A question we may ask is: why study Ephesians as we are studying the truth of 1 Timothy 3:15 on how one ought to behave in the household of God, the church, that is a pillar and buttress of the truth?
First, the correspondence from Paul to Timothy was written to Timothy as he shepherded the church at Ephesus, and what Paul wrote was not so Timothy-focused that it excluded the Ephesian Christians. We have worked hard to show how the instruction to Timothy also applies to the church at Ephesus.
Second, Paul spent significant time with the Ephesians (Acts 19-20) and made many disciples in Ephesus. Since Paul writes to Timothy in shepherding the people Paul so passionately served, it makes sense to also study the instruction Paul wrote to this church that was so important to him.
Third, the church at Ephesus finds itself on the frontier of the kingdom’s work in The Great Commission in Acts as the Kingdom (Christ’s rule and authority) advances.
The kingdom of God is powerful. Tim Keller defines the kingdom as, “…the renewal of the whole world through the entrance of supernatural forces. As things are brought back under Christ’s rule and authority, they are restored to health, beauty and freedom.” Father’s supernatural work is at hand and the good news of the Kingdom is running and advancing and it is powerful.
The kingdom is like microscopic yeast in dough. The yeast does its fascinating work under cover until it makes this glorious lump of goodness. The rule of Christ and his gospel is powerful. The gospel of the kingdom makes disciples. Disciples multiply inside the domains of society. From these domains of society the church grows. Kingdom / Disciple / Society / Church.
Ephesus epitomizes this glorious reality of the church naturally growing from a domain of society because the gospel of the kingdom was making disciples.
Paul passes through Ephesus (Acts 19:1) and finds some disciples. No doubt this is due to Priscilla and Aquila and Apollos preaching and teaching, but apparently, there have been people transformed by the gospel but not through direct discipleship, but transformed, and they are gathered and Paul finds them and begins to disciple them and the people get to experience an “end of the earth Pentecost” as it were (note that all the Acts 1:8 places the gospel of the kingdom advances to gets to experience a little of the Jerusalem Pentecost that validates the gospel’s message in that part of the kingdom’s advance; its not normative prescription but mission validation). Paul then launches a 2-3 year ministry in Ephesus.
What if the gospel of the kingdom is making disciples under our nose and we simply ride the wave of the kingdom to starting a new campus (es), see new ministry birthed, children adopted and folded into our fellowship, racial reconciliation through multi-ethnic pastors serving together on the same team and so forth? This is reality. The Spirit has already been at work preparing people and locations and holy desires for the rule of Jesus Christ. We need to see the glories of this kind of work up close in the book of Ephesians.
What if the gospel of the kingdom is making disciples in our people group and we simply ride the wave of the kingdom and hold out our hands to receive the fruit of the harvest? What if Father is at work in ways that by-pass our understanding of how things normally work?
Ephesus was like that. Jesus, the ruler of the universe, seated in the heavenly places, has placed us with him there in our great salvation. The kingdom is advancing under the direction of King Jesus, and we his people are recipients of a mission that is powerful and supernatural and working and we’ll get a glimpse of that in our study of Ephesians.
Finally, Kent Hughes summarizes “why Ephesians?” better than me when he says, “…we will see…furthermore the grand theme of Ephesians and its dual focus on Christ and on the church – the “mystery” of “Christ and the church” (5:32). The theme is clarified when we compare it to that of Colossians. Colossians explains Christ’s person and work in relation to the whole universe – the Cosmic Christ, whereas Ephesians explains what the Church’s cosmic role is as the Body of the Cosmic Christ. Ephesians reveals the position and job description of the church in effecting God’s new order (kingdom of God) . It answers the question, what does it mean to be in Christ, and what does this demand of us?
Because Jesus rules the kingdom’s advance we have a role in Jesus’ work in his supernatural kingdom. We need to see this and taste this.
But, the question we may ask is not what we will do with Ephesians, but the question is what will Ephesians do with us? To ask it another way, what supernatural power of the kingdom will Father unleash as we understand and engage in the work of the kingdom?
Let’s get a look at the grand landscape of Ephesians through some highlights of the text:
1. Ephesians shows us an example of the supernatural work of the Kingdom of which we are a part (Acts 18:18-20:38)
We learn that Father used the faithful service of his faithful workers to expand the Kingdom, but we also see that Jesus had gotten there before them through some means and there were people who were gathered and waiting on further instruction.
Let us not think that the kingdom’s advance hinges on us alone. Jesus assumes the responsibility of advancing his supernatural work and he will get it done. Our job is not making things happen. Our job is abiding in him and reaping the fruit of his labor.
The question is not whether Jesus is at work in Rome or in our people group. The question is whether we have eyes that see and hands and feet seeking to be in the harvest Jesus is preparing. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, the Lord said. So, I believe there is not a lack of harvest but a lack of laborers.
Laboring in the kingdom is not the same as simply attending church services. Are we fighting sin in our own lives? Are we fighting sin in our culture? Are we addressing the fall in our town? Are we actively growing in the faith? Are we actively becoming more aware of the leading of the Spirit and his prompting to work? Are we growing in our awareness of being completely his instrument in every moment of every day? Are we actively engaging our Spirit gifting in serving the body and advance of the kingdom? Are we actively making disciples?
Ephesians may reveal the supernatural work and our part in that work and this study may mobilize many laborers to be involved in the harvest.
2. Ephesians shows us our spiritual blessings in Christ (Ephesians 1)
Our election to justification 1:4
Our election to adoption as children 1:5
Our redemption and forgiveness of our trespasses 1:7
Our knowledge of God’s mystery and purpose set forth in Christ to unite all things in Christ 1:9-10
Our obtaining of our inheritance due to Fathers good predestining work 1:11
Our sealing with the promised, indwelling Holy Spirit as the guarantee of obtaining our inheritance (the earth) 1:13-14
3. Ephesians shows us the lavish grace of God to save us when we could never save ourselves (Ephesians 2:1-9)
As dead creatures due to the fall, we followed after Satan. But Father being rich in mercy made us alive with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly places so that he may show us the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness. Wow!
This salvation required faith, and he graciously bestowed on us as a gift what he required of us so that none of us can boast that we generated that faith.
When we stand before Christ at the restoration of all things none of us will brag that we believed due to our superior seeking of Christ, unlike our lost friends who failed to do so.
We will fall on our faces and give thanks that he rescued us when we were not seeking rescue.
4. Ephesians shows us that we are his workmanship created for good works that he has prepared for us already (Ephesians 2:10)
The glorious reality is that we were created for good works and we don’t have to go make those good works up. Jesus made us for good works that he prepared for us to do.
I’m convinced that this is the unique wiring Jesus put in each of us. We are to go after our gifting and wiring and Psalm 37:4 desires that he put in us in order to take that discipline and gifting’s domain under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. For example, God made some of us teachers. Jesus prepared the good work of my job for me, and it is my task to bring the domain of education/teaching under the lordship of Jesus Christ not just in name but also in practice.
5. Ephesians shows us the reality of the unity we possess in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22; 4:1-16)
Segregation of the body of Christ in race and age is NOT Christ honoring and defeating for the body of Christ. Our unity among age and race is a purchased gift by Christ and the possession of that gift is ours for the grasping if we will simply but with much difficulty learn to do life together outside of our cultural preferences and do life together under the values of God’s kingdom.
We have to ask ourselves what the kingdom looks like and all of us must reach for that as our preference with our cultural distinctions second but still in tact.
When we get to the Revelation we see all nations gathered before Christ, but we see all nations. The distinctions are in place. However the distinctions come together under the banner of the exaltation of the King of the nations, Jesus.
What would it look like for a fellowship in Rome to look Black, Hispanic, Asian and White with the leadership as multi-cultural as the body? Is this possible? Not only is it possible, it is available if we seek the kingdom.
How do we do this? We’ll talk about that as we move through Ephesians. But it won’t be comfortable.
6. Ephesians shows us the reality that God is able to do far more than we can imagine because of the supernatural power of the kingdom at work in us (Ephesians 3:20-21)
This instruction comes after Paul talks about the fact that through the church God is making known the multi-faceted wisdom of God in the heavenly places to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. So, Paul tells them not to lose heart over what he is suffering. So, somehow, in Paul’s suffering and in the church’s work God’s wisdom is being put on display. Who can do this? Who can handle that? That’s heavy stuff.
Fear not! Father is able to do far more than we can fathom!
Listen, our job is abiding in Christ. Jesus’ job is producing fruit. Our job is to remain faithful. Jesus job is making is effective. And he can do far more than I am willing to give him credit for in my fretting and worry.
Our worries and fears are to melt into confidence that if we do God’s work in following his way then he will do more than we bargained for. That sounds like a win!
7. Ephesians shows us the precious nature of the church to Christ Jesus through the institution of marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33)
The church is not throw away and attendance and engagement in the church is not optional. So much of the church is demeaned and replaced with other vehicles or simply neglected because our pragmatic worldview won’t allow us to imagine there are spiritual implications at stake through the church beyond what I can see and feel.
To combat this the Father created marriage as an institution. Marriage displays the mystery of Christ Jesus and his bride, the church. Therefore, we don’t mistreat the church and we don’t demean marriage. The church upholds the institution as a living display of the gospel and the gospel defines and upholds marriage.
Don’t think that the church, despite appearances sometimes, is irrelevant. She is the beloved bride of Christ Jesus and we dare not abandon her for something else.
8. Ephesians shows us the war we engage in as we do the supernatural work of the kingdom (Ephesian 6:10-20)
Finally, this work will be a spiritual struggle. Don’t expect life in the church and work in the church to be a picnic. This work is war!
Satan hates us and will mobilize the hounds of hell to come against us and the work of Christ.
Apathy, lack of knowledge, a theology built on anything except Scripture, fear, worry, misplaced priorities and values, abused resources, wrong understanding of our position in Christ, false understanding of who we are in Christ, false understanding of the Father’s care for us, frustrations, and so on can be battering rams of the Evil One.
The external conflict we see and experience is only symptomatic of the fact that we are not wrestling against flesh and blood. But we do wrestle with the principalities and rulers of darkness in the heavenly places.
Ephesians will challenge our naturalistic worldview. There is just more in play that what we see with our eyes. We need our discernment sharpened, Scripture reading/study tightened up and our prayer closet life intensified.
The kingdom is here and is coming fuller each day. The question for us is: are we doing the work of the kingdom or are we fighting against the advance of the kingdom either inadvertently or overtly and just need to repent?
Worship is always a good indicator of where we are. Psalm 50:23 “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to the one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God.” Come and offer thanks in song by singing of the Father’s greatness. If you can’t offer thanks with the people of God, then what repentance needs to happen? Offer thanks by repenting. But don’t leave without having made much of Jesus Christ in thanksgiving either by worshiping with the people of God or repenting among the people of God.
Either one (thanksgiving through congregational worship / repentance) is a grievous blow to the enemy!