Introduction to Ephesians

Introduction to Ephesiansephesians-2-ppt-slide4

The Author

In the opening of Ephesians, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul begins by introducing himself as the author. Paul, who was once known as Saul, was a vehement enemy of Christians and the early church (see Acts 7-8). He had been responsible for the imprisonment and even death of many early Christ followers. At that time he was filled with misplaced religious zeal and truly believed he was doing God a favor by capturing and overseeing the death of believers in Jesus Christ. However, that all changed when Christ revealed Himself on the Damascus Road. Christ confronted Saul of Tarsus with the truth, and that truth forever changed his life (see Acts 9:1-9). After turning to the very One whom he had been persecuting, Paul then began to preach the truth that he once had tried to destroy.

Sometime after his conversion, Paul was commissioned to go on missionary journeys. It is through these endeavors that untold numbers of souls were converted and churches established. Paul’s first recorded trip to the city of Ephesus is found in Acts 18:19-21. While there, he reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue and promised to return if the Lord willed. Though he did not stay, he left behind competent co-laborers named Aquila and Priscilla who continued the ministry there (see Acts 18:26). Acts 19 records Paul’s return to Ephesus and his continued ministry in this metropolitan city. We also find in chapter 19, that the truth Paul was preaching during these months began to change lives and caused a great uproar in the city. When the uproar ceased, Paul made the decision to depart from Ephesus (see Acts 20). He gave a tearful farewell speech to the Ephesian elders and then shared with them that the Holy Spirit had given him insight regarding his impending imprisonment and eventual martyrdom. It was from prison that Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesian church (see Ephesians 3:1, 4:1).

The City of Ephesus

In what type of city did Paul first arrive? There are several important characteristics concerning the city of Ephesus that are important to know.

First of all, Ephesus was a large city of its day. Its population was estimated to be between 250,000-350,000 souls[1] and was the third largest city of the Roman Empire.[2] Ephesus was situated in the region now known as Turkey.[3] Ephesus was not only a port city[4], but was also a place where “east met west…”through a “great arterial Roman road that linked it with the world…”[5] It was also known as the chief banking establishment in Asia Minor.[6] Though the city was quite multi-ethnic, it also had a strong Jewish population.[7]

Secondly, Ephesus was known for its worship of idols. Some estimate up to fifty gods and goddesses were worshipped there. The most famous deity in Ephesus was Artemis, who was also known as Diana.[8] The temple built for Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world![9] The upheaval found in Acts 19 was partly instigated by those who made items for the temple of Artemis. Many of these silversmiths were suffering financially because idolatry was on the decline. The truth was setting people free, and those who had much to gain from the idol business were hurting!

Thirdly, Ephesus was a city known for its magic, shamanism and the occult. New Testament Professor Clinton Arnold notes, “The practice of magic was predicated on an animistic worldview in which good and evil spirits were involved in practically every area of life. Magic represented a means of harnessing spiritual power through rituals, incantations, and invocations.”[10] You may also remember that Acts 19 records the burning of the books from those who had been practicing magical arts. This also took place in Ephesus.

The Church

As mentioned earlier, Paul had travelled to Ephesus on at least two occasions, and on the second occasion had been able to stay for quite some time. For the past two years the people had heard the word of the Lord (Acts 19:10) and many had become believers. These believers were probably as multi-ethnic as the population of Ephesus itself. We know for certain, based on the records found in Acts 19 that some of these new believers had been saved out of the occult and idolatry. “Coming to Christ from a background of animism, goddess worship, magical practices, and a variety of other religions, these people need a more extensive grounding in the gospel and its implications for life.”[11] The church in Ephesus and throughout Asian Minor would benefit greatly from the foundational doctrines and practical Christianity proclaimed throughout this powerful letter.

Themes

Arnold lists important facts that help us understand the themes in and circumstances surrounding the writing of Ephesians. Here is a brief summary:

  1. New believers from various religious, occultic and ethnic backgrounds needed to be grounded in the Gospel of Christ. They needed to understand Christ’s supremacy!
  2. Paul sought to encourage believers to cultivate a distinct, Christian lifestyle.
  3. Paul revealed to these believers, regardless of their ethnic background, that they are part of ONE body (emphasis mine).[12] Christ is the head of this body, and the life blood is the Holy Spirit.[13]

Summarizing the key thought of Ephesians, world renowned Scottish New Testament interpreter William Barclay so beautifully writes:

The key thought of Ephesians is the gathering together of all things in Jesus Christ…In every man there is a tension; every man is a walking civil war, torn between the desire for good and the desire for evil; he hates his sins and loves them at the same time…A cosmic battle is raging between the powers of evil and the powers of good; between God and the demons. Worst of all there is disharmony between God and man. Man, who was meant to be in fellowship with God, is estranged from him.

So, then, in this world without Christ, there is nothing but disunity…The central thought of Ephesians is the realization of the disunity in the universe and the conviction that it can become unity only when everything is united in Christ.[14]

In conclusion, the letter to the Ephesians can be subdivided into two distinct sections. The first three chapters deal with doctrine, and the last three chapters demonstrate how doctrine is to be lived out in the Christ follower’s life. The doctrines and admonitions found in the book of Ephesians are timeless. You will find food for your soul and helps to enable you to live out “Practical Christianity.” I am grateful that you have chosen to join me on this journey.


[1] This estimate varies depending upon who you read after. Clinton Arnold estimates 250,000 while John Phillips estimates 350,000.

[2] Clinton E. Arnold, “Ephesians: Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), 3.

[3] “The NIV Study Bible,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), 1790. Though I do not endorse the NIV because of its “dynamic equivalence” form of translation, I have found many of the study notes in this Study Bible helpful. Referencing various authors or Study Bible does not mean a blanket endorsement of either.

[4] Arnold, 3.

[5] John Phillips, “Exploring Ephesians,” (Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1993), 21.

[6] Spiros Zodhiates, “The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bbile,” (Chattanooga, Tennessee: AMG Publishers, 1996), 1368.

[7] Arnold, 3.

[8] For more information about these gods and goddesses you may refer to both Arnold and Phillips’ work.

[9] John MacArthur, “The MacArthur Study Bible,” (Word Publishing, 1997), 1801.

[10] Arnold, 5.

[11] Arnold, 6.

[12] Arnold, 3.

[13] MacArthur, 1802.

[14] William Barclay, “The Daily Study Bible: The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians,” (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Westminister Press, 1976), 66.

“Unplugged”

Unplugged 

by Guest Columnist Marie Drakulic

     A very dear friend of mine does not own a cellphone.  She has a landline.  Remember those?  It is the kind of phone that you have to plug into the wall and have to stay in the house to use!  She says cellphones drain too much energy.  Crazy, right?  Well, maybe she isn’t so far off base.

I should have known I had a problem when my email stopped working on my phone.  I actually had to go to the computer to bring it up and read it.  Oh no!  Perish the thought!  It was only a glitch in the server, and a couple days later it was fixed.  Yet, I wasted a lot of time fussing over the minor issue.  Shortly after that, this verse from 1 Corinthians started rolling around in my mind:

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV)

“I will not be dominated by anything.”  Another translation uses the word “mastered.”  I came to realize that I was being mastered by my smart phone.  Not so smart, huh?!  It was practically glued to me 24-7.  At home, it would follow me to every room in the house.  When I went out, it was either in my hand, my purse (attached to my shoulder), or in one of my pockets.  It even ended up in my bed next to my pillow sometimes at night!  As I prepared to listen to my pastor’s Sunday sermon on fasting, I knew that I needed to spend some time “unplugged.”

As I write this, I am in the middle of a week away from my phone.  Sure, I have used it to make ordinary phone calls, and a few times I have used my “smart apps,” but I have, in the Lord’s strength, denied myself the ease and dependability of using it every waking moment.  Here are a few things I have learned:

  1. My smart phone CAN’T do everything, and I CAN function without it.
  2. Some people really do appreciate a phone call rather than a text message.
  3. It is more important for me to enjoy spending with my kids than making sure I post about them.
  4. I don’t need to reach for my phone before I reach for my Bible or bow my head in prayer in the morning.
  5. My iPhone is not I AM.

Please do not misunderstand me; I am not saying that smart phones, tablets or advances in technology are bad.  I am only saying that, for me, my iPhone had become a god in my life.  Wow, that was hard to write . . . and hard to admit.  How could something so material, so breakable ever become greater than He?  There are many beneficial uses of a smart phone, but they had become a weight in my spiritual walk with the Lord.

Is there something weighing you down today?  Maybe you don’t struggle with smart phone overuse like I do.  Maybe your struggle is with food or the TV or work.  None of those things are wrong on their own, but when they become distractions from time with the Lord, when they become little ‘g’ gods in our lives, then we have a problem.  Take a look at what the writer of Hebrews said:

. . . let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us . . . (Hebrews 12:1 ESV)

In a few days, my phone will become smart again, and I will plug back in.  Yet, I pray that I have learned to reap its benefits without letting it master me.  God is God alone.  May I always recognize that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (see James 1:17) and meant for use to His glory.  And just maybe, I can convince my friend to at least get an iPod so she can have all those “really cool” apps, too! 😉

Open Their (Our) Hearts

In Acts 16 we read an interesting statement which is found in v. 14: “The Lord opened her (Lydia’s) heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”

We find that Lydia was a “worshiper of God” and was a business lady whom Paul crossed paths with. However, she had not been baptized and possibly had not clearly understood the Gospel up to this point. It is obvious that God was working in her heart, drawing her to Himself and had set up this divine appointment with the Apostle Paul.

The word here for worship means to: “hold something in high respect, to adore and to revere.” (http://biblesuite.com/greek/4576.htm) However, it seems there was something still missing in Lydia’s life. It is possible she had yet to understand the message about the “Lamb of God who was slain for the sins of the world.” Regardless of what was missing, she had responded to God in love and faith and God responds to her in ensuring she hears the Truth.

Scripture tells us that God opened her heart so she could pay attention to what was being said by Paul. The word “open” has a couple of different connotations. First it carries with it the idea of “opened up fully.” However, it can go much deeper than that and can also mean “to rouse in one the faculty of understanding or the desire of learning.” (http://biblesuite.com/greek/1272.htm)

My question to us is this: “What if God would do the same thing in the hearts of everyone that will be sitting under Gospel preaching on Sunday? What if God would do the same thing every time we pick up His Word and read it? What if God would do the same thing every time we share the Gospel with a lost soul?”

The God who loved Lydia is the same God who loves the souls in your family and mine, in your congregation and mine, and in your city and mine. Sure, we need more Lydia’s who will respond to the light they have, but we also need more messengers like Paul who will faithfully proclaim God’s Word and be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading.

Would YOU join me in prayer for the countless confused and/or misinformed souls that will have an opportunity to hear God’s precious Word? Let’s pray together that God would “open their hearts to pay attention to what is said from God’s Word.” God’s Word is Truth and it is the Truth that sets people free! Faith comes through hearing and hearing from the Word of God!

Prayer: “Father, I come to YOU today and I ask that YOU would open the hearts of everyone who will sit in the pews of Flagship Church and every church that preaches the Gospel tomorrow. Open their mind and the window of their soul to YOUR Truth. Give them understanding of YOUR great love for them and YOUR desire to save their souls and reconcile them to YOURSELF. Give to them a desire to learn YOUR Word and YOUR ways. Give us men like the Apostle Paul who will faithfully discharge their duty to be ambassadors for Christ in their Jerusalem, their Judea, their Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world. Encourage the laymen and laywomen with the Truth that YOUR Word can change lives for eternity. Finally Lord, though we may know YOU as Savior and Lord our hearts need to remain open as well. Please keep us tender and sensitive to the leading of YOUR Holy Spirit, the Truth of Scripture and the power of the Gospel.

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Perception

Too many times we are consumed with perception. Don’t get me wrong. The way people perceive us is important. After all, as Christ followers we are the ambassadors of Christ and His representatives to a lost and sin sick world. Therefore, it is important to let our light shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in Heaven (see Matthew 5:14-16).

However, there is a difference between letting our light shine through our good works and putting on a show. If we are really surrendered to Christ and are walking in the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) there will be a natural overflow of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24). When we walk by faith and in humility, surrendered to God’s Word, then what God is doing in us will be reflected through us!

We need to keep in mind that even in the Christian the flesh is still driven to perform. The flesh produces jealously (Galatians 5:17-20) and pride. As a matter of fact Paul asks the Galatians in chapter three “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3). Sometimes we are erroneously convinced that God’s power saves us by grace through faith, but somehow we then are to live the victorious Christian life through our flesh and “trying harder.” Our flesh may be jealous of the Spirit’s power and capability and the great deceiver plays upon that weakness, encouraging us to live the Christian life in our own power. After all we’ve got to keep up the perception that we are good Christians.

This is exactly what we see happening in Acts 5. Ananias and Sapphira were very interested in being perceived as dedicated, sacrificial Christ followers. They obviously had close ties to the church because they were aware that others were selling their possessions and giving to the church and others in need (see Acts 4:34-37). They decided to come up with a scheme to be perceived as a part of this generous group. They decided they would sell a portion of their property, bring a portion of it to the church and secretly keep a portion for themselves. They did not have to sell their land (Acts 5:4a). The problem was not they kept a portion for themselves (Acts 5:4b). The problem was they wanted to be perceived as a Christ follower who had given it all even though they had not!

Christians still have a battle with the flesh. We no longer have to be controlled by the flesh and we can reckon our flesh to be dead through the power of Christ, but if we are not extremely careful it will raise its ugly head time and time again to trip us up. It will even lead us to do the right thing for the wrong reason or seek to get us to try to do the right thing in our own power and energy. The enemy knows this leads to failure and frustration and may eventually lead us down a road of such despondent failure that we just walk out on the possibility of living in victory at all.

Yes, we should want to be perceived as people who bring God the glory. However, we all need to understand how God is brought the glory! He is not brought the glory by anything we can accomplish in the power and the energy of the flesh. Our righteousness adds up to nothing but filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). We bring God the glory when we let His supernatural power work in and through us to do things that point others to how awesome He is!

Jesus went on to remind His followers in John 15:5 that the key to producing fruit was not in “trying harder” or “doing better” but rather was simply found in abiding in Him. If we want to give the perception that we are Christ followers, then through His grace and power of the Holy Spirit we must simply follow Him. If we want to produce fruit, then we must simply through His grace rest in and abide in Him and His power. If we want to be perceived as Spirit-filled people then we must through His grace walk in His Spirit step by step.

Your flesh will always be there to try to trip you up. It will always seek to get you to live the Christian life in your own strength. It will lead you to depend upon the arm of the flesh, but the arm of the flesh will always fail!

I’m not sure what the Holy Spirit would have led Ananias and Sapphira to do had they been following His leadership. But whatever it was, it would have been something that glorified God, not Ananias and Sapphira! It would have been something that said, “Look at what GOD is doing in and through their life,” rather than, “Look at what they are doing for God.”

Yes, perception is important. But the right perception can only be produced through following and being surrendered to the leading of the Holy Spirit through His Word and the power of the Holy Spirit working within.