Thoughts about Themes in Ephesians
What are the major themes of the book of Ephesians? I will suggest four themes for us to trace and examine in this great book. As we track these themes, we will notice that the Trinity stands out.
The first theme is “becoming what we are.” The opposite side of this is “avoiding what we are not.” Several points stand out. One, we are chosen (1:4), predestined (1:5), and adopted (1:5), and we are heirs (1:11), yet we are responsible to walk righteously (4:1-6:24) before God. We must avoid being disobedient to our high calling.
Two, our position before God is that we are in Christ (1:4). God made Christ the head over all things to the church which is the body of Christ. The fullness of God is expressed in the church (1:23). As the body of Christ, we are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Experientially, we must be strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man (3:16). We must walk worthy of His calling (4:1).
Three, we are engaged in spiritual warfare. As chosen vessels of God, we must be strong and stand firm (6:10). Our struggle is not with flesh and blood, but with the evil powers and forces that would entrap us (6:12). So, we must put on the full armor of God (6:13).
Four, we are maturing spiritually in Christ. God has called and equipped ministers of the gospel to help the body of Christ mature spiritually (4:12-13). The goal is that we attain the unity of the faith. Each of us is growing in the image of Christ. We grow into full stature as the Spirit does His work.
Most of us have participated in discussions about predestination and free will. Our hope in these discussions may be to reconcile these truths. It is amazing how Paul deals with both sides of this discussion without giving a full reconciliation. Our position in Christ is incredibly strong and firm in Christ. Yet, we must commit ourselves to constantly pressing on toward the goal of spiritual maturity.
In his letter to the Philippians Paul says: “12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13 NAS).
More Thoughts About Ephesians
In my last post, I started a series of posts on the themes in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The first theme was Becoming What We Are. This means, also, that we are to avoid becoming what we are not. The second theme is that the body of Christ includes both Jews and Gentiles. They are equal members of the body of Christ.
One, Paul states his mission as follows: “8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; 10 in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:8-10 NAS).
Two, Paul writes about the unity of the Jews and Gentiles. All of them were formerly dead in their trespasses and sins (2:1). They have been made alive in Christ because by grace they have been saved (2:5). The Gentiles, who were once afar off, have been brought near through the blood of Christ (2:13). The Gentiles and Jews now have been made into one new man (2:15). Both have access to the Father in one Spirit (2:18).
Three, Paul speaks about the mystery that was revealed to him. This mystery was not previously known but was made known to the apostles and prophets in the Spirit (3:5). Concerning what the mystery is, Paul says, “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6 NAS).
Concerning salvation, all people come to the cross on equal ground. All have sinned and all who come are saved by grace. When we come to the cross, we become a part of one body, the body of Christ. We can joyously sing:
I’m so glad I’m a part of the Family of God,
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod,
For I’m part of the family,
The Family of God.
More Thoughts About Ephesian Themes
We have discussed the themes of becoming what you are and the unity of Jews and Gentiles as one body in Christ. Today, we will consider other aspects of unity as the third theme.
One, Paul identifies the foundations of unity. There is one body (4:4), one Spirit (4:4), one hope (4:4), one Lord (4:5), one Faith (4:5), one baptism (4:5), and one God. The unity of the body of Christ was highly significant in Paul’s mind.
Two, Paul applies the principle of unity to various relationships. The applications include husbands and wives (5:22-33), children and parents (6:1-4), and masters and slaves (6:5-9). Paul identified ways for everyone to relate to others that would result in unity.
Three, sometimes, when you look around, one wonders where the unity is. The body of Christ is divided into major camps and denominations within them. To these, we can add independent churches. Doctrinal statements in these camps abound and practices are many. The full unity of the body of Christ will not happen until He returns.
Although there is much that signals disunity, one can also see a lot of unity. The body of Christ truly is One. You can feel the unity when you travel, meet with various groups, and share devotional moments with believers in other traditions. Believers unite around the view that all of them should exalt Christ as Lord and Savior.
Although Paul expresses the need for unity, he does not sacrifice truth to attain unity. For example, when Peter came to Antioch where Paul was, Paul opposed him to his face (Galatians 2:11-13). Before certain men came from James, Peter would eat with the Gentiles. When the men from James arrived, Peter withdrew from eating with the Gentiles. In the long run, the confrontation no doubt contributed to the unity of the body.
Life is such that there will always be a need for prayerful consideration of our actions. We often have to apply principles to specific situations with the purpose in mind of conforming to the will of God.
More Thoughts about Ephesian Themes
We have discussed three memes in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. They are: (1) becoming what you are, (2) the unwitting of Jews and Gentiles in the body of Christ, and (3) aspects of unity. Today, we will consider the church as a fourth theme. Several points are evident.
One, God has put all things in subjection to Christ, and Christ is head over all things for the benefit of the church (1:22). The church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ as the chief cornerstone (2:20). Although the church faces many challenges now, the ultimate victory is assured.
Two, the church is the body of Christ (1:22-23). The church consists of all who believe. We, as believers, are God’s household (2:19). As members of the body of Christ, we are fitted together to form a holy temple in the Lord (2:21).
Three, the church has been given ministers to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. These ministers include apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (4:11).
Four, as we read what Paul says about the church, we notice that he did not mention brick and mortar buildings, denominations, independent groups, or any other items that we commonly associate with the word church. These aspects of church life are valuable and important. However, these are only ways of organizing the life and ministries of the church.
The church at its core is the body of Christ, consisting of all who believe in Christ as Savior and Lord. As Paul says, there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one Faith, one baptism, and one God (4:4-5). The church that Christ is building centers on Him and transcends all human organizations.
More Thoughts about Ephesians
Today, I will comment on the fifth theme in Ephesians. I have already commented on (1) becoming who we are, (2) the unity of the Jews and the Gentiles, (3) aspects of unity, and (4) the church. The fifth theme has to do with the Holy Spirit.
One, Paul says that when we listen to the gospel and believe in Jesus, we are sealed in Christ with the Holy Spirit of promise (1:13). God seals us by imparting the Holy Spirit to us. The Holy Spirit impacts all aspects of our lives. However, the special emphasis of the term seal is that it marks us as believers in Christ. The seal is a living seal. The Spirit comes upon us repeatedly in our experience with God.
Two, Paul prays that the eyes of our understanding would be enlightened so that we may know the hope of His calling and the riches of His inheritance (1:18). It is through the Spirit that both Jews and Gentiles have access to the Father (2:18). Also, Paul prays that the believer would be strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inner man. This is so that Christ may further dwell in their hearts through faith (3:16-17).
Three, Paul exhorts believers to be filled with the Spirit–speaking, singing, and giving thanks (5:19-21). This includes both singing in tongues and singing in languages known to the speakers. Also, believers are to be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
Four, Paul teaches that we are in spiritual warfare with forces of evil. We are to put on the armor of God. This armor helps us defend ourselves and protects us as we go on the offense for the gospel. The armor includes the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, and we should pray in the Spirit.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians should encourage us greatly. Our position in Christ is strong. We are sons of God. God pours out His Spirit upon us. We can defend ourselves, and we can boldly proclaim the gospel.
More Thoughts about Ephesians
We are considering Paul’s themes in his letter to the Ephesians. I have already commented on (1) becoming who we are, (2) the unity of the Jews and the Gentiles, (3) aspects of unity, (4) the church, and (5) the Holy Spirit. The sixth theme has to do with the subject of love.
One, Paul writes about God’s love for us. Because of His love for us, he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ (1:4-5). The amazing love of God for us is fully expressed at the cross. Because of God’s love, He expressed His great mercy for us. When we were dead in our transgressions, he made us alive in Christ. It is by grace that we are saved (2:4-5).
Two, as believers, we experience the love of God for us. Paul prays that the Ephesians will be strengthened with power by the Spirit “17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:17 NAS).
Three, Paul explains to the Ephesians how God’s love should be expressed toward others in their daily lives. He indicates that he has heard about their love for God’s people (1:15). They should act in forbearance to one another in love (4:2). They should speak the truth in love (4:15). The body of Christ should build itself up in love (4:16). They should walk in love as Christ has loved them (5:2). The expression of love should enter into family relationships. Three times Paul says that husbands should love their wives (25, 28, and 33).
Paul concludes his epistle with these words: “23 Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with a love incorruptible” (Ephesians 6:23-24 NAS).
More Thoughts about Ephesians
In my recent posts, we walked through Ephesians chapter-by-chapter, then by major themes. There are a couple of topics that I want to consider further. One of these topics is the individual and the church. Another is the subject of free will and predestination.
The word church is used in many different ways. Many times, when we say “church” we have in mind a local body of Christ that meets in a building. Sometimes we mean the building itself. Sometimes we mean the assembled crowd, the people that meet in the building. A church may be a special building, a house, a denomination, a national organization, and so on.
Concerning the church, Paul says: “22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22 NAS).
Here, Paul clearly states that the church is the body of Christ. This is not the only definition of “church,” but it is the one that Paul emphasizes in this passage. The fullness of Christ is expressed through the church which is His body. Christ’s body is made up of people, individually and collectively, who have accepted Christ as Savior.
Very often we emphasize the collective body of Christ. However, every person becomes a member of the body of Christ by individually accepting Him as Savior. Because he or she is a member of the body of Christ, he or she is a member of the church, which is His body. This membership transcends all other meanings of the word church.
Many of the people who write to us at Network211 have accepted Christ. Individually, they may live in a country that strongly restricts Christianity. Or they may live in a remote rural area. Very often there is no local church to attend. They are quite alone, yet they are faithful to Christ. They are members of His church, which is His body. The church is present in that country because they are present. As we work to establish them in the faith, we are having a part in establishing the church.
George M. Flattery, Ph.D., is the founder of Global University and Network211.