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NT Survey 111 Seminar 11 Ephesians

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Andrew Hodge                                                                                                       8th June 2007

New Testament Survey NTES 111

Seminar 11


General References:

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians

Irving L. Jensen Jensen’s Survey of the New Testament 1981, Moody Press, Chicago Ch 14

Guthrie, Donald  New Testament Introduction  Apollos, Leicester, England 4th Ed  1990 Ch 13

Libronix DLS: searches, additional material, footnote references, etc

Survey the authenticity of the Epistle:

            Jensen - in my view wisely - does not specifically devote any space to this, whereas Guthrie feels bound to present a controversy raised by others who think Ephesians is “only a reproduction of Pauline themes by another mind”.[1] He then devotes pp 496-528 to exploring this issue - more than half of his total treatment of the Book. Along the way, as before in his liberal rationality, he disregards the concepts of Divine inspiration and literal historico-grammatical exegesis, creating and destroying straw-men arguments and allowing consideration of clear foolishness.

            To his credit, in the end he concludes with: “To maintain that the Paulinist out of his sheer love for Paul and through his own self-effacement composed the letter, attributed it to Paul and found an astonishing and immediate readiness on the part of the church to recognize it as such is considerably less credible than the simple alternative of regarding it as Paul’s own work.” [2] And  “When all the objections are carefully considered it will be seen that the weight of evidence is inadequate to overthrow the overwhelming external attestation to Pauline authorship, and the epistle’s own claims.” [3] Note that he places the greatest emphasis on external evidence.

In my view the best evidence occurs internally. The following is a distillation of Jensen’s point of view, as I understood it:

            Paul identifies himself by name as the writer twice within the Letter - 1:1 and 3:1 - but refers to himself as “I” a further 12 times. Style and content internally, and tradition externally support Paul as the writer (Jensen p 313).

In the letter to Philemon, Paul describes himself as ‘the aged’; he would have been about 65 when he wrote during this period of imprisonment (Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, Philippians) around 61 AD. Paul ministered in Ephesus between 52 and 55 AD and he knew that when he left there toward the end of the third journey that he would not be returning (Acts 20:25). And so it was; when he reached Jerusalem he was arrested and ultimately taken to Rome. There is no scriptural or traditional suggestion that he travelled into Asia again, even between his two final episodes of imprisonment.

There is no reason given in the Epistle that Paul is writing to correct a specific problem in Ephesus (ie in a similar manner to Colossians [heresy], 1 Corinthians [internal strife], 2 Corinthians [false accusations], and Galatians [false doctrine] Jensen pp 315-316).

The relationship of Ephesians to Colossians (possibly similar to that between Galatians and Romans) suggests that both letters were written regarding the same Colossian problem - from positive and negative viewpoints respectively, establishing the authenticity of both Books. Jensen supposes, not unreasonably, that Paul was concerned about the concurrent doctrinal heresies in the nearby church at Colossae - Colossians was written at about the same time to counteract such heresy (Jensen p 316).

The letter to the Ephesians would eventually do the rounds to all the local churches in Asia; Jensen usefully takes the trouble to chart the similarities between Ephesians and Colossians (Chart 83 p 317). He also compares Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians in Chart 84 (p 318). Jensen clearly has no doubt about the authenticity of all these books.

Ephesians addresses the Christian’s basic need for spiritual growth and it does so by (1) increasing awareness of the Christian’s relationship to Christ, and His ministry to them through the Holy Spirit and (2) the practical day-to-day experience of walking by faith (Jensen ibid). The fact that the Letter serves the same purpose today is itself an evidence of its authenticity.

Given the circumstances of writing - ‘house arrest’ almost certainly included times of being chained to Roman soldiers (Acts 28:16, 20) - Paul had opportunity to meditate on heavenly things in worship and praise; Jensen (ibid) states that Ephesians “is the sublimest of all Paul’s epistles and has been called ‘The Grand Canyon of Scripture’“.

In a sense, all of Paul’s letters are individually unique, but Ephesians contains words and phrases not found in any of his other letters, and 42 words (doctrinally important) not found in any other NT book (Jensen p 317). This viewpoint is in marked contrast to some sources in Guthrie, who make a big deal out of the similarities between Ephesians and Paul’s other writings, especially Colossians, and accuse him of plagiarism.

This freshness indicates to me that Paul was still growing spiritually, God was still using him to communicate new revelation, and that Paul was excited about being used in this way, in spite of his external circumstances. That Paul is the writer seems beyond contradiction. However, even if he was not (eg Hebrews), the inspiration of God shines through and overshadows all such distractions. What a joy it is to have a “primitive faith”!

Trace the destination of the Epistle:

Jensen (p 313) “It is generally held that the prison epistles were written at Rome, during the imprisonment of Acts 28. Some advocate either Caesarea or Ephesus as the place of writing”. Rome clearly makes the most literal and historical sense based on the imprisonment of Paul at the presumed time of writing, and his references to his imprisonment within this Letter (Ephesians 3:1, 4:1, 6:20).

Allegorising Paul as ‘the prisoner of Christ’ in a spiritual sense rather than as ‘the prisoner of the Romans’ in a physical sense (3:1 and 4:1) is balanced by 6:20 where he is described as “an ambassador (ie spiritual mission) in bonds (ie physical restraints)”, these latter being house arrest for about two years, physically guarded by a Roman soldier and at times held in a light chain. [4] It is perhaps not impossible that both views could be accepted.

            It would appear completely superfluous to write to the Ephesians from Ephesus, and there is no scriptural warrant for Caesarea, particularly when the redactor of the postscript states that it was from Rome by the hand of Tychicus - two items of information that, although not scripture, together suggest that this is what actually happened.

            Jensen gives two main views as to the destination of this epistle (p 314). It might be considered laudable to define the intended readership of letters such as Ephesians very closely so that interpretation can be made very specific. On the other hand, if interpretation is restricted to the specific original readership, application of doctrine and practice might not be made to others when it would be appropriate to do so.

            The content of Ephesians, written by God and contained within the preserved canon, has much that can be applied outside the readership of a specific church or region. This is not a reason for disregarding the issue of whether or not the letter was intended for a relatively small group, but it does make the definition of that group less critical.

            The two main views regarding destination are (1) The Church at Ephesus and (2) ‘a circuit of various unspecified churches’ (Jensen p 314). Internal evidence used to support (1) is 1:1 (which to me seems definitive), and the assumption that a specific group is in mind in 4:17 and 6:21-22. This is supported by the use of the words “ye” or “you” 52 times throughout ie Paul knew exactly who he was writing to (the church at Ephesus is presupposed). External evidence for (1) is the traditional title given the Book by the early Church fathers - “To Ephesians”.

            Internal evidence for (2) is that “the epistle as a whole lacks the usual Pauline greetings, and so appears to be a circular letter” (Jensen p 314). The same situation applies to Galatians (which is clearly Pauline on other grounds - see Seminar 10) hence this observation is not helpful. External evidence to support (2) cited by Jensen (ibid; footnote 4) is “that some important ancient manuscripts omit the phrase ‘at Ephesus’ in 1:1” which if credible would be a significant blow against the argument that the letter went to the church at Ephesus.

These manuscripts are the Sinaiaticus and Vaticanus (4th C) and the Chester Beatty papyri (3rd C), primarily used as the basis (Alexandrian family, employed by Westcott and Hort) for the multitude of modern translations available today. The KJV is based on the Byzantine family of manuscripts and is therefore less divergent from the original autographs 4a.

            On his way back to Jerusalem on the final leg of his third journey, Paul addresses the Ephesian elders at Miletus and mentions the three years he laboured among them. In that three years he is thought to have ministered to the congregations round about Ephesus as well as in the city itself (Jensen Map V p 337) and it may be that the Letter addressed to the Ephesians was also intended for the region.

            To these Guthrie adds the following suppositions regarding destination and purpose (pp 528-535):

  • The epistle was sent to Laodicea
  • The epistle was Paul’s spiritual testament
  • The epistle was an introduction to the Pauline corpus
  • The epistle was intended as a philosophy of religion for the whole Christian world
  • The epistle was a general safeguard against the spread of the Colossian heresy
  • The epistle was a combination of a liturgy and a Pentecost discourse

To support these, Guthrie appeals to “the generally reliable Alexandrian tradition”, Marcion’s (the heretic) view of Ephesians (relating to the Laodicean destination), and other suppositions eg that the letter was intended as a regional circular letter, intended to return eventually to Ephesus from where it was written. To be fair, Guthrie does not agree with most of these arguments and provides reasons why not.

            For the moment I have assumed that the complete message of Ephesians is in no way affected by opinions concerning its precise destination. Most of the opinions given above regarding this focus on just one aspect of the Book.

            The city of Ephesus itself was regarded as the principal city of Asia although Pergamum in the North was the capital. It was one of the three principal sites of international trade (with Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria) and was a haven for the arts and sciences (Jensen p 314) rivalled only by Corinth. The worship of the goddess Diana was widespread and her Temple (size, grandeur, riches and practices) was world famous (Acts 19:21-41). Other idolatries were Emperor (Augustus) worship and witchcraft. Paul’s ministry against all these was successful (Acts 19:17-20).

            The Church at Ephesus was still young when Paul wrote this letter to them - they were converted under his ministry in 52-55 AD and he wrote in 61 AD. Together with the social and economic importance of the city and the time that Paul spent in ministry there, the Church became the ‘mother’ for the surrounding local churches (eg the developing seven churches of Revelation 1-3 of which Ephesus is mentioned first - Jensen Map V p 337) and by the end of the first century AD in the time of the apostle John, Ephesus had become the missionary centre of Christianity, having succeeded Antioch in Syria, which had succeeded Jerusalem (Jensen p 315).



Evaluate the greetings and thanksgiving at the beginning of the Epistle 1:1-23:

            Two observations might be made about 1:1-2. First, Paul baldly states that he is “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God”, no longer needing to support his authority with any argument, nor name-dropping any other individual to endear himself to his readers; and second, he does not address the Ephesians with specific terms of endearment as he does in most of his other communications, preferring instead to lump them all together as “the saints which are at Ephesus”.

Perhaps this reflects the Holy Spirit’s intention for the letter - the communication of revelatory truth and instruction in Christian living in general, not the correction of any specific personal problems threatening the new Church in a single place. This is supported by the short concluding benediction, again without mentioning specific individuals which are sometimes profusely represented in the conclusions to other Letters eg Romans, 1 Corinthians.

Jensen makes the important division in the book clear: Chh 1-3 describe what we have in Christ and Chh 4-6 show how this must be worked out in the life of each Christian - doctrine followed by practise (Chart 85 p 321).

            Jensen (p 320) styles 1:3-14 as “a hymn of grace” and 1:15-23 as a ‘notable prayer’. The key phrase of this section is in v 18 “that ye may know” concerning the doctrines of salvation:

·         The Father planned it 1:4-6

·         The Son paid for it 1:7-12

·         The Spirit applied it 1:13-14

Guthrie (p 536) observes that it is unusual of Paul to begin this way and I agree. The Holy Spirit is setting the tone for the first half of the letter in its spiritual character.

The notable prayer of 1:15-23 is the natural consequence of praise for the actions of God in salvation, and Paul’s intercession for the saints in Ephesus that they may come to a full, in depth awareness of what God has provided for them, particularly the power of the resurrection.



Interpret the greatness of Christian salvation 2:1-22:

            This passage assumes that the Ephesians knew what it was to be saved and Paul is ‘fleshing-out’ their knowledge by appealing to their experience of salvation as an illustration. As individuals, he reminds them that they were dead in sin and are now quickened by grace alone unto good works (2:1-10).

As a corporate body in Christ he uses their experience of reconciliation and peace between Jew and Gentile as evidence of the work of Christ, whose work on the Cross has broken down the middle wall of partition between them (2:11-22). The result is a single, unified Christian structure under Christ as its Head.

For Christ’s work to have achieved this must have amazed saved and unsaved alike. No wonder the world was ‘turned upside down’.



Examine the greatness of the Church 3:1-21:

This is based on one thing and one thing only - the greatness of Christ. Paul reminds the Ephesians that the Church there exists because of his preaching the Gospel - a commission given him by God Himself and carried through by His grace.

 The phenomenon of Church was mentioned in the OT but remained a mystery until revealed by God to “his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs” - Paul being one of those apostles in spite of his own unworthiness, and Jewish and Gentile Ephesian saints being together joint heirs with Christ (3:1-9).

Not only is the establishment of the church of divine origin but also its message has a divine purpose - to preach the manifold wisdom of God to “the principalities and powers in heavenly places” ie the created angels learn about God through the ministry of the Church (3:10-12), God Himself giving the Church authority and power to do so. Presumably this includes both fallen and unfallen angels, Satan, Michael, Gabriel, etc. It appears from v 11 that God always intended this to be so NB 1:10. This perspective of the Church is foreign to our modern-day understanding of the purposes and practice of the Body of Christ. Discuss. Lincoln suggests that the Church has the “task of being the pledge of the universe’s ultimate unity in him.” [5]

Paul then offers a prayer for the strengthening of the saints for this task (3:13-19) particularly from the point of view of the need that Christ’s love would be experienced personally so “that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God”.



Summarise Paul’s exhortations to unity 4:1-6:

            Reading these verses only from the point of view of unity Paul exhorts to:

  • Be worthy witnesses to Christ v1
  • With the attitudes of ‘lowliness’ (a humble opinion of oneself [6]), ‘meekness’ (gentleness [7]), longsuffering, forbearance and love v2
  • Doing one’s best (‘endeavouring’) to keep the unity provided by the Spirit within an environment of peace v3
  • Because in any case there is in fact only one Body to belong to, only one pleading Spirit to respond to, only one hope to aspire to, and only one Creator God to be subject to and Who is great enough to transcend His creation, and yet be intimately involved with every part, desiring to be present within each saint vv 4-6.

The point of such exhortation is to enable the Church to achieve God’s goals for it. All members must be involved, and all in an atmosphere of love under the direction of those special individuals given by God for the oversight of the Church’s tasks (v 11).



Discuss the diversity of spiritual gifts 4:7-13:

            Verse 7 suggests that the grace of God in giving us gifts is directly proportional in us to the gift of the person of Christ in us. Discuss.

            The point of receiving and using gifts is to achieve and build up the essential unity of the Church so that the Church’s focus can remain single “till we all come….. unto a perfect man”.

As Guthrie points out (p 538) unity is not uniformity. According to v 11, an aspect of God’s giving is the diversity of specially equipped individuals whose ministries help establish, enhance, supervise and take responsibility “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”, the key performance indicator stated as being “till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” which is an impossible target to achieve without the gifts and presence of God in every involved individual, teacher and taught alike.

The maturation of the individual Church members is a necessary preliminary to maturation of the Church in its role. It seems to me that the Church in the West in these last days is impotent, immature and falling far short of the task God has given it. Not using its gifts? Scared of political correctness? Scared of other religions? Scared of offending by preaching the truth? Not persecuted enough? The usual Christian too selfish to express the love necessary to allow God to achieve anything? The ‘world’ too intrusive? Definitely Laodicean.

            I am having trouble figuring the relevance of the insertion of vv9-10 (based on Ps 68:18) to the context of vv 7-13. Discuss.

            Through the Holy Spirit, and strictly according to His wisdom, Christ gives diverse spiritual gifts to every saint (at least one -1 Corinthians 12:7, 11) in order “that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another” (1 Corinthians 12:25 in the context of a long passage on unity 12:4-27).

But in spite of gifts, “shew I unto you a more excellent way”. In other words Paul is making sure that the Corinthians and the Ephesians put the use of their gifts into the proper perspective; the pre-eminence of love is mentioned multiple times. In actual fact Christ is both the source and the goal of the spiritual gifts, and in principle the gifts result in a church which is a unified whole ultimately expressing the love of Christ to an unsaved world.



Scrutinise Paul’s practical means of maintaining unity 4:14-16:

            The resources of God contained within each individual and therefore within the corporate church body should be more than sufficient for the Church to build itself up from within provided everyone and everything works together as it should (Ephesians 4:16). Love is the fundamental driving force for this.

            In perhaps a strange way, love is the element which allows the Christian to speak the truth and therefore to determine when the cunning of men is leading doctrine astray. This kind of love is tough and equips the Christian with maturity in Christ - therefore he/she is aware of the truth and can then recognise the counterfeit. Individual and Church growth is then straightforward and uncontaminated by evil (in theory at least!).



Compare the old life and the new life in Christ 4:17-32:

            As I myself found, Guthrie says “Paul may have feared that the preceding statements sounded rather idealistic” [8] so he takes his readers back to their roots to remind them what they once were and compares this with what God has done and is doing with them.

            First, Paul makes the Ephesians ascertain that they are saved (4:20-21), because the instructions to follow will be impossible if they are not.

Second, he also makes them consider what living the Christian life should be like. It is not a makeover of the old, but a discarding of the old and replacement with the new (4:22-24).

Third, Paul provides a list of the particular sins that he wants the Ephesians to be watchful about, enveloped at the beginning and end by the Christlike qualities they should be displaying - righteousness and true holiness (v 24); kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness (v 32).

The fundamental of this passage is the chalk-and-cheese transformation that salvation should bring - not just in belief but most importantly in practice.


Consider the warnings against the works of darkness 5:1-14:

            This passage is a similar list of sins to avoid, but in this case sins of others rather than of self, and an exhortation to the Christian to reprove them or avoid them if the individuals manifesting them will not respond to the light of Christ. It is addressed both to the body of Christ (vv 1-3) and to those outside the body (vv 5, 6), emphasising that the Body is not immune to the practice of such sins.

            The key to the Christian in the Body for avoiding the temptation to indulge in such sinning is love expressed with the power of the Cross (5:2, 14).



Explain the exhortations for the wise use of time 5:15-21:

            Our lives are very short in comparison with eternity (James 4:14). The time available to receive the blessings God wants to give us, and the time we have to lay up treasures in heaven is further shortened by the waste of time we have spent being unsaved. Christ Himself was very conscious of the efficient use of the time that was available to Him (eg John 11:7-9).

            Paul is further concerned that opportunities for ministry were relatively few because there was more than enough evil around the place to occupy even the serious spiritual warrior (5:16; 6:10-20).

            Part of the efficient use of time depends on wisdom in knowing what God’s will is (5:15,17). This is helped by focusing on the Lord in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” as if ‘drunk in the Spirit’ ie we are so controlled by the Holy Spirit that our focus on God is easy, habitual and permanent, similar to being continually intoxicated with alcohol.

            Additional helps are prayer without ceasing, and always giving thanks for all things, the end result in the Body being submission to one another in the fear of God.



Review Christian relationships in the Christian home and life 5:22-6:9:

            The idealised marriage relationship between husband and wife in 5:22-31 is used to illustrate the relationship of Christ to the Church - no other analogy is as useful - the fundamental of the passage being the latter relationship between Christ and the Church rather than that of human marriage.

            Nevertheless there is instruction on human marriage relationships to be had from this that are important. For example, the proper attitude of the wife to her husband (a change in attitude to ‘subjection’ is necessary as a consequence of her post-fall tendency not to submit to her husband - Genesis 3:16), and the sacrificial love the husband should express to his wife, just as Christ gave Himself for His bride.

            Guthrie lists four points in which the husband should express the qualities that Christ displays toward the Church: “(1) It is the body of Christ, who is its Saviour; (2) it is the special object of his love; (3) it is made clean through his self-offering and will be presented to God without blemish, and (4) it is nourished by Christ.” [9] Note that as for Christ, so the husband: He is the Head of the Church and gave Himself for it.

            Paul confirms the original basis of marriage by referring back to Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31, just as Christ did (Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7). The summary of human marriage given in 5:33 presents significant difficulties for both husband and wife, given their sinful states: “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.”[10]

            Children are told to obey their parents purely on the ground that “this is right”, no explanation of this being offered. They are also to honour their parents on the basis that if they do, they will receive the reward of having long lives. (On what basis? Discuss). Between the lines, parents are to successfully discipline their children so that they mature in their personal relationship with God (multiple scriptures including Deuteronomy 6:6-13), without becoming counter-productive by causing them to react wrongly.

            Like marriage, the relationship between master and servant, owner and slave, employer and employee includes God as a third party. Each participant appropriately contributes to the relationship as if he /she is working for the Lord. In today’s society we have made it particularly difficult for employers to get the practicalities of this, and even amongst Christians it is common for them to work toward their own benefit instead of their employer’s (in the Lord). Each one is accountable to God for how he assigns his priorities, his level of commitment and use of resources to the job at hand.

            God requires us to be faithful stewards of what we have been given, and seeing that He has given us everything at the cost of the death of His only Son, the least we can do is reciprocate.


[1]Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, Series taken from jacket., 4th rev. ed., The master reference collection, 496 (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996, c1990).

[2]ibid 527


[4]Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin and Daniel G. Reid, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 752 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993).

4a Sargent, R.  From God to us: the Story of our Bible  Series of notes taught to the Adult Bible Class, Willetton Bible Baptist Church, 1984

[5]Andrew T. Lincoln, vol. 42, Word Biblical Commentary : Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary, 265 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002).

[6]James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible : Showing Every Word of the Text of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurrence of Each Word in Regular Order., electronic ed., G5012 (Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship., 1996).

[7]ibid G4236

[8]Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, Series taken from jacket., 4th rev. ed., The master reference collection, 538 (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996, c1990).

[9]Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, Series taken from jacket., 4th rev. ed., The master reference collection, 539 (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996, c1990).

[10]  The Holy Bible : King James Version. electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version. Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995.

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