OUR CHURCHES come in all styles and shapes – secret meetings in homes; wide-open gatherings in amphitheatres; worship services packing thousands into a sanctuary while an overflow crowd watches on closed circuit television. Buildings will vary, but the church is not confined to four walls. The church of Jesus Christ is people, his people, of every race and nation who love Christ and are committed to serving him.
The “church age” began at Pentecost (Act 2). Born in Jerusalem, the church spread rapidly through the ministry of the apostles and the early believers. Fanned by persecution, the gospel flame then spread to other cities and nations. On three courageous journeys, Paul and his associates established local assemblies in scores of Gentile cities.
One of the most prominent of those churches was at Ephesus. It was established in A.D. 53 on Paul’s homeward journey to Jerusalem. But Paul returned a year later, on his third missionary trip, and stayed there for three years, preaching and teaching with great effectiveness (Acts 19:1-20). At another time, Paul met with the Ephesian elders, and he sent Timothy to serve as their leader (1 Timothy 1:3). Just a few years later, Paul was sent as a prisoner to Rome. In Rome, he was visited by messengers from various churches, including Tychicus. Not written to counteract heresy or to confront any specific problem, Ephesians is a letter of encouragement. In it Paul describes the nature and appearance of the church, and he challenges believers to function as the living body of Christ on earth.
After a warm greeting (1:1, 2), Paul affirms the nature of the church – the glorious fact that believers in Christ have been showered with God’s kindness (1:13, 14), filled with the Spirit’s power (1:15-23), freed from sin’s curse and bondage (2:1-10), and brought near to God (2:11-18). As part of God’s “household”, we stand with the prophets, apostles, Jews, Gentiles, and Christ himself (2:19-3:13). Then, as though overcome with emotion by remembering all that God has done, Paul challenges the Ephesians to live close to Christ, and he breaks into spontaneous praise (3:14-21).
Paul then turns his attention to the implications of being in the body of Christ, the church. Believers should have unity in their commitment to Christ and their use of spiritual gifts (4:1-16). They should have the highest moral standards (4:17-5:20). For the individual, this means rejecting pagan practices (4:17-5:20), and for the family, this means mutual submission and love (5:21-6:9).
Paul then reminds them that the church is in a constant battle with the forces of darkness and that they should use every spiritual weapon at their disposal (6:10-17). He concludes by asking for their prayers, commissioning Tychicus, and giving a benediction (6:18-24).
As you read this masterful description of the church, thank God for the diversity and unity in his family, pray for your brothers and sisters across the world, and draw close to those in your local church.
PURPOSE: To strengthen the believers in Ephesus in their Christian faith by explaining the nature and purpose of the church, the body of Christ
TO WHOM WRITTEN: The church at Ephesus, and all believers everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. from Rome, during Paul’s imprisonment there
SETTING: The letter was not written to confront any heresy or problem in the churches. It was sent with Tychicus to strengthen and encourage the churches in the area. Paul had spent over three years with the Ephesian church. As a result, he was very close to them. Paul met with the elders of the Ephesian church at Miletus (Acts 20:17-38) – a meeting that was filled with great sadness because he was leaving them for what he thought would be the last time. Because there are no specific references to people or problems in the Ephesian church and because the words “at Ephesus” (1:1) are not present in some early manuscripts, Paul may have intended this to be a circular letter to be read to all the churches in the area.
KEY VERSES: “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (4:4-6).
KEY PEOPLE: Paul, Tychicus
SPECIAL FEATURES: Several pictures of the church are presented: body, temple, mystery, new man, bride, and soldier. This letter was probably distributed to many of the early churches.
In this letter, Paul explains the wonderful thing that we have received through Christ and refers to the church as a body, a temple, a bride, and a soldier. These all illustrate unity of purpose and show how each individual member is a part that must work together with all the other parts. In our own lives, we should work to eradicate all backbiting, gossip, criticism, jealousy, anger, and bitterness, because these are barriers to unity in the church.
- Unity in Christ (1:1-3:21)
- Unity in the body of Christ (4:1-6:24)
Explanation: According to God’s eternal, loving plan, he directs, carries out, and sustains our salvation.
Importance: When we respond to Christ’s love by trusting in him, his purpose becomes your mission. Have you committed yourself to fulfilling God’s purpose?
Christ the Centre
Explanation: Christ is exalted as the central meaning of the universe and the focus of history. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all creation.
Importance: Because Christ is central to everything, his power must be central to us. Begin by placing all your priorities under his control.
Explanation: Paul describes the nature of the church. The church, under Christ’s control, is a living body, a family, a dwelling. God gives believers special abilities by his Holy Spirit to build the church.
Importance: We are part of Christ’s body, and we must live in vital union with him. Our conduct must be consistent with this living relationship. Use your God-given abilities to equip believers for service. Fulfil your role in the living church.
Explanation: Because God through Christ paid our penalty for sin and forgave us, we have been reconciled – brought near to him. We are a new society, a new family. Being united with Christ means we are to treat one another as family members.
Importance: We are one family in Christ, so there should be no barriers, no divisions, no basis for discrimination. We all belong to him, so we should live in harmony with one another.
Explanation: Paul encourages all Christians to wise, dynamic Christian living, for with privileges goes family responsibility. As a new community, we are to live by Christ’s new standards.
Importance: God provides his Holy Spirit to enable us to live his way. To utilise the Spirit’s power, we must lay aside our evil desires and draw on the power of his new life. Submit your will to Christ, and seek to love others.
©KingsWay International Church, 1973.