Updated: Jan 24, 2019
While chained to a Roman guard in a prison in Rome, Paul penned the Epistle to the Ephesians. We can connect this to the narrative of Paul’s travels in Acts 28, specifically verses 30-31. This letter provides us with a glimpse into the theological understanding of Paul. It delves in the nature of the Trinity, the mystery of the gospel, the unity of the Church, and manner in which believers are to walk. Paul has the freedom to address these topics because this letter is not written to confront a particular conflict in the church.
We call this the letter to the Ephesians, so it would be natural to assume that the letter was addressed to those “in Ephesus.” But things are likely not so straight-forward. There is an interesting textual matter in the opening verse. The prepositional phrase “in Ephesus” is not found in the earliest and best manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus. It is possible that some early copyist added the words in an attempt to be helpful. If that is the case, then the letter contains no direct reference to a destination. Likely, this was what is known as a ‘circular letter.’ This was a letter that would be passed around in a circuit among the churches of Asia Minor. Paul does not address any specific conflict because it was not intended for any specific church. Just like he instructs the Colossians to circulate his letter to them to the church at Laodicea and they should read the letter he wrote to Laodicea (Col. 4:16). Likely, it was the practice of the churches to pass these letters amongst themselves. And if Ephesians was written in a broader, more generic sense, it explains the lack of names and specifics about issues in Ephesus (because there were plenty, see Acts 19-20 and Rev 2).
The structure of Ephesians is typically Pauline. Paul first explains doctrine in chapters 1-3 and then he explains duty in chapters 4-6. Paul places the indicative before the imperative. He explains who you are in Christ and then he explains what we do in Christ. This order is important for us, because our actions must flow out of our being. Who we are in Christ determines what is required by Christ.
This letter is thoroughly Trinitarian. The word Trinity is never mentioned in this letter. In fact, the word Trinity does not occur in the whole Bible. And yet, while the word ‘Trinity’ does not occur on the pages of the Bible, there is not a single page of the Bible that does not reflect the Trinune nature of God. “The entire Christian belief system, all of special revelation, stand or falls with the confession of God’s Trinity…. In the doctrine of the Trinity we feel the heartbeat of God’s entire revelation for the redemption of humanity” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics 2.333). Paul’s letter consistently reflects that the Christian life is FROM God, IN Christ, BY the Holy Spirit. After the introductory greeting, verses 1:3-14 is actually one long sentence in Greek. This sentence encapsulates our Trinitarian understanding of salvation. God the Father elects (4-6). God the Son redeems (7-12). And God the Spirit seals (13, 14). From our election in eternity past to our forgiveness in the present until our inheritance in the future, our salvation is thoroughly Trinitarian.
Paul reflects on the mystery of the gospel. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, but God, being rich in mercy, made us alive. The great Welsh preacher David Martyn Lloyd-Jones once remarked that the whole gospel is summed in those two words, “But God.” In Christ our sinful and wayward rebellion has been pacified. We are adopted into the family of God and blessed with all the blessings of Christ. The glory of Christ, veiled throughout the Old Testament, is revealed in Jesus. And Paul, though an enemy of the gospel, was redeemed and converted. This Paul is now an apostle who declares this mystery to even the Gentiles, who are now fellow heirs. The lost is found. The dead are alive. The sinner is sanctified. Such is the mystery of the gospel.
This redemption manifests itself in a unity in the Church. As we are found united in Christ, so we should be united in the Church. There is one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. The dividing wall between Jew and Gentile is abolished in Christ. We are one in Him. And our fellowship should reflect this unity. It should propel us to maturity. The church should work together as one body with one purpose, that is, to glorify God.
If this unity in Christ is manifested in the Church, then our lives will be different. We will live as becomes a follower of Christ. Paul explains in very practical examples what this looks like. Wives, submit to your husbands. Husbands, love your wives. Children obey your parents. Servants obey your masters. But all of this is futile if one has not first understood the doctrine that has preceded it. Doctrine was essential to duty. It is folly to reach for the lofty ideals of chapters 4-6 unless one has already embraced the truth of chapters 1-3. And the vision of 1-3 will never take root unless the life of 4-6 is enacted day to day. Though this present evil age is dark, the light of Christ will shine through the Church.