Ephesians: The Fullness of Grace


1:1-2 Salutation and greetings

This letter is probably from Paul but almost certainly not to the Ephesians. (It shows no signs of being written to people that Paul worked with for 3 years; see Acts 19 and 20.) Rather, the letter is written to those "who are faithful in Christ Jesus." Paul, who describes himself as "the apostle to the Gentiles", addresses non-Jews specifically. Therefore, we may consider this letter to be written to us.

1:3-14 God has given a gift to us

"Let us say a good word to God, who has spoken well to us with all the good words of heaven." There is no such thing as an empty word with God; every blessing from God becomes a reality. This reality begins with God and is only complete when we bring it back to God.

1:4-6 We are chosen and adopted

God, through Christ, chose us. We are picked out from the rest of creation. God did not have to choose use in this way; rather, God made a decision about us much as adoptive parents choose to take a child as their own son or daughter. We are chosen to be a holy people, set apart form the commonplace and living in God's own presence. (Compare Exodus 19:5-6.) We are adopted into God's family to fulfill God's own purposes, to show God's greatness.

1:7-8 We are released

Our adoption into God's family will not be complete in this life. However, we are already released from our past history of being separated from God. This freedom comes by means of Christ's death. (See also 2:14.)

1:9-10 We are given knowledge of God's plan

Before Jesus came, God provided a Teaching (Torah) on how to live, but did not reveal the end purpose or goal. Now we learn God's purpose – that God will bring all of creation together to be united in Christ. This purpose will be fullfilled when time itself has been "filled" or completed. We do not understand completely what this will mean. We do know that God is treating us as partners by explaining the long-range plan instead of just handing down instructions for us to follow.

1:11-14 This gift is for Jews and non-Jews alike

The Jews – including Paul – were chosen to have the Teaching before Jesus came. (And Jesus himself came to the Jews.) But now we, who are not Jews, have also heard God's teaching and we are also made a part of God's family.

1:15-19 Paul prays for us

Paul is happy to know that there are people, like us, who are trying to be Christian. He does not suppose that our spiritual growth is completed, but asks God to help us to understand:

  1. the hope or promise that comes from being called by God,
  2. the value of our inheritance as God's children, and
  3. the power that is available to us.

These 3 points outline the themes of the rest of the letter.

1:19b-22 Christ is the revelation

Paul, like many saints, can hardly mention Jesus without going into an ecstasy of praise (and Paul, being a letter writer, writes it all down). After quietly writing down the understanding which he hopes that God will give us, Paul points out that Christ's resurrection has already revealed all this to us. We might say that the story of Christ is the book and Paul is praying that we learn to read. Paul himself reads this book and wants us to realize that in Christ we don't just have the second-hand account of a messenger (an "angel"), but a first-hand revelation. No matter how high up in the hierarchy of heavenly messengers you care to imagine – and the writers of Paul's time imagined some very complex systems for the angels – Christ is clearly superior to all of them.

1:22-23 The church is the gathering of all creation

Almost in passing, Paul writes down an astonishing truth. We already know that God will bring everything together in Christ (see 1:9-10), and we have become used to the idea of the Church being "Christ's body". Even so, we might never make this connection on our own. Christ is alive, but Christ is not complete until all creation is united in himself. The Church, of which we are a part, is the completion of Christ, his body. The Church is "the fullness of Christ who fills the universe" or "the completion of Christ who completes everything." The Church, in its perfection, is the unity of the entire universe in Christ.


2:1-10 We were brought from death to life

2:1-3 We were dead

The kind of deadness Paul speaks of is not physical death, but a lack of spiritual life. We cut ourselves off from God and deaden ourselves to life as God offers it to us. This happens because (a) we follow our physical desires – sexual excitement, chocolate bars, compulsive running – as if they were laws, and (b) we accept our own ideas – prejudice, political platforms, social theories – as if the were the word of God.

2:4-7 We have been given life

Even though we deaden ourselves, God gives life to us. Jesus died and was raised to life. We are allowed to participate in this life by uniting with Christ. The gift has already been given – Paul writes in the past tense; God already raised us and gave us a place in heaven.

2:7-10 This gift comes by grace alone

God gave us life as a gift. It is not payment for anything we did. (In fact, we keep right on sinning.) God gives this gift because it fits what God wants to do, because it fits the plan for bringing all of life together.

2:10 We are God's work of art

We are what God has made. My father is also a craftsman. When my father completes a project, he may be pleased with his work. He is even more happy whenever he sees his work in use, serving its purpose. In the same way, God is most pleased with us when we are living the life which was planned for us.

2:11-18 Jews and non-Jews are united in Christ

God entered into covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and later with Moses. These agreements were made with Abraham's descendents, the Jewish nation; non-Jews were excluded from the agreements. This resulted in resentment and hostility, but now that is all over. Instead of different peoples there is only one New Human Being – that is, all of us united as Christ's body. (See also 4:23.) Part of the good news is this: Christ took all hostility on himself. Now we can be united in Christ and in so doing we are also united with God.

2:19-22 We are all being built together into the house

We used to think of ourselves as American citizens and Russian citizens and British subjects, as European or Iroquois or Hispanic. Instead, think of all of us as being various parts of God's house. This house is not finished yet. Each of us is being used to help make the structure complete.

3:1-9 Christ's mystery is being revealed by Paul

Paul is God's agent to make God's mysterious purpose known to the non-Jewish people. Paul's authority to do this comes directly from God. The revelation God gave to Paul is evidence of his authority. (See Acts 9:1-27; also Acts 22:1-21 and 26:9-19.) The words which Paul has written also show that he has been given understanding.

3:8-13 We are to reveal God's plan to the universe

Pauls job is to explain what God's gift is and even how this gift is to be given out. Such information was never public knowledge in the past. Now, however, it is revealed to the Church and, through the Church, God's plan is made clear to everyone. We are the teachers of the universe. Even the powers of heaven are to learn from us. (Compare 1 Peter 1:12.) This is completed in Jesus, and gives us the right to approach God directly. This may be the most astonishing of all Paul's assertions about us.

3:14-19 We are still learning and growing

The teachers of the universe are not ourselves complete. Like all teachers, we need to be learners as well. Paul prays that God will give us the strength to grow, like a green plant or like a house being bulit. As our strength increases we will understand more fully the love of Christ. The love encompasses not only us, but the entire universe (see 1:10 and 1:23). Thus, to know Christ's love fully, we will need to be filled with everything of God, to be "filled with the fullness of God".

3:20-21 The credit for all this is God's

By our own power we could never grasp the entire universe. God's power at work in us, the Church, is always greater than our power and is always ahead even of our imagining. Therefore, the growth of Christ's body is always to God's credit only, and we praise God because of it.


4:1-16 The Church is incomplete and immature

4:1-6 We are called to contribute to the unite of the Chruch

Paul has just shown that God's intent is that all creation should by united in Christ (1:10, 3:19) and that the Church is to be the teacher in the subject (3:10). It would be unworthy for us, who are the Church, to create disunity. To do so would fly in the face of God's purpose as revealed in Christ. To be worthy of God's gift, we must strive toward the unity that God intends.

4:7-12 Each person has a function

We are all united as the body of Christ, yet (like the parts of the human body) each person has particular gifts and abilities. Paul mentions some gifts which are particularly related to teaching about God's purpose. (For more on this theme, see 1 Corinthians 12.) Whatever gifts we have, our work should contribute to the work of the entire body.

4:13-16 We grow into maturity

The church must grow up. The Church, when it is fully mature, will be the completed body of Christ. By working together, the faith and the knowledge the each of us has will join together to create complete understanding. The alternative would be to rely on the ideas of each individual person – but to do this would be to act like children who work at cross-purposes because they can't see the whole picture. We, however, are called to become the "perfect man" (that is, the completion of Jesus himself).

4:17-19 Those apart from Christ live aimlessly

The people who do not believe in God have lost this sense of purpose. Their thinking is confused. Rather than trying to understand, they give up and live for bodily stimulation. (Compare 2:3.)

4:20-5:20 We must live purposefully

4:20-24 We must be renewed

The way that everyone else lives is not good enough for people who have learned the truth about life. We must not be trapped by careless ideas about human nature. Our human nature can be corrupted by the way we live. In place of our old human nature, we must become True Humans as God created us to be.

4:25-32 We should make right choices for good reasons

The change in our lives is not just that we should act differently, but also that we have better reasons for how we act. God doesn't want us to be ignorant children, but mature partners. (See 1:9-10.) We don't only have a rule that says we ought to tell the truth; now we know that telling the truth is important because of the unity we share. The thief should get a job because he will be able to help others. Bad language is bad because it doesn't help those who hear it.

5:1-2 The rule of life is to follow God's example

If God is important to us, we will naturally imitate God. This imitation is not only natural, it is also right and it does honor to God. We know God best through Jesus, and we know that Jesus helped others and gave up his own life for us. This is the kind of love that we should imitate.

5:3-20 Our lives should show God to the world

Other people make lives out of exciting their hormones with sex or sexual innuendo, or by making an idol out of making money, or by using alcohol or other drugs. "All this is wrong for you" because we are united with Christ. People will offer arguments which seem to make their way of life make sense, but those arguments won't stand up to careful scrutiny. Our lives will show what really makes sense, just as a light clears up the mystery of a dark corner.

5:20 "We should always and in all ways give thanks to God"

Being united with the body of Christ is not an on-again, off-again sort of thing. We can't leave the body and still live – any more than your foot can walk off by itself and leave you behind. Our whole lives must be given to growing into Christ.

This sentence is part of the Great Thanksgving prayer of the sacrament of communion, which is the sacrament in which we celebrate our continued unity with Christ and with each other. Paul was clearly thinking about worship in this part of the letter, and he often quotes from the worship service in his writing, so this prayer may have been part of Christian worship from the very earliest days of the Church.


5:21-6:9 Power lies in submitting to each other

This section is a continuation of the previous discussion on how to live. It is also the beginning of a discussion of the paradox of power. We learn to think of power as the ability to force other people to submit to us. Real power is not a matter of force but the ability to accomplish a purpose. Paul does not state the paradox directly, but leads us to understand how God's power works by using 3 examples.

5:22-33 Wives and husbands should submit to each other

It was the custom that wives should obey their husbands. (Many adults today remember how recently wives – but not husbands – were expected to promise to love, honor, and obey their husbands when they were married.) Paul starts out with what seems to be conventional wisdom. But he spends only 3 verses on the wife, and then turns to the husband: A husband should love his wife, not for the husband's own pleasure but for the woman's sake. The unity of the marriage demands the same kind of sacrifice as the unity f the Church. Paul draws the analogy between marriage and the Church in such a way that the relationship between husband and wife tell us about the relationship betwen Christ and the Church and (at the same time) Christ's relationship to the Church illuminates the ideal of marriage.

5:26-27 The wedding is parallel to baptism

The ceremony, the words, and (in Paul's time) the washing of the wedding serve the same role as they do in baptism, sealing a personal relationship and making it holy.

6:1-4 Children and parents should respect each other

All parents know that their children (even adult children) need guidance from their parents. Respect for parents is one the Ten Commandments. On the other hand, parents have an obligation not to give cause for resentment. Parents should give guidance, but in a way that follows the example of the Master.

6:5-9 Slaves and masters both have Christ for a Master

Slavery existed in the Roman empire (although some say that it was not so pernicious as slavery in the United States). Paul seems not to want to open the Church to charges of sedition; he begins again by affirming the established order. Yet slaves are told to work for the sake of the true Master, Jesus, and not for the sake of human beings. The truth is that slaves and masters both answer to the Master in heaven and all are on an equal footing. (Paul uses the same word "master", or "lord", both for Jesus and for slaveholders.) This equality is truly revolutionary. It is still revolutionary if we translate it into the capitalistic world of management and labor.

6:10-17 Our strength grows by taking power given by the Master

Most children (and not a few adults) identify military force with power. the image of the armed soldier carries the right sense of strength, but as Christians our source of strength is different. Our protection is truth and integrity and God's gift of salvation, not knives and guns and bullet-proof vests. Our armor is God's own armor (see Isaiah 11:4-5 and 59:17). God offers it to us.

6:18-20 Watch, pray, and persevere

We grow when we are in communication with God. For this reason, we should pray all the time, staying alert and not giving up. (Compare 5:20.) We should pray for whatever we need in order to do our work, and not just individually but for all the needs we know about. For example, Paul (the ambassador of the God of power) is currently chained in prison; he needs the boldness to speak God's message. Praying for and with the whole Church is part of our striving to be God's people.

Paul's situation at the time of this letter (and the fact that he was afterwards executed in Rome) should drive home the point that God's power works differently from what we might expect; the fact that we still study this letter shows how much stronger God has been than were the Roman magistrates. We need to rethink the paradox of God's power in the light of how it has been shown to work.


6:21-24 Paul sends news, encouragement, and God's blessing

Tychius was from Asia Minor (Acts 20:4) and was sent to Ephesus at least once (2 Timothy 4:12; perhaps this is how the name Ephesians was attached to this letter). It seems reasonable to suppose that Tychius carried Paul's letter with him as he visited "all the Christian brothers" and "all those who love our Savior Jesus Christ".

May 1988
August 2002


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