Ephesians 2:1-6

Chapter 1 concludes with Paul’s beautiful prayer for the saints in Ephesus praying that they would know the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. To know God means to have an intimate relationship with Him so that we might see Him, know Him, feel His love, discover His wisdom, draw on His strength, and rely on His power.

As we begin chapter 2 we are resting together in confidence of our salvation, in the love of the Father who saved us by grace. Then Paul uses an incomplete sentence that leaves the readers in suspense while they wait for the solution to their spiritual dilemma. “And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins…..” The readers are being reminded of their former pagan existence before they received new life in Christ. The truth revealed about the life of unbelievers is that it is marked by sin, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins”. They are under the influence of the world, ruled by Satan who continuously spawns rebellion against God and the things of God.

“And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest…”

Notice the plural of these words, “transgressions” and “sins”; this indicates repetitive involvement in sin and deliberate acts of rebellion against God. Paul attributes a life marked by sin to two factors: the influence of the fallen world and the forces of Satan in our culture. Paul refers to Satan as the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” and those under his influence as “the sons of disobedience”. From Genesis through Revelation we have many description of Satan and his activities. He is the one who holds the power of death, the devil; he is the one who practices sin from the beginning from the past and continuing to his present actions still in progress; he is the ancient dragon who deceives the world with his minions and he is currently energizing the sons of disobedience. Paul is clear, before we believed we, all of us, “lived our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest”.

“So put to death whatever in your nature belongs to the earth: sexual immorality, impurity, shameful passion, evil desire, and greed which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience. You also lived your lives in this way at one time, when you used to live among them. But now, put off all such things as anger, rage, malice, slander, abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another since you have put off the old man with its practices”. Colossians 3:5-9

Remember that the letter to the Colossians was written at same time as Ephesians, it supplies a good list to explain the “sinful nature” that dominates our life before we believe. It is important to note, that we are too often focused on what is acceptable or defined as sin in light of our current cultural beliefs rather than on what God has declared about these actions. We need to be aware of the efforts and directions in our world by “the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience” that is in direct contradiction to what God has declared as sin. Often we think our opinion about what is sin and what is not sin has more value that what God has declared as sin. Paul is building his argument for our hopeless condition: we lived in sin and we lived among sinful people. This is as true today as it was in the first century; nothing has changed about the world’s path or the sons of disobedience.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!” Paul moves from our gloomy, hopeless condition of mankind to the two most welcome words in all of scripture: “but God. God could have left us spiritually dead, in rebellion against him and in bondage to our sins. But he didn’t. He did not save us because of, but rather in spite of, what he saw in us.” It is all about God, it is God that acts on our behalf because of His great love, it is God who is rich in mercy, it is God who made us alive in Christ – by grace you are saved! We have a new position, we are now “alive in God”, in contrast to the dark doom of being “dead in our transgressions”.

Now that we are “alive to God” we are “dead to sin” which means being “set free from sin”. From Romans 6:12-14 – Paul says, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.”

Ephesians 1:15-23

This next section begins Paul’s prayer for the saints, once again verses 15-23 is one long sentence in Greek. “For this reason I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints”. This phrase “for this reason” points us back to the preceding section, Paul knows that the Ephesians are true believers and they have received the “spiritual blessings” from the previous paragraph. The blessings are election, predestination, adoption, grace, redemption, forgiveness, wisdom, understanding, knowledge of the mystery of His will, the sealing of the Holy Spirit and their inheritance. Now Paul prays that the readers will know God personally and intimately.

Paul praises the Ephesians for “their love for all the saints”; this concept can be quite confusing in our current culture. What does it mean to love your brother or sister in Christ? 1 John 2:6 declares, “the one who says he resides in God ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked. So our example of how to love our brothers and sisters is Jesus’ life and ministry. 1 John 4:20-21 follows up with stating that “if anyone says ‘I love God’ and yet hates his fellow Christian, he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And the commandment we have from him is this: that the one who loves God should love his fellow Christian too.”

1 Corinthians 13 gives us a good list of how to love. “Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious. Love does not brag, it is not puffed up. It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful. It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never ends….and now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”.

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him, –since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened–so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength”. (17-20)

Paul prays for “spiritual wisdom and revelation” for the Ephesians, wisdom gives insight into the true nature of things and revelation is the unveiling of things of God Himself. The purpose in having this wisdom and revelation is that you may know Him, God, better. This request is not for special information, but for a deeper perception and knowledge of God as he is revealed in Christ. The “knowing” related here is not an abstract knowledge of God or objective facts about God, but knowing Him personally and intimately. It includes the intimate awareness of God’s character and will.

“Paul prayed for the believers to know God better. How do you get to know someone? By reading biographical information or historical data about him? That will help you know a lot about that person, but it won’t enable you to actually know him. If you want to get to know someone, you have to spend time with that person; there is no shortcut. The same holds true with God. Reading the Bible, great works of theology, and devotional material is wonderful, but there is no substitute for knowing God personally. What about you? Do you really know God, or do you just know about him? The difference is in spending time with him. Study Jesus’ life in the Gospels to see what he was like on earth two thousand years ago, and get to know him in prayer now. Personal knowledge of Christ will change your life”. LIFE Application Bible

From 2 Peter 1:1-2; 3:18 we learn that “God’s divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence”. And that we are called to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”. We are to grow in grace and knowledge so that we will understand three things, the hope of His calling, and the wealth of His glorious inheritance and the extraordinary greatness of His power.

This paraphrase from The Message helps me to understand these concepts. “But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for Christians, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!” Ephesians 1:17-19

One of the things we are to know about God is “the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe as displayed in the exercise of His immense strength”. Paul continues by explaining “This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come”. The point we are to understand is that the power to live a life pleasing to God is the same power that raised Christ from the dead. That same power is already at work in the lives of believers, we need to remember that God is always at work, even when we don’t “see or recognize” God’s work.

“The world fears the power of the atom, yet we belong to the God of the universe, who not only created that atomic power but also raised Jesus Christ from the dead. God’ incomparably great power is available to help you. There is nothing too difficult for him”. LIFE Application Bible

“And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things. Now the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (20-21). This picture of all things being under Christ’s feet conveys that the work of Christ is completely finished, all things are now under Christ’s rule and dominion: death, resurrection, every ruler, all authority, power and dominion and every person forever. The work completed God gave Jesus Christ the church, as head over all things. “Head over everything” means that Jesus is the ruler and master of everything that exists, including the church. “Him who fills all in all” means that Jesus is present, active and has influence in the church and the world.

“Having been raised from the dead, Christ is now the head of the church, the ultimate authority over the world. Jesus is the Messiah, God’s anointed one, the one Israel longed for, the one who would set their broken world right. As Christians we can be confident that God has won the final victory and is in control of everything. We need not fear any dictator or nation or even death or Satan himself. The contract has been signed and sealed; we are waiting just a short while for delivery”. LIFE Application Bible

“No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”. Romans 8:37-39

Ephesians 1:13-14

As we previously noted Ephesians 1:3-14 is one long sentence in Greek. Paul purposely combines all these profound theological truths to describe and amplify the work of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Verses 3-6 explain the sovereign election of the Father: the Father has blessed us with every spiritual blessing, He chose us before the foundation of the world, and He predestined us to be his sons through Jesus Christ.

Verses 7-12 develops the redemptive work of the Son: He freely bestowed grace on us in his dearly loved Son, through Jesus have redemption through His blood, we have the forgiveness of our sins and have been gifted with wisdom and insight, He revealed the mystery of God’s will that He will bring all things together in heaven and on earth in Christ and He claimed us as His own possession according to God’s purpose to the praise of His glory.

The final two verses focus on the work of the Holy Spirit:
“And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)–when you believed in Christ–you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.”

Paul’s letter is addressed specifically to the Gentile believers, assuring them of their share in God’s inheritance. We understand the truth that God’s promises are not limited to Jewish believers; the Gentile believers are also “God’s own possession” as His “Chosen People”. We also learn is that at the moment that we “believe in Christ” we are marked with the certification of genuineness, the seal of the Holy Spirit that indicates our security, authentication and approval in Christ. This “seal” is a deposit or a down payment with a guarantee of more to come. In essence this deposit “is a little bit of the heaven in our lives today with a guarantee of much more to come”.

“The Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee that we belong to him and that he will do what He has promised. The Holy Spirit is like a down payment, a deposit, a validating signature on the contract. The presence of the Holy Spirit in us demonstrates the genuineness of our faith, proves that we are God’s children, and secures eternal life for us. His power works in us to transform us now, and what we experience now is a taste of the total change we will experience in eternity”. (LIFE Application Bible commentary)

From Romans 10:17 we learn that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ”. Additionally, from 1 Peter 3:15 we understand that we should “always be prepared to give an answer (with gentleness and respect) to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. The “Word of Truth”, also called the message is defined as the “Gospel of your Salvation”. From 1 Corinthians 15:2-4 we can summarize the gospel message as “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures”. With these few but precise words Paul clearly explains that we are all in need of forgiveness, not one of us measures up to what is required to reconcile us to the Holy God. That Jesus really died, it was not a hoax or fabrication of His disciples, Jesus was crucified, dead and buried then was raised to life on the third day all done according to God’s plans and recorded in the Bible for us to understand. When Christ conquered death He confirmed for us His promise of eternal life, confirming the plan and process of how each one of us can be reconciled to the Creator of the Universe forever.

This process that God set forth is that first we will hear the word of truth, the gospel message; then we believe, have faith in the work of Christ and are marked by the Holy Spirit and sealed as a “down payment of our inheritance until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory”.

The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is astounding; Jesus identifies the Holy Spirit as “another Advocate to be with you forever” and as the “Spirit of Truth” who resides with you and in you. The Holy Spirit will “prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment”, “He will guide you to all truth”, and He will receive from Jesus and “tell it to you and tell you what is to come”.
This depiction of an advocate that leads us into all truth, reminds me of the presence of the Spirit of God that was with the Israelites in the desert directing their path and teaching them how to become the people of God. This same power and insight is available to us and in us, when we believe and thus sealed with the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 1:7-12

Our last lesson ended with the revolutionary truth that we are not an afterthought in the plan of God; we are in fact chosen by the Father and selected to be members of His eternal family. We find this truth to be amazing, just think of how much more would these former slaves, oppressed women and downtrodden pagans respond to this glorious news.

This one long sentence continues with “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace”. Redemption means to gain or regain a possession in exchange for payment. The Ephesians would be very familiar with the Greco-Roman practice of the redemption of slaves who could be freed by the payment of a ransom.

The redemption price to free us from the bondage of sin and death was the death of Christ; this is what “through his blood” means. In the OT sacrificial system, the forgiveness of sin was only accomplished through the shedding of the perfect, unblemished animal’s blood. Now we are forgiven of our sins and redeemed from our slavery to sin by the perfect unblemished Lamb of God’s death on the cross.

We should not attach a mystical quality to this phrase “through the blood”, it was not Jesus’ physical blood that saved anyone, but his real and total payment for the sins of man in His whole person and death on the cross. “Jesus does not redeem us by His sinless life or His moral example, but only by His death in our place – ‘through His blood’”.

We have been redeemed from the stain of sin, the sins we have done and the eternal consequences of that sin, our separation from God. Christ who was sinless took on our sins; He became cursed in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would be made available to the Gentiles. Our redemption means that we have been adopted as sons with full rights; we are no longer a slave but a son and heir through Jesus. Additionally, Jesus’ sacrifice has delivered us from the power of sin and darkness; it sets us free from every kind of sin and purifies us to be His people. Therefore we should consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. What a glorious work Jesus did for us!

All this work was accomplished “according to the riches of His grace that he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight”. “We’re a free people – free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need”. (The Message)

Grace is defined by God’s unmerited favor; in Hebrew “favor” means to bend or stoop in kindness to another, as a superior to and inferior. This grace, the favor that the Creator of the Universe has lavished on us, the superabundance of his grace is emphasized by Paul. “He did this when he revealed to us the secret of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ”.

The “secret of his will” is translated as “mystery” in the NIV and “letting us in on the plans” in the Message. “Mystery” is something which has formerly been kept secret in the purpose of God but has now been disclosed. The next verse reveals what this mystery is: to bring all things together, things in heaven and on earth under Christ Jesus as the head. Then it is revealed when this will happen, when the times reach their fulfillment – “the fullness of times”. When the time is ripe for the consummation of God’s purpose, God will make that happen at just the right time.

“In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the one purpose of Him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will”. Just as the Jews have been known as God’s Chosen People, we now know that part of the mystery is that the Gentiles will also be “God’s own possession”; all this was predestined before the foundations of the world.

“God’s purpose is to offer salvation to the world, just as he planned to do long ago. God is sovereign; he is in charge. When your life seems chaotic, rest in this truth: Jesus is Lord, and God is in control. God’s purpose to save you cannot be thwarted, no matter what evil Satan may bring.” God in His great mercy has granted us who could not save ourselves, salvation through the sacrificial death of Jesus. We have been redeemed from slavery and given the honored position of firstborn son and heir to the blessings of God. What a blessing, our response should be unending praise of His glory!

Ephesians 1: 1-6

This letter to the church in Ephesus begins with an abbreviated address from the Apostle Paul; to the saints, the faithful, grace and peace to you. However we can understand many things from this brief greeting. First, that Paul was known to the recipients, he felt no need introduce himself or list his bonafides. And it follows that this is a letter to be passed around to all the believers in the sphere of influence of the church in Ephesus. It is a circular letter, carried from house church to house church to encourage the saints and proclaim the grace and peace that the Creator provides for us through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:2 gives us a good definition of what it means to be a saint. “To those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” This message of Ephesians is for the “faithful followers of Christ Jesus”; it is for the church today and just as important as it was to the church in Ephesus.

Sometimes the hardest part of being a faithful believer is living out our faith in the community (church) where God has placed us. We see today many believers who do not go to church or do not commit to a particular faith community because they find this life together too difficult. Or they hold themselves aloof, always ready to jump to the next trending worship center, constantly moving and not putting down deep roots in community. The Apostle Paul calls believers to life together, as one body, to present a living human witness, faithfully in community. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling… From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.” Ephesians 4:4, 16

Paul greets the church by saying, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!” “Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely; the peace of God given to the restless; the unmerited favor of God… Grace is the opposite of karma, which is all about getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.” Christianity Today – what is Grace?

“Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1

“Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

We have peace with God through Jesus Christ and we have the peace of God through the Holy Spirit working in our lives, to conform us to be like Jesus Christ. This grace and peace is for us individually and for our faith community, the local church.

Paul moves on to his opening statement, verses 3-14 which is one long sentence in Greek without punctuation. Many scholars consider these verses to be a prayer or a call to worship and because it is a run-on sentence we can understand the interconnectedness of the phrases. Paul begins with what could be considered a summary sentence. “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.”(3) Verses 4-6 offers up praise for the blessings God bestowed on us in the past; “For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love.” Verses 7-12 offers up praise that the Son has redeemed us; “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight.” Verses 13-14 offers up praise that the Holy Spirit has stamped us with a seal, sealed us as a down payment of our future inheritance. We understand that all of these actions are instigated by the LORD God Almighty; by the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit for our benefit; we are blessed with every spiritual blessing.

“For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world”; the Apostle tells us when God’s work of election took place, in eternity past. This “chosen status” was always part of the plan, God’s plan to reconcile us to Him. We understand from this phrase that it is all about God’s work not our works; it is God’s Sovereign work; it is all about God not us.

“Paul says that God “chose us” to emphasize that salvation depends totally on God. We are not saved because we deserve it but because God is gracious and freely gives salvation. We did not influence God’s decision to save us; he saved us according to his plan. Thus, there is no way to take credit for our salvation or to allow room for pride. The mystery of salvation originated in the timeless mind of God long before we existed. It is hard to understand how God could accept us. But because of Christ, we are holy and blameless in his sight. God chose us, and when we belong to him through Jesus Christ, God looks at us as if we had never sinned. All we can do is express our thanks for his wonderful love.” From Life Application Bible

God chose us so that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. For any human being to be in the presence of the Holy God we need to be holy and blameless we cannot do this on our own, therefore God made a way. Under the OT sacrificial system only animals that were without blemish could be offered to God, we are reminded of our perfect Passover lamb, Jesus. In his sight, means that God views us who are horribly flawed, as holy and blameless, this is our position before God. The motivation of God’s choice is love; this is the focus of the entire paragraph. He chose us, He made us holy and blameless, He predestined us for adoption as His sons, we are His own possession and we are marked with the Holy Spirit kept by God, all according to his good pleasure, by His lavish gift of grace, to the praise of His Glory.

All believers are adopted as a first born son with all the rights of inheritance that provides. Through Jesus, we are brought into intimate family of the Creator of the universe. This was decided in advance, “before the foundation of the world”, it was always God’s plan and everything is accomplished by God’s initiative. “See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called God’s children—and indeed we are!” 1 John 3:1

“For all these things are for your sake, so that the grace that is including more and more people may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:15

Ephesians – Introduction

The Apostle Paul identifies himself as the author of this letter, and then refers to himself repeatedly throughout the letter. The letter is addressed to “the Saints in Ephesus” then immediately launches right into the reason for the letter without the small talk. This suggests that Ephesians was a circular letter intended for all the churches in the Lycus valley. We can also conclude that Ephesians was written at the same time as Colossians because Ephesians carries on the same train of thought from Colossians. They both highlight the role of Christ as the Lord over the cosmos, the firstborn of overall creation; that we are chosen in love for adoption according to His glorious Grace. Then continues by laying out how we should live in light of this great gift.

The city of Ephesus was the most important city of Asia Minor at that time. It was a major harbor and the intersection of the major trade routes so it follows that it was a significant commercial center. Ephesus boasted of its pagan temple dedicated to Roman goddess Diana, Greek name Artemis. This temple was considered a “wonder of the ancient world” and was estimated to be four times larger than the Parthenon in Greece. Ephesus became the epicenter of worship of the Greek and Roman gods. Roman culture sponsored thousands of gods; the worship was pervasive and overwhelming; invading every aspect of community life.

The following are excerpts from Pagan & Christians in the City, by Steven D. Smith: “Pagan religion locates the sacred within the world. In that way, paganism can consecrate the world from within: its religiosity relative to an immanent sacred. Judaism and Christianity, by contrast, reflect transcendent religiosity; they place the sacred, ultimately, outside the world”.

“The crowds of gods had their own affairs to attend to, and they were for the most part not especially concerned about the mundane doings of mortals. And yet the gods did have the power either to bless or to blight, to help or to hinder, so it was essential to maintain good relations with them. The Romans thus devoted massive resources to honoring the gods and retaining their favor; it was in this sense that the Romans deemed themselves religiously superior to all other nations.”

“In sum, public or civic religion was pervasive in the Roman world. City and religion were thoroughly integrated, coextensive, inseparable. There was a religious aspect to every communal action, and a communal aspect to ever religious action.”

“Sexual fulfillment is not only natural and pleasurable and presumptively acceptable; it is also a kind of ecstatic religious performance….In antiquity, sexual arousal, activity and reproduction were in part immanent divine powers, not simply forms of energy… an ambitious vision of conjugal Eros, in which the most profound stirrings of the body not only connected man with the divine forces that replenished the earth but also offered personal transcendence. This sacralization of sexuality helps explain the ubiquity of erotic imagery – paintings, mosaics, statues – Roman culture. The gods manifested themselves as well, and were honored through sexuality – sexual ecstasy being understood as ‘the mysterious, indwelling presence of the gods’.”

The Apostle Paul arrives in Ephesus on his third missionary journey in 54 AD. Paul will stay in Ephesus making it his home base for his mission to Asia Minor. For three months he taught in the local synagogue, but when the Jews began to oppose Paul he moves his teaching to the school of Tyrannus for another 2 years. During this time Paul is empowered by the Holy Spirit with effective teaching and numerous miracles. “Even Handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him (Paul) were taken to the sick and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” (Acts 19:11-20) The repeated confrontations with evil spirits caused “the Jews and Greeks in living in Ephesus to be seized with fear, and the name of Jesus was held in high honor”. Many former pagans who practiced sorcery and were now believers brought their scrolls and burned them publicly. Luke writing in Acts calculates the value of these scrolls as 50,000 drachmas; one drachma was equivalent to a day’s wage, thus very costly to the commerce in Ephesus. All this activity sets the stage for a riot in Ephesus among the silversmiths who made silver shrines for the Temple of Artemis.

Artemis was the fertility goddess of Ephesus and was the most worshiped deity in Asia Minor and the Roman world at that time. Hundreds of eunuch priests, virgin priestesses and religious prostitutes served in her temple. Their worship rituals were quite erotic, she was also known as the “Queen of Heaven”, “Savior” and “Mother Goddess”. The city of Ephesus was the center for Artemis worship and they considered themselves responsible for maintaining the cult’s purity of worship. This cultic worship brought great wealth to the citizens of Ephesus because the temple of Artemis was the world’s largest bank at that time. Devotees came from all over the world to worship and celebrate during her festivals. There were huge processions honoring her statues. Celebrations were held with music, dancing, singing, dramatic presentations and chanting of allegiance.

The silversmiths complained about Paul’s preaching and miracles because they were impacting their business of selling small offerings give to the goddess when visiting the temple. “Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.” (Acts 19:25-27)

In the Greek and Roman worldview, it was common to add new gods to their vast collections of gods. A new “god” was no threat, but what was becoming known to the pagan worshipers is that when people became Christians, they stopped worshiping the pagan deities. This was the threat – not the “new” god, but the diminishing of their community, culture and economy by this new belief system.

Think about the Apostle Paul and his Jewish brothers in Christ interaction with this city where pagan worship was rampant. The courage it is must have taken to go into the very heart of evil to speak God’s truth to those who are hostile to the things of God. Additionally, think of the great, long and difficult task of making disciples of former pagans who were steeped in pagan worldview and practices that was entangled with the everyday culture and economy.

“Christians had to be taught how to live in ways that were appropriate for the kingdom of Christ. Many Christians had been converted from pagan religions. They had spent much of their lives following the ways of Satan before they came to faith in Christ. And they found it difficult to change the ways they thought, felt, and behaved. So, as the apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the Ephesians, he directly addressed this challenge by painting a sweeping, cosmic portrait of life in the kingdom of God in Christ.” Third Millennium, Prison Epistles – Ephesians

Unlike Paul’s other letters this letter does not address any particular error or heresy which reinforces the perception that it was a circular letter. It was a prison letter Not a personal letter, Not a problem solving letter, Not a teaching letter, Not a need-meeting letter or a how to letter, it is a letter that seeks to change our orientation from a man-centered to a God-centered , as we study this letter our attention will continually be drawn to glory of God.

From the introduction to Ephesians in The Message:
“Paul’s letter to the Ephesians joins together what has been torn apart in our sin-wrecked world. He begins with an exuberant exploration of what Christians believe about God, and then, like a surgeon skillfully setting a compound fracture, “sets” this belief in God into our behavior before God so that the bones—belief and behavior—knit together and heal”……” And so Paul goes to work. He ranges widely, from heaven to earth and back again, showing how Jesus, the Messiah, is eternally and tirelessly bringing everything and everyone together. He also shows us that in addition to having this work done in and for us, we are participants in this most urgent work. Now that we know what is going on, that the energy of reconciliation is the dynamo at the heart of the universe, it is imperative that we join in vigorously and perseveringly, convinced that every detail in our lives contributes (or not) to what Paul describes as God’s plan worked out by Christ, “a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.”

Ephesians

The letter from the Apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus was written during Paul’s 4-year imprisonment. The first 2-years of Paul’s confinement were in Caesarea and the last 2-years in Rome. During this time Paul wrote many letters, we have four of them preserved for us in the New Testament: Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians and Philippians.

We would assume that the injustices, beatings, and confinement imposed on Paul and his companions would have inhibited or at least slowed down Paul on his mission to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. But what we need to remember is what some people intend for evil – God will use for good, because Paul was submissive to both the Roman law and to God’s plan, he was effective in preaching the gospel even in chains.

In 56-57 AD, Paul and his companions were on their way from Asia Minor traveling by boat back to Jerusalem. They carried with them the funds they collected from the new gentile Christian communities for their brothers and sisters in Christ in Jerusalem. The Christian church in Judea was suffering at that time from a famine and persecution.

On their journey home, wherever the ship stopped believers would come to visit Paul for worship and prayer. When they stopped at Miletus, the Ephesian elders came to meet with Paul. During their time of worship the Holy Spirit reveals to Paul that he will be imprisoned when he arrives in Jerusalem.

“Compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace”. Acts 20:22-24

This wasn’t a one-time revelation; repeatedly Paul is warned of the coming troubles. Paul determined that these warnings were not intended to cause him to abandon his mission but rather to help him prepare for the coming hardships. Paul knew that his sufferings were part of God’s plan for him, to advance the gospel and to minister to the church. Paul and his companions arrive in Jerusalem, in 57 AD at the beginning of summer near the time of Pentecost.

When Paul arrived in Jerusalem he went to meet with the church and visit with James the brother of Jesus. James was the head of the church in Jerusalem; Paul delivered the money collected and was well received by the church. It was Paul’s hope that the generous collection of funds would help the poor in Jerusalem and reconcile the Jewish Christians to their new Gentile brothers in Christ. Instead what Paul learns is that false rumors continue to swirl around Paul and his companions, they falsely accuse Paul of teaching that Jewish Christians could abandon all Jewish practices including circumcision. The Jewish Christians firmly believed that they should maintain all Jewish traditions and practices even when living in areas outside of Jerusalem in the Gentile culture.

The decision of the church leaders in Jerusalem was that Paul should go through a ritual cleansing ceremony to demonstrate that he was committed to the Mosaic Law. He and four other men would go through the long process with Paul paying for all their expenses. The church elders were convinced that this process would show Paul’s obedience to the Jewish traditions and tamp down the false rumors.

Towards the end of the purification rights, Paul and his companions are in the inner court of the Temple; this is the space where only Jews could go. Some Jews from Asia Minor see Paul and falsely identify one of the men as the Gentile Christian Trophimus who traveled with Paul to Jerusalem. They instigate a city-wide riot against Paul, and grab him with the intention of killing him. All the uproar comes to the attention of the Roman garrison that is on watch over the temple. The commander of the Roman garrison arrests Paul and puts him in chains; his plan was to flog Paul then let him go to appease the crowd. But when he heard that Paul was a Roman citizen he changed his plans, Paul was entitled to legal protections including the right not to be flogged or put in chains without a trial.

The next day, Paul is taken to stand trial before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling court. The previous day Paul addressed the angry crowd by testifying that the risen Christ appeared to him and he proclaimed the good news of the gospel. When Paul addresses the Sanhedrin he states, “I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead”. When he said this the Sanhedrin broke out into another riot and the Romans guards quickly take Paul back to the jail to protect him. The plan was to take Paul back to the Sanhedrin the next day for another attempt at a trial, but the Romans were warned of a Jewish plot to assassinate Paul. So instead the guards take Paul to Caesarea to stand trial before Felix, the Roman governor of Judea.

Five days later Paul stands trial again; the High Priest, Jewish elders and their lawyer arrive to accuse Paul of disturbing the Roman peace and violating the Temple. But once again they had no eyewitness to testify against Paul, they demand that Felix examine Paul to determine his guilt. The only witness is Paul who uses the opportunity to proclaim the gospel and reveal the corruption of the Jewish leaders. Felix could have released Paul based on the lack of witnesses, but he didn’t, instead he saw the opportunity to extract a bribe from Paul and his supporters. Felix didn’t make a decision of guilt or innocence; instead he kept Paul in prison and would send for Paul regularly to talk. For two years Paul continued to proclaim the gospel to Felix and his guests.

In 59AD Felix was replaced by Festus, as the new Roman governor. Once again the Jews saw an opportunity to kill Paul, they petitioned Festus to bring Paul to Jerusalem to stand trial by the Sanhedrin, but in reality the plan was to kill Paul during transport. Festus asks Paul if he was willing to have his case heard in Jerusalem, but rather than agreeing Paul asserts his right as a Roman citizen, he appeals his case to Caesar.

The backstory is that the night that Paul was first arrested, in chains in a Roman prison the LORD Jesus appeared to Paul in a dream to assure him that he will live to proclaim the gospel in Rome. The Holy Spirit had been directing Paul to understand that his suffering and imprisonment will be used to spread the gospel. In late 59 AD Paul, Luke and Aristarchus set sail for Rome under a Roman guard. The normal sailing route is to hug the coast all the way to Rome.

They sail first to Cyprus then north to Asia Minor, but strong winds and rough seas force them away from the coast to the island of Crete. It was now getting too late in the season to travel safely, the Roman commander and ship’s captain planned to sail further up the coast of Crete to a place where they wanted to spend the winter months. Paul warned against leaving, but they ignored his advice and set sail. For two long weeks they are caught in a terrible storm, all aboard feared that they would die. Paul repeatedly assures everyone that they would not die, but would all make it safely to Rome. The ship finally breaks apart, Paul convinces the Roman guard not to kill the prisoners and everyone is wash up safely on the shores of Malta. They will remain on Malta for three months, Paul preaches the gospel, he is miraculously saved from a snake bite, he heals the chief Roman official of the island and everyone who came to him for healing.

Paul and his companions arrive in Rome in 60 AD, where he is put under house arrest for another 2 years. He stayed in his own rented house under Roman guard and welcomed all who came to see him. During this time he was able to teach freely and received many visitors from the Christian communities that Paul started. Paul’s arrest was unjust, painful and life threatening. His imprisonment was a long miscarriage of justice, false accusations, corruption and hardships. But Paul was submissive and obedient to the Roman law and to God’s plan.

Paul’s mission to preach the gospel was not hindered by all these evil designs, instead he was just where God wanted him to be. Paul will spend his time in prison, preaching the gospel in the capital of the Roman Empire, and engage in a robust writing and teaching ministry to everyone who he came into contact.

It is during this imprisonment that Paul wrote Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon. These letters while addressing the different issues in each community, they share the same doctrinal unity, specifically that Jesus Christ is the King of Creation, Jesus is one with the Father, He is our sovereign ruler with the authority to rule. We as believers are united with Christ, as our King he has the right to command our obedience, additionally He has made us able to live a righteous life and we are to treat each other as Christ has treated us.

 

Paul is a compelling example for us, on how to live a faithful life in the midst of suffering and injustice.