Monday, November 10, 2008

Intro to Ephesians

The epistle to the Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul between 60-62 AD. He wrote this, along with Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, while under house arrest in Roman prison (Acts 28). As likely the fourth and final of Paul’s prison letter, Ephesians is more general and less specific – focusing more on prayer and doxology and less on instruction and doctrine. Paul doesn’t persuade or argue with reason in Ephesians, as he does in other, previous letters; rather he rejoices and prays (in perfectly sound doctrine) with awe at God’s majesty and working out of His eternal plan. Paul previously rejoiced in the exaltation of Jesus Christ; now he finds amazement in God’s bringing forth of Christ’s universal Church.

Ephesians was likely a circular letter, as the word “Ephesus” is not found in some of the earliest manuscripts. Also, early church fathers seem unaware of the specific audience of this letter, treating it as circular to the churches of western Asia Minor. Finally, it lacks the personal greetings found in Paul’s letter addressed to specific congregations. Some think it may be the Laodicean epistle mentioned in Colossians, but more likely, it came after Colossians and was not written and sent at the same time.

Ephesus was one of the top five cities in the Roman Empire at the time, and Paul actually stayed there, building up the church with sound doctrine, for two-three years during a stretch of his third mission trip (Acts 19:10, 20:31). Ephesus served as a headquarters for the young church extending throughout western Asia Minor, including the church at Colosse, which was founded by Epaphras, who heard Paul in Ephesus while he was there. Ephesus was famous for the Temple to Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Diana was supposedly a “nurturing” goddess who supposedly made the city “radiant” and glorious. Paul commonly used the language of his culture to battle the culture and this is no exception. For example, in Ephesians 5:27,29, Paul says that Jesus (not the goddess Diana) came to make the church (not the city of Ephesus) holy and “to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless… After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for [nurtures] it, just as Christ does the church.” Acts 19 describes Paul’s ministry there, which impacted local commerce (an idol manufacturer protested Paul’s teaching against idolatry) and turned people away from occult practices.

Though written many years after Paul’s letter to the Romans, which is considered to be the king of the epistles, Ephesians, which is Calvin’s favorite Bible book and considered to be the queen of the epistles, is similar to Romans in the sense that Paul was not writing to address problems. Romans serves as Paul’s doctrinal teaching; Ephesians serves as his opus on the church and prayer inspired by the awe of Christ. Specifically, Paul speaks of the mystery of the church – it is God’s new humanity, a foretaste of eternal unity; it is a community of reconciled sinners, being transformed by grace into a living organism, the body of Christ; it is a new Temple for worshipping God made of living stones founded on Christ and the ministry of the apostles; it is a light in the darkness of the fallen world, a beacon of hope and of stewardship to the glory of God; it is finally a beautiful picture of a bride preparing for and awaiting her husband to come.

Ephesians is a book of prayer. Paul is either praying or talking about prayer in over half of the letter; to paraphrase one commentator in this regard, Paul’s heart is singing the truth, and his prayer is the doctrine of God set to music in this letter. Paul prays prayers of praise and intercession, thanking God for His attributes and asking God to grant wisdom and knowledge and understanding of His attributes to His people – all for His glory. Ephesians is a book about God. Throughout the letter, Paul reveals the glory of the Triune Deity and finds God to be praiseworthy on account of who He is, what He has done, and in light of who we are – sinners without hope apart from Him. Ephesians is also a book about evangelism. Chapters 1 and 2 speak of the missionary God doing His redeeming work: setting forth a plan from before the foundation of the world, accomplishing it in the person of Jesus Christ, and applying it through the person and work of the Holy Spirit. He reaches out with this saving work of Jesus Christ to a multitude from every tribe and tongue and people and nation that no man can number. Then chapters 3 and 4 show God’s purpose in evangelism, to unite His people as the Church, the Body of Christ, and to make them like Himself, like Jesus. And in chapters 5 and 6, Paul reveals the bold and joyful ambassadorship that we have as witnesses to the world of God’s saving work in us and for us through the only way of salvation, which is Jesus Christ.

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