We don’t want to be stuck in our feelings and fears.
Instead, we want to use the truth of God’s Word to combat the lies our hearts tell us.
So let’s work through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians together.
Before we start, here’s some background information to get us started.
If I’m sitting down to write a letter (or an email, this is 2019 after all) I know who I’m writing to. I want the person receiving the letter to know who it came from and why it was written. (We know this is important if we’ve had the awkward experience of sending an email to the wrong person and then tried to explain the contents!) Paul has the same concern, so he opens his letter by being clear who the letter is from, who it is to, and he also gives hints about why he’s writing.
Paul is writing to the Ephesians as an apostle – a messenger. Someone who’d been a witness to the resurrected Christ and who was now Christ’s ambassador. When Paul (as Saul) was called personally by Jesus on the Damascus Road, it was so that he could tell others the good news about Jesus. It’s this calling that brought Paul to the city of Ephesus.
When we’re communicating with people we often consciously or unconsciously tailor our message to a shared context and culture. For example, we don’t purposely make small talk along the lines of, ‘go Raptors,’ when we’re talking to Bucks fans (unless it’s the NBA playoffs – then it’s probably okay). If you don’t follow the NBA, you might wonder what on earth I’m talking about. Why would we be cheering for extinct animals instead of live ones? Why are we even cheering for animals to begin with? That’s the importance of context, right? We want to communicate in ways that the people we’re communicating with can understand. When we know we share context, we leave out details that we assume we both know. When we don’t share context, we flesh out the details we think will need explaining.
Paul is writing to people he knows well. He spent over two years with this church. He knows their city and how it influences church culture. So some of the background knowledge that would help us make better sense of Paul’s letter is assumed. Most of us probably can’t spontaneously compile a list of facts about the ancient city of Ephesus. This means we’ll have to do some digging. We live in an information age so finding information isn’t hard, but we can also use the Bible to tell us about Ephesus and Paul’s relationship with the church in it.
Because Ephesus was an important port city in the region, there was a lot of traffic coming through the city – traffic of people and ideas. As the site of the Temple of Artemis – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – Ephesus was a city steeped in magic and the occult. It had a keen awareness of spiritual powers. So isn’t it interesting that in a city which celebrated dark power, God showed Himself to be even more powerful? It was in Ephesus that God worked extraordinary miracles through Paul – items that had only touched Paul’s skin could be used to heal the sick and cast out evil spirits. (Acts 19:11,12)
Nobody likes to be on the losing end of a power struggle and the Ephesians weren’t any different. The more God showed His power, the more worried people who made idols for the temple of Artemis grew about losing their jobs. They started a massive riot. For two whole hours a large crowd shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:34) Paul’s ministry partners stopped him from entering into the thick of things and when things finally calmed down they decided that it was time for Paul to leave Ephesus. (Acts 19:21-41)
Paul continued his missionary journeys. Later, as Paul headed for Jerusalem, he went with a strong sense that he faced imprisonment and maybe even death. This didn’t stop him from going, but he asked the elders of the Ephesian church to meet him along the way for a final goodbye. Paul was sad he wouldn’t see them face-to-face again, but he knew his job was to faithfully finish the ministry Jesus Christ had called him to. His job was to tell people the good news of God’s grace in its completeness until the day he died. Paul reminded the Ephesian leaders of their job: take good care of the people under their care because Jesus had paid for their lives with His own blood, and be on guard against people who would come into their church intentionally twisting the truth of the Gospel. (Acts 20)
Paul was imprisoned after travelling to Jerusalem. He wrote the letter we’re about to read from his prison cell. So, as you tackle your reading in the coming weeks, think about the person writing the letter and the situation he was in when he wrote it. Think about the people he was writing to and the kind of city and culture they lived in. But most of all, read Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus looking for God. Who does He show Himself to be? What has He done? What is He doing? What will He do? After looking at God, look at yourself: what do you learn about yourself in what you read? What are the implications for your life, thought, and action after seeing God and you more clearly?
We’re glad you’re coming along on the journey and look forward to growing together through the pages of Ephesians!