Ephesians Bible Study ~ Week 7

What exactly does “putting on the new self” look like? According to Ephesians 4, it looks like speaking the truth, letting go of anger, helping others in need, building each other up with your words, being gentle and sensitive with each other, and forgiving as thoroughly as Christ forgave you. Can we do it? When we are in Jesus, Yes We Can!

Ephesians 4: 17-32

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A.      “Two Ways” form of instruction

Examples: Plato, Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Galatians 5:16-25

1.       Puts 2 ways of living in stark contrast, one positive and the other negative.

a. Three required components

  • Dualistic introduction
  • Lists of virtues and vices
  • Eschatological warning (eschatological = “end times”)

b. Based on the notion that conversion leads to moral renewal (Perkins, 1997)

  • Ephesians is reminding Gentiles about a proper lifestyle for a Christian
  • Presumably so they can “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [they] have been called…” (4:1)

B.      The Text

Parenesis (4:1-6:20) – advice or exhortation

Unity and Diversity: a call to maintain Christian unity (4:1-6) and the goals of Christian diversity (4:7-16)

A “Two Ways” form (4:17-5:21)

The Two Ways form: Part I (4:17-32)

General exhortations (vv 17-24)

  • What not to do (vv 17-19)
  • Why not to do it (vv 20-21)
  • What to do (vv 22-24)

Specifics of a New Life (vv 25-32)

  • 5 specific exhortations regarding specific behaviors

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[17] Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. [18] They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. [19] They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.

What are Christians not to do? (vv 17-19)
• “Walk as the Gentiles do” (cf I Pet 4:3-4)

In other words, do not have the lifestyle of an unsaved Gentile that is marked by:
• futility of the mind (cf I Pet 1:18)
• darkened understanding (cf Rom 1:21)
• alienation from the life of God because of ignorance (cf Eph 2:12)
• hardness of heart
• callousness
• given up to sensuality, greed, and every kind of impurity (cf Rom 1:24)

[20] But that is not the way you learned Christ! – [21] assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,

Why should Christians not live as the Gentiles do? (vv 20-21)
• the (unsaved) Gentile lifestyle is at odds with the walk that Jesus embodied (Talbert, p 123)

Note in v 20 that what is learned is a person.

Talbert notes that this would not have been an unusual concept for the Ephesian culture, as they viewed rulers as “the living law” (eg, Caesar). One learned the right way of living by observing the ruler in power.
Paul is referring to “learning Christ” as the totality of the Christ paradigm (Talbert, p 123).
• One learns Christ
• One is taught by means of Christ
• The truth resides in Christ

[22] to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, [23] and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, [24] and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

What are Christians to do? (vv 22-24)
• Undergo moral transformation

How?
• put off the old self
• be renewed in the spirit of [our] minds (cf Rom 1:1-2; Col 3:10)
• put on the new self

Picture the image of changing garments. The new garment (or self) is created “in true righteousness and holiness.” (v 24)

“In Jesus one sees the norm of all values. This vision produces righteousness and holiness, not debauchery and a greedy desire to practice all kinds of uncleanness.” (Talbert, p 124)

[25] Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

What does this “new self” look like?

Exhortation 1: stop lying and speak the truth

Why? Because “we are members of one another” (cf I Cor 12:12, 14, 18)

The Message: “What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.”

[26] Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, [27] and give no opportunity to the devil.

Exhortation 2: stop holding on to your anger

Why? Because this gives opportunity to the devil, or “opens one to the influence of the evil powers” (cf 2:1-2)

The Message: “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry-but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.”

[28] Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.

Exhortation 3: stop stealing and do honest work instead

Why? So that you will have something to share with those in need (cf 2 Thess 3:6-11)

The Message: “Did you use to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others who can’t work.”

[29] Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. [30] And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Exhortation 4: watch your words and what you say to each other.

Why? So that your words will only benefit one another, and so that you will not grieve the Holy Spirit.

The Message: “Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.”

[31] Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. [32] Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Exhortation 5: let go of bitterness, revenge, anger, slander, and malice and instead be tender and forgiving of one another.

Why? Because this is how Christ first acted towards us.

The Message: “Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.”

C.      The Major Issues

1.       Putting off the “old self”

a. Why does “Paul” discuss these issues at this particular point in the letter to the Ephesians?

  • An attempt to eliminate common vices that divide people
  • To further the theme of harmony and unity in the body of Christ

b. Does this passage apply to modern‑day Christians?

  • Do we see these vices in ourselves and in our own congregations?
  • How would addressing these vices help us to live in community and “do life together”

Homework for Week 8:

Read Ephesians 5:1-21 and consider the following questions:

  • Ephesians 5:1 tells us to “be imitators of God.” What does this mean to you? How do you think the original Gentile readers would have understood this exhortation in their culture and time in history?
  • The last portion of Chapter 5 and the first portion of Chapter 6 have specific examples of relationships where we can be “imitators of God” (wives and husbands; children and parents; slaves and masters). How do you think becoming “imitators of God” can help us to fulfill these roles?

Ephesians Bible Study ~ Week 6

We jumped into the wonderful teaching of Ephesians Chapter 4 tonight by discussing the themes of unity and diversity in the body of Christ. We can grow in our appreciation of each Christian’s diverse spiritual gifts when we remember that Christ’s provision of these gifts is for the growth and maturity of the body!

Ephesians 4: 1-16 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A.      Ephesians “Part II”

1.       Chapters 4-6

a. Parenesis – “using the language of exhortation in an appeal to demonstrate Christian identity in life” (Talbert, p. 39)

  • Four units: 4:1-16; 4:17-5:21; 5:22-6:9; and 6:10-20

2.       4:1-16

a. Unity (4:1-6)

  • A call to maintain the unity of the Spirit (vv 1-3)
  • The basis of this unity is 7 “unifying realities” of the Christian faith (vv4-6)

b. Diversity (4:7-16)

  • Christ’s diverse gifts are the basis of Christian diversity (vv7-11)
  • The goal of Christians’ diverse gifts are unity, maturity, stability, and growth of the church (vv 12-16)

B.      The Text

Parenesis (4:1-6:20) – advice or exhortation

Unity and Diversity: a call to maintain Christian unity (4:1-6) and the goals of Christian diversity (4:7-16)

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[4:1] I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, [2] with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, [3] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The beginning of the parenetic section of the letter is signaled by the phrase “I…urge you” or in some translations, “I…exhort you.” The word “therefore” tells us that “Paul” will base his teaching (exhortation) on what has come before (ie, Chs 1-3). In other words, because of God’s actions towards us (as described in Chs 1-3), we should therefore respond by living our lives as Christians in a certain way (as will be described in Chs 4-6).

What are we being exhorted to do?
• Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called

In other words, live in a way that is consistent with being called a Christian.

What does walking in this way look like?
A 5-fold picture:
• Humility (cf, Acts 20:19; Phil 2:3; Col 3:12; I Pet 5:5)
• Gentleness (cf, Gal 5:23; Col 3:12)
• Patience (cf, 2 Cor 6:6; Gal 5:22; Col 3:12)
• Bearing with one another in love (cf, Phil 2:2; Col 3:13)
• Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (cf, Rom 14:17; Gal 5:22)

[4] There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – [5] one Lord, one faith, one baptism, [6] one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 

Why should we be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit”?
A 7-fold basis for unity:
Because there is…
• one body
• one Spirit
• one hope
• one Lord
• one faith
• one baptism
• one God and Father

Talbert notes that there is “a Jewish ring” to the language of these verses. The element that made the Jewish people unique was their creed of a single God and their unity as a people of a single faith. Talbert states, “The 7-fold basis for Christian unity in Ephesians is an adaptation of this Jewish way of thinking.” (p. 109)

[7] But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

Beginning in v 7, the focus shifts to the relationship between unity in the church and diversity among its members. In this verse we are told that grace has been given to each one of us “according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

To fully understand this portion of Ephesians, it is important to hear the conversation going on with Romans 12:4-8 and I Cor 12:4-20. In these passages, Paul speaks about the diversity of gifts within 1 body. The perspective of both passages is that diverse gifts should be used for the unity of the whole body of Christ.

[8] Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

In v 8, “Paul” is quoting Psalm 68:18, but does not provide an exact quote. Scholars have different views on why the author did not quote Psalm 68:18 exactly, but the general consensus is that v 8 represents a “Christianization” of a Mosaic reading of that particular Psalm.

In other words, “Paul” altered the text of Psalm 68 to bring out its meaning in terms of Christ.

[9] (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? [10] He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

Beginning in v 9, the text provides what could possibly be a commentary or explanation of the quotation of Psalm 68:18.

The statement that Christ “descended” has been interpreted a variety of ways. The primary interpretation by the early church fathers was that Christ literally descended into hell or Hades while on the cross, taking with him the “captives” (cf, v 8) of death, sin, the curse, and the devil. Recall that the Apostles’ Creed states, “He descended into hell…”

Talbert believes that, since Ephesians only pictures a world consisting of 2 levels (earth and the heavens), the descent of Christ in Ephesians refers to his descent into the grave before the resurrection.

[11] And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, [12] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

Verse 11 picks up again on the role of Christ’s gifts in maintaining Christian unity by specifying that some gifts are given to certain individuals who have a large role in fostering unity in the church (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers).

God’s purpose in equipping people in these offices with spiritual gifts is to so they may in turn equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. According to Talbert, the text indicates the saints will need the guidance of people in these offices to know the proper way to use their gifts to contribute to the growth of the church.

[13] until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, [14] so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. [15] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

How long will we be working toward the growth of the body of Christ with our gifts?
Focus on inner growth:
Until we [the church] attain…
• unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God
• to mature manhood
• to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ

And what is the purpose of this Christian maturity?
• so that we may no longer be children…easily influenced by other teachings, doctrines, or even deceitful schemes
• so that we might speak the truth in love and grow up “in every way” into Christ, who is the ultimate measure of our spiritual growth.

Verse 16 tells us that Christ is not only the ideal measure of our spiritual maturity, but also the source that enables that maturity. He is the “head” from whom we are all joined together, each equipped with our unique spiritual gifts, to work together in building up the body of Christ in love.

The Major Issues

1.       Spiritual gifts

a. Biblical references for spiritual gifts: Rom 12:1-8; ICor12:8‑10, 28-30; Eph 4:11; I Pet 4:11

  • Note that the lists of spiritual gifts are not the same in these references; the lists are “illustrative” rather than exhaustive (Talbert, p. 118)

b. Organization of spiritual gifts (Fung, 1987)

Endowments for Ministry in Word

Equipment for Ministry in Deed

Gifts of gospel proclamation

            Apostles

            Evangelists

Gifts of supernatural power

            Miracles

            Healing

            Faith

Gifts of inspired utterance

            Prophets

            Discernment of spirits

            Tongues

            Interpretation of tongues

            Utterances of knowledge

Gifts of administrative leadership

            Administrators

            Pastors

Gifts of didactic speech

            Teachers/pastors

            Exhortation

            Utterances of wisdom

Gifts of practical assistance

            Helping

            Serving

            Sharing

            Caring

            Showing mercy

Homework for Week 7:

Read Ephesians 4:17-32 and consider the following questions:

The focus of this passage is putting off the “old self” and forsaking the vices that cause divisions among us.

  • Why do you think “Paul” is discussing these issues at this particular point in the letter to the Ephesians?
  • Does this passage still apply to modern day congregations of Christians?
  • With our congregation’s current focus on community and “doing life together,” do you think that we are to help each other live the “new life” described in this passage? How can we do this?

Ephesians Bible Study ~ Week 5

We finished up the first half of Ephesians tonight with a great discussion on the “mystery” of Christ as well as the implications of needing strength to understand the full dimensions of Christ’s infinite love. His riches are unsearachable and His love surpasses knowledge! Amen.

Ephesians 3: 1-21

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A.      Digression #2, Intercession #2, and a Doxology

1.       Digression #2

a. God’s power at work in Paul (3:2-13)

  • This is the second digression the author uses to discuss God’s power – the first digression addressed God’s power at work in Christ and in Christians (1:20-2:22), and the second digression addresses God’s power at work in and through Christ’s apostle Paul.

2.       Intercession #2

a. Paul intercedes for the Gentiles a second time (3:14-19)

  • This time the intercession is for the Gentile readers’ empowerment, enlightenment, and filling with the Holy Spirit

3.       Doxology

a. Praising God for His power at work in Christians (3:20-21)

  • Doxology: a hymn or verse in Christian liturgy glorifying God

B.      The Text

Salutation (1:1-2)

Prayers: using the language of worship to reinforce Christian identity (1:3-3:21)

Berakah: blessing God for blessings bestowed on believers (1:3-14)

Thanksgiving: thanking God for the readers’ faith and love (1:15-16a)

Intercession 1: asking God for the readers’ enlightenment, especially that they might know God’s power at work in them (1:16b-19)

Digression 1: God’s power at work in Christ and in Christians (1:20-2:22)

Raised through Christ: victory over sin and evil powers (1:20-2:10)

Reconciled through Christ: victory over alienation (2:11-22)

Digression 2: God’s power at work in and through Christ’s apostle Paul (3:2-13)

Intercession 2: asking God for the readers’ empowerment, enlightenment, and filling with the Holy Spirit (3:14-19)

Doxology: praising God for his power at work in Christians (3:20-21)

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[3:1] For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles – [2] assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you,

“For this reason” refers back to Digression #1, where Jew and Gentile are described as being a new humanity reconciled both to each other and to God through Christ. In verse 1 it appears that “Paul” is going to resume the intercessory prayer for the Gentiles that he began in 1:16b-19, but the prayer is again interrupted in verse 2 with Digression #2.

“Paul” begins the digression with the assumption that the Gentile readers in the region of Ephesus in Asia Minor have heard of him and the specific ministry to the Gentiles that has been given to him by God.

[3] how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. [4] When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ,

When did “Paul” write briefly about “the mystery” made known to him by revelation? He is likely referring back to 1:9‑10 (“making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for he fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”)

What does “the mystery” mean? In pre-Christian Judaism, “mystery” often referred to something hidden that is revealed by God to or through someone (cf, Dan 2:27-28)

In the New Testament, “mystery” sometimes refers to an aspect of religious tradition about which there is an element of secrecy (cf, Mark 4:11) or something in need of interpretation (cf, Romans 11:25) 

[5] which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. [6] This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The Spirit has revealed this mystery to all of the apostles and prophets, including “Paul” who is now sharing it with the Gentiles.

 What is the Christian mystery to which “Paul” is referring? That Jews and Gentiles are now part of one body making up the household of God. This is made possible through the promises fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

[7] Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. [8] To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, [9] and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, [10] so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

“Paul” reiterates that his mission to the Gentiles was a gift from God, although he is “the least of all the saints.” Recall that Paul refers to himself as a persecutor of the church (cf, I Cor 15:9, Gal 1:13) and a “blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (I Tim 1:13).

What is this mission? To “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” and to “bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things”

Why is “Paul” preaching to the Gentiles and revealing the plan for unification of Jews and Gentiles into one body (the “mystery” as defined in verse 6)? So that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

The unification of humanity through Christ is a testimony to all heavenly powers (angels, demons, supernatural rulers and authorities) that God’s wise plans and purposes are being carried out according to His will. Even angels wouldn’t necessarily know this mystery (cf, I Pet 1:12).

[11] This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, [12] in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. [13] So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

 

This universal unification plan is being fulfilled according to an eternal purpose, and this purpose has been realized in Jesus Christ.

Verse 12 reiterates the notion of “access” that was first presented in 2:18 (“For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”) This access through the cross of Christ should give us boldness and confidence in our faith.

“Paul” closes Digression #2 with what some scholars refer to as “an exercise in self-praise.” However, this self-praise is not done in an effort to be self-congratulatory. Instead, it is in the context of praising God, recognizing the purpose of ministry to the Gentiles, and raising the confidence of the new Gentile believers.

[14] For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, [15] from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, [16] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

After finishing his digression, “Paul” now continues the intercessory prayer begun in Chapter 1. Note that he first clarifies that he has taken the position of bowing his knees in prayer.

What is the nature of “Paul’s” prayer?

The request: that the Gentiles (“you” plural) might be strengthened with power through the Spirit in “our” inner being

The four-fold purpose of the request:

  • So that Christ may dwell in our hearts, rooting and grounding us in love
  • So that we may have strength to comprehend the breadth, length, height, and depth of Christ (or Christ’s love)
  • So that we may know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge
  • So that we may be filled with all the fullness of God

As Talbert says, “The goal is that believers be filled up to the level of the fullness of God…The empowering, indwelling, and filling are characterized by the experience of power and love. This is the primary Christian religious experience.” (Talbert, pp 102-103)

In Beth Moore’s study “A Woman’s Heart, God’s Dwelling Place” she compares the description of dimensions in v 18b with the description of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21:15-17. In those verses, the heavenly city is described as a perfect cube, having equal breadth, length, height, and depth, descending out of heaven from God and having the radiance of God’s glory.

[20] Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, [21] to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

The first half of Ephesians ends with a doxology praising God, acknowledging the power of God at work within us as Christians, and recognizing God’s glory.

The doxology ends with the Hebrew word “Amen” meaning truly, so be it, or truth.

C.      The Major Issues

1.       Wrap-up of “Ephesians Part I”

a. Ephesians falls into 2 main sections: Chs 1-3 and Chs 4-6

  • In Chs 1-3, the blessing, intercessory prayer, and digressions function to prepare the Gentile readers for the last 3 chapters where “Paul” will provide the main teaching of the letter.
  • God was first blessed for bestowing blessing on believers, God was then thanked for the Gentile readers’ faith and love, “Paul” then interceded on the Gentile’s behalf for enlightenment, empowerment, and filling with the Spirit, and the Gentiles have been reminded about God’s power at work in Christ, in Christians, and in “Paul” as a minister of the Christian “mystery.”

 Homework for Week 6:

 Read Ephesians 4:1-16 and consider the following questions:

  •  Scholars refer to 4:4 as stating the “seven unifying realities of the Christian faith. Do you agree with these realities? Do you agree that they are unifying?
  •  The language in 4:9-10 is somewhat controversial in the description of Christ as descending “into the lower parts of the earth.” Did Christ literally descend? If so, where?
  •  How do you see the diversity of gifts among Christian believers as aiding unity in the body of Christ?

Ephesians Bible Study ~ Week 4

Tonight we discussed the body of Christ and the reconciliation provided by the cross as part of Grace Chapel’s larger discussion currently going on about community. Ephesians describes how this reconciliation is both “horizontal” and “vertical,” which can help us recognize the many ways that God is reconciling the whole of creation to Himself. Praise the Lord!

Ephesians 2:11-22

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A.      Digression #1

1.       First part (1:20-2:10) – discussed in Week 3

a.        Focus on God’s power at work in Christ and in Christians

2.       Second part (2:11-22)

a.        Focus on Christians reconciled through Christ

  • A result of God’s power
  • Joy in being part of God’s people
  • Realization of hope in Christ
  • The realization of the intercession in 1:16b-19

b.       Christ: “the bringer of peace”

  • Readers of Ephesians in Asia Minor would have been very familiar with the idea of a “bringer of peace” considering the fame of Caesar Augustus who claimed to have brought peace to the entire Roman world. In this portion of Ephesians, “Paul” is intentionally presenting Christ the King as superior to the Caesar.

B.      The Text

Salutation (1:1-2)

Prayers: using the language of worship to reinforce Christian identity (1:3-3:21)

Berakah: blessing God for blessings bestowed on believers (1:3-14)

Thanksgiving: thanking God for the readers’ faith and love (1:15-16a)

Intercession: asking God for the readers’ enlightenment, especially that they might know God’s power at work in them (1:16b-19)

Digression 1: God’s power at work in Christ and in Christians (1:20-2:22)

Raised through Christ: victory over sin and evil powers (1:20-2:10)

Reconciled through Christ: victory over alienation (2:11-22)

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[11] Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands –

In the years of the early church, there was a very clear distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Jews viewed Gentiles as “the nations” (see also Gal 2:15) and the distinction was based on the physical act of circumcision. “Paul” is emphasizing that this was the case “at one time” (also “formerly” in some translations).

However, we know that Paul sees a difference between the circumcision of the flesh and the circumcision of the heart (Rom 2:25-29).

[12] remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. [13] But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Before Christ, the Gentiles lacked 5 spiritual privileges that were unique to the nation of Israel:

  • separated from Christ
    Before becoming Christians, Gentiles did not share Israel’s expectation of a Messiah.
  • alienated from the commonwealth of Israel
    Gentiles were not part of the people of God.
  • strangers to the covenants of promise
    Gentiles before Christ could not rely on the Abrahamic (Gen 12:1-3), Mosaic (Ex 20:1-21), or Davidic (2 Sam 7: 12‑17) covenants.
  • having no hope
    Gentiles had no hope of anything after death (cf. 1 Thess 4:13)
  • without God in the world
    Gentiles did not have a relationship with Yahweh, the one true God (Deut 6:4)

All of this has changed with the blood of Christ, which is the seal of the new covenant (cf. I Cor 11:25) that reconciles all humanity to God.

[14] For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility [15] by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,

How has Christ Jesus brought us “who once were far off” near to him? The action is two-fold.

In vv 14-15 we see that the action is horizontal:  he has “broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…” Most scholars regard this dividing wall as the Mosaic law, which caused the Jews to live in direct opposition to the nations in terms of customs and way of life. God intended for Jews to be set apart from the nations in this way.

Christ abolished this Mosaic law through the sacrifice of his flesh, thereby making peace between Jew and Gentile “in himself.” Talbert notes that in this new way, Jews don’t become Gentiles and Gentiles don’t become Jews. A third option is created that both Jews and Gentiles enter into to achieve reconciliation.

[16] and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. [17] And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. [18] For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

In vv 16-18 we see that the action is also vertical: he is able to “reconcile us both to God in one body…” (cf. Col 1:20) This reconciliation was preached to the Gentiles who were considered “far off” as well as the Jews who were considered “near.”

We have access to the Father by means of the “one Spirit” and we have access to the Spirit “through him” (Christ). Talbert notes that v 18 doesn’t say that Gentiles have somehow gained an access that earlier belonged to Jews alone, but rather that both Jews and Gentiles have a new access.

[19] So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, [20] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, [21] in whom the whole structure, being joined together grows into a holy temple in the Lord. [22] In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

We can now understand that, by virtue of the cross, the Gentiles (plural “you”) are now both 1) citizens with the redeemed (“the saints”) and 2) members of a family (“the household of God”).

This household of God is further compared to a building in the following ways:

  • built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets
    (cf. 3:5, 4:11)
  • Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone
    In antiquity, the cornerstone was the first stone laid and every other stone was lined up to it.
  • the whole structure being joined together grows into a holy temple in the Lord
    It is important to note here that the word for temple in Greek is naos does not refer to the entire temple complex, but instead to the inner sanctuary where God Himself dwells.

In v 22, the attention seems to shift from the present to the future. Talbert says, “One is led to envision a completed sanctuary indwelt by God’s presence…This is but the beginning of the summing up of all things through Christ. (1:10)” (Talbert, p. 86)

C.      The Major Issues

1.       How are we to understand the “body of Christ”?

a.        According to Ephesians:

  • Jew and Gentile are reconciled “in one body” to God (2:16)
  • Christ is head over everything for the church “which is his body” (1:22-23a)
  • Gentiles have become “members of the same body” (3:6)
  • Ephesians tells us that there is “one body” (4:4)
  • Christ equips believers for “building up the body of Christ” (4:12)
  • Christ is the head of the church, “his body” (5:23)
  • Christians are members of “his body” (5:30)

Talbert says, “In summary, in Ephesians, the ‘body of Christ’ is to be taken as a corporate entity, the people of God, the whole church.” (Talbert, p. 88)

2.       The concepts of “alienation” and “reconciliation”

a.    What can we take from this portion of Ephesians and apply to the current conversations going on at Grace about community?

  • Grace Chapel’s vision specifically mentions outreach to the “marginalized” in our community. What do you think we mean by this?

Here are a couple of blurbs from the Grace Chapel website:

“While Grace Chapel is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, we welcome all kinds of people regardless of beliefs, appearance, lifestyle, and/or socio-economic status.”

“We welcome people from all walks of life, whether they agree with our particular beliefs or not. We love a good discussion and are seekers of Truth.”

Homework for Week 5:

Read Ephesians 3:1-21 and consider the following questions:

  • Paul was evaluated differently by both Jews and Gentiles. To Jews, he was hated as a traitor. To some early Christians, he was more important than the Twelve. In other circles, he was virtually ignored. Does reading Ephesians influence your view of Paul in any way?
  • What do you think is the aim of the prayer in 3:14-21?