Ephesians: Themes in Relationships

October 1, 2005

Read: Eph. 3:11,12; Acts 26:9-19

Overview of Ephesians: In Ephesians Paul states that he is in chains (3:1; 6:20). Although it is possible that this is in Caesarea where he was in prison for “two years” (Acts 24:27, ca. 58-60 A.D.), it is more likely in Rome where he also spent “two whole years” under house arrest (Acts 28:30, ca. 61-63 A.D.). That would put the letter about four or five years after his last visit to Ephesus.

We know that he had spent three years in Ephesus (Acts 20:31), so it is strange that he writes as though the Ephesian church does not know him well (1:15, 3:2-4). It has been suggested that while the letter was sent to Ephesus, it was intended to be a circular letter copied and sent out from there to other churches in Asia Minor. Support for this is seen in the following observations: Firstly, The earliest Greek manuscripts we have do not have “in Ephesus” in 1:1. So originally it may have been left blank for copies to be made and later filled in since it was associated with Ephesus. Secondly, there are no personal greetings at the close as is Paul’s custom. Tychicus is most likely the bearer of the letter (6:21).

In the former major section of Ephesians the primary theological topic is the mystery of God’s plan to bring all things in the universe into unity under the headship of Jesus Christ. This is spelled out in particular regarding the inclusion of the Gentiles of faith among those who are God’s chosen people. In the latter major section Paul exhorts to unity and to Christian maturity in personal and interpersonal relations. He concludes with an exhortation to be armed in defense against the powerful forces of evil. In comparison to Paul’s other letters one could say that the primary focus in Ephesians is on the idea of Christian community, i.e. church. Some of the salient theological themes are God’s predestined plan of salvation, the inclusiveness of this plan, and the cosmic scope of the plan in which the church serves to demonstrate the wisdom of God to the universe, i.e. “rulers and authorities in heavenly places” (3:10).

Outline of Ephesians:

I.   Letter Opening:
  Prescript: Paul greets the Saints ......................  1:1-2

II. Theological Exposition:
  Blessing / Thanksgiving: God's Plan of Redemption under
    One Head - Jesus Christ .............................  1:3-23
  From Who We Were to Who We Are: Saved by Grace / Created for
    Good Works ..........................................  2:1-10
  Unity in the Household of God ......................... 2:11-22
  Paul - A Minister of God's Mysterious Plan to Be
    Inclusive of All People .............................  3:1-12
  An Intercessory Prayer to Be Grounded in Love by God's
    Power ............................................... 3:13-21

III.  Moral and Spiritual Exhortation:
  Exhortation to Unity, Ministry, and Maturity ..........  4:1-16
  Exhortation to Put away the Former Life / Live as
    Children of Light ................................. 4:17-5:20
  Exhortation to Mutual Subjection in Household 
    Relations .......................................... 5:21-6:9
  Final Exhortation to be Armed against Evil Forces ..... 6:10-20

IV.  Letter Closing:
  A Recommendation of Tychicus .......................... 6:21-22
  A Wish of Peace and Grace ............................. 6:23-24

Themes in Relationships: In Acts 26:9-19 and Gal 1:11-17 Paul recounts the experience of his conversion and commission. His initial persecution of “the Way” was driven by deep conviction and zeal that issued in a furious rage against the believers to the point of supporting the death penalty for those who purportedly were forced to “blaspheme.” This most likely would have been based on the confession that Jesus Christ was the divine Son of God. In the dramatic vision of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus he was appointed to a mission to Jews and Gentiles in the service of Christ to preach the gospel that would turn them from darkness to light. The wording of Acts 26:18 suggests Isaiah 9:2 and the Messianic passages in Isaiah 42:6-7 and 49:6. In this way Paul was being called to participate in the great mission of Jesus Christ to the world, both Jewish and Gentile. This reversal entailed not just the recognition that the Jesus Christ is the awaited Messiah, but that he was Messiah not just to Jews but also Gentiles. As one who was so zealous for the traditions of his fathers (Gal 1:14) this meant not only a dramatic reversal in Paul’s cognitive world but also what was at first a traumatic reversal in his lifestyle with all its prescriptions for ritual purity that separated Jews from close relations with Gentiles.

In Eph 3:11, 12 Paul refers back to God’s secret plan to include the Gentiles with his chosen people, now all chosen by grace through faith, as being carried out in Christ Jesus who gives us “access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.” The gospel not only breaks down barriers between God and humankind, but also as a consequence breaks down barriers between people. In Gal 3:28 this is specified in terms of ethnic barriers (“no longer Jew or Greek”), status and economic barriers (“no longer slave or free”), and gender barriers (no longer male or female”). All are now one “in Christ.”

Questions to Think About: Because of Paul’s dramatic conversion is there a tendency for us today to question our own state of conversion if we have not had such a dramatic experience? Are there any other conversion models in Scripture that are different? What about Peter and the rest of the disciples?

Did everything in Jesus’ commission to Paul become immediately clear to him at that moment Is it significant that Paul first spent three years in Arabia and what appears to be fourteen years before he embarked on his great missionary journeys (see Gal 2:1 — fourteen years may be an inclusive number going back to his conversion).

In Paul’s experience we observe an incredible continuity between conviction and consequence, belief and behavior, that many other converted Jews did not share (Acts 21:20-21). What is it that so often brings about this disconnect for so many Christians?

All too often Christianity (as with many religions) is co-opted into supporting cultural norms and practices that simply are un-Christian when examined in the light of the cross. Can you think of any in our culture today? How should Christians negotiate their norms of behavior and those of the nation in which they live?

What does it mean that “in Christ” there are no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female? Is that supposed only to apply to in-house attitudes among Christians but not to Christians’ attitudes and relations to those outside the church or churches?

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