Letters for Life – Ephesians
(This is part one of a series introduced here).
Of all the letters Paul wrote, Ephesians is perhaps the most general. Unlike Philemon or 1 Thessalonians or 1 Corinthians, a pressing concern isn’t setting the agenda. And because of this Paul is able to write more freely. The door is wide open, if you will. He can address whatever he chooses.
So while Ephesians may not drip with the drama of the Corinthian correspondence, it nevertheless provides us with some interesting insights as a letter. In order to get at this, we need to back up and consider a few dates (Don’t worry, it’s brief and relevant).
When was the letter to the Ephesians written? Let’s say somewhere between A.D. 60 and early 62. That’s the opinion of most Evangelical scholars. Now let’s back up. When did Paul first meet the Ephesians? If you flip to the back of your study Bible, there you’ll probably find a map highlighting Paul’s missionary journeys. And if you look at his second journey, you’ll find a line running through Ephesus towards the end of that venture. This occurred somewhere around, oh, let’s say, A.D. 52, give or take.
So the span of time between Paul’s initial acquaintance with the Ephesians and his letter is roughly ten years.
Ok… What’s the point?
Suppose you’re presently discipling a group of Christians (or one for that matter). And suppose that you want to write them a theologically rich letter, one that not only teaches them, but encourages them and builds them up in the faith. Let’s say that you’ve known them for about ten years, and during this period of time, you’ve gotten to know them fairly well (Acts 19:9-10). What would you say in your letter? What topics would you raise and expound upon? And how deep would your letter be (or how meaty would it be)? Honestly think about it: What would you write and why?
The letter to the Ephesians helps us answer these questions.
Let’s make a few observations.
Observation #1: Expectations
The first fourteen verses of Ephesians are profoundly rich, theologically speaking. Even the oldest and wisest theologians among us continue to chew on the truths embedded in this long string of inspired pearls. Predestination is unwaveringly taught, God’s sovereignty is set on display, and meaty concepts like redemption and adoption and God’s glory fill the text.
Clearly, after ten years, Paul expects the Ephesians to not only be able to digest what he’s saying, but rejoice along with him (Notice he says “us” throughout). Now this is instructive. Think about those you are discipling. Would they be able to handle a letter like this after ten years? In many ways, this depends on you. Do you prize the great truths of salvation? Are concepts like God’s sovereignty and the atonement and union with Christ part of your vocabulary? And if they are, do you seek to communicate them to others? Do you have the heart of a teacher?
Oh, how easy it would be to talk about the present state of Evangelicalism, and how Christians after ten years of discipleship could not digest Paul’s opening words. But I’ll restrain myself. Needless to say, Paul’s expectations are illuminating.
Observation #2: Subject Matter
Consider the wide array of subject matter contained in Ephesians. Paul doesn’t camp on one issue, unpacking it for hours on end. Rather he touches upon a variety of topics. He wants the Ephesians to cherish their great salvation. He wants them to know what God’s up to in history. He wants them to know more about God’s objective for their life. He wants them to contrast their former way of life with their new one. He wants them to know how he’s praying for them. He wants them to think about the church. He wants them to think about their behavior. He wants them to reflect on their relationships with family members, employees, fellow believers, and unbelievers. And he wants them to think about the unseen realm, namely, demonic forces.
Much could be said about each of these (as well as others not mentioned), but I would like to call your attention to one in particular. Consider how much ink is spilled on the subject of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18). If you were writing a letter like this or discipling an individual or group of individuals, would you place as much emphasis upon spiritual warfare as Paul? I tend to think that we don’t take the Enemy as seriously as we ought. But for Paul, it is a matter of grave concern. The day of evil is coming (6:13). Therefore, we must be ready. And if we do not think that we must be ready, then we won’t prepare those under our spiritual care for the same.
In the end, Paul’s example is instructive. If given the opportunity to write a general letter, Paul pulls out a shotgun. He wants to hit a variety of topics. Therefore, we too should be careful to avoid hobby horses and myopia. The Christian walk is as wide as life itself. Therefore, we must be careful to treat it as such.
Observation #3: The Tone and Style
Note Paul’s tone and style. It is serious, but not stifling. He speaks soberly, but isn’t afraid to openly rejoice and praise God. He writes clearly, but not shallowly. He speaks bluntly and honestly about the Ephesians’ former way of life, but focuses on what they are now in Christ. He isn’t afraid to warn and command, but tempers it with genuine encouragement and care. His letter is somewhat formal, but not cold. And if Paul is anything, he is real. He asks for prayer, expresses his emotions, and speaks from the heart.
But more than all of this, he wants the Ephesians to love and worship the Lord Jesus Christ. If we were to somehow miss this fact, we would fail to perceive that which compels Paul to write in the first place.