Paul had often written to Christians in various churches in order to correct various misunderstandings and to provide specific forms of exhortation. The time had come to systematically lay out his insight into the mystery of the Gospel. The result is the letter to the Ephesians.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is the tenth book in modern editions of the New Testament. Paul is listed as the only author (Ephesians 1:1); we have no basis upon which to ascertain whether he wrote it personally or he dictated it to an amanuensis. Pauline authorship of Ephesians is disputed among many in scholarship; many suggest it was written by a later disciple of Paul; the fact that it is seen as emanating from Pauline circles betrays recognition of consistency with other Pauline letters. We can understand any differences in style in terms of Paul’s age or distinction in purpose of writing. In most manuscripts Paul is said to write to the saints “at Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1); in some manuscripts “at Ephesus” is not present. Some suggest that Ephesians is actually the companion letter to Colossians which was sent to the Laodiceans (Colossians 4:16); others suggest Ephesians is an encyclical letter, containing the same substance and sent to multiple churches, and the version sent to Ephesus has been preserved for posterity. Whether written only to the Ephesians or as an encyclical, the letter is notable for its lack of specific application of its substance to its particular context; we cannot assume that Paul wrote regarding specific challenges in Ephesus based on what we can know with any level of certainty. Paul considers himself a prisoner (Ephesians 3:1), and associations in content between Ephesians and Colossians has been consistently noted; it is likely, therefore, that Paul wrote Ephesians around 59-60 CE, the same time as Colossians, most likely while imprisoned in Caesarea (cf. Acts 24:1-26:32). Paul wrote to set forth his understanding of the mystery of the Gospel of Christ, encouraging Christians to stand firm in the faith and its practice.
After a standard epistolary greeting (Ephesians 1:1-2), Paul described his overall understanding of the mystery of the Gospel: God’s great work in Christ, the work of God in salvation, and His purposes in the church (Ephesians 1:3-3:21). In one long Greek sentence Paul began by praising God for His love and grace manifest in the election, predestination, and salvation of believers in Christ as the church unto sanctification, sealed with the Spirit (Ephesians 1:3-12). Paul spoke of how he gave thanks for Christians and prayed for them to better understand the great salvation God wrought in Christ who was given authority over the church (Ephesians 1:13-23). Paul turned to the believers themselves and explained their condemned standing before salvation in Christ, how in Christ they were saved by grace through faith, not saved by works but saved in order to do the works God appointed them to do (Ephesians 2:1-10). Paul then specifically addressed the standing of Gentile believers and how Jesus reconciled both Jews and Gentiles into one body by killing the hostility on the cross; in the one body Christians all have access in the Spirit to the Father, built together as a holy Temple, founded on Christ the chief cornerstone and the foundation of the revelations given to the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:11-22). Paul then set forth his reason for writing, for the Christians to understand his insight into the mystery of the Gospel, not revealed previously, but now manifest through the other apostles and himself, that Gentiles are fellow-heirs with Jewish believers in Christ, that God’s wisdom is made manifest to the heavenly powers and principalities in the church according to His eternal plan in Christ (Ephesians 3:1-13). Paul prayed for Christians to receive strength from the Father through the Spirit to discern the greatness of the love of Christ, to be filled with God’s fullness, and for the God who is able to do well beyond what we can imagine be glorified in the church forever (Ephesians 3:14-21).
Paul devoted the second half of his letter to practical exhortations in light of the mystery of the Gospel (Ephesians 4:1-6:24). Christians should walk worthily of their calling, giving diligence to maintain the unity of their bond in the Spirit; Paul emphasized the oneness of God, the Lord, and the faith; God gave grace to each; God has filled all things in Christ (Ephesians 4:1-10). Paul described the reason for offices in the church and the work of the church: to equip Christians for ministry and for all to grow to maturity in building up the body of Christ in love (Ephesians 4:11-16). Christians thus ought not to walk as they did when among the Gentiles, but to have their minds renewed in the faith unto repentance, speaking truth and not lies, working to maintain healthy relationships in the faith, walking in love, not partaking of evil (Ephesians 4:17-5:14). Christians must recognize the time is short, redeeming the time, not walking in drunkenness, but according to the Spirit, singing, praying, and giving thanks (Ephesians 5:15-22). Paul then spoke to Christians in terms of the various roles in their lives: comparing husband and wife with Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:23-33), exhorting children and parents (Ephesians 6:1-4) as well as slaves and masters (Ephesians 5:6-9). He exhorted Christians to stand firm and spoke of the faith in terms of a military conflict with the forces of evil: pieces of armor as the elements of the faith, standing firm against the assaults of the Evil One (Ephesians 6:10-20). Paul assured the Christians that Tychichus would tell them of his affairs; he concluded with a standard epistolary conclusion (Ephesians 6:21-24).
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has sustained and comforted Christians ever since; from it we gain great insight into God’s great salvation of believers in Christ, His eternal plan manifest in the church, and how we are to serve Him and glorify Him in this life. May God grant to us the ability to understand the great love He has manifested toward us in Christ to His glory!
Ethan R. Longhenry