As the Holy Spirit led Paul to write about the unity of the church in Christ, he did so in two ways. First, he explained the unity from a doctrinal point of view by setting forth God’s sovereignty over the establishment of the church. In the second way, he dealt with the life of the church as she expresses her unity in a common bond of faith in Christ Jesus.
BRIEF OUTLINE OF THE LETTER
1.The introduction (Eph. 1:1, 2). Paul identifies himself as an apostle of Christ and addresses the saints in Ephesus as the recipients of this letter.
2.2. He then explains that the church is united only because God has bound the members together in a common faith in Christ (Eph. 1:3-3:21). In the doxology of praise to God, he expresses that the reason for the church’s existence is to give glory to God. This is true because God predestinated the church unto the adoption of children and blesses them with spiritual blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3-6). This adoption is sealed by the redemption through the blood of Christ and the abounding grace which makes us conscious of our unity in Christ (Eph. 1:7-10). The saints have a glorious future, for this predestination guarantees a glorious inheritance. We know we will receive this inheritance, for the Holy Spirit’s presence is proof (Eph. 1:11-14). The apostle prays for the Ephesian saints, giving God thanks for them and seeking for them the spirit of wisdom that they may know the hope of their calling, the riches of their inheritance, and the great power of God which is given to them, the power which is concentrated in Christ Who is exalted far above all earthly power and has all things under Him and is the head of the entire church (Eph. 1:15-23).
3.Paul continues to show that salvation is a wonder of grace. This is seen in the spiritual condition from which the Ephesian Christians have been saved. They weredead in sin and walked in the lust of the flesh and were children of wrath. The power of grace changed this for they were quickened together with Christ and made to sit with Him in heavenly places. This proves that grace is the gift of God and salvation is by faith not by works. The dead sinner cannot merit with God (Eph. 1:1-10). In addition to this, he reminds the reader that they were Gentiles, uncircumcised, aliens from the covenant, without hope in the world (Eph. 1:11, 12). Christ changed this, for by His death on the cross He abolished the wall of separation and reconciled all the elect, both Jew and Gentiles, to God by the atonement. He now comes to preach peace to all believers, both Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:13-18). Paul then makes a comparison between the temple and the church. The church united in Christ is the temple of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Himself the cornerstone. United by all its parts, it forms a dwelling place for the Holy God (Eph. 2:19-22).
4.He then introduces the subject of the “mystery.” This refers to the revelation of God which was given to Paul to write to the church. It is the promise of the gospel which is for both Jew and Gentile. To send this forth, Paul was called to be a missionary. The church need not faint at the tribulation which Paul suffered for the sake of the gospel (Eph. 3:1-13). Paul prays for the Ephesian church that they may be strong in the love of God, comprehend the magnitude of that love, and then be filled with the fullness of God. He expresses a doxology of praise to God (Eph. 3:14-21).
5.3. This unity now comes to expression in the lives of the membership of the church. Paul gives detail how this is true in Ephesians 4-6. He makes the point that it is the duty of every member of the church to keep this unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-6). To do this the members must make use of the gifts which God has given to each one for the benefit of all the members. These gifts include the use of special offices by which God causes the members to grow up from spiritual children to manhood. This marks the spiritual growth of the body in which all the members are properly joined (Eph. 4:7-16). In order to express this unity, two things must take place. First, they must not walk any more as heathen, as uncircumcised Gentiles who wallow in sin, but they must put off the old man and its lusts. Then they must be renewed in the spirit of their minds and put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. This produces spiritual tension which involves a daily turning from sin and seeking good. It has special significance for the unity of the church, for it delivers the believers from bitterness and anger and replaces it with kindness and forgiveness. By doing this, they will not fill their time with drunkenness, but redeem it and be spiritually minded, even speaking to themselves with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, giving thanks to God and submitting one to another (Eph. 4:17-5:21).
6.Paul now deals with specific situations in which the church should express her unity in Christ. He defines the role of the Christian wife and husband in the home. The wife is exhorted to be in subjection to her husband and the husband is instructed to love his wife. The spiritual motivation for both husband and wife lies in the fact that they are both united together in the body of Christ. This spiritual union affords them the love they need to be faithful in marriage (Eph. 5:22-33). Children are called upon to obey their parents and honor them, while fathers are warned not to provoke their children to wrath (Eph. 6:1-4). Servants are instructed to be obedient to their masters and masters are told to treat servants in the awareness that they themselves are the servants of Christ and Christ is their Master (Eph. 6:5-9). Paul then draws a comparison between the Christian who has to fight the battle of faith in the midst of the world and the Roman soldier. He refers to the nature of the battle (against principalities and powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world and spiritual wickedness in high places). He also makes detailed mention of the Christian armor, both defensive and offensive. To prevail in this battle, much prayer must be offered to God for the members of the church as well as for the apostle himself, and, in our day, the ministers and consistories (Eph. 6:10-20).
7.4. As a closing remark, he reveals to them that Tychicus will acquaint them with the details of his personal affairs. He salutes them in Christ and closes with the blessing of the Triune God (Eph. 6:21-24).
DISTINCTIVE FEATURES OF THIS LETTER
1.The Apostle Paul, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, presents a well-developed statement concerning the church. This letter sets forth Christ as the Head of the church. He is this not apart from the Father; but God, Who is the Father of the universe, is also the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. All spiritual life flows from Christ, as the Head of the church, to the members. This is true no matter where the church is manifest in the world. In addition to this, he compares the church to the bride and to the temple. The point is that the church is living and as such is to exercise the life of Christ.
2.2. Paul deals with the subject of the church from a mature perspective, which emphasizes the grand design God has for the church. Consider a few examples. The church has its foundation in the eternal plan of God (Eph. 1:4-11). The church includes Jew and Gentile elect from all nations (Eph. 2:11-14). For the sake of the church, God over-rules the whole universe (Eph. 1:20-22). He sees the members of the church reaching the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13).
3.3. There are no new doctrines or truths taught in this epistle that are not taught in the other writings of Paul. The feature of this epistle is that these truths are brought together in unity in order to develop a specific subject, that of the church.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Give some details about the congregation of Ephesus. When was it organized, what was it like to be in such a church within the wicked city of Ephesus?
2. What evidence favors the idea that Paul wrote this letter especially for the congregation of Ephesus and not for all the churches of Asia Minor in general?
3. Show that this epistle must have been sent from Rome while Paul was imprisoned there.
4. How does the fact that Paul wrote this letter from prison add sincerity and significance to this letter?
5. Explain how election is considered the heart of the doctrine of the church. Show from this epistle that Paul considered this to be true.
6. Prove from Ephesians that the unity of the church in Christ should eliminate petty bickering and division, but does not forbid honest spiritual battle for the sake of the truth. In other words, show that Paul does not advocate peace at any cost.
7. Why was the emphasis on the unity of Jews and Gentiles of special significance for the church at Ephesus?
8. Demonstrate from this letter that spiritual growth in the church begins with personal growth in faith by the members, Ephesians 4.
9. How does the letter show that doctrine and life cannot be separated? Apply this especially to the doctrine and life of the church.
10. How does the teaching on marriage and home, servant and masters, and the Christian warfare have bearing on the unity of the church?