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Faith Bible Church, NY
May 19, 1996
Introduction to the Epistle to the Ephesians
This morning we begin our journey into Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Lord willing we will be concluding this study about the end of next Winter. Today I would like to introduce the book and give you the background you will need to understand it.
The book begins with a salutation in the common style of that time. The author would identify himself, then who he was writing too, and then give a greeting of some sort. In verses 1,2 we find: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
A simple salutation, yet full of rich meaning.
First, is the identification of the author: Paul. Paul was not always called Paul and neither was he always an apostle. We first meet this Benjamite in Acts 7:58 where he is called by his Jewish name, Saul.
We find in that passage that a man named Stephen, who was a Christian “full of grace and a power” (Acts. 6:8). He was in trouble with the religious leaders because he had been performing great wonders and signs among the people while proclaiming the gospel of Jesus. With the same hatred that had controlled them a few months earlier when they murdered Jesus, they now were seeking to kill Jesus’ followers. We find that Saul is present guarding the coats of those who were busy stoning Stephen to death. Acts 8:1 states that “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him (Stephen) to death.”
In Acts 8:3 Saul of Tarsus picks up where the mob left off for he was very zealous for the Mosaic law. He had studied under the premier Rabbi of the day, Gamaliel. Saul was by his own admission a “Pharisee of the Pharisees”. In his fervency for his religion he began to persecute all the Christians he could find. Vs. 3 – “Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.“
In Acts 9 we find Saul on his way to Damascus in Syria. He has obtained special permission from the high priests to continue the persecution against the disciples of Jesus in distant cities. He was to find those who were followers of Jesus and bring them back to Jerusalem where they would be either imprisoned, beaten, or killed. As Saul approaches Damascus a special measure of grace is given to him, and he sees the light. Look with me at Acts 9:3, And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who art Thou, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.” 7 And the men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one. 8 And Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
When Paul arrived in Damascus a disciple of Jesus named Ananias met Saul and told him what the future would hold. Saul would be a witness for Jesus Christ before the Gentiles and before kings and before the Jews, and he would suffer many things for Jesus’ name sake (9:16). Within a few days Paul began to proclaim Christ in the synagogues of Damascus with the remarkable God given ability not to just say what happened to him, but to confound the Jews there by proving that Jesus is the Christ (9:22).
A plot to kill Saul resulted in him escaping over the wall in a basket because it was not safe for him to leave through the city gates. In Galatians 1 Paul explains what occurred next. He went into the deserts of Arabia for three years where he learned the gospel he preached from direct revelation received from Jesus Christ. Paul states it this way in Gal.1:11 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but [I received it] through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
It was out in the desert that Saul became the apostle Paul. An apostle in its most general sense is simply someone sent by someone with authority. It’s specific sense is attached to who did the sending. An apostle of Jesus Christ had to meet certain qualifications among which were: 1) Called into that office directly by Jesus (Acts 1:2), 2) Be an eyewitness to the resurrection (Acts 1:22), 3) Be given direct revelation of God’s Word to proclaim authoritatively, 4) be able to perform signs, wonders, and miracles (healings, casting out demons, etc.), as proof of their authority (2 Cor. 12:12). Paul met all these criteria through the direct revelation of Jesus Christ to him in Arabia.
Paul returned to Damascus for a short time and then went to Jerusalem where he spent 15 days with Peter and met James, the Lord’s brother, but he did not meet any of the other apostles. Paul was again so effective in preaching that the Jews in Jerusalem soon plotted to kill him (9:28), so the disciples sent him away to Tarsus.
Paul was known by his Hebrew name, Saul, until he began his missionary journeys which took him into the gentile regions. After Acts 13 he is only called by his other name, Paul. What had been foretold about him came to pass. Paul was faithful in witnessing to his countrymen, but he became a missionary to the gentile nations.
Paul was indeed, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God. Paul does not say this to boast, for Paul is not a boastful man. He mentions it to establish the authority of what he is writing. What he says in this book is not just the musings of a religious man, but the very word of God written through His apostle. Therefore it carries God’s authority.
Paul’s letter is written to “the saints who are at Ephesus, who are faithful in Christ Jesus.” Paul was writing to those who had placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. All those who belong to Christ are saints. The term is derived from the word “holy” and means “holy ones” or “ones who are set apart”, which is the basic meaning of “holy.” The Catholic Church has created a hierarchy in which only a certain few achieve the status of “saint,” but the truth from the Bible is that all true Christians are saints, for every person that is saved from sin by Jesus Christ is set apart from sin and the world to Him.
Paul further distinguishes his readers by noting they were those “who are faithful in Christ Jesus.” Both the active and passive meaning of the term would be taken here. They faithful in the sense of trusting in Christ, and faithful in the sense of being trustworthy themselves because they are followers of Christ Jesus.
We might also take note that the message of the letter is to gentile Christians. Paul makes a lot of contrasts between their former lives as pagans and their new lives as followers of Jesus Christ.
We need to note here that three very important early manuscripts do not mention the phrase “at Ephesus” in them. That section is left blank in the earliest copy of this letter, the Chester Beatty papyrus written in 200 A.D, and in the codex Sinaiticus and codex Vaticauns (4th century). This gives evidence that this letter was a circular letter. It was to be passed from one church to the next with each one filling in the blank for it was in actuality addressed to all churches. Many scholars believe that this letter is the same as the one mentioned in Col. 4:16 that was coming to them from Laodicea.
It is likely that the letter is particularly marked as being to the Ephesians because that is where the letter was first sent and so it was closely associated with that church. For that reason, we should be know a little background about Ephesus and the church there.
Ephesus was located where the Cayster River met the Aegean Sea on the cost of Wester Turkey. It is due east of Athens and was founded by the Son of Cordus, last king of Athens sometime between the 12th and 10 century B.C. The site was near the shrine of an ancient Anatolian goddess whom the Greeks associated with and called after their own goddess Artemis (or Romanized, “Diana”).
Ephesus was the worldwide center of the worship of Artemis. This was due to it being the sight of a meteor stone (In Acts 19, Demetrius calls this the “image which fell down from Jupiter”). This brought many religious pilgrims/worshippers to the city. Artemis was worshipped with carnal fertility rituals, orgiastic rites, and religious prostitution. Croesus, (R. 564-546 BC) of Lydia constructed the temple to Artemis at Ephesus. At the time, it was the largest of all the Greek Temples. A new, larger temple was built in 334 BC (Time of Alexander the Great) and it became one of the seven wonders of the Ancient world, being about 4 times the size of the Parthenon in Athens. This attracted travelers and tourists. The city was also an important banking and trade center.
The city was not only the stronghold for the worship of Diana/Artemis, but it all the other pagan deities were worshipped there too. Add in the general immorality of the Greek culture and you had a very debauched place to try and be a Christian. Yet, in the middle of this very pagan, immoral city, God planted a church.
Paul had first visited Ephesus on the way back from his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19). He only stayed there a short time, but he did go to the synagogue to preach Christ. By this time Paul had already planted churches throughout the interior of Asian minor, in Macedonia and in Greece. Paul returned to Ephesus two years later and met some disciples of John the Baptist there. He instructed them fully in Jesus Christ and they were immediately baptized. Paul then spent three years there (Acts 20:31). A strong church was born.
In Acts 19 we are told about the Ephesian church. Vs 18-20 says, “Many came to know the Lord, they confessed their sins, repented of their former ways so that the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.” Demetrius, the idol maker, claimed (vs 25-27) in his speech that not only had this church seriously affected their idol business, but, “not only in Ephesus, but in almost all Asia, people have been persuaded and turned away, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all.” The Ephesian Christians were making an impact!
Paul left Ephesus, completed his third missionary journey and returned to Jerusalem where he was arrested and eventually transferred to Rome so his case could be heard by Caesar. It is while Paul is in prison at Rome that he writes this letter to the Ephesians, as well as Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon in about 61 A.D.
Ephesus was unique from the standpoint of how much time Paul had spent there as well as the quality of the men who followed in leading the church there: first Apollos and then Timothy, yet it was very similar to all the other churches in Asia Minor. All of them were young churches.
Unlike Paul’s other letters, the epistle to the Ephesians does not address any local problem. He does not make any corrections and issues no admonitions. Instead, it is strictly a letter of edification and encouragement to these gentile Christians to be aware of the riches they posses in Christ and to live for Him.
The book begins and ends on the same note. In 1:2 he begins, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” In 6:23,24 he concludes, 23 Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with [a love] incorruptible.
Grace and Peace are common themes in all of Paul’s writings. He wants us to understand the grace that God has extended to us through Jesus Christ and the peace that comes with being in a right relationship with our Creator. Grace is being extended favor which you do not deserve and peace is not so much the absence of conflict but the tranquility that comes from two hearts and minds that are agreed.
Over the next nine months we will learn more of God’s grace (it is mentioned 12 times), and His peace (it is mentioned 7 times). We will also learn about the glory of the Father and His church (8 times), and the riches that are ours through Christ. We will gain a thorough understanding of the importance of our relationship with Jesus. The phrase “in Christ” or “in Him” occurs 17 times; “with Christ” or “with Him” occurs 4 times; “by/through Christ” or “by/through Him” occurs 6 times – a total of 27 references. Jesus Christ is the source, sphere and guarantee of every spiritual blessing and of all spiritual riches, and those who are in Him have access to all that He is and has.
The book of Ephesians has been called the believer’s bankbook and the Christian’s checkbook because of its description of our riches in Christ and the ramifications that should make in our lives. Yet so often believers do not live this way. They have a great inheritance, but they live in spiritual poverty, much the way a couple in Los Angeles had been found some years ago.
An elderly man and his wife were found dead in their home. Autopsies revealed that both had died of severe malnutrition. Yet, investigators at the scene found paper bags in the closet that held a total of $40,000. Provision was available, but they did not appropriate it!
The book of Ephesians explains our spiritual riches in Christ and how to appropriate it. Let me give you a brief summary of each section:
Chapters 1-3 is the Christian’s Position in Christ.
*1:3-14 – Paul will explain the Blessings of God as seen in His choosing of us in eternity past, His redemption of us through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and His sealing us in Him through the pledge of the Holy Spirit.
*1:15-23 – Paul’s prayer for here will model for us how we should pray for one another as well and explain the hope, riches & power we have in Jesus. *2:1-10 is a very powerful section of Scripture. Paul will explain the means of our salvation and the radical change that occurs in regeneration.
*2:11-22 Paul explains how God has brought salvation to the gentiles, which is almost everyone here , and united Jew and Gentile in one body, the church. This one passage alone is enough to prove that there is no room for racial prejudice in the Church.
*3:1-21 Paul explains the mystery of the church. How we were brought in to be a part of it as well as his own particular ministry and concludes with another prayer.
Chapter 4-6: The Christian’s Practice
*4:1-6 lays the foundation for true unity in the church. It arises from both the character traits that are to be in a Christian: humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance, as well as correct doctrine.
*4:7-16 tells how God enables the church to become mature by His giving gifted people to her. These people are then to train all the other believers in spiritual maturity. The whole body then becomes strong and able to both withstand deceivers and their false doctrine and fulfill the purposes for which it was created.
4:17f begins an extremely practical section detailing how a Christian is to live.
17-24 speaks about the changed nature with in us. True Christians are not the same people they used to be. We are to lay aside the old self with all its sinful practices and put on the new self which God created to be righteous, holy, and true.
25-32 Paul details some of the habits of the old self that we are to set aside and the new character traits we are to develop. No longer lying, but speaking the truth. Anger is to be dealt with in short order and it no longer is to strike out in personal vengeance. Stealing is out, working is in. Selfishness is out, generosity is in. Our tongues are controlled and we strive to build up each other rather than tear down. Gentleness, tenderness and forgiveness replace bitterness, wrath and slander.
5:1-7 Paul tells us that we are to become imitators of God and his love, and in so doing we find that immorality in all its forms is antithetical to what we are. It no longer fits us and its attraction wanes. And as he explains in 5:8-14, we are to walk in the light because we are children of the light. We are no longer afraid of exposure because we have nothing to hide, yet at the same time the very holiness of our lives exposes the sinful darkness in those around us.
5:15-17. We are also to walk in wisdom which is the application of the principles and precepts of God into the situations we face in our daily lives. In wisdom we understand life from an eternal perspective and realize how temporary our time is on this earth, so we strive to make the most of our time and make it count for eternity.
5:18-21 As Christians we are also to be in submission to the Holy Spirit. We are to desire for Him to fill us and control us, and His filling of us will become evident in our lives in several ways. 1) Our taste in music changes and we desire to praises Him; 2) we become thankful for all that God does for us. No longer are we like ungrateful spoiled children but instead we express our sincere appreciation for all that God does for us. 3) we learn to be submissive to one another. Humility becomes a mark of our character.
All these things then carry over into our daily lives. In 5:22-6:4 Paul describes the role of each member of the family: wives, husbands, children and parents. The family is changed as each member of it puts into practice following Christ and obeying God’s commands. The wife willingly following her husband’s lead as he loves her with the same sacrificial love Christ has for the church. He also points out that marriage has more to it than the relationship between two humans. It is to bring glory to God by being a reflection of Christ and the Church. Children obey their parents and parents are diligent to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord without provoking them or causing them to lose heart.
*6:5-10 Paul tells how Christians behave differently as work as well. They should be the best employees and the best employers, and they will be if the put into practice what Paul says here.
*6:11-20 Paul explains the unseen reality around us. We are in a spiritual battle. Too often we exist on the temporal plain and forget that the spiritual aspects of our lives touch everything we say and do. Paul will not only bring us to an awareness of spiritual warfare, but prepare us for our part in it as well.
I don’t want to be the spiritual equivalent of the elderly couple I mentioned earlier. I hope you will commit yourself to being here through this series as we learn about our riches in Christ and how to appropriate them in our daily lives.
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