Have you ever wondered about questions such as: How does a person really change once they become a Christian? What is the “church” and how is it supposed to function? Why is unity so important and how do we achieve it? What does it mean for the husband to be the “head” of the home? What is a woman’s role in the home? What is a parent’s responsibility? How should we approach our work? How should we relate to our bosses? What about annoying ones? What does “spiritual warfare” mean? Does prayer affect the spiritual realm? What about our “armour” – what is it and how many times are we supposed to put it on?
Followers of Christ in the first century asked all of these questions and more. Interestingly enough, the apostle Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write a letter where he talked about each of these issues. It’s called the Book of Ephesians and the major theme is Life Together in Christ.Introduction (1:1-2)
Paul wrote this letter while he was in prison (see 3:1; 4:1; 6:20). However, there is some question as to whether the church at Ephesus was his intended audience because it lacks the kind of personal comments that Paul’s other letters contain, which is quite surprising considering that he spent over three years at Ephesus (Acts 18:9-10) and that he developed a close relationship with the church and its leaders (Acts 20:17-35). Also, some of the earliest existing manuscripts don’t contain the words “in Ephesus” in 1:1. This has led many scholars to believe that this letter may have been a circular letter intended for a number of churches in the Asian area, including, but not limited to Ephesus. In this case, it would be similar to the letter to the Colossians which Paul asked to be passed on to the church at Laodecia (Col.4:16).Praise to God (1:3-14)
After his initial greeting asking for grace and peace for his readers (1:2), Paul launches out into a lengthy detailed explanation of the reasons we have to praise the God that we worship. His words go on and on as more and more thoughts of praise to God enter his mind. Amazingly, Christians are the chosen people of God. We have so many spiritual blessings. This can only result in heartfelt worship for God’s amazing love!Paul's Prayer (1:15-23)
After this extended praise rant, Paul launches into a prayer for his listeners. He prays that the Spirit may reveal to them the hope to which God has called them, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for those who believe.Life’s Key Questions (2:1-10)
When we first meet someone we usually ask them a series of questions such as, “Hi, what’s your name? ... Where do you live? .... What do you do for work?” It is interesting to note that these simple questions tap into the deeper questions of life that each human being asks: “Who am I?”, “Where do I belong?”, and “What am I here for?” We all have an inner longing for a sense of identity, community, as well as purpose and meaning. In this passage (2:1-10), Paul addresses these three crucial questions. Our identity can be found either in Adam or in Christ. We have a natural geographical address but we also have a spiritual location which can be “in Christ.” We also are here on earth to contribute to God’s eternal purpose.The Way We Were (2:1-3)
Without God we were “dead in trespasses and sins.” In his commentary on Ephesians, William Barclay says, “The great central idea of sin is failure, failure to hit the target, failure to hold to the road, failure to make life what life was capable of becoming; and that definition of sin includes every one of us. When we understand what sin is, we are left in no doubt as to the universality of sin, and in no possible doubt of our own sin.” Without God we are trapped by the temptations of the world, the flesh (the sinful nature), and the devil. We are on a path of self-destruction. Without God, we are like zombies or corpses. We are the walking dead when it comes to spiritual things. All sin leads to spiritual death – separation from the life of God. This leads to God’s anger, which is an appropriate response to the assault that sin makes on His character and the harm that it does to our lives and the lives of those around about us. Humanly speaking, nothing can be done. We are in a hopeless condition without God.But God (2:4-5)
Paul is extremely pessimistic about our condition without God and about own ability to save ourselves BUT he is extremely optimistic about God’s great love towards us. “But God!” These two words contain the whole of the gospel and they tell what God has done by intervening into our hopeless situation. These two words can change your life. They can save your soul. BUT GOD! Why would God do this? There is only one answer: grace. Paul expresses this in four words – love (vs.4), mercy (vs.4), grace (vs.5) and kindness (vs.7). God acts this way because that is who he is.Risen in Christ (2:6-7)
Paul calls us to see ourselves and to live “in Christ” – in close relationship with him (see also Phil.1:21. Col. 3:3). The origin of this concept is the very words of Jesus himself who called us to “remain” or “abide” in him (John 15:4-5). Paul uses this phrase “in Christ” (or “in Him” or “in Jesus”) 164 times in his writings (36 times in Ephesians). Everything we long for and need is “in Christ.” This is the central message of our salvation. This union is relational and personal. Like a branch connected to a vine we are to be vitally connected to Jesus in such a way that his life flows to and through us. Through conversion by the Spirit, we are made “alive in Christ.” We now have a new nature, new desires and new power residing within us. Christianity is not just about right doctrine or a certain set of beliefs or even just having been forgiven of our sins. Christianity is Christ – Christ alive in his people, Christ in us. That changes everything.Saved by Grace Alone (2:8-9)
Salvation is by grace, through faith, and not of our own effort. Jesus does not come to reform fallen human nature. He comes to re-create us. We must be “born again.” He gives us a new nature: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” This all occurs through “faith”, which includes knowledge of the truth, a heart response (not just mere intellectual ascent), and personal commitment and trust in Christ.God’s Workmanship (2:10)
We are not saved by our “works” – by anything we did or can do. It is all of grace and there is no reason for us to boast or have a sense of accomplishment. However, God has created and saved us for a purpose, which is to “do good works”. “Good works” are things done for the benefit of God and others. They are about expanding his kingdom goodness on the earth.Sample Discussion Questions
- Discuss the relevance of the Bible to our lives today. What is different about our time and culture and what is the same?
- Have someone read aloud Ephesians 1:3-14. Discuss the kind of things Paul praises God for. How do they compare to the kind of things that we thank God for? What does this say about Paul’s focus?
- Have someone read aloud Ephesians 1:15-23. Discuss the kind of things Paul prays to God for. How do they compare to the kind of things we tend to pray for? What does this say about Paul’s focus?
- Discuss the human condition without God. Are humans well, okay, sick, or spiritually dead? How depraved is human nature? Is it capable of any good? Compare our world’s view with Paul’s.
- What does it mean practically to find our identity “in Christ” and to learn to live “in Christ” daily?
- What does “grace” mean to you? When did you first experience it and what was it like?
- The New Testament writers are passionate about followers of Christ being enthusiastic about giving their lives to doing “good works” (see 1 Tim.2:10; 5:10, 25; 6:18. Tit.2:7, 14; 3:8, 14. Heb.10:24. 1 Pet.2:12). Do you think there are specific “good works” that God has called individuals to do? If so, what are some ways we can discover them? What are some more general “good works” that we are all called to engage in?