The book of Ephesians is six chapters long, containing 155 verses of rich and wonderful text that speak to the mind, heart, and soul. The book of Ephesians has played a crucial role in the Church throughout the ages in terms of the theology it teaches and the practice it informs. Famous pastor and theologian John Calvin stated that it was his favorite part of the Bible. Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge described it as “the divinest composition of man.” Many New Testament scholars say it is the pinnacle of Paul’s work. For the next 13 weeks, we invite you to join with us in exploring the richness of the book of Ephesians.
Of all the letters within the New Testament, Ephesians is one that could have most likely been written to the modern church. When Paul wrote, he was typically writing in response to a particular situation. Yet in the book of Ephesians, we see something different. Paul writes this letter to churches in Asia Minor with no specific occasion or problem in mind. Paul simply writes this letter to bring about encouragement in the Gospel, while offering practical insight on how to live in light of the Gospel.
The very first verse of Ephesians states that Paul is the author of this book. While there is some debate out there regarding whether Paul really wrote this letter or not, we must take the author at his word here at the beginning and see that it is Paul who penned this letter speaking truth (4:15, 25). Paul mentions his chains and imprisonment three times in this book (3:1; 4:1; 6:20). Therefore, many scholars believe the date of this book to be 62 A.D. when Paul was in Rome (Acts 28). During this same period, Paul also wrote Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians. These four epistles are now commonly referred to as the “prison epistles.”
While the letter is called “Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians”, it is best understood that the letter was not solely intended for the church in Ephesus. It was written more like a general letter that would have been circulated throughout Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) that existed around Ephesus. This is because the words “in Ephesus” are absent from some of the earliest and best manuscripts. This makes sense since there is no personal greeting anywhere within the letter –which is different from Paul’s other letters. The letter has most likely become associated with Ephesus due to it being the largest and most influential church in the region at the time of its writing.
Ephesus was an important city in Asia Minor. Paul would have been familiar with the area due to two, nearly three, years he spent there during his third missionary journey (see Acts 18:23-21:17). Ephesus was the third-largest city in the Roman empire with a population estimated around 250,000. It was a harbor city and the largest commerce center on the west. Prior to Christianity reaching the city, it was well-known for pagan worship. It was deeply entrenched in the worship of Artemis (Diana according to the Romans). The temple itself was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. People worshiped this false god, seeing it as a goddess of fertility, magic, and astrology. Its commerce was deeply tied and connected to idol worship, and as Christianity’s influence spread, it quickly upset the cities culture and economy and caused riots (Acts 19). We find out elsewhere (in 1 Timothy 1:4, 7) as Timothy pastors the church, it faces false teachers who were interested in endless myths but not necessarily sound biblical teaching.
Reconciliation – Peppered all throughout this book is the notion that God’s Gospel of grace is one that continually brings together two parties. In fact, Paul states in 1:9-10 that the Gospel was to bring about unity with all things. This is seen in two ways:
- God with Us – The letter focuses on the historical work of Jesus. Jesus’ work on the cross brought about cosmic reconciliation between God and us. The Father has sent the Son to redeem us, and the Spirit is at work preserving us until the final day. (Eph. 1:15-23; 3:1-13)
- You and I – The cross reconciles all people (regardless of race, ethnicity, and any other dividing lines) into one body – the Church. Paul helps to explain our unity in Christ, the love we share in Christ, and what we have in Christ through our baptism and life in the Spirit. While we may have taken different paths to come to Christ, we are one new humanity through Him. (Eph. 1:23; 2:10-22; 4:1-6)
Mystery – Six times throughout the letter, the Apostle Paul writes concerning the “mystery”. When Paul uses this word, he is not simply referring to something known but difficult to understand. Rather, he is referring to something that is completely unknowable unless God reveals it. It is a special divine act in which knowledge is expressed that is beyond our human reach.
In Christ – Ephesians mentions union with Christ and being “in Christ” more than any other letter – about 36 times. This phrase occurs approximately 164 times in Paul’s 13 letters. The term “in Christ” gets to the heart of Christianity. To be “in Christ” is to be personally and vitally united to Christ. Christians are people who are in Christ. You are united in His death and His resurrection.
As mentioned above, within the context of the letter, there is no specific issue that Paul is writing to address. Some consider this letter more as a theological tract providing insight on what the core essentials of the Christian faith are. Ultimately, it is best for us to see this letter as providing an understanding of the new creation we become in Christ and the new community the Gospel creates for us to live and operate in. The letter of Ephesians teaches us that when we embrace the love that Christ has for us, we will embrace the way of life that Christ loves.
OUTLINE OF BOOK
Ephesians can be broken down into two main sections. In Chapters 1-3, the Apostle Paul lays out the indicative truth of the Gospel. In Chapters 4-6, Paul gives instructions on how we might live in light of the Gospel.
I. Greeting & Introduction (1:1-2)
II. Theological Foundation – An Explanation of the Gospel (1:3-3:21)
Spiritual Blessings (1:3-14)
- Thanksgiving and Prayer for Insight (1:15-23)
- Overview of the New Life in Christ (2:1-10)
- Reconciliation in Christ (2:11-22)
- Mystery of God’s Purposes (3:1-13)
- Prayer to be Rooted in God’s Love and Doxology (3:14-21)
III. Practical Outworking of the Gospel (4:1-6:20)
- Exercising Gifts as a Unified Body (4:1-16)
- Children of the Light: Walking in the Newness of Life (4:17-24)
- Walking in Love (4:25-5:20)
- Practical Instructions: Social Maturity (5:21-6:9)
- Fighting the Spiritual Battle; Stand Strong (6:10-20)
IV. Concluding Remarks (6:21-24)
- Book – Alive in Him: How Being Embraced by the Love of Christ Changes Everything by Gloria Furman
- Study Book – Reading Ephesians with John Stott, by John Stott with Andrew T. Le Peau
- Right Now Media – The Book of Ephesians by J.D. Greear
- Right Now Media – Ephesians – What Is God’s Plan? By Phil Vischer
- Video – Bible Project – Ephesians
- Courses – 3 free courses from The Gospel Coalition
HOW TO USE THIS GUIDE
This guide has been specifically prepared with you in mind. It will help life groups grow deeper together in relationship with God and one another. Each week there are conversations starters to help get things rolling, followed by questions for discussion based on the text. Each week wraps up with personal applications and things to pray for to help you grow spiritually.
We realize you may not be able to get to every question. Pick the ones that would best work for your group. Obviously, you are more than welcome to pull in other resources, or highlights from the sermons each week. Our hope is that by participating in this study, you will have a firmer grasp on the Scriptures and a stronger connection with Christ.
– WEEK 1 –
Grace & Peace
September 13, 2020
Paul’s greeting to the saints in Ephesus: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Grace” was how Gentiles greeted each other, and “peace” was the Jewish greeting. In the first two verses of Ephesians Chapter 1, Paul uses both the Gentile and Jewish greeting. This is a new greeting for a new people, belonging to a new Kingdom, with a new identity, with a new way to live.
– WEEK 2 –
Spiritual Blessings: Adopted
September 20, 2020
Ephesians 1:3 uses the term “in Christ.” But what does that really mean? As followers of Jesus, it means we’ve been adopted; brought into the family of God. In Christ we receive every spiritual blessing. We are seated in the heavenly places. We are chosen. We are set apart. Not because we’re “good”…but because He loves us! Are you “in Christ”? Are you living like a son or daughter of God?