A fellow student where I study recently expressed the fact that they struggled with the letter of Ephesians as it seems ‘too spiritual’. In response a few of use sat down and each day for three days went through one chapter of Ephesians. If you also struggle, then I hope this is helpful to you. This will be a short overview of the first three chapters. Ephesians is one of the ‘prison letters’, as the apostle Paul wrote it from prison.
The Structure of Ephesians
The book can (almost) be divided down the middle, Chapters 1-3, and 4-6. The first half of the book is very much focused on theology, or ‘spiritual language’ as heard from a friend, whereas the second half of the book is very much practical living advice (not solely, there is still huge important theological concepts there, which I may write on at a later date). Here I will be running through the first 3 chapters, as these were the ones we discussed.
Ephesians 1 starts by Paul introducing himself as ‘an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God’. Paul is fully convinced that it is God’s will that he is saved, and Ephesians 1:5-6 also say that is is God’s will that we are saved. It is not often people say something is God’s will and are certain, but the fact Jesus died for us was no mistake, but fully intended.
Paul continues explaining the church has ‘every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 1:3). But what are these blessings? Well rather than telling you I would suggest going through the chapters and taking a note of every time it says ‘In Him’ or ‘In Christ’ (or an equivalent). But I will share a few: grace freely bestowed (Ephesians 1:6), forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7) and the knowing of his will (Ephesians 1:9).
Paul then prays that the church may be given a ‘spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him (that is God)’ (Ephesians 1:17). By why? so we may know: the hope to which we are called, the riches of His inheritance, the immeasurable greatness of his power displayed ion Christ (Ephesians 1:18-20). Please note, so far the important thing which is stressed is that we know these things, that we come to understand them. That we know our true identity, that we know we are called and why.
This chapter contrasts what we were before being saved, to what we are now, and by what means we were saved, and why. It starts by explaining that we were dead (Ephesians 2:1-3). Whatever we did before being a Christian we did in our death. Our very nature was wrathful (Ephesians 2:3). Even if we think we were okay, this passage tells us that we were rotten to our core. If we were good, why would we need saving? Later in the chapter Paul even writes that we had no hope (Ephesians 2:12). But don’t be downcast! This may hurt our pride, ‘I wasn’t that bad’ we may think. We were in sin. Though we aren’t anymore.
A good analogy for sin is this: If you had a car, but once every hundred times you turned left, if went right, you would not drive the car, it would be too dangerous; you’d fix it or get a new one. If you had an oven and once every thousand times you used it, it would explode, you would not use it, and by the time you realised this fault it would be too late. Even a little sin is fatal.
Now for the uplift, God loved us, with great love, even when we were dead. Even though we were broken, dead and with no hope, we were loved greatly (Ephesians 2:4-9). God was gracious to us, he made us alive when we certainly did not deserve it (Ephesians 2:5). He did all this through Jesus, we did not earn it (Ephesians 2:9). ‘But I still sin’ you may be wondering. Well, note that at the start these chapters are wanting us to know the spiritual reality: our nature is not longer of wrath, but rather it has been replaced. Whereas before we had no hope, now we have great hope as ‘we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works’ (Ephesians 2:10). Also, note the emphasis on grace here.
Verse 11 to the end is about how we were once aliens to God’s promises, but now all people (Jew and gentile), are one in Christ (Ephesians 2:15). we are ‘no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God’ (Ephesians 2:19), which is only possible in Jesus, in whom we grow together (Ephesians 2:22). The church, the dwelling pace of God, is not a place, but his people (Ephesians 2:22).
It appears than some of the people in Ephesus are confused as to how a person with all these amazing blessings is in prison. Is the government greater than God? Paul spins this concept on it’s head explaining that he is a prisoner for Jesus, for the sake of the gentiles (Ephesians 3:1). Paul is where he is because he serves Jesus, and believes he is where Jesus wants him (God had freed him from prison before in Acts 16). But even from prison Paul considers himself to have on him the ‘the boundless riches of Christ’ (Ephesians 3:8). It matters not where we are, or how we feel, these things we should know.
Paul considers himself the least of all the saints (Ephesians 3:8). Even though Paul has in his past persecuted Christians (Galatians 1:13), perhaps even being responsible for many deaths, a religious extremist, God still used him to reach people, and continued to do so even from prison. There is nobody too broken for God to restore, there is nobody God can’t use, and nowhere that God cannot use you from. You are, as the previous chapter said, ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works’ (Ephesians 2:10). We can be confident in this. Furthermore, saving us has always been God’s plan (Ephesians 3:11); this wasn’t a last minute thought, but we are made for doing good works in Jesus.
Through all this, God shows his love and grace. Paul finishes these chapters by praying that we may be strengthened in our inner being by the Spirit and that Jesus may dwell in our hearts. These things happen when we are rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 2:16-17). When we are grounded in love, we come to know these things, and they give us strength: because we trust more in the hope we have in Jesus. Love however, surpasses even knowledge (Ephesians 3:19), but when we can comprehend that fact we may be filled with ‘all the fullness of God’. In Jesus, we can do more than we ever would have dreamed (Ephesians 3:20).
Life is only freely available in Jesus, and it’s not something that can be earned. Many of us don’t know (and perhaps we will never fully know) the amazing truth of all the blessings we already have. We cannot be more blessed, as we already have every spiritual blessing. We can only boast in Jesus, we didn’t earn it and we don’t deserve it, but we can use it. Always make sure to give God the glory and the praise. Finally, I wan you to notice the use of the present tense in these chapters: once we are saved we have so much, and knowing can make all the difference.