Letter to the church in Ephesus
From Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles
During Paul’s time, Ephesus was one of the great cities of the world. It was a wealthy commercial seaport on the Cayster River, not far from the Aegean Sea in what is western Turkey today. The Ephesians were a proud people; their city was home of the ancient temple of Diana (a goddess known to the Greeks as Artemis), one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The city was immersed in the magical arts, a kind of religion that promised people protection from fate, demons, curses, and incantations. This is why Paul’s letter is filled with powerful language and promises that Jesus has defeated them through His death and resurrection.
A letter for every church
According to Luke, Paul spent nearly three years in Ephesus planting and nurturing a church there, so it seems a bit odd that the letter itself is so generic. Unlike most of Paul’s other letters, Ephesians lacks a personal touch, a personal message to specific members of the church at Ephesus.
There’s good evidence to suggest that Paul intended this letter to be circulated among a number of churches in Asia, but eventually it came to rest in and was identified with the city of Ephesus. It seems clear from the themes and content that Ephesians is not a letter for any particular church; it’s a letter for every church in every age.
The Full Armor Of GOD
Writing from his prison cell, possibly in Rome, Paul pictures all liberated believers occupying a new spiritual location he calls “the heavenly realms.” In this place, they enjoy all the spiritual blessings God has prearranged for them, but they also wait for the next act in the drama of redemption.
They have already been raised to live in this new reality, but the world is still not yet what it will be when the Anointed One, the Liberating King, comes again. Even now Jesus is positioned at God’s right hand, reigning over the spiritual powers the Ephesians fear most; so Paul assures them that as they belong to Jesus and take up the full armor of God, they have nothing to fear.
This letter begins with praise and thanksgiving offered to God. Paul celebrates all the spiritual “blessings” available to all believers in Jesus, the Anointed One. This means that He is the one through whom God has acted to rescue the world. But more than that, He is the Lord to whom we belong and the spiritual place where all believers are presently located.
In God’s purpose, heaven has come down to where we live so that we now occupy this wonderful realm where salvation is at work, where God’s truth and beauty are a reality, and where we wait as the rest of His plan is worked out.
Often in his letters, Paul records his prayers for his churches. He is constantly talking with God about those he considers his spiritual children. He prays that God will grant them wisdom, knowledge, and great power. This is the same power that was at work when God raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him in heaven.
Ultimately Paul knows all powers have been subjected to Jesus, the God-man, and He is destined to be head over all creation. In the resurrection of Jesus, the ultimate redemption of the cosmos has begun, and the church is the first act of God’s glorious drama.
The relationship between faith and works is often misunderstood. Some think that salvation is God’s reward for good deeds. If that’s true, then it can’t possibly be a gift. If it were a reward, then heaven would be a place where people might compare notes on what they did to make it through the gates.
But Paul is confident in the truth of the gospel. The truth is that salvation is God’s gift through Jesus. Grace and faith make salvation real in us. When we are transformed by grace, then we become His new creation and begin to live out the good works He has planned for us. Works, then, aren’t the cause of salvation; they are its result. To put it another way, works aren’t the means of salvation; they are its presence.
For Paul there are two kinds of people: Jews and Gentiles, or to put it another way, insiders and outsiders. The Prince of Peace is establishing peace where division and hostility once ruled unchallenged. In the Jerusalem temple, a stone wall separated Jewish from non-Jewish worshipers.
According to Paul, the cross is God’s instrument to dismantle the wall, end the segregation, and make the two into one. God wants one people of God. That has been His plan all along.
Today walls continue to exist, erected strategically to separate people by race, religion, class, culture, and sex. Those who erect these walls, protect them, and maintain them will find that they are enemies of the gospel that brings all together into one worshiping family.
Now that Paul has described the new world as God would have it, he urges believers to live out their callings with humility, patience, and love: to walk as Jesus walked. These are the ways of Jesus. Paul encourages them to do whatever it takes to hold onto the unity that binds people together in peace.
He does not ask them to create that unity; this has already been accomplished through the work of the Rescuer and His Spirit. Rather, he calls believers to guard that unity — a more modest but no less significant task — because that unity is founded on God’s oneness and work in the world.
Wisdom is a rare commodity. Paul urges believers, then and now, to walk wisely. It involves living well every day. Time itself seems to be co-opted by dark forces.
But when believers understand God’s will, avoid drunkenness, and allow God to fill them with His Spirit, they are able to walk wisely and live well.
The Spirit-filled life is not just for a special few; it is the normal Christian life, and it affects everything, including how we live in community and how we treat others at home.
Paul knows that the real battles and dangers we face are not against flesh and blood. The enemies we see are real enough, but they are animated by spiritual forces of darkness that stay strategically hidden from view.
These powers often reveal themselves in institutional evils — genocide, terror, tyranny, and oppression — but the weapons needed to combat them are not earthly weapons at all. What is needed, Paul advises, is to stand firm in God’s power and to suit up in the full armor of God.
Although the devil and his demon armies are destined for destruction, they are serious threats now and must be resisted and beaten back. For Paul, the best offensive weapons we have are the word of God and prayer.