Living for the Lord
An overview of Ephesians
In about 1445 BC during the exodus from Egypt, at Mount Sinai Aaron made a golden calf and the people said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Ex. 32:4, 8NIV). The calf may have been a pagan god or a symbol of strength. But the first commandment said, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). And the second said not to worship an idol. As they were disregarding or subtracting these commands from their Bible, about 3,000 people died.
Then when Jeroboam rebelled against king Solomon in 930 BC he set up the kingdom of Israel, north of Judah, and made two golden calves and said, “Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (1 Ki. 12:28). This was over 500 years after the first golden calf! And the people came to worship them at Dan in the north and Bethel in the south. They may have been a symbol of Baal, the fertility god of the Canaanites. As the Israelites continued to disregard or subtract parts of their Bible in this way for another 200 years, they were invaded and taken into captivity by Assyria in 722 BC (2 Ki. 17:7-23). Today we will see how the Ephesians were warned about adding to or subtracting from God’s truth revealed to the apostles and recorded in Scripture.
The main point in this letter is that God’s plan of salvation places believers in the church family and leads to a new way of life.
No specific problem is mentioned about the church in Ephesus in the letter, but general ones can be inferred from the context and the text.
Paul established the church in the city of Ephesus along with Aquilla, Priscilla and Apollos. He visited it twice (Acts 18:19-20; 19:1-41) and spent three years there in AD 53-55 during the second visit (Acts 20:31). The last time he saw the elders of the church at Ephesus, he warned them to watch over themselves and their congregation because false teachers would lead some astray (Acts 20:28-31). And he left Timothy there to help them.
Then three years later, he wrote them the letter to the Ephesians from prison in Rome. What did he tell them? What did they need to know and do? What foundations did they need to defend the Christian faith?
He was probably showing them how to combat false teachers and false ideas which he had warned the elders about. There was a danger of mixing Christianity with Greek philosophy, or with Jewish law or with pagan religions – the temple to the goddess Artemis (or Diana) was in Ephesus. This is called religious syncretism which involves adding to or subtracting from Scripture (Appendix). So, let’s look at the letter of Ephesians in this context.
Later Paul wrote to Timothy in Ephesus and John wrote three letters from Ephesus and a letter to Ephesus in Revelation.
There was also the problem of getting Jewish and Gentile converts to live together in harmony as brothers and sisters in Christ. These people came from widely different cultures and religious practices. Paul did not want to see two churches: one Jewish, one Gentile. So, unity of the church is also a theme. It’s good to be a multicultural and multigenerational church.
To get a drivers licence you need to pass both the theory test and the practical test. Both are required. You need to know what to do (have the knowledge) and be able to do it (have the skills). That’s like Ephesians where the first three chapters are doctrine that all Christians should know and the last three chapters are behavior that all Christians should follow.
A new identity (Ch 1-3)
Christians have a new identity. They have changed from being “separate from Christ” to being “in Christ” (2:12-13).
It gives our position in Christ, including:
– Being “God’s holy people” (1:1, 18; 3:18; 5:3) and being “holy and blameless in His [God’s] sight” (1:4; 5:26-27).
– Having “every spiritual blessing” (1:3)
– Being adopted into God’s family (1:5) with a wonderful inheritance (1:14, 18).
– Being redeemed and forgiven (1:17)
– Having God’s power available to us (1:19-20; 3:16, 18, 20; 6:10), which was shown in Christ’s resurrection and ascension.
– Being made spiritually alive after being spiritually dead (2:4).
– Spiritually sitting with Christ in heaven (2:6).
– Being “God’s handiwork” (2:10).
– Gentiles being brought near to God (2:13).
– Having access to the Father by the Holy Spirit (2:18).
– Having the Holy Spirit within (2:22).
– Being able to “approach God with freedom and confidence” (3:12).
What a wonderful identity!
The three main topics in this part of the letter are God, salvation, and the church.
Paul describes God’s purpose and power. And he says, “He [God] has blessed us [believers] … with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (1:3). Our primary relationship is with Christ. That’s the source of our identity and our resources. Through Him we have everything we need to live for the Lord.
And God’s grand purpose is to “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (1:10). This looks ahead to the Millennial reign of Christ when there will be peace on earth, not conflict as we see in the Ukraine today.
Then Paul describes salvation, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we [believers] are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (2:8-10).
By trusting that Christ’s sacrificial death paid the penalty for their rebellion against God and their ignoring God, believers have changed from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive. They are reconciled with God. Good works don’t help us get right with God, but they should follow salvation.
Are you “in Christ”? Are you reconciled with God?
About the church
Because all believers are brought near to God, that means that they are near to each other. So, they are reconciled with one another. The church is a group of believers that meet together regularly. There is no hierarchy in the church because all are accepted equally by the Lord and all have equal access to God. Believing in the Jewish Messiah made Gentiles as well as Jews on the same footing, enjoying God’s promises to the church. The Gentiles were no longer to be considered as second-class citizens like in Old Testament times. There is to be unity instead. That is how believers are to live together.
For example, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark on the second missionary journey, but Paul disagreed. So, they parted company and went on separate ways (Acts 15:37-41). That was an example of disunity, not of unity. Also criticism, gossip, conflict, lack of trust, and favoritism create disunity. Whereas Ephesians emphasizes the unity between the Jewish and Gentile believers.
The church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone” (2:20). Elsewhere Paul says that Jesus is the foundation of the church (1 Cor. 3:11). So, it’s based on the teachings of the New Testament. The church is visualized as a building where the Holy Spirit lives (2:21-22). It is also visualized as a body where Christ is head (3:6; 4:15-16; 5:23) and as a wife where Christ is the husband (5:22-32). In God’s eyes the church is positionally perfect (5:25-27).
A new lifestyle (Ch 4-6)
The second half of the letter is on behavior (Ch 4-6). “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph. 4:1).
Now we know about our new identity, what do we need to do about it? What we know should impact what we do. But people are not always consistent.
There are four main topics in this part of the letter.
Living with believers (4:1-16)
This requires humility, unity, maturity, integrity and love. And the Lord gives spiritual gifts “to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ [the church] may be built up” (4:12).
Living with unbelievers (4:17 – 5:20)
Christianity is a new way of living, with new values and a new lifestyle. That’s called sanctification – taking the sinful world out of the Christian. If we are not an unbeliever anymore, we shouldn’t live like one. Believers shouldn’t live like unbelievers – it’s a new lifestyle. And people should be attracted to the Lord who is the designer of the new lifestyle.
This requires honesty, purity, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, instead of getting drunk.
Living at home (5:21 – 6:9)
One of the examples of being filled with the Spirit is to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). Submitting to the Lord affects our relationships. The role of submission, and care and support is given for husbands and wives in marriage, parents and children in the family, and employers and employees in the workplace.
Spiritual warfare (6:10-18)
Living for the Lord in this way will take you to the battlefield. Satan will oppose you like Vladimir Putin is opposing the Ukrainians. Satan is our enemy. Everyone has a relationship with Satan. He should be our enemy, not our friend. But if you don’t trust in Christ, you are on the Devil’s team.
The bad news is that the Devil and his demons (1/3 of the angels, who rebelled against God) are out to tempt you to sin. We are not fighting people. We are fighting spiritual forces.
But the good news is that God is stronger because He is the Creator with ultimate power and ultimate authority. The Bible says, “the one [God] who is in you is greater than the one [Satan] who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). God is in believers. Meanwhile, Satan is a creature with limited power who is doomed to judgment (Rev. 20:10). And the demons are outnumbered by the angels who remained faithful to God. So, put on the spiritual armor and you will win. We have God’s protection and prayer.
When John wrote Revelation (about 35 years after the letter to the Ephesians), he said this about the church at Ephesus.
“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.” (Rev. 3:1-3).
So, it looks like they resisted the false teachers. But then He said. “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” (Rev. 3:4-5).
But they had given up on their love for the Lord and their love for one another.
The letter of Ephesians is a summary of Christian belief (our identity is an important belief) and Christian behavior (lifestyle). To play a sport you need to both know the rules (have the knowledge) and be able to follow them (have the skills). We need both knowledge and skills. Where do we lack in our Christian lives? Is it in our knowledge of Christian beliefs or in our behavior?
We must have both sound doctrine and right practice. Doctrine without practice is empty because we are saved to do good works (Eph. 2:10). And good works without doctrine won’t save us. The order is doctrine first and good works second. Christian behavior is based on Christian belief.
Every other religion puts sanctification (holy living) before justification (when God removes the penalty of our sin). It says that you must be good before God will accept you. Do this and you will be accepted by God. But you can’t live the Christian life until you have been saved. Christian behavior is built on Christian belief. If we know our position in Christ, we can live for the Lord.
Do we have any false teachers today? Do we have any false ideas? Yes! Certainly! And following all the values and beliefs of the sinful world is a massive form of idolatry.
The letter to the Ephesians shows that the best defense against false teaching (or heresy) and disunity is teaching the fundamentals and foundations of the Christian faith. Paul says that best way to combat these is to concentrate on the truths and practices mentioned in his letter. As it is in the Bible, these are not just Paul’s ideas. It is a message from God.
Knowledge of Christian doctrines is important when others ask questions about differences between their faith and ours. Only as we are able to give a reason for the hope we have in Jesus Christ, can we present a clear picture of who He is and what He desires to do for us.
Troubles can cause discouragement and hinder us remembering the knowledge and skills to live for (follow) the Lord. All the rain in Sydney, Australia, last week can get us down. We can think, when will it end? I have had to watch the weather radar to choose a gap between the rain to go for my daily walk. On Wednesday morning the sun shone through a gap in the clouds. It reminded me that above the clouds and rain, the sun was still shining. Likewise, during our troubles God is still there even though we may not be aware of Him. So, remember we are still “in Christ” and need to live for the Lord.
What’s your “golden calf? What takes your time and attention? What hinders you living for the Lord?
The letter of Ephesians summarizes the gospel and how it should reshape our life. What to know and what to do to live for the Lord. The main point is that God’s plan of salvation places believers in the church family and leads to a new way of life. This is the best defence against false teaching like religious syncretism.
Let’s remember God’s promises and be active in our local church. Believers have a new identity “in Christ” and a new lifestyle. If we know our position in Christ, we can live for the Lord. Let’s remember our new identity and use it in our new way of life.
Appendix: The danger of syncretism
Syncretism is when a person takes parts of different religions, cultures, or philosophies and combines them together. It combines beliefs and practices that can be inconsistent.
Religious syncretism is the fusion of different forms of belief or practice and is a rebellion against God. It is against the first commandment (Ex. 20:3). And God told the Israelites, “Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you” (Dt. 6:14). So the Israelites came under God’s judgment when they “imitated the nations around them” (2 Ki. 17:15).
Religious syncretism assumes that all religions offer truth, or that different religions present different paths to God. Much of the Old Testament recounts the struggle between faith in the God of Israel versus pagan deities. And the prophets spoke out against religious syncretism in Judah (Zeph. 1:4-5).
God condemned syncretism in Israel and in Samaria (2 Ki. 17:7-41). The syncretism in Israel was described in the introduction to this article. Here’s what was reported about Samaria:
“They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought” (v.33).
“Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols” (v.41).
So, they worshipped both God and idols.
God warns against adding to or taking away from Scripture. “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll” (Rev 22:18-19). This applied to the book of Revelation, but the principle would also apply elsewhere in the Bible. For example, see the “different gospel” referred to in Galatians 1:6-9 where Jewish legalism is added to the gospel.
So religious syncretism (which involves adding to or taking away from scripture) is not compatible with true Christianity. It is heresy.
The video was produced by Bible project.com.
Written, February 2022