“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” —Ephesians 2:10
Overview of Ephesians
The apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians from a Roman prison around AD 60 to 62. He also wrote letters to the Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. No one knew what would happen to him as he awaited trial on trumped-up charges by opponents who hated him and his gospel preaching. Paul used the opportunity (see 5:15–16) to write four epistles, which found their way into the New Testament.
In this letter we gaze upon the lofty heights of God’s eternal plans to bless us, we marvel at Christ’s work of salvation that brings life and peace to us, and we become aware of the evil days in which the saved children of light are to live faithfully. The epistle is a theological and pastoral reflection on the nature, origin, character, mission, and future of the church.
Paul begins by detailing all the blessings that the triune God has given to the church. These are found in Christ, through whom believers are made alive and given a new dignity and destiny. Jews and Gentiles are brought into one church through the barrier-breaking peace of Christ. This gospel mystery has been entrusted to the church, which is challenged to live out its identity and calling in unity and purity.
This calling involves us putting off the old life of sin and putting on the new life in Christ, leading to profound transformation in motives, behaviour, and all relationships. In this way, the church is God’s new society, living amid the old sinful one as it stands its ground against the assault of hostile spiritual forces. Christ—the church’s Head and Groom—will ensure that the church will be victorious and inherit its future in Him.
If we receive a letter from someone with authority, we would pay close attention and read it many times to understand its message clearly. From the earliest days of the church, Paul’s letters were considered authoritative (2 Peter 3:15–16). Ephesians begins by identifying the writer as Paul (1:1).
“An apostle of Christ Jesus.” An apostle is a “sent one”; the title specifically designates a person who had seen Jesus and was appointed by Him. Paul states his credentials as an apostle of Christ Jesus. He did not write on his own authority and initiative, but on an authority that was given to him by the Lord. In Acts 9:15, the Lord said of Paul: “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name . . .”
“By the will of God.” Paul’s appointment was in accordance with the Father’s will and purpose. The phrase reminds us that the Son of God does nothing outside of or contrary to the Father’s will (Hebrews 10:7). Likewise, nothing in the will of the Father excludes the Son of God—Father and Son work together in perfect unity and purpose. This means that Paul’s appointment as apostle had heaven’s full endorsement, and therefore enjoyed heaven’s authority and resources. The recipients (“the saints”, or believers) had two addresses:
“In Ephesus.” Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor, was famous for its temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It had a grand theatre, an impressive stadium, and a bustling marketplace. It was also a centre for magic and the occult (Acts 19:19). Like many cities in the Empire, Ephesus promoted sexual immorality, greed, and idolatry (5:3–5). It was such an important city that Paul spent over two years teaching there.
“In Christ Jesus.” While the saints lived in a challenging and uncertain context, they also had a permanent address—“in Christ Jesus”. This is one of Paul’s favourite phrases. It means that our lives are to be centred on Christ and placed under His authority.
We too have two addresses: one temporary and earthly, the other permanent and heavenly. In this world we have trouble, but in Christ we have peace (John 16:33)—the peace that comes through divine grace (Ephesians 1:2). The secret of living faithfully in a troubled and troubling world is to live in Christ.
Reflect on God’s call in your life. What is your attitude to this calling (or appointment), and how are you living it out?Why is it important to remember that your permanent address is in Christ Jesus? What does it mean to live in Him? How will this help you to live faithfully and effectively in the world?