Major themes addressed in the Book of Ephesians
Ephesians presents many significant themes which bring major contributions of thought. Some are listed below.
- The glorious position of Christ
- The holy calling of God’s people
- The equipping of God’s people to do what God has appointed them
- God’s general purpose for the church and the believers
- The means God displays His glory
- The transition between the Old and New Covenants
- Paul’s authority to speak the Gospel
- The meaning and implications of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
- The Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of His people
- The innate sinful nature of mankind
- The nature and means of salvation
- The transformation that takes place in His people (from sin)
- The unique lifestyle of God’s people
- Unity among God’s people
- The ability of God’s people to withstand Satan and his forces
- The importance and style of prayer needed for the welfare of the church
Together they present a powerfully packed book. Each paragraph calls us to renewed thinking that leads to faithful godly lives. The rest of this article will present a few of these topics in greater detail as they have to do with understanding the whole book.
Ephesians and God’s glory
If we are to watch the sports team play, we would go to the stadium. If we want to watch a movie, we would go to the theater. If we are to see God’s glory, where are we to go? In the Book of Ephesians we are instructed to go to two places to see the glory of God: the church and Jesus Christ.
The scriptures teach that God is going to transform this world into a new heavens and earth. His people will be totally transformed. That will be special. Perhaps we should say it will be glorious. What surprises us in the Book of Ephesians is that God has already started displaying His great glory here on earth. This idea is so radical that we must guard ourselves from applying the truths we find in Ephesians to another age or for a different people for what is spoken here explicitly has to do with our present age.
We are not surprised to discover that God’s glory will be seen in Christ Jesus. We have already seen this in Christ’s past ministry. “And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light” (Matthew 17:2). We observe God’s special powers in Christ’s His daily ministry. John summarized his gospel with these words.
Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:30-31).
We will see His glory in His resurrected state. This is presently how He would be seen if we could see Him.
And His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire; and His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been caused to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. And in His right hand He held seven stars; and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as a dead man. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last (Revelation 1:14-17).
We are not very surprised to see God’s glory revealed in Christ Jesus. What is far from our minds, however, is how the great glory of God is revealed in the church here on earth. It says here in Ephesians 3:21, “To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” He leaves no doubt where God will make His glory known. He does not care for all those fancy meetings, advances in technologies or list of millionaires. We might not comprehend this, but it is true. The process has already started. It is for this reason Paul gets so excited about the mystery revealed. Remember how Paul starts his letter?
The glory that He displays in the church is just like He does through Jesus. Like Jesus, we can think of past, present and future glory. The glory we see now is not as astonishing as what will happen in the future, but it is still remarkable. The power of God is revealed in the church. One thing needs to be clear. The glory is not our own. It is God's glory in us. It does not derive from us.
Remember when Paul talked about our salvation, God made sure that salvation is not by our own works less we would boast. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Why? So all the glory would go to God.
Just because we have a glorious God at work in our lives, we should never confuse this by thinking ourselves as worthy of this glory. That would hide God’s glory. God is jealous of His glory. Never steal it from Him. This is the reason pride always leads to a fall. Pride strips any possibility of convincing people that He is to be glorified. God hates pride because it is the ultimate delusion that defames His great Name and purports some idol in His place.
God is very able to show His awesome love, mercy and patience to the weak, helpless and bound. The Book of Ephesians records not only what God has done (chapters 1-3) but also what He is doing now (chapters 4-6) in the church below.
Ephesians and The Mystery
Paul is ecstatic about what the Gospel accomplishes. We all should be. So what is it that Paul is so excited about? They have everything to do with the word ‘mystery’ in verse 3 and ‘mystery of Christ’ in verse 4 that Paul used. Whatever the mystery refers to, its revelation has had a tremendous influence on Paul’s life and ministry.
Mystery, in the Greek language, refers to a truth unveiled rather than as in English a truth still hidden. Paul essentially says that in verse five, “Which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:5). Notice how the gospel ‘in other generations was not made known’ but now ‘it has now been revealed.’
The key questions about this ‘mystery of Christ’ was who was He and why did He die? Paul has clearly elaborated this mystery in the first chapter and showed us some of the practical results of it in chapter two when he spoke of the combining of the Jews and Gentiles into the body of Christ. They are no longer two bodies but one. We should remember, that though this does not seem to be a big problem today, it was a great problem in the early church. At the sound of the word ‘Gentiles,’ the Jews surged toward Paul to kill him. This was the beginning of a long trip to Rome in which he faced trumped up charges much like Christ for which he now was in prison.
And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ And they listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” (Acts 22:21, 22).
Paul says this very thing in Ephesians 3:6, “To be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,” (Ephesians 3:6). Until Christ’s resurrection, if one wanted to belong to God’s people, they would have to first become a Jew. There was no other way. If you wanted to worship the holy God, then you had to become one of God’s people. People claim that this was unfair, but we should recognize that God revealed Himself and salvation to anyone is a work of grace. Nobody deserves a chance.
Ephesians and the Unity of the Body
The fall brought separation. Man’s separation from God and man’s division among mankind. The first chapters clearly depict this and the rest of Bible and history prove it. The Gospel restores communion between God and man as well as reconciles man with man. It is here we see the power of the Gospel.
This multifaceted reconciliation takes place on different levels and because of it future emphasizes the deep connection of what is said in the first part of the book with the later.
First, Paul speaks about how God initiated and caused full restoration of man with God. The love of God is so wonderfully manifest here. Later on, though, man is instructed how he is to maintain the fullness of the relationship with God. For example, as children of God, we are to conduct ourselves in a manner after the Heavenly Father (Ephesians 5:1-8). If holiness befits God, then it is mandatory for us.
Secondly, we see this same development between man and man. God creates one body to serve Him. He calls all sorts of people from varying backgrounds to comprise His church. This church manifests the Gospel by living in harmony (Ephesians 4:1-5) but also by overcoming the old man so that he can rightly live with man. True unity can then only come about when man really experiences change in how he handles his bitterness and lives from a heart of love.
The accompanying diagram depicts how Jesus Christ through the work on the cross has secured for us the unity of the Spirit. There are two aspects to this peace and harmony. First, there is the vertical peace of God t. Second we have the horizontal unity between God’s people. This passage focuses on the peace between brothers and sisters in Christ. We can be at peace with one another. Love prevails through the work of Christ in our lives. Are you at peace with one another? This is what Christ has obtained for us now to experience no matter how little we sometimes see it. We can by God’s grace make a change.
Ephesians and Redemption’s Whole Picture
Paul highlights God’s amazing grace not only by using words but also extreme contrasts. Ephesians 1 presents the amazing glory of God’s work in His people.
Ephesians 2:1-3 presents the other side of this contrast. The contrast is made by picturing this dark description of mankind next to the bright and special blessings recorded in chapter 1. As we step into this steep passage way of Ephesians 2:1-3, we will perhaps not find in the whole of scriptures a darker picture of mankind. These three verses describe some special aspect of sin as it relates to man: his state, his world and his heart.
If one fully understands the truths brought out in these words, then one can escape the clutches of death and gloom and go on and live in the power of Christ. We will save this discussion for another time, but we do need to remind one, that if one does not turn from this steep ledge, then they will remain far from God and all the good things that God wants to bring into their lives.
Paul here answers these three questions and more.
- Why is it so easy to ignore God and do our own thing?
- Why does a father and mother argue and fight? Why do nations fight against other nations?
- Is it possible to break this power of sin over me?
Ephesians and the Heavenlies
As I said, Paul has taken us to the shores of heaven but he cannot take us in. Church of God, you have heard what God has done for you in Christ. You have heard how the Almighty One has chosen to work in you, though feeble you be. It is now time for us to step into the heavenlies. Although our feet for a little while remain on earth, God wants us to join Him in His glorious living. This is not just inspirational talk. This is for real. But you ask, “How?”
This is Paul’s point in the next three chapters. To be holy as the Lord, we must step by step constrain our footsteps to follow God’s clear pathway. You might think it impossible; it is not. You might object to its strenuous demand on your life, I will not deny it. Only we can clearly state that God’s way is unimaginably better than anything we would experience living by the world’s ways. You see, we are God’s kingdom. We are a people set apart for Him. This is our chance to live for Christ. As much as we live for Christ, we will see the world fall to its knees before Christ and crumble in repentance. If we refuse to go on with our journey after Christ, we will see the church rot in the sight of the world.
The Greek word ‘spiritual’ has a wide range of uses from describing the invisible part of man (soul), things relating to the wind, that part of us affected by the Spirit of God or those things that are not earthly. It probably does not exclusively mean one of these things here, but it is a blend. This is made clear by the reference from which these blessings can be found, as well as in the general context. We will limit our discussion to the phrase where these blessings can be found ‘in the heavenlies’ or as some versions put it ‘in the heavenly places.’ This word is used five times in Ephesians (1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12).
- 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 (Ephesians 1:3).
- Which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:20).
- And raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6).
- In order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places (Ephesians 3:10).
- For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).
We might want to conclude that ‘in the heavenlies’ is what we know as heaven, but it cannot be. Or if it is, then heaven will need to be first washed clean too. Notice Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Even in the heavenly places, there are evil spiritual forces. We must conclude that this phrase is the same as the spiritual world.
The spiritual world is every bit as real as the earthly world. We might think of it as in another dimension. We should not think of the spiritual world as completely separated or removed from our earthly world. At times, such as in Ezekiel 1, man gains the opportunity to gaze into the spiritual world. Usually, he cannot. In fact, so few people know of this world that many scoff and laugh at the mention of any such world. Man is willing to believe in higher beings in other parts of the universe but not one High Being who made them. He is willing to explore all sorts of unknown things like dark matter, but he is dogmatic there is no spiritual world. Humanists live in blindness because they are not even open to the existence of the spiritual world. They believe many things but not in that. It would demand a life change which they are unwilling to put up with. So would we, if it wasn’t for God’s good grace.
Paul said, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50). The spiritual world is different. Just because we cannot see this world, it does not mean that it does not exist. God has made it invisible to us, or we have through our sin made ourselves blind to it. Seeing this world is not as important as realizing or knowing that it is there and allowing what is there to sharpen your own perspective of life. This is what we call belief. A confidence in what we cannot see. It relates not only to God, Christ’s work but many other facets of this world such as demons and heaven itself. This is what Paul the Apostle is doing in this book and especially in the first part of Ephesians.
Ephesians and the Calling of the Church
God has called, gifted and placed them in the church, and yet they question their call, don’t use their gifts and refuse to meet with God’s other people at much pain to themselves and others.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We have a choice before us. We can either live out our lives in joy, humility, peace and love or begrudgingly, isolated and sad. Many of you are young. You can today make a change on how you are to live out your life. I can probably safely state, that if you have not yet been disappointed with the church of God, you probably will one day. The solution is not isolation whether by sitting in the back row, coming late and leaving early or even by not coming to church at all.
Paul in Ephesians 4:1 says that we are called into the body of Christ. It is illegitimate to think of ourselves as having spiritual communion with the Lord and yet not fitting into the church of Christ. That would be like getting married by yourself. No matter how hard it is, we need to bring the two together. There will be a force to draw us to God and to fellowship with His people.