My name is Pat and I will be hosting this online Bible study for the Kipton church. As with all my Bible studies, you will get the most out of it if you ask questions, share your experiences and, most importantly, take some time to meditate on the Word of God that is being presented. We are delighted to have you join us!
For the next few months we will be considering the New Testament book of Ephesians. Let’s begin with some background information on this epistle.
INTRODUCTION TO EPHESIANS: This book was written by the apostle Paul during his imprisonment in Rome, around 60-62 A.D. It is one of four letters known as the ‘prison’ epistles. Can you name the other three?
They are Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. If you answered correctly, feel free to reward yourself with candy!
The letter was written to the church at Ephesus, although they may not have been its only recipient. It seems that there are several early manuscripts that do not contain the phrase “at Ephesus”. This has led to the speculation that the book may have been a ‘circular’ letter, which refers to an identical letter sent to several different churches, each with a specific church’s name inserted into it. If this was the case, multiple churches would have received the exact same copy of the letter. However, I would like to point out that this is only scholarly speculation, and in the end it really does not matter. The Holy Spirit has preserved the book for us as a part of the Bible and it applies to Christians of all generations – including us!
What was the city of Ephesus like back in the time of Paul’s writing? It was one of the most celebrated cities of Asia Minor, located about 40 miles south of Smyrna near the mouth of the river Cayster (this would be the extreme western part of modern day Turkey). Its position made it a busy center of commerce. The Pulpit Bible Commentary says “it was the highway into Asia from Rome; its ships traded with the ports of Greece, Egypt and the Levant”.
We would expect such a city to have abundant wealth. As with many wealthy places, Ephesus was notorious for luxury and licentiousness (unrestrained by law or morality; excessive, immoral). It is common for big wealthy cities to have a number of poor and homeless people. Wealthy communities also attract crime. Therefore we would assume that these elements were present in Ephesus too.
What about the cultural and religious life in Ephesus? History asserts that about half of the inhabitants of this area were Asiatic (eastern culture) and half Greek (western culture), although the noted historian Josephus tells us that a considerable number of Jews were also present in the city. As we would expect, both the culture and the religious practices of that day were an amalgam of East and West. While the practice of sorcery and magic was common, Ephesus was most famous its worship of the goddess Diana (also called Artemis). This false god sprang from Western culture, however, the style of worship often incorporated mystical elements from the East. As you probably recall, the temple of Diana at Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. More information about it is readily available, if you want to find it.
To summarize, Ephesus was a notorious city; it was wealthy, luxurious and excessive. At the same time, we would expect to see homelessness, crime and sexual immorality. It had a culturally diverse population. Its religious practices were a combination of both eastern and western thought. I don’t know about you, but all this seems vaguely familiar to me… I think it could describe many of the cities we live in today. We could probably take Ephesus, drop it in the middle of America someplace, and no one would really think it was that strange!
This was the situation that Paul walked into as he began to spread the gospel of Christ in Ephesus back in the book of Acts. Paul himself tells us that he spent 3 years in Ephesus, actively preaching the gospel (you might want to consider reading Acts chapters 19 and 20. It will probably take less than 10 minutes and will provide you with some useful information). He faced much opposition in that city but the scripture tells us in Acts 19:20 that “the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily”.
Of course, Paul could not stay in Ephesus forever. In Acts chapter 20 he bids the Ephesians a heartfelt and tearful farewell as he heads off to Jerusalem. We will skip ahead in the narrative by saying that Paul winds up in a Roman prison where he is essentially under “house arrest”. He is confined and under guard, but he can have visitors as he awaits trial for some very serious charges. It was during this time that he wrote the prison epistles, including Ephesians. So, Paul has a history with the Christians of Ephesus. He is well acquainted with them, their struggles and the opposition that Christianity faced in that area.
Now that we have an adequate background for this epistle, let us examine it from the beginning.
Ephesians 1:1-2 – Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The salutation of this letter reveals the authority on which Paul writes to them. He does not write to them on his own authority, or indeed the authority of any man, but the authority of God the Father and his resurrected Son, who appointed him as the apostle to the Gentile world. Therefore, his words should be taken as truth and should be used as a guide for living the Christian life.
The salutation also addresses the church as individual saints. Webster’s dictionary defines a saint as “a holy or godly person”.
Let me as ask you this: Do you consider yourself a saint? Before you blurt out an answer, let me give you something to consider:
In the Old Testament, the tabernacle was considered holy. What made it holy? Was the goat hair in the curtains holy? Was the acacia wood or the gold holy? No, the tabernacle was holy because it was the dwelling place of God.
Was the grand and glorious temple of Solomon holy? It sure was. What made it holy? Was it the cedar wood or the dressed stone or the gold and brass? No, it too was holy because it was the dwelling place of God’s presence.
Were the temple sacrifices holy? Yes. Was it because the ancient Jews actually found the original ‘holy cow’? Of course not! The sacrifice was holy because it was dedicated to God.
Were the Old Testament priests holy? Yes… because they were divinely chosen and set apart by God for his service. In the same way, the Sabbath was holy because those 24 hours were separated for God’s use, while the rest of the hours in the week were for common use.
So, as a Christian, are you holy? YES!! You are the temple of the Holy Spirit of Almighty God. Your life has been sacrificed to Him. You are part of a chosen generation and a royal priesthood. In a sense, your whole life is a Sabbath because it is set apart for God’s use! As a Christian, you are automatically a saint of God, not because of anything you have done, but because you have been set apart for him and his purposes.
Now, just as a matter of clarification, I want to be sure that you understand that in addition to being a holy (set apart) saint of God, every Christian has a responsibility for personal holiness. This issue will be discussed later on in Ephesians chapter 4, but until then, I want to point out that as a Christian, your pursuit of personal holiness will continue until the day God calls you home. Personal holiness is an entirely separate issue from being a saint. Again, more discussion on this will follow.
For now, let’s get back to Paul’s salutation. Paul speaks of the grace and peace of God to each saint. Grace and peace are both gifts from God the Father to his children. They are gifts that Christ paid for with his death on the cross, which we can readily see from the following scriptures:
John 1:17 – For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 53:5 – But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
Basically, grace should be understood as a state of favor with God which all Christians abide in. Peace is the state of mind that results from being in right standing with God.
Here then, is a big difference between the people of God and the people of the world. People of the world will lose or gain peace as their circumstances change. As children of God, we can be at peace throughout any trial or storm of life, because our peace is not dependent upon circumstances, but upon that blessed relationship we share with our heavenly father. Jesus himself says to us in John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
Notice that this presents each of us with a wonderful door of opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ to the unsaved world. When you endure a trial with peace, the unsaved will notice. They will want to know how you are keeping it all together when you should be falling apart. They will want to know how to obtain the peace that you have, and thus you will have a chance to share Christ with them.
Well, we are going to stop here for today, but don’t worry – We will be back soon! I want to take some time to hear testimonies from all of you. Revelation 12:11 says that the saints of God overcome by the blood of the lamb of the word of their testimony. So let me start a dialog with this:
Was there ever a time when you were in a trial and you felt God’s peace overshadow you? What was the end result? Did others notice? Can you share a word of encouragement with all those reading this post who are currently in the midst of a storm?