Introduction to Ephesians- Theology and Practice
Ephesians is a wonderful book for many reasons. It is of the highest theological and practical significance of any of the books in the Bible. The Apostle soars high to the throne of God, revealing the Father and the Son and the Spirit, and then he comes down to His footstool to instruct us how to live.
This format is very instructive. When he gets around to the very practical applications, he has already spent a great deal of time on theology.
Theology is the study of God. We sometimes wrongly describe theology as the study of doctrines. Of course, doctrines flow out of our study of God but theology proper looks at the revelation of God Himself, seeking to know Him, His character and His actions. From this knowledge of God flows particular doctrines about God.
In Ephesians, we have basically three chapters of high flying theology. We are shown who God is, who Jesus is, what the work of the Holy Spirit is, and who we are in Christ. These are all indicative statements. There is only one imperative statement in the first three chapters.
An indicative statement is a statement of fact. As the name implies, it indicates a truth. It is making a statement but is not giving a command. An example would be, “God is in Heaven. Jesus died on the cross for sinners. The Holy Spirit grants us assurance.” These are all statements of fact. They are assertions but do not tell us what to do.
An imperative is a command. Let’s put these together. It is a bright and sunny day today. That is an indicative. Therefore, you should wear sunscreen to protect yourself. That is an imperative. You should. Or, do some action. Imperatives command. The second half of Ephesians, the last three chapters are full of commands.
In laying out Ephesians this way, we can see the pattern. The Apostle tells us theology. He declares who God is, what He has done, what this means for us who are in Christ. Then, having declared these truths about God, he leads on to what follows. The very first words of Ephesians 4, make this transition clear, Eph. 4:1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
Paul says, because of all these truths about God and who you are in God, Therefore, I beseech you, I command you to walk worthy. He then goes on to elucidate in great detail what this walking worthy looks like. He moves from telling us about God to telling us what to do about it.
So, we should pay attention to the pattern. Do not run ahead trying to figure out what to do before you know who God is, before you know what He has done, before you know who you are in Christ. But having learned these things, these mysteries now revealed, then press on to doing those things that God calls us to do in Christ.
Ephesus was a large major city in the Roman province of Asia, in what is now Turkey. It is estimated that its ancient population could have been as high as 300,000. It had a theatre that seated 25,000 which still stands today.
Ephesus was center of the cult of Diana, also known by the Greek name, Artemis. The Temple of Diana was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Its size dwarfed that of the Parthenon in Athens. I have seen the Parthenon and it is quite impressive. So, the Temple of Diana must have been an architectural marvel. You can imagine what worship this magnificent structure would inspire in the ancient pagan world. The temple preserved an image of Diana that was believed to have fallen from the sky.
At one time, Ephesus served as port city. However, as a result of various battles and political changes, the port was not dredged and fell into decay. In the middle ages, explorers who sought the Ancient Temple were surprised to see that the city was several miles from the sea. Furthermore, the inhabitants had ceased to remember that the great Temple of Diana had once stood here.
We should keep in mind God’s sovereignty in putting down ancient idols. The great Temple was gone, replaced by a marshy meadow and modern men who had no recollection of Artemis of the Ephesians!
Paul wrote Ephesus from prison. Paul had several stints in jail and we are not exactly sure which one is the occasion of this writing. But most likely he is writing from Rome, which would date the writing of Ephesians around 60 A.D.
In Acts 19, Paul enters into the Synagogue at Ephesus and disputed daily with the men there for a space of three months. (Acts 19:8). When they would not be persuaded, he set up in a school of one Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). He disputed daily there for two years. It was a large success and the Scriptures tell us that all Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:10).
Paul performed many miracles in Ephesus. He cast out demons and healed many. It was here in Ephesus that certain Jews sought to match Paul’s miracles. Even though they were not believers they sought to cast out demons in the name of Jesus. (Acts 19:13). The demons responded rudely. The sons of Sceva, an unbelieving Jew, were attacked and stripped naked. This caused many to fear and come to true belief in the Lord Jesus.
There was much witchcraft in the city. After the sons of Sceva incident, many came to belief and brought their books of magic arts to be burned. The value of the burned books was some 9 or 10 million dollars. Can you imagine the size of the fire? Accounting for the high cost of books in the ancient world, even at $100 per book, that is 90,000 books!
Paul was very successful in his daily disputing. After the space of two years, we are told that in Ephesus the word of God grew mightily and prevailed.
It was at Ephesus that Demetrius stirred up the crowd to riot against the Christians. This event occurred at the end of Paul’s two years there. Demetrius was angry that so many people converting to Christianity was going to shut down the idol trade. Paul had been saying that gods made with hands were not God. Demetrius was mostly concerned about his finances but he justified his greed in a religious posture. This is the way of men, to justify their sin with religious sounding words.
Acts 19: 29 And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre.
Paul desired to go into the theatre to address the men, no doubt, to tell them exactly what they did not want to hear; that idols are not god and to turn from dead idols to the living God. Paul’s friends were in fear for his life and prevented him from entering.
The Jews put Alexander forward to try to speak. He probably meant harm to Paul He tried to speak but once they realized he was a Jew, the crowd shouted for two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”
It is hard to imagine shouting this for two hours. They must have really been riled up. But we can get some sense of this even in the current Soccer World Cup. There is almost a religious fervor at these soccer matches! They can roar and chant for hours on end.
Can you imagine trying to speak against a maddened soccer crowd? How much more so if the driving issue was a starkly religious and financial one? In danger of being held accountable by the Roman armies, the town clerk was able to shut down the riot and restore order.
Paul’s Return Trip
On Paul’s return trip, he stopped in Miletus and called the elders of Ephesus to meet him. He told them, Acts 20:18-21 Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons,serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: 20 And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, 21 Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul testifies to them that he spoke both publicly and from house to house. That is both publicly and privately, Paul’s message was consistent and clear.
Ephesus in Corinthians
1Cor. 15:32 If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.
Paul mentions his fights at Ephesus when he speaks of the Resurrection of the dead in Corinthians 15. Why is this significant. He says that if there is no Resurrection then it does not make sense to fight with beasts. He is willing to be face dangers, be imprisoned and even die because he knows that death cannot separate him from Christ. To live is Christ and to die is gain. Furthermore, he knows that if they succeed in destroying his body, God will simply raise it again an imperishable body.
He does not take the occasion of the Ressurection of the body to sin. He sets the Resurrection as an encouragement to not sin. For us, the Resurrection of the body is the reason we can endure all sorts of hardships and remain faithful to our Lord Jesus.
A Waning Love
Rev. 2:1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; 2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
The Ephesians worked hard, showed patience and resisted evil. That was their heritage in coming out of a darkness. Furthermore, they stuck close to the word, testing those who claimed to be apostles. This may be a reference to those Paul mentions in Acts 20 that even from among the elders of Ephesus would arise those Acts 20: 29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. 5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
The Ephesians had lost their initial and zeal for the Lord Jesus. This is significant. At this point it seems that they are weak and in need of a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But what does the Lord say to do? Repent. They do not get to preen themselves on their consistent distinctives. They are working hard. They are standing against heretics. They are resisting moral decay. They are doing much that looks good and right. But they are in danger of being unchurched by Jesus. What is it that they need to do? They need to stir up, through repentance, their love and devotion to the Lord.
This sort of stirring is very consistent with the epistle to the Ephesians. God is declared to us as full of glory. The words soar to the Heavens and the response is a rapt thankfulness. How can it be anything less?
It is one thing to agree with God, as the Ephesians in Revelations seem to do. They still hate what God hates. But do they love what God loves? Do they love Jesus? Do they love the Word of the Lord? Do they love the gathering of the saints? Do they love righteousness? Are they losing speed? Are they running out of zealous esteem for God? How do they fix this? By doing more work? No, Jesus has already said that they work hard and endure. But if their hard work is not producing love, zeal, satisfaction and contentment in God, what do they need to do then?
The answer is that they need to repent. We may not like that answer. Why do I have to repent? I already love Jesus. Can’t you see how hard I am working for Him? Can’t you see how much I hate those who pervert the Scriptures and those who live ungodly lives while professing Christ? Yes, I see that and I commend you as Jesus does. But do you love Jesus? Are you filled with awe at what God has done in Christ? Do you rejoice at the name, work, and revelation of Jesus? Are you inspired by the cross and the tomb and the Resurrection and the Ascension and the Rule of Jesus? Do you long for His return to raise the dead and rule forever because you long to see Jesus face to face?
If not, then the answer is not more work, more endurance, more righteous obedience and more righteous hatred. The answer is to do what Jesus commands, repent and do the first works. Repent and pray. Repent and read the Bible. Repent and fellowship with the saints. Repent and contemplate the wonders of the goodness of God in Christ Jesus.
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
The Nicolaitans was a sexual cult apparently within the Christian Church. God hates the deeds of such. There is a modern day counterpart to this sort of thing in celebrating homosexual behavior. Make no mistake, God hates this and Jesus commend the Ephesians for also hating it. We, too, should hate sexual perversions.
However, we can be patient, work hard, hate what God hates and still be lacking in our first love. That is, personal and corporate devotion to Jesus Christ. That is the first thing, to be in Christ and to be filled up with the glory of it. To love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.
What does he tell them? Repent and do the first works or the candlestick will be removed. What is the candlestick? The life of the Holy Spirit. If there is no love, there is no life.
7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
If you repent in this way, God grants you the Tree of Life in the midst of the paradise of God. God desires that we posesss an everlasting zeal for the Lord. Of course, we cannot gin this up. He has to give it to us. But even though we cannot gin it up, we do appear to be able to bottle it up. We cannot get the Genie of the Spirit out of the bottle but we can cork the bottle through sinful behavior. And we can uncork the bottle through confession and repentance.