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by Arno Clemens Gaebelein
THE EPISTLE TO THE EPHESIANS
The city of Ephesus was situated in Lydia on the River Cayster, about forty miles from Smyrna. It was a place of considerable commerce and also noted for its magnificent temple of Artemis, which was from very ancient times the center of the worship of that goddess. This temple was burnt down by Herostratus 355 B.C., but rebuilt at immense cost, and was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Pliny tells us that it was 425 feet long and 220 feet in breadth. All Asia contributed to its erection, and 127 magnificent columns were bestowed by so many kings. Little models of the temple in silver, with the image of the goddess enshrined in them, were made for sale, and sold in large quantities (Acts 19:24-29 ).
From Acts 18:19-21 we learn of Paul’s first brief visit to that city. He was then hastening to Jerusalem to be there at Pentecost. After his visit to Jerusalem he returned to Ephesus (Acts 19:1 ) and remained there laboring for about three years, so that he could say later to the elders of Ephesus, “therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31 ). During this time the Ephesian assembly was founded, composed of Jews and Gentiles, who heard and believed the gospel. On his last journey to Jerusalem he did not visit Ephesus, but called the elders of the church to meet him at Miletus, where he said farewell and exhorted them (Acts 20:18-35 ).
The Epistle Written by Paul
The Epistle to the Ephesians was written by the Apostle Paul when he was a prisoner (Ephesians 3:1 ; Ephesians 4:1 ; Ephesians 6:20 ). There can be no doubt that the Colossian Epistle and the Epistle to Philemon were sent by Paul the same time as the Ephesian Epistle. The date was about 62 A.D. Tychicus and Onesimus, the runaway slave, but now through grace “a brother beloved” (Philemon 1:16 ) were sent to Colossae by Paul (Colossians 4:7-9 ). Tychicus carried the letter addressed to the Colossians to correct the evils which had arisen in that church, and to warn them against the wicked doctrines which were being promulgated amongst them. Onesimus the slave carried that beautiful little Epistle addressed to his master Philemon. And at the same time when Tychicus and Onesimus left Rome, Paul handed to Tychicus the Epistle to the Ephesians. Never before and never after were such weighty and blessed documents entrusted to human messengers. The reception of the authorship of Paul has been almost universal; only in very recent times has the Pauline authorship been foolishly questioned by some rationalistic critics.
Some scholars claim that the words “at Ephesus” should be omitted and that the Epistle was not addressed to the Ephesians at all. The chief objection is, that if this Epistle is addressed to the church at Ephesus, it would be inexplicable that Paul should not have sent a single message of personal greeting to the Ephesians, amongst whom he had spent so long a time, and to whom he was bound by ties of such close affection. But there are also other Epistles written by Paul which do not contain such personal greetings; for instance, first and second Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, first and second Thessalonians and first Timothy. Other objections have been raised. Dean Alford states rightly “there is nothing in its contents inconsistent with such an address” (to the Ephesians). We find in it clear indications that its readers were mixed Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14 ; compare with Acts 19:10 ). it would seem quite improbable that the apostle should not have sent an epistle to Ephesus, where the Lord had so largely owned his testimony and where the Lord had so miraculously delivered him when he fought with beasts (1 Corinthians 15:32 ). But while this Epistle was undoubtedly first sent to Ephesus, it may have been used as a kind of circular letter, being sent to and read by other assemblies. The Epistle mentioned in Colossians 4:16 was probably this Epistle.
Its Deep and Blessed Message
In the Epistle to the Colossians Paul makes the statement, “Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the Word of God” (Colossians 1:25 ). To fulfill the Word of God does not mean, as often stated, that Paul fulfilled his ministry and was faithful in it. it means rather that to him was given the revelation which makes full, or completes, the Word of God. The highest and most glorious revelation, which the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has been pleased to give, He has given through the Apostle Paul. The two prison Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians embody this completion of the Word of God. The Ephesian Epistle holds the place of preeminence. The revelation which is given in this Epistle concerning believing sinners, whom God has redeemed by the blood of His Son, and exalted in Him into the highest possible position, is by far the greatest revelation. God is revealing His own loving heart and tells out by His Spirit how He loved us and thought of us before the foundation of the world. He shows forth the riches of His grace and now makes known the secret He held back in former ages. How rich it all is! Like God Himself, so this revelation, coming from His loving heart, is inexhaustible. We may speak of Ephesians as the rich Epistle of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, rich in mercy, tells us of the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness towards us through Christ Jesus. But even this definition does not tell out half of all the glory this wonderful document contains. It is God’s highest and God’s best. Even God cannot say more than what He has said in this filling full of His Word.
In the Psalms we read: “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork” (Psalms 19:1 ). We lift up our eyes and behold the wonders of God’s creation, which He called into existence by His Son and for Him (Colossians 1:16 ). Here in this Epistle another heaven is opened. if the heavens of creation are so wonderful and their depths Unfathomable, how much more wonderful are the heavenlies into which Christ has entered, where He now is seated, far above all principality and power and might, and into which God’s grace has brought us in Christ! The first three chapters contain this great revelation. What God has accomplished in His Son, to the praise of the glory of His grace; how He makes believers one with His Son, sharers of His glory, is told out in these chapters. The church, the body of Christ, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all; the one body in which believing Jews and Gentiles are united; the building growing into an holy temple, the habitation of God by the Spirit, and the ultimate destiny of that body, are further revelations in these great chapters.
The central verse of the first three chapters is found in Ephesians 2:10 , “For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained, that we should walk in them.” The word “workmanship” is in the Greek “poiema,” from which our word “poem” is derived. it is a beautiful thought in itself to think of those who are saved by grace, and united to Christ, as “the poem of God.” But the word “poiema” may also be rendered “masterpiece” or “masterwork.”
Only once more is the same word found in the original language of the New Testament Scriptures. In Romans 1:20 it is used in connection with the physical creation. God has produced two great masterworks in which He manifests His power. He called the universe into existence out of nothing. What He, as the omnipotent One can do, is seen in the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the sustenance of His creation. His eternal power and Godhead are revealed in creation (Romans 1:19-20 ). But the creation of the universe out of nothing is not the greatest masterpiece of God. God has done something greater. He has produced a work, which reveals Him in a far higher degree. That greater masterpiece is the redemption of sinners. God took only six days to bring order out of the chaos of the disturbed original creation and to call into existence the present earth and heavens, but He spent forty days with Moses in directing him to build the tabernacle, because the work of redemption is more glorious than the work of creation.
God’s creation and also the Bible, His revelation, may be studied by the telescope and the microscope. A telescopic sweep of this wonderful Epistle is hardly sufficient. The microscopic examination brings out its wonders. “The student of Ephesians must not expect to go over his ground too rapidly; must not be disappointed, if the week’s end finds him still on the same paragraph, or even on the same verse, weighing and judging--penetrating gradually, by the power of the mind of the Spirit, through one outer surface after another, getting in his hand one and another ramifying thread, till at last he grasps the main cord whence they are diverged, and where they all unite--and stands rejoicing in his prize, deeper rooted in the faith, and with a firmer hold on the truth as it is in Christ. And as the wonderful effect of the spirit of inspiration on the mind of man is nowhere in Scripture more evident than in this Epistle, so, to discern those things of the Spirit, is the spiritual mind here more than anywhere else required.” (Dean Alford, Prolegomena.)
And the more we read and study this Epistle, the more we will be impressed with the greatness and the glory of the revelation it brings to our hearts. It is a theme for eternity. How needful the study of this Epistle is for us in these days! The truths revealed will keep us in the days of apostasy and lift us above the materialistic spirit of the times. Without earnest and continued meditation on the great truths made known in this Epistle, spiritual growth and enjoyment are impossible. May it please the Holy Spirit to lead the writer and the reader into a better and deeper heart knowledge of His wonderful grace.
The Division of Ephesians
The Epistle to the Ephesians has two clearly defined sections. Chapter 4 begins with the following words: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the calling wherewith ye are called.” What the calling is wherewith the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has called those who believe in His Son, is revealed in the first three chapters. As stated in the introduction, God’s great masterwork, the redemption of sinners, is blessedly told out in the opening chapters of this Epistle. The last three chapters contain exhortations and instructions to walk worthy of this high calling, to manifest in every way the great Work of God.
I. THE MASTERWORK OF GOD (1-3)
1. The Godhead at Work (1)
2. The Production of the Masterwork and its Destiny (2:1-10)
3. The Mystery now made Known (2:11-3:21)
II. THE PRACTICAL MANIFESTATION IN THE LIFE OF THE BELIEVER (4-6)
1. Walking worthy of the Calling (4:1-6)
2. The Ministry and its Purpose (4:7-16)
3. The Walk in Holiness and Righteousness (4:17-5:21)
4. Manifestation in the Family Relationship (5:22-6:4)
5. Exhortations to Servants and Masters (6:5-9)
6. The Warfare and the Panoply of God (6:10-20)
7. The Conclusions (6:21-24)
the Sixth Week after Easter