Ephesians is very similar in structure and content to Colossians, so it is assumed that the letter was written at the same time as Colossians and Philemon. There are a few puzzles about the letter’s purpose and whom it was written to exactly. The letter is very general – Paul doesn’t deal with any questions or heresy, which is surprising considering that the Ephesian church was the closest to Paul of all the churches.
Paul’s exploits in Ephesus make for exciting reading (in Acts 19) and must have been even more so to live through. The message of Jesus flourished in Ephesus amid staunch pagan religion. The Ephesian god Artemis, who apparently sent a shiny, black, ‘many breasted’ meteorite, was shown up to be no god at all. For two years Paul established the church that developed there.
This letter is almost split in two distinct halves, showing how we become believers and, once we are believers, how we are to live. We are not saved by good works but are saved for good works. The letter can be read and re-read and you will find every time that there is something new you will see. It touches many areas of practical life – marriage, slaves, life in the church, relationships and children and parents; all packed with words of wisdom for heaven.
It would be good to note the overall process Paul follows in the letter. The order of the Christian life is important here. Many religions require good works in order for a person to come to a place of right relationship with their god. They require goodness before acceptance. Christianity is different and Ephesians shows this clearly. Acceptance comes before goodness. God accepts us in order to make us who he wants us to be. The order is vitally important to grasp. We cannot live the Christian life until we are in right relationship with God. We do not live the Christian life to be in right relationship to God – rather, we have faith in Jesus and that makes our relationship right with God!
Two concepts in Ephesians raise their head as tricky to deal with. Predestination and Chapter 6 on spiritual warfare present trouble for many. Here is some quick advice: what I have noticed over a few years is the tendency people have to focus in on the tough questions at the expense of easier ones. I would say focus in on the easier to understand concepts and explore them thoroughly. Even in Chapter 1 there are beautiful concepts – God’s choosing, Christ’s redemption, God’s grace, and the seal of the Spirit, which are matters that we should explore deeply. You will notice when you spend time on the majors the others take their rightful place of importance.
Then on predestination: it is very mysterious. How it works exactly, we cannot know. There’s nothing wrong with this: even science will tell us there are things we don’t know! What can be said, however, is the Bible never teaches what is know as double predestination, which is the teaching that God preordains who gets saved and who doesn’t. The Bible only teaches that God predestined those who are saved and those who are sadly lost chose completely for themselves. Mysterious!
Regarding spiritual warfare, one comment will suffice. Paul teaches many things in chapter 6 but it has to be noted that he is teaching them so that they may ‘stand’ (6:11). Paul is not teaching active ‘binding of the devil’ and ‘casting out of every trouble’, he is telling us what we are to do so that we stand and don’t fall. He wants us to be strong as the enemy attacks us. We aren’t encouraged at all to attack back. We stand and stand strong: that’s it, and Paul tells us how.