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Date: About AD 60
Audience: Christians in the city of Ephesus and in nearby churches
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a well-loved book of the Bible that teaches believers some of the most important lessons of our faith, such as who we are in Christ, how we are to live as followers of Jesus, and how to gain victory in the spiritual battles we face.
Paul probably wrote this Epistle as a circular letter, which was addressed to the Christians in Ephesus but was also meant to be shared with surrounding churches.
Ephesus was a large, influential commercial city in modern-day Turkey. According to bibleandhistory.com, “In the New Testament era it was the fourth greatest city in the world.” Spiritually, this cosmopolitan city was the center of worship for the goddess Artemis. It was full of occult practices such as sorcery, astrology, fortune-telling, and perversion, including prostitution in the temple. Against this backdrop, we can understand why the Christians in Ephesus needed the strong teaching and encouragement Paul provided in this letter.
Most likely, Paul wrote Ephesians about AD 60, during his two-year imprisonment in Rome. I have visited the prison where Paul was incarcerated, and I could see that his circumstances there must have been extremely hard. History tells us that the city sewer ran nearby, so we can assume that not only was the prison dark and uncomfortable, but it also smelled bad. In the midst of such hardships, Paul chose not to focus on the daily difficulties of his life but on helping other people by writing to his fellow believers to encourage them in their walk with God.
Before we even begin looking at the text of Ephesians, we learn an important lesson as we think about Paul’s circumstances when he wrote it: no matter how difficult your life may be during certain seasons, remember to do all you can do to bless, help, and encourage others.
The entire letter of Ephesians is six chapters. Chapters 1–3 are about who we are in Christ, the amazing things Jesus has done for us, how much He loves us, and our relationship with God, and chapters 4–6 are about how we are to behave as Christians. This sequence is very interesting because it reflects exactly what we should experience in our walk with God: first we become established in our personal relationship with God, and then we learn to grow in holiness—changing our thoughts, words, and actions so we will think, speak, and act as God would have us think, speak, and act.
No matter how much we love God, when we read the first three chapters of Ephesians, we can’t help falling more and more deeply in love with Him. When that happens, changing our thoughts, words, and behavior becomes not something we feel we have to do to get God to love us, but something we want to do because we begin to see how much He loves us and we love Him so much in return.
A lot of people have misunderstood how to make changes in their thinking or behavior. They have tried to change based on their human strength or willpower and they have failed, ending up disappointed and frustrated. Ephesians teaches us that we absolutely cannot change by simply trying or through self-effort. We cannot change because we are motivated by fear that God will not love us if we don’t. The right motive for changing is to want to please God as a way of expressing our love for Him in response to His amazing love for us.
One of the most vital and refreshing lessons of Ephesians is that relationship with God must come first. That’s the key to effecting change in your life. If you will take time to develop a strong relationship with God, begin to see how much He loves you, and know who you are in Christ, change will come, and out of that relationship your life will bear the good fruit that God intends.
Key Truths in Ephesians
- Being “in Christ” is a spiritual reality, the most important spiritual reality in which you can live.
- In Christ, you are unconditionally loved and accepted.
- You are saved through faith, and faith alone—not through anything you can do.
- In Christ, you have victory in the spiritual war.
A building cannot be built properly unless it is constructed on a solid foundation, and our Christian lives cannot be properly built to withstand the storms of life unless we have a solid foundation. Ephesians 1 is about the foundation of our walk with God. In it, Paul discusses several things that are of great importance to those who are children of God.
First, Paul clearly establishes that he is an apostle by the will of God. He did not call himself to the task of being an apostle. Whatever we do in life only works well if it is God’s will for us to do it. Too often we decide what we want to do and then pray for God to make it succeed, but our relationship with God doesn’t operate that way. His will must be first in all things.
Being in God’s will always produces peace in our lives, so checking to see if we have peace in a situation is one primary way we can discern whether or not what we are doing is indeed His will. Also, when we are following God’s will, what we are doing works well. We may face opposition and times when we need to press through difficulties, but ultimately God’s will always produces peace and good fruit. It is not God’s intention for us to struggle through life, but we will unless we are in His will.
The first step to being in God’s will is to want His will with all your heart. Pray that God will keep you in the center of His will, and if you are aware of anything in your life that needs to change in order for that to happen, then ask the Lord to help you make the necessary adjustments. If you truly want God’s will, He will guide you and help you know what to do.
As far as you know, are you in the center of God’s will at this time in your life? If not, what can you change in order to be able to say yes to this question?
Grace and Peace
Paul didn’t begin his letter to the Ephesians with “Hello, how are you?” He greets the people by saying, “Grace to you and peace.” He used this greeting in several of his letters to the churches, and if we understand it properly we will see that it is very powerful. Paul wanted the people to enjoy a peaceful life, but he knew they could only do so if they understood God’s grace and knew how to receive it.
We can think about what grace is in two ways. First, grace is God’s undeserved favor, and we all need that on a daily basis. Second, grace is God’s ability and power to help us do whatever we need to do in life. It can make impossible things possible and difficult things easy. I like to define grace this way: grace is God’s undeserved favor and His power that enables us to do with ease what we could never do on our own with any amount of struggle or self-effort.
Are you enjoying a life filled with peace? If not, it may be because you have not yet learned the importance of living by God’s grace. Our salvation comes by grace through faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8), and “by grace” is also the way we must learn to live our daily lives if we want to have peace. Jesus clearly said that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5), yet most of us try to do some things for a long time before we finally surrender our fleshly efforts and learn how to receive grace (God’s power and ability) for everything we do.
For many years I was frustrated, and I struggled with trying to change myself, to change others, and to change circumstances that I now realize only God could change; therefore, I had no peace. The more I have learned to live by grace, the more I have enjoyed peace.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, how much peace do you regularly enjoy? What could you change in your life that would increase your peace?
This amazing verse tells us that we have already been blessed with the spiritual blessings that are available from God. Spiritual blessings are different than material blessings. A person may have great material wealth and be at the top rung of the ladder of worldly success, yet be bankrupt when it comes to spiritual blessings such as salvation, peace, joy, satisfaction, contentment, being in right relationship with God, wisdom, and true spiritual power.
God has provided everything we need, yet we often waste years of our lives trying to obtain things that mean much less than what is already ours from God. These spiritual blessings are ours as a child of God. They are our present possessions, but we have to ask: have we possessed our possessions? What I mean by that is that no matter what God has provided for us, His gifts don’t help us unless we receive them by faith. We receive by faith through believing the promises of God. For example, God has promised us wisdom and joy. Do you believe that you have wisdom? Do you believe that joy is already residing in your spirit, or are you trying to find joy in things that have no ability to ever give you true joy?
I have a house, and it has a lot of great stuff in it. I also have a key to my house, which gives me access to all of the stuff inside. But if I don’t use the key, then the things inside the house do me no good. The key to all the good things (spiritual blessings) God has already provided is a belief that they belong to us. We can live with a childlike faith that simply accepts what God says without needing physical proof. Faith is the proof of the things we hope for and the evidence of their reality (Heb. 11:1).
The more we realize what God has already done for us through Jesus and the more we receive those things by faith, the more we are able to truly enjoy life. Our real life is not found in our circumstances, but in us. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:21). This means that we will never access spiritual blessings and the things of God by looking to external surroundings or resources; we will find them in our hearts.
Try getting up each morning and thinking, I have everything in me that I need to have a wonderful day because God has already blessed me with every spiritual blessing that is available in the heavenly realm. You will find this kind of thinking to be much better than trying all day to find something to make you happy and then being disappointed at the end of each day because somehow what you thought you wanted evaded you once more.
What do you think you need to have in order to truly enjoy your life? Have you possessed the possessions God has given to you?
Loved, Chosen, Adopted, and Accepted
Everybody wants to be chosen. Do you remember being a child waiting to be chosen for the dance team, the cheerleading squad, or a sports team? I do, and the fear of not being chosen, which meant being rejected, was agonizing. Perhaps you were not chosen for the sports team, the promotion at work, or the worship team at church, but God wants you to know that He has chosen you. Anyone who believes in Him will never be rejected. Knowing we are chosen by God gives us confidence to live life boldly and without fear.
We often hear the terms election and predestination in connection with these verses. This is simple to understand if we look at it properly.
God planned for our salvation and redemption from the foundation of the world. He knew that man would sin, but God is never without a plan and a remedy suitable to fix any problem. He planned in the fullness of time to send Jesus His only Son to pay for our sins. We cannot take any credit for our salvation. God planned, Jesus paid, and our part is merely to believe and receive.
Someone asked a little boy if he had found Jesus. He answered, “I didn’t know He was lost, but I was, and He found me.” Again and again believers are spoken of as the chosen of God. Let this reality sink into your soul: you are chosen! God wants you. He accepts you. He has adopted you.
God’s Word teaches us that even if our mothers and fathers have rejected us God will take us up and adopt us as His own children (Ps. 27:10). This verse has been very comforting to me because my natural parents did not love me as they should have. Their rejection left me with a wounded soul and with dysfunctional behavior, but knowing that God chose me, adopted me, and loves me unconditionally has brought healing and wholeness to me. That same healing is available to anyone who will receive it.
In addition to choosing us, God also predetermined that He would love us. Before you or I ever arrived on planet Earth, God had already decided that He loves us with a perfect and unconditional love. We do not have to earn God’s love; He gives it as a free gift.
Has God chosen some people and not others? Absolutely not! His grace is available to all, but sadly, some will refuse to receive it. H. A. Ironside told this little story in his expository commentary on Ephesians:
When asked to explain the doctrine of election a brother once said, “Well, it’s this way, the Lord done voted for my salvation; the Devil done voted for my damnation; and I done voted with the Lord, and so we got the majority” (H. A. Ironside, Ephesians: An Ironside Expository Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1937; repr. 2007], 19).
God has already voted, and all we need to do is vote with Him. It is God’s will that all people should be saved and come to know the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).
Just as all of us desire to be chosen, we also crave to know that we are loved unconditionally. I think it is safe to say that we crave love and acceptance as a person dying of thirst would crave water. Sadly, people often look for the love they desire in all the wrong places and may even compromise their standards and moral values in order to get it. The only person from whom we can get complete, unconditional love is God. He offers it freely and abundantly at no cost to us except that we believe His promise to give it and then receive it by faith and learn to abide in it continually throughout our lives. This, of course, sounds like good news and as if it should be easy to do, but most people find the opposite to be true. Why?
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