the teaching found in the book. What did the Ephesians learn from the letter? What do we learn?
What God Had Purposed And Why
Paul begins this magnificent message by reaching back into the vastness of eternity to locate the origin of the scheme of redemption (1:4; see also 3:11). It was God's predestinated plan to save sinners (1:3,5,6) "according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace." The great need of sinners is shown by turning the searchlight on the devastating effect sin had once had in the lives of these now-redeemed saints. They had been "dead" in their trespasses and sins, totally without hope (2:1-3,12). Theirs had been a self-chosen depravity, but Paul magnifies the gracious love and kindness God had manifested in saving them in his Son (2:4-10). It was not because they had deserved consideration from an offended Creator, but because he was merciful despite their rebellion against him. Hence, those who had once been "far off" were now "made near," being part of that blood-washed body of the redeemed (2:12-22).
How the Ephesians Had Learned God's Plan
All of this good new had been communicated to the Ephesians by revelation from God (3:1-7). It had not been intuitively grasped by them. They had not experienced some mystical vibrations from unknown cosmic forces. Men have never learned God's will except by revelation. What God had planned from eternity had finally been openly set forth by Spirit-guided "holy apostles and prophets" (3:5). Paul himself had a part in making saving truth known to them (Acts 19 and 20). That truth had been understandable, and the letter he was writing to them could be understood, according to Paul, "when you read" (3:4). The Ephesians were told that it had been God's "eternal purpose" that Christ's church be established, being a demonstration of divine wisdom (3:10,11). When men denigrate the essentiality of the church in God's plan of salvation, they reveal a woeful ignorance of what the church of our Lord is.
How Their Lives Were To Be Affected
Those who had now become part of the one body of Christ were charged to give diligence in their commitment to Christ by striving to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (4:1-6). This would be accomplished by the proper functioning of every part of the body (4:12-17). They had not entered this relationship in the church to become idle or without responsibility to work. Rather they had been called into a fellowship that required its members to share in the work of the Lord and to "grow up," to become mature and worthwhile parts of the body (4:12-16).
The apostle clearly shows the Ephesian Christians that since they had been saved by God's grace, a sinful lifestyle was completely incongruous with their new life in Christ (4:17-5:14). They had put off the evils of their former state and were not to put on the qualities which would show resemblance to their Lord. This newness of life demanded proper attitudes of heart, the right kind of speech, and conduct that was morally upright. All things were to be what was befitting a servant of Christ. A failure to abandon one's sinful behavior would have demonstrated a lack of understanding of the meaning of repentance.
How Extensive Christ's Rule Was To Be
Ephesians reminded the brethren in an emphatic way that the rule of Christ was to be all-inclusive, all-pervasive in their lives. His reign was to reach into every facet of their family relationships, their business affairs, their social activities, and their church relationships. (Chapters 5 and 6 deal with such.) Everything was affected by their being "in Christ" - a phrase used repeatedly in this book. Wherever they might be, and whatever they might be doing, they were to be seeking "what is well-pleasing unto the Lord" (5:10), and to be shunning "the unfruitful works of darkness" (5:11). Every action was to be as "unto Christ" (6:5,7). Every Christian's life was to be centered in being "a servant of Christ" (6:7). The religion of Jesus was meant for all of life. It was never intended to be simply a book of suggestions about orderly behavior in public worship on one day of the week.
How Opposition Could Be Overcome
Added to all of this was God's assurance that, as soldiers of Christ, they would be invincible when clad in the armor Paul described (6:11-18). The writer made no effort to lead those early disciples to think there would be no battles to be fought. Their following the Lord would not be without opposition from Satan. They were clearly warned of the "fiery darts of the evil one" (6:16) and of the "evil day" facing them along the way (6:13). Yet by having on the whole armor of God, and by wielding the sword of the Spirit, they would be able to wage war against anything standing opposed to the name of Christ. There is a note of triumph in Paul's words. There is great encouragement from knowing that there will be ultimate victory over the evil one - a sure and certain conquest of every enemy.
What This Can Mean To Us
Studying the book of Ephesians must surely prompt any Christian to a deeper reverence for, and more profound adoration of, our God and Father who graciously brought all of this to pass "in the Beloved" (1:6). It should generate in our hearts a more fervent love for him who "loved us and gave himself" for us (5:25). The exhortation and encouragement needed for being "strong in the Lord and in the power of his might" (6:10) are found in this great book. Surely in all ages to come the Ephesian letter will continue to minister grace to "all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible" (6:24 NASV).
Just what happened to the church at Ephesus no one knows. We do know that obviously it ceased to exist with the passing of time. They had received warnings more than once of imminent threats from false teachers (Acts 20:29,30; Rev. 2:5). All Christians should realize that present faithfulness does not guarantee future fellowship with Christ. A continuum of soundness in apostolic faith and practice ought to be observable in a congregation's history. Succeeding generations should be found holding and practicing the same truth as their forebears. As we know, such is not always the case.
Each generation has its own responsibility to adhere to the truth. The only way one can avoid apostasy is to "learn Christ" correctly (4:20), and then strive to "grow up in all things into him who is the head - Christ" (4:15). It is commitment to him and his truth that will enable us to walk worthily. Let us not allow the lessons learned from Ephesians to be considered irrelevant or unimportant in our lives.
One of the grandest sentences in this book contains what ought to be the lifelong desire of the faithful Christian: "To him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever" (3:21)!
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 17, pp. 515-516
September 6, 1990