This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 3:6
The theme of Ephesians is something which Paul calls a great mystery – a thing unrevealed in the OT but unveiled now after the resurrection of Christ. That mystery is the church, not as an institution, but a living organism of which all believers are members, and Christ is the Head. Because the church is more than an association or an institution, believers must learn to think of themselves and each other in new and different ways. The exciting difference in being members of Christ’s living body is shared in this great NT letter.
Date and Author. Written by Paul from Rome in A.D. 62 or 63 – on one of Paul’s later missionary ventures (Acts 19).
Ephesus. The city was known in ancient times as “the Landing Place” and its people were proud of its role as a port city and gateway to Asia. But by the first century, the harbor of Ephesus was nearly filled with silt. The proud city was anxious, experiencing economic decline.
One source of both pride and income to Ephesus was religion. Ephesus was the site of the great Temple of Artemis. That temple was four times the size of the magnificent Parthenon of Athens: it was a great shrine, reverenced throughout the province of Asia and the world” (Acts 19:27). Multitudes of tourists and worshippers visited Ephesus to see the temple, and the city’s commercial life and prosperity depended on these visitors. Tradesmen and souvenir makers, as well as those providing food and lodging, all depended on the temple trade. In addition the temple served as a treasury — a bank in which cities and kings as well as individuals made deposits and from which they drew loans. Pagan religion was a great success in Ephesus. Religious institutionalism was the heart and center of Ephesian social and economic life.
It is against this background that Paul writes about an entirely new thing. He tells of a faith which cannot be expressed through its buildings and institutions, or the kind of success which glorified Asia’s gateway city. It is people who are God’s treasure. The relationship of these people with God, and with each other, expresses a glory that can never be reflected in structures and stone, no matter how magnificent. How appropriate that the Ephesians who knew successful worldly religion so well, received this explanation of the church of Christ, which can only be seen through the lives of a people who live in intimate relationship with God.
Theme. The theme of Ephesians is the living church. Paul examines in detail the implications of viewing the church as a living organism, not as an institution. Many times in the Christian era the truths taught here have been misled. Christians have thought of the church in institutional terms — as a hierarchy, as buildings and property, as programs and activities. Today too many Christians have no grasp of the truths taught in this great book. How exciting to look into it now, to understand who we are as Christ’s people, and to learn how we can draw together as his living church.
The vision of the living church often moved Paul to worship. He includes a number of paragraphs apparently used in the liturgy of the early church as hymns or as confessions of faith.
Outline. The following outline builds on the theme of the living church and captures the major truths taught in this beautiful epistle.
- The Church is People 1:1-2:22
- The Church is Body and Family 3:1-4:16
- The Church is Christ Incarnate 4:17-6:23
- In Purity 4:17-5:21
- In Every Relationship 5:22-6:24