My year-long journey through The MANual, my NIV Bible for Men, continues with Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. While some of the Apostle’s “epistles” were dated earlier, Ephesians seems out of place since it follows Galatians in the New Testament.
Why? Read on to find out.
Paul’s Letters Not in Chronological Order
According to a post titled Why is Ephesians after Galatians?, modern copies of the New Testament generally order Paul’s epistles according to length. Romans is the longest and first of Paul’s letters, while 2 Thessalonians is the shortest and last of his letters. For this reason, I wrote my previous posts on the Book of Romans, Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians (which combined 1 and 2 Corinthians), and an upcoming post on 1 and 2 Thessalonians (probably also will get combined), in sequential order as they appear in the New Testament before Paul’s “Harsh” Letter to the Galatians.
This list from The Canon of the New Testament by Bruce Metzger (pages 298-299 ) shows the number of lines of Greek in the original texts that support an ordering by length theory:
- Romans 979 stichoi*
- 1 Corinthians 908 stichoi
- 2 Corinthians 607 stichoi
- Galatians 311 stichoi
- Ephesians 331 stichoi
- Philippians 221 stichoi
- Colossians 215 stichoi
- 1 Thessalonians 207 stichoi
- 2 Thessalonians 111 stichoi
*Stichoi: A line of ordinary length in a manuscript. A verse or versicle, according to the Greek Orthodox Church
There is also debate about grouping some letters together to emphasize the imprisonment theme common in Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Another view is that there are three independent or semi-independent collections of Paul’s letters circulating: one consisted of Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians; another consisting of the other nine epistles; and the third consisting only of Hebrews, which was commonly attributed to Paul in the early days.
Regardless, of most importance is the message of Ephesians that Christians are united together in Jesus and called to live in unity with each other.
During his three courageous missionary journeys, the Apostle Paul and his associates established local assemblies of believers in scores of Gentile (non-Jewish) cities. One of the most prominent was the city of Ephesus, an ancient port city established in 53 A.D. in what is now modern-day Turkey. Ephesus is located near the western shores where the Aegean Sea meets the former estuary of what once was the River Kaystros, about 80 kilometers south of Izmir, Turkey.
At the time, Ephesus was the capital city of a Roman province in Asia. It was a significant center of trade, with major roads connecting all the significant cities in Asia Minor.
Paul journeyed to Ephesus during his second missionary trip and stayed there for two years so that “all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10).
Ephesus had the largest amphitheater in the world, designed to hold up to 50,000 spectators. It also had the great temple of Artemis (Latinized as “Diana”), a Greek goddess of hunting and wilderness and the protector of unmarried girls, who was the twin of Apollo, the children born to Zeus and Leto. Artemis’ temple was built in 550 B.C. Considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it was“425 ft. long and 220 ft. wide; each of its 127 pillars which supported the roof of its colonnade was 60 ft. high.” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia). Craftsmen sold shrines and household images of the goddess that worshipers could take with them on long journeys. The Ephesians were proud of their religious heritage and its accompanying legends (Acts 19:35).
Throughout history, Ephesus survived multiple attacks and changed hands many times between conquerors. It was also a hotbed of early Christian evangelism and remains an important archaeological site and Christian pilgrimage destination.
Paul’s Correspondence to the Ephesians
Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians approximately 60 A.D.; around the same time, Paul wrote Colossians and Philemon. Paul sent all three letters for delivery by Tychicus, accompanied by Onesimus (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7–9; and Philemon 1:10–12). It was during this time that Paul sat in Rome undergoing his first Roman imprisonment (Ephesians 3:1; 4:1), making Ephesians one of the four epistles commonly known as the Prison Epistles that includes Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Paul wanted to put this important information into written form because he could not visit the churches there himself.
The Blueprint for Ephesians
Again, the major theme of the 6 chapters of Ephesians is unity: unity in Christ and unity as Christians. Written as a circulating letter to all the churches in the region, it is general in greeting and overall message.
Paul explains the wonderful things we have received through Christ; teaching how each individual member is a part that must work together with all the other parts. This eliminates the back-biting, gossip, criticism, jealousy, anger, and bitterness that become barriers to unity in the church.
In chapters 1-3, Paul begins by explaining that God picked out every believer ahead of time, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (1:4-5).
Paul then teaches about the unity of believers since all Christians are “adopted as sons through Jesus Christ” (1:5); “redeemed through His blood” (1:7), and “sealed by the Holy Spirit” (1:13). He continues to clear up the misconceived notion that people can earn their salvation with good deeds: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (2:8-9).
Chapter 4 encourages us in our responsibility to live as servants of Jesus Christ. In these chapters, Paul teaches about the unity of the body of believers in Christ, which takes hard work and humility: “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourself unity in the Spirit, binding yourself with peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3).
Swearing is NOT Allowed
Paul also writes that we are to not use foul or abusive language and to let everything we say be good and helpful (Ephesians 4:29-20).
- Why is Paul challenging us to not swear or verbally abuse anyone?
- Is watching your language difficult for you? Why or why not?
Chapter 5 encourages us to be “imitators of God” (5:1). Paul provides the imperatives for well-functioning families and the concept of biblical marriage. Paul says marriage is when husbands and wives become “one flesh” (5:31). He suggests we are to treat our marriage like Jesus loved the church, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” (5:25). Paul goes on to reinforce that husbands are to love their wives, “as their own bodies” and “even as he loves himself” (5:28, 33). The main point is: when a husband learns how to love his wife like Christ loved the church, she will “respect her husband” (vs 33).
Love and Respect in Marriage
I’m going to deviate from the use of the MANual for a moment and insert my own content for this one. Years ago, my wife and I led a great marriage study with several couples based on the book, Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs by Dr. Emerson Eggerich. In that study, Dr. Eggerichs argues that men value respect more highly than love, based 3 principles:
- Wives are made to love, want to love, and expect love. Husbands want respect, and expect respect.
- When a husband feels disrespected, he finds it especially hard to love his wife. When a wife feels unloved, she finds it especially hard to respect her husband.
- Men as leaders, are commanded to break the “Crazy Cycle” that often occurs when a wife, without feeling loved, reacts without respect, and without respect, a husband reacts without love. This is best summed up by this graphic:
Eggerich said the secret to building a happy relationship is to recognize when you are on the Crazy Cycle.
- What triggers you to not show or speak love to your wife?
- Why do men desire respect more than love (it’s not about sex)?
Chapter 6 includes Paul’s instructions to children and parents, especially the condemning one (at least for me!): “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” (6:4)
Pauls finishes his letter with great instructions to “stand firm” in the faith. He first states that his beloved brother and faithful helper, Tychicus will arrive with a full report of how the apostle is doing, then explains how believers are to prepare for spiritual battle by dressing in the “full armor of God” (6:10-17). He emphasizes that prayer is the key weapon of the Christian soldier against the devil’s schemes.
God Buddy Focus
Perhaps more than any other book of the Bible, the Book of Ephesians emphasizes the connection between sound doctrine and right practice in the Christian life. Paul argues that in order to live out God’s will for us in our lives practically, we must first understand who we are in Christ, especially when it comes to how we love.
This week, discuss:
- What issues of unity are you wrestling with these days? Political? Racial Equality? Sexual Identity?
- How can we follow the lead of Paul and Jesus Christ’s commandment to love everyone while staying true to Scriptural beliefs?
- What does love look like to people with different beliefs than you?
My next post is Paul’s letter to the church in Phillippi.