Readings: Ephesians 1-6.
It is difficult to summarise a book like Ephesians. With others of Paul’s letters, there are obvious key themes to identify. Letters like 1 & 2 Corinthians have a clear purpose because they were written by Paul in response to questions or problems raised in the church. However, Ephesians does not appear to have that same basis. In fact, there is some doubt as to whether the Ephesian church was indeed the intended recipient of this letter. This is due in part to the fact that it appears to lack the warmth Paul with which Paul usually writes when addressing a church with whom he is familiar (he spent three years in Ephesus after establishing the church, so we can expect any letter he wrote to them to be threaded through with friendly language.
There are many topics covered in Ephesians, but if there were any central theme to identify it would be the centrality of Christ to all things. Paul begins his letter with his usual exhortations, followed by a powerful section affirming our status as children of God. This section in chapter one is often quoted in sermons on finding our identity in Christ, and rightly so.
Paul goes on to write about the importance of grace in our salvation. He draws a contrast between the Jews and the Gentiles, but only in order to point out that this same grace is available to both groups. This may seem normal to us, but we can easily forget that there was still debate among the early Christians about the extent to which Gentiles could be saved. Paul makes it clear that salvation is not earned; it is a gift from God through his grace (2:8-9).
While our salvation is not earned, and does not depend on our own righteousness, we are still required to live righteous lives. I wrote about this in more detail in yesterday’s blog. In Ephesians, Paul details some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are given to build up and equip the Church to do God’s work in the world (4:11-13). There has been some debate over the years as to whether or not these gifts are still in operation. This is due in part to the phrase Paul uses, “This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.” (v13) Some have asserted that this “unity in the faith” represents the Bible; therefore the gifts ceased when the canon of Scripture was established in the 3rd Century A.D. However, this is not what we believe as Pentecostals, and we experience evidence of the gifts of the Spirit being real and active today on a daily basis through the baptism in the Holy Spirit. If you are unsure about this baptism, either comment on this blog or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’d be more than happy to discuss it with you.
Paul concludes his letter by urging the Ephesians to be vigilant in spiritual warfare. We must not be naive about the nature of our enemy; he is real and active in this world, but he is not equal to God. Those outside of the church community who believe in his existence wrongly assume that the Devil is God’s opposite number, and therefore stands a chance in this war. However, he has already been defeated. Paul urges us to be strong in the Lord, not because the enemy is stronger than God but because he is stronger than us. If we do not clothe ourselves in the armour of God, we are vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy. However, if we stand firm in God’s power the enemy stands no chance against us!