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Ephesians at a Glance

Ephesians at a Glance

by The Reverend Dr. Roman D. Roldan on June 26, 2024

TLDR: Ephesians is a short and powerful letter that has a great deal to tell us in these divisive and troubled times. Please read below for a brief summary of the letter.

The Church to whom Ephesians was written was a network of small home churches ranging in number from four or five to as many as twenty people in size. N.T. Wright and others believe this letter was written by Paul from prison in Ephesus around the time he wrote Colossians and Philemon (AD 61). The authorship of the letter has been challenged by some because of differences in style, vocabulary, and theology. Wright and others dispute these challenges by affirming that rather than a specific letter to a specific church, Ephesians appears to be a circular letter. In other words, this letter was meant to be copied and shared with other congregations in a specific area and beyond. It is for this reason that the language appears to be a bit more generic, not addressing specific issues at a specific church. In fact, many believe that Ephesians is the letter to the Laodiceans mentioned in Colossians 4:16, “And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea.”  Circular letters were written “to the churches” or to the Church, plural. This accounts for most of the differences some critics use to oppose Pauline authorship.

Ephesians is divided into two sections. In Chapters 1-3, Paul makes the following argument: For a long time, “Gentiles were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (2:12). But God in his infinite mercy destined the Gentiles “for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will.” (1:5). For Paul, this was God’s plan since the Fall of humanity, “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (1:10.) The result of that adoption is a new creation, “You who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (2:12-13). The Gentiles are no longer strangers and aliens, “but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” (2:19). Now, salvation for the Gentiles, as for the rest of the Christians, is based on pure grace and not on the works of the Judean law, “He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace” (2:15.)

In Christ the true reconciliation of opposites has taken place and a new, perfected, humanity has been born. The Church is the new place of peace in which this new humanity is called to live. As Wright puts it, “The Church is the small working model of new creation.” The Church is now what God intends for the Cosmos as a whole. In the Messiah, and within the Messiah’s family, all marks of distinction end, and a new common identity is given to the new creation who will inherit God’s kingdom.

Ephesians 4-6 could be described as a “therefore” in light of the adoption, new identity, and new status now enjoyed by the Gentiles in Christ. It is as if Paul is saying, “Because of everything I have said thus far, you must live the following way…” What comes next is a series of lists which are typical of Paul, “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (4:1-3). This unity is important because, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (4:4-6). Anything that divides the Church breaks the “One in Christ” status of the body.

The recipients of the letter are a new creation in the Messiah and for this reason, they must “clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (4:24). This new clothing will require that they abandon the imperatives of their old selves as they live fully into their “new self” nature. They must be a new creation who led lives that honor God and their neighbors. Paul then gives them specific instructions to avoid lying, anger, evil talk, stealing, etc.: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (4:31-32).

Ultimately, belonging to the Messiah requires a lifestyle of love, a commitment to the truth of the Gospel, and a heartfelt decision to love others as Christ has loved us. “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil… Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit… giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (5:15-20). From here, Paul gives specific instructions for how members of a household must treat each other, especially people who live in the household or depend on it for their survival. Lastly, Paul encourages the Gentiles to put on the full armor of God that they may be able to defend themselves from the spiritual warfare of their day. The Letter ends with this benediction, “Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ.” (6:23-24).  

This is it, Ephesians in a nutshell. I encourage you to read this short and powerful letter which has a great deal to tell us about the Church and how to live in these troubled times. May our Lord continue to bless you.

Fr. Roman+

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