Ephesians—the Church Epistle
Ephesus was a thriving harbor city in Asia Minor in the first century. It was the leading city in Asia Minor with a population in excess of 300,000. Archeologists have uncovered baths, gymnasiums, stadiums, temples, and many synagogues. The Temple of Artemis (Diana) was one of the 7 wonders of the world there. Its ruins were uncovered in 1869. It was home to one of the world’s most lucrative prostitution businesses. Of course they called the prostitutes priestesses, the patrons worshipers, and the payment an offering. Paul came to Ephesus on his third missionary journey and stayed there for almost three years. Initially he reasoned from the Old Testament in the synagogues for three months, after this he taught daily in a large lecture hall for two years (Acts 19:9). After his third missionary journey, Paul took an offering to Jerusalem where he was arrested and eventually taken to Rome as a prisoner awaiting trial. Paul wrote this letter from prison in Rome about 61-63 AD. It is called the church epistle because Paul wrote that the church is established, blessed, and unified in Christ. The church is a living, working, growing organism—not an institution or a building. The church is a growing body in connection with and empowered by its Head, Jesus Christ.
The phrase “in Christ” is repeated at least 15 times in this short letter. The repetition emphasizes that Christ is our source, our being, and our access to everything that is spiritual. All the carnal, material, worldly things were ours at our physical birth, but now that we have been united with Christ, we have every spiritual resource and blessing. He shares with us spiritual resources previously unknown. In our union with Christ we are guaranteed an inheritance, thus we share all that He possesses. We have been given riches now described in chapter one as redemption, peace, power, forgiveness, knowledge, an inheritance, hope, the sealing of the Holy Spirit as a pledge, and spiritual gifts. In a sense we have a blank check from Heaven. Whatever we need, we fill in and it is already signed by Christ. We have a joint account with Christ in the Bank of Heaven. His grace has stooped down to where we are and lifted us up to where Jesus is. In Christ we are rich because Christ is rich. These riches free us from sin, transform us, and guarantee us as God’s possession. In Eph.1:13, we are told that we are “sealed in Christ with the Holy Spirit”. Like the stamp of the seal of a king gives protection and security, we are marked by God. This authenticates us as accredited citizens of heaven. We are God’s possession—we are under new ownership. God’s authority goes with us as we represent Him.
Already But Not Yet
God deals with us based on our future, not our past. Therefore our lives should be lived based on what we shall be in the future when Jesus returns. Ephesians 1 contains what seems paradoxical to the natural man. There is tension or even outright contradictions in explaining our future promises as current possessions. In the first three chapters the saints have already been raised and enthroned in heaven, the wall of enmity between estranged men has been broken down, the proclaimed peace is a present reality, and we have full access to God. Perhaps all these blessings and possessions are positionally ours, and guaranteed by God in such a way that even though we have yet to fully experience them, they are no less ours in full. We are like the son who asked his father, “Dad, will we ever be rich?” The father answered, “Son, we are rich, and some day we will also have money!”
Before and After Christ
What makes this “in Christ” relationship so awesome is the realization of what has changed about my being. I was lost, alienated, living independently of God, and therefore spiritually dead. In that worldly condition, I had no meaning, purpose, or hope. I was incapable of pleasing God in any way. After Christ came into my life I became spiritually alive. My sin was dealt with by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:1-10 presents the past, present, and future of the Christian. Verses 1-3 detail the past before Christ came into my life. I was “dead in my trespassers and sins”. These three verses are not for the faint of heart. We normally don’t appreciate statements like these about our character, but Paul has an important reason for making the point. Unless we realize fully who we are without Christ, we can’t fully appreciate who we are “in Christ”. He just spent an entire chapter detailing our many blessings, and to prevent us from being puffed up, he brings us down with this humiliating assessment of life without Christ. Of course we were not physically “dead”, but what he means is we were separated from God and spiritually dead.
We do not like to think of ourselves as sinners, but Paul uses two different words in verse 1 in the original Greek to cover the whole gamut. The first word means we have gone the wrong way, we are off the narrow path of God. The second term translated sins means to “miss the mark”. Therefore Paul is not talking about any specific sin, but is saying we have all fallen short of God’s holy, righteous standard. These are the identical words Paul used in Romans 3:23 which are translated, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. In Eph.2:2, Paul continues by saying we all lived according to worldly standards. This world operates under humanism, materialism, and according to its selfish desires. Apart from Christ we all live according to self interest, self promotion, and by acting on our desires for gratification whether it be sexual, economic, or egotistical. The basic desires God gave us like hunger, thirst, attention, and sex are good; but the world has corrupted them into greed, self obsession, adultery, and drunkenness. The world operates under the motto of, “If it feels good do it” and “the ends justify the means”.
Paul finished v.2 by saying that when you live according to the world, you also unknowingly are influenced by “the prince of the power of the air”, obviously a reference to the adversary of God who leads “the sons of disobedience” in the world. If that assessment of us before Christ is not harsh enough, in verse 3 he KO punches us with, “we too formerly lived by the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” This is really sobering that as good a person that we all think we are, our base human nature is way short of God’s requirement. This is the point that without Christ we are separated from God and have no eternal meaning or hope. We were no better than lemmings, oblivious to the danger as we rushed pell-mell toward the sea. Therefore we all desperately need Christ and should be excited and immensely grateful for God’s grace, so much so that it will motivate us to godly living and service. Now that Paul has sketched a portrait of what man is by nature, he will now show what man can become by grace.
My Favorite Two Words in the Bible
“But God” was rich in mercy and love for us, and He solved our problem. People are always asking in many different forms why doesn’t God do something about all the evil and injustice in the world; God has done something, but it just isn’t to their selfish prideful liking. God took the initiative in providing the means for our salvation. While we were dead in our sins, God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to save us by a most unexpected means. Jesus came humbly from His birth, His life, and until His death. He was sent as a substitution to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. God did not demand that we climb up to Him, He descended to us. By God’s grace, we are now spiritually alive. In verse 6 he goes so far to say that this is so certain that in God’s view, we are already “raised up with Him, and seated with Him in the heavenly places”.
What is our response? How do we make God’s grace our possession? In verse 8-9 Paul says “you have been saved through faith”, meaning you received God’s grace by believing in Jesus. This belief is not just intellectual assent, it is a commitment of your life to Him. We now live for Him, and based on Him. We no longer live for ourselves as the rest of the world does. Hebrews 11:1 gives an excellent definition of faith. Faith is believing that the gospel is a reality, and then fully responding to that reality. All the people of faith who pleased God in Hebrews 11 were given the Word of God which they believed and acted on. Why would Noah build an ark when it had never flooded? He believed God. Why would Abraham pick up and leave his home, his family, and his possessions for a land he had never seen? He believed God’s Word and he acted upon it.
The Boast Free Gospel
Ephesians 2:9-10 reveals who is responsible for our salvation. It is a work of God from first to last. No one can stand before God and speak of their good works or their accomplishments. All praise, honor, and glory go to the only deserving God Almighty, for “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works”. This makes two things clear about good works. First, God’s intention is that we do good works, and second that good works naturally should proceed from our salvation. Do you remember the story of Humpty Dumpty? Man has had a great fall and is helpless to put himself together again, but there is someone who can. It is Jesus, the One who made you to begin with. He can forgive your sins and create you anew. If you are a Christian, but your life is a mess, He will restore things to order.