Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a beautiful work with an incredible balance of doctrinal and practical teaching. As we have done this series, I have tried my hardest to keep my overview of each letter to only one lesson. One would probably believe that Ephesians, with only six chapters, would be easy to teach in one lesson. But I am going to need two lessons for us to proper get to know the letter to the Ephesians. The second part of this lesson will be tonight and I will strongly encourage you to come back for it.
Structure of New Testament Letters
Knowing the form of a typical letter will help us find the key themes and key purpose for the writing of the book. The form of a first century letter had this look typically:
- Author and rank
- Body of letter
Let us examine Paul’s second letter and determine the overall message of the letter.
Structure of Ephesians
Paul begins by stating that he is the author of this letter to the Ephesians and his rank is an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will. This is a common introduction by Paul (see 2 Corinthians). The second half of verse 1 declares the recipients of the letter as, “the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus.” After the author, rank, and recipients are listed in a letter, the salutation would come next, which is what we see in Ephesians: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” If you have read the other lessons you know that this was a typical greeting for Romans, Greeks, and Hebrews.
The next part of the letter we would expect is a form of thanksgiving. Paul does give thanksgiving in the letter, which can be found in verses 15-16. In verses 3-14 Paul gives a benediction, that is, a declaration blessing God for what he has done for us. But rather than be a short benediction, as seen in 1 Corinthians 1:4-9, Paul’s benediction is actually the statement and theme of the letter. Paul is not simply giving praise to God because God deserves it, but because Paul is going to write about God’s blessings in this letter. Therefore, verse 3 states the theme of the letter: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Three times at the very start of this letter Paul uses the word “blessed” or “blessing.” In these first 14 verses Paul is going to describe six blessings that are found in Christ.
What We Have in Christ (1:3-14)
- Chosen for holiness. In verse 4 Paul begins by telling us that God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless. God did not set us on the earth to meander about, doing whatever we choose. God pick us to be set apart, or holy. Before the creation of the world God decided that he wanted to have people who would be found like Him (holy and blameless) so they could live with Him. Your life ought not to be aimless because God has chosen us for a specific purpose.
- Predestined to adoption. In verse 5 Paul declares that we have been predestined to adoption as sons. This is a beautiful picture of God wanting to have us as his children. But let us make sure we completely understand the concept since adoption in the Roman world in the first century was different than adoption now in 21st century America. Adoption in the Roman world was not so much about taking an orphan to be one’s own child. Rather, adoption was “the public attestation of adult sonship and the conferment of the privileges belonging to sons who have come to be of legal age” (J. Sidlow Baxter; Explore the Book). By saying we are adopted tells us that we are not only his children, but that we currently receive the privileges due to a child. God previously declared that we would receive God’s eternal privileges.
- Redeemed through His blood. In verse 7 we are told that the third blessing we have is redemption. Redemption simply means to buy back at a ransom price. The price was the blood of Christ which was paid to release us from the curse of violating God’s law and purchase us back to God.
- Revealed the mystery of God’s will. In verse 9 Paul states that the mystery of God’s will has been revealed to us. Paul will more fully explain the mystery in a moment in the letter, but does summarize the mystery in verse 10: “a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (ESV).
- Obtained an inheritance. In verse 11 Paul continues to declare God’s blessings by pointing out that we have received an inheritance from God. The inheritance of God has been transferred to us, His children.
- Sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. Finally, in verse 13 Paul says that we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. We have received the Holy Spirit as a guarantee and down payment of our inheritance. The blessings that God has given to us now are simply a small down payment, just a portion, of all the blessings and riches that are found in Christ. Paul begins this letter to the Ephesians simply wanting all Christians to remember all the riches that God has already brought to us.
What We Should Know (1:15-23)
But this is not all that we are to look at. Paul wants us to see these six great blessings that exist in Jesus Christ, but there are also three things that he wants us to know.
- What is the hope of His calling (vs. 18). I believe this is something that we need to pray for ourselves today just as Paul prayed for it for the Ephesians. We need to open our eyes and understand the hope that we have because of the calling of God. We probably do not do a good job communicating to others that hope that we have because of belonging to God. We have hope of eternal life. We have hope of rest after we die. We have hope in this life that our lives have meaning and value. Our hope gives us purpose in life. Our hope helps us through difficult times. We need to know the hope of God’s calling.
- What are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints (vs. 18). Paul wants to know the riches of God’s glorious inheritance. Do we fully comprehend all the riches God will give to us? Our parents desired to give us a good life, set us up to succeed, and give us possessions from their own wealth. The pockets of God are deeper. Imagine all that God can give to us.
- What are the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe (vs. 19). God exhibited the greatness of His power by raising Christ from the dead, seating Christ at the right hand, and placing all things under Christ’s feet (vs. 20-23). The reason all of this power is described is to show us that this power is working for us. Paul wants us to know that God’s great power is working for us in our lives. Paul is now going to show why we needed God’s power working in our lives.
Our Condition (2:1-10)
In the first three verses Paul describes our past condition. In verse 1 Paul says that we need to remember that we were dead in trespasses and sins. We must see our spiritual condition. Sin has made our souls dead, that is, separated from God. Stop thinking about the physical and believing that this world is all that matters. What will happen when you die? Do you realize that your soul is dead to God? We subjected ourselves to the ways of Satan, walking His path in this world. We lived our lives according to the lusts of the flesh (2:3), fulfilling our desires. But by living this way we are condemned as children of wrath. Have you been living your live according to the lusts of your flesh and fulfilling your own desires? Then you are condemned as a child of wrath.
But God has done something great. Verse 4 shows that God has intervened on our behalf. We estranged ourselves from God and are worthy of God’s wrath. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us…” The exceeding greatness of God’s power has been put into effect. God has counteracted the corruption we have brought upon ourselves. God made us alive, even though we were dead because of our own actions. This only happened by God’s loving favor toward us. But not only have we been made alive, but we have been raised up together with Christ, and seated us together with Christ in the heavenly places.
Remember how Paul wanted us to know what is the hope of God’s calling, what are the riches of the glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe (1:18-19)? Now we should be able to see it. Paul says in 2:7 that God make us alive and having us raised up with Christ and seated with Him shows “the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” God wants to change our condition. Everyone is dead until they come to Jesus Christ. Everyone is condemned to wrath because we have followed the way of the world, the way of our lusts, and the way of Satan. God did not choose this for us. He chose us to be holy and blameless. God predestined us to be adopted as his children. Ephesians 2:10 makes this very point that we are God’s work of art, His masterpiece that has been created for good works, not the filth we placed ourselves in. To impress this point upon us further, Paul goes on to describe our relationship with God.
Our Relationship (2:11-22)
In verses 11-22 of chapter 2 Paul describes our relationship with God. In verses 11-12 Paul points out that we were separated from God. Notice the language of Paul in those verses: without Christ, aliens, strangers, having no hope, and without God. In our sins we have nothing.
Verse 13 is the key change: “But now in Christ Jesus…” How much things can change in Christ Jesus! Now we have been made near to God. We have become one people, no longer Jew or Gentile. But not only have been reconciled into one people, but we have been reconciled to God. The barriers between Jews and Gentiles have been broken. The barriers to God because of sins have been shattered through the blood of Jesus.
Because of Christ’s work, we not strangers and foreigners, but citizens and family in the household of God (2:19). Further, we have been sanctified so that we are being built into the dwelling place of God. How dramatically our relationship can change: from separation to intimacy, from strangers to family, from condemned to wrath to God’s dwelling place.
Revelation of the Mystery (3:1-21)
In chapter 3 Paul declares this what we have just spoken of is the revelation of the mystery of God. Verse 6 states this clarity of this revealed mystery: “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.” It is not that the mystery was “mysterious.” Rather, it is simply a question of how salvation would come to the Gentiles and God would reconcile the whole world to Himself. The answer is the work of Jesus Christ.
Thus, Paul wants us to realize the amount of God’s love, because it is so wide and deep that it cannot be measured (vs. 18-19). Therefore, Paul could conclude, by the proofs he has described, that God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (3:20).
We will look at the rest of Paul’s letter in the next lesson. But God has made the offer that you do not need to be a child of wrath because of your actions. You can be made a child of God. But throughout the letter, Paul stated the conditions required to partake in these glorious blessings. You must put your life in God’s hands by trusting Him (1:12), believe that Jesus is the Son of God (1:19), and be raised up together with Christ (2:6). Romans 6 tells us that through baptism (immersion in water) we are raised up with Christ. Why not be saved from the coming wrath by trusting your life to the Lord today?