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Life Application Bible Commentary: Ephesians
By Bruce B. Barton
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 1996 The Livingstone Corporation
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Chapter OneEphesians 1
GOD'S OVERFLOWING KINDNESS / 1:1-14
Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus and the surrounding churches to give them in- depth teaching about how to nurture and maintain the unity of the church. He wanted to put this important information in written form because he was in prison for preaching the gospel and could not visit the churches himself.
Paul, writing in Greek, wrote one long sentence from 1:3 to 1:14 (which is usually divided up in English translations). It forms the longest sentence ever found in ancient Greek. In this sentence, Paul introduced most of the themes he develops in this epistle. Paul used a technique rooted in Jewish worship known as the berakah-a form of praise. The language and style suggest influence by Hebrew psalms and hymns, which would have been significant to Paul in his spiritual upbringing. This one long sentence forms a eulogy, praising God for the blessings he has showered on believers because of his grace. These blessings come as a result of Christians' identification with Christ and the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. All of this occurred according to God's plan and purpose-his people were chosen in Christ "before the foundation of the world" (1:4 NKJV). Because it was God's plan, believers can trust that their salvation is certain-nothing can change what God has purposed. Because it was God's plan, believers also know that they were called and chosen for a purpose: to "be holy and without blame before Him in love" (1:4 NKJV) and that they "might live for the praise of his glory" (1:12 NRSV). Finally, because it was God's plan, Paul wanted his readers to understand God's ultimate purpose-"to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ" (1:10 NIV). To be in Christ means to be part of God's plan for the redemption of sinful humanity in a sin- filled world-a plan he made before the earth was created! Believers are privileged to be chosen by God, saved by Christ, and filled with the Spirit, "who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession-to the praise of his glory" (1:14 NIV). Through this eulogy, Paul demonstrated that believers have all spiritual blessings; then he prayed that they would know God intimately (1:17) in order that they might understand their past call to salvation, their future inheritance with Christ, and their present power available to them through the Spirit.
This eulogy serves to introduce Paul's letter by focusing the readers on their privileged position with God and the blessings he has heaped on them. From this beginning, Paul would teach them about unity in the church and about living as lights in their dark world.
1:1 Paul. Saul (whom we know as Paul) was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin. He was raised as a strict Pharisee (Philippians 3:5), grew up in Tarsus, and was educated under a well-known teacher, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). However, he was also a Roman citizen, a fact that he used to great advantage at times (Acts 22:27-29). Out of this diverse background, God formed and called a valuable servant, using every aspect of Paul's upbringing to further the gospel.
The Jewish name "Saul," given to a man born in the tribe of Benjamin, evoked memories of the tribe's days of glory. The first king of Israel was named Saul and came from this tribe (1 Samuel 10:20, 24-26). The Roman name "Paul" (Paulus) was a common surname (see, for example, Sergius Paulus in Acts 13:7). The name may have been a family name, or Paul may have chosen the name simply because of how close it sounded to his Jewish name. In Acts, Luke wrote, "Then Saul, who also is called Paul" (Acts 13:9 NKJV), and then used only the name "Paul" throughout the rest of the book. When Paul accepted the Christian faith and began his mission to the Gentiles, he identified with his listeners by using his Roman name. In all of his letters, Paul identified himself with his Roman name, linking himself with the Gentile believers to whom God had sent him with the gospel of Christ.
Following the style of first-century letters, Paul began his letter to the Ephesians, like all of his letters, by introducing himself as the writer. Paul used a scribe (secretary) for his letters (see Romans 16:22), dictating as the scribe wrote. Paul then often added the last few lines in his own hand to validate the document. Tertius served as Paul's scribe for Romans (Romans 16:22), as did other unnamed individuals (see 1 Corinthians 16:21; Galatians 6:11; Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:17). Paul also had people deliver these letters directly to the recipients. Tychicus probably carried this letter to the Ephesians (see 6:21-22) and may also have carried the letter to the Colossians (Colossians 4:7-9).
An apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God. NKJV Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ. Paul was not one of the original twelve disciples (later called apostles), but the risen Christ Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus and called him to preach the gospel to Jews and Gentiles (Acts 9:3-19). The apostles' mission was to be God's representatives: They were envoys, messengers, delegates, directly under the authority of Jesus Christ. They had authority to set up and supervise churches and to discipline them if necessary, which Paul did on all three of his missionary journeys and after his release from this first imprisonment in Rome.
In some letters (Galatians, for example), Paul called himself an apostle at the outset of the letter but then explained and defended his apostleship to that doubting congregation. The Ephesian church most likely had no doubt about Paul's authority as an apostle. However, Paul used the opening he commonly used in letters (see, for example, 2 Timothy 1:1) because this letter was to be circulated to other churches and congregations whom Paul had not met.
God chose Paul for special work, saying that Paul would be his "chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel" (Acts 9:15 NLT). Paul did not seek this apostleship; instead, God chose him. Thus, Paul could truthfully say that he was an apostle by the will of God (see 1:1). God selected Paul for the apostleship through the same "will" that originated the church (1:5, 9, 11; Galatians 1:4).
BY THE WILL OF GOD An apostle was a messenger, a "sent one." Paul says he was Jesus' messenger "by the will of God." If ever there was a clear-cut case of someone's not choosing God but being chosen by him, it was Paul of Tarsus. Saul, as he was then named, was a violent persecutor of the church. He was there when Stephen was martyred (Acts 7:58). He was heading to Damascus to do more harm to Christians when Jesus stopped him in his tracks. From that moment, Paul followed, later becoming Christianity's greatest missionary. Whatever sins you have committed, whatever shameful thoughts or deeds haunt your past-or present-they are minor compared to Paul's. If God's grace was sufficient for him, it is sufficient for you. Let go of your feelings of guilt or inadequacy, and leave them at the foot of the cross. Paul did, and the world has never been the same.
To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus. NIV Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesian believers (the saints in Ephesus). The Bible uses "saints" to refer to three groups in the Bible: angels, Israel, and the church (the body of believers). The word means "set apart ones." When Paul wrote to the saints in any area, he was referring to the believers there. These people were not "saints" because of any merit of their own; they were "saints" because they were set apart by God to devote themselves to the highest moral living. Paul emphasizes their dedication to God, not their personal holiness. (Of course, that personal holiness grew as they matured in their faith.) This is captured in Paul's greeting to the Roman believers: "To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints" (Romans 1:7 NIV). Thus, the word "saint" denotes both the privilege and the responsibility of all true believers.
SAINTS AND STAINED GLASS A little girl who attended worship in a place with a lot of stained-glass windows was asked what a saint was. "A saint is a person the light shines through," she replied. A saint is someone whose life-speech, actions, attitudes, relationships-points to Jesus. Does yours? The Bible teaches that all believers are saints-including you! This is not a reflection of your personal holiness but of the fact that a holy God has set you apart for his purposes. Face your day ready to treat each responsibility or each relationship as an opportunity to reflect God's mercy to others.
The words "in Ephesus" are not present in the three earliest manuscripts. Therefore, this was very likely a circular letter, meaning the name of each local church would be filled in as the letter circulated from church to church. Ephesus, the leading church in the region of Asia Minor, was probably the first destination for this epistle. Paul mentioned no particular problems or local situations, and he offered no personal greetings as he might have done if this letter were intended for the Ephesian church alone. (See, for example, his admonishing of the Galatian church in Galatians 3:1-5 and his personal greetings to people in the church at Philippi in Philippians 4:2-3.)
Ephesus was one of the five major cities in the Roman Empire, along with Rome, Corinth, Antioch, and Alexandria. Ephesus was a commercial, political, and religious center for all of Asia Minor. The population during the first century may have reached 250,000. The temple to the Greek goddess Artemis (Diana is her Roman equivalent) was located there. Paul first visited Ephesus at the end of his second missionary journey on his way back to Antioch (Acts 18:19-21). During his third missionary journey, he stayed there for almost three years (Acts 19; 20:31), obviously getting to know and love the believers there. The book of Acts records some of the events in Ephesus during Paul's ministries there:
* During his first short visit, "He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. But as he left, he promised, 'I will come back if it is God's will'" (Acts 18:19-21 NIV). Obviously, God wanted Paul to return to Ephesus.
* Upon arriving for his three- year stay during his third missionary journey, Paul met twelve of John the Baptist's disciples. Paul explained the work of the Holy Spirit and baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:1-7).
* Paul spoke first in the synagogue for three months, but the Jews refused to believe. So Paul and his followers went to the lecture hall of Tyrannus where he spoke the word of the Lord daily for two years, to both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 19:9-10).
* "God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles" (Acts 19:11 NLT), so that even those who practiced magic collected their magic books and had a huge public book-burning (Acts 19:11-20). (Magic in those days was a mixture of deception and spiritualism, not to be confused with entertainers or even gospel prestidigitators who perform "magic" for audiences today.)
* Just before Paul planned to move on to Macedonia and Achaia, a riot occurred in the city. Demetrius, a silversmith who made statues of the Greek goddess Artemis (Diana), was angry that Paul's preaching threatened his livelihood and that of his fellow shrine makers. (The more people who believed in Jesus, the less market existed for the idols.) Demetrius and the "silversmith union" managed to start a riot in the city, after which Paul immediately left for Macedonia (Acts 19:21-20:1).
* After his ministry in Macedonia, Paul wanted to get back to Jerusalem by the Day of Pentecost, so he began the coastal voyage around Asia, going south and east back to Judea. However, at a stopover in Miletus, Paul "sent a message to the elders of the church at Ephesus, asking them to come and meet him" (Acts 20:17 NLT). His words to them, recorded in Acts 20:18-35, reveal the deep love, strong fellowship, and unbreakable unity that had grown between Paul and these believers. Paul had cared for them and loved them, even cried over their needs. They responded with love and care for him, and sorrow over his leaving: "When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship" (Acts 20:36-38 NIV).
Clearly, Paul had a deep love for the church in Ephesus. His last words to the Ephesian elders focused on two items: (1) warning them about false teachers: "I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. Watch out!" (Acts 20:29-31 NLT), and (2) exhorting them to show love and care toward one another: "Help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts 20:35 NLT).
Paul apparently received reports that the Ephesian church held up well against false teachers (see discussion on 4:14). However, perhaps the love, care, and unity Paul had called for were lacking. Thus, this letter speaks much of love and unity and the outworkings of these in relationships in the home and in the church. Paul knew that such teaching was needed not only in Ephesus but in every church-again pointing to the probable circular nature of this letter. Indeed, Paul's words applied in Ephesus and in all the Asian churches-and they apply to our churches today.
Paul also referred to the believers in Ephesus as the faithful in Christ Jesus. As opposed to the church in Galatia, which had, for a time, turned away from the faith, Paul commended these believers for remaining faithful and rejecting false teaching.
While these believers were "in Ephesus" (or in neighboring congregations), all believers are "in Christ Jesus." Jesus Christ brought a new relationship between God and people-we have a relationship with God only because of Christ Jesus and only because we are "in" him through our belief in him. In fact, Paul used this phrase (or a variation of it) twelve times in the first fourteen verses as he stressed the unity all believers should have because of their common bond in Christ. Not only do believers have faith, they are also faithful; however, it is only when believers are "in Christ Jesus" that they can be faithful. Faithfulness is possible only in Christ.
O COME, ALL YE FAITHFUL "Faithful in Christ Jesus"-what an excellent reputation! Such a label would be an honor for any believer. What would it take for others to characterize you as faithful to Christ Jesus? Hold fast to your faith, one day at a time; faithfully obey God, even in the details of life. Then, like the Ephesians, you will be known as a person who is faithful to the Lord.
1:2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. NKJV "Grace" means God's undeserved favor. It is through God's kindness alone that anyone can become acceptable to God. As Paul will write later in this letter, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (2:8 NKJV).
"Peace" refers to the peace that Christ established between believers and God through his death on the cross. True peace is available only in Christ. Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27 NIV).
Paul used "grace and peace" as a standard greeting in all of his letters (see, for example, Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3). He wanted his readers to experience God's grace and peace in their daily living. In these two words, Paul combined expressions from Jewish and Gentile customs. Jews wished one another "peace" (eirene or the Hebrew shalom); Gentiles wished each other "grace" (charis). Already Paul was underscoring the unity of all believers-Jews and Gentiles alike-by using greetings common to both groups.
Excerpted from Life Application Bible Commentary: Ephesians by Bruce B. Barton Copyright © 1996 by The Livingstone Corporation. Excerpted by permission.
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