“Ephesians – The Church”

Today we are getting ready to read through the Book of Ephesians. I will begin today with an overview of the book, and try to focus on the core ideas in order to give us a framework in which to study. One of the reasons I decided on Ephesians has to do with its focus on the church. Look around, we’re it, the church. Let’s face it, church today is a lot different than it was when we were children. Because the church is a living organism, it keeps changing. Many of us lament the changes we see, specifically the dwindling number of churchgoers. Take a look around. This sanctuary was built this size in order to meet the needs of its day. Today, it’s hard to imagine the pews being filled or even half filled. I have been in the balcony during a Lincoln Academy band concert and during a Tapestry concert when there has been standing room only and imagined what the minister felt like back then. 

Then I remember that with larger numbers of people comes a larger number of issues and problems. Which is one of the reasons Paul wrote this letter. 

The Christian church was just starting out. Paul had previously been on his missionary journey and started various congregations around the city of Ephesus. We heard about this in our scripture reading of Acts chapter 19. Paul eventually found himself in prison in Rome and sent this letter out to these fledgling congregations to remind them of the importance of the church in the everyday life of the believer. Paul focuses not only on the development of a personal relationship with Jesus, but more importantly how we are to live with our fellow Christians in nurturing and ministering commitments. 

Let’s take a look at the city of Ephesus in the first century. 

It was known as the “religious center of the province of Asia.”  The great temple of Artemis was its main attraction. This temple was visited daily by throngs of visitors and worshippers. It also ran a successful bank where cities and nations, along with individuals could come and acquire loans. This temple was the edifice Paul will use to compare the vision of the church of Jesus Christ. Although for Paul, God’s church was not an institution, but a holy living temple, a body of believers brought together to represent the revelation of God’s glory through the personalities of its members. In Paul’s description, the body of Christ far outshone the glory of the stone temple of Ephesus, even though the stone temple of Ephesus was four times the size of the Parthenon of Athens. 

As we study this book it’s important for us to visualize our own church as more than a building, programs and activities and place of worship alone. As we read through Ephesians it is my hope we will come to understand God’s plan for His church as living expressions of Christ, who still expresses His glory through human lives. 

Now that we have looked back at the context of this letter I want to bring us up to the 19th century. On the back of your bulletin I have placed a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville, a French politician who lived in France at the same time America was becoming a new country. Alexis was fascinated with the experiment of democracy known as the United States. He and a colleague convinced the French government to fund a ten month trip through America to study the prisons. When they returned his colleague put together the information on the prisons and Alexis wrote a book entitled, “Democracy in America.”  

It is considered a classic and as relevant today as it was in 1835. (Read the quote.)

I think Alexis described Americans to a tea! Check out the line, 

“incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest 

he exists but in himself and for himself alone;

They labeled this “freedom.” The Declaration of Independence puts it this way, 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That sounds good on paper. 

Even though over two hundred years later the United States has become a world power, we will discover as we read through Ephesians, that our Creator has different goals in mind. 

Before we read through the Book of Ephesians verse by verse I want to highlight some of its key points. First significant fact is the actual make-up of this letter. Ephesians is the only letter Paul wrote that doesn’t mention any particular individual. In all of his other letters Paul throws in a name or two of someone he knows or wants to make a point about. Instead of Paul addressing some issue or problem in the church, the book of Ephesians writes more like an essay, summarizing Paul’s vision of the gospel and what being a body of believers is all about. In fact, if you check out your Bible in verse 1 you will see a little footnote after the phrase, “to the saints in Ephesus.” 

You should find at the bottom of the page it reads “some early manuscripts do not have in Ephesus.” It’s believed that this was a letter Paul wrote to many of the churches around the city of Ephesus. Paul’s letters were copied over and over again and sent to other churches. Many believe a majority of the letters that were copied were discovered in the city of Ephesus, therefore giving it this title. All to say, Paul seems to be writing to the church as a whole rather than to one particular congregation. 

Paul begins the letter with a beautiful poem, which we will read next week. What Paul has done is condensed the story of God’s plan for creation and humanity and provided its purpose in verses 9 and 10. 

“9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10  to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—

Which means God has been working on His purposes throughout history, and Jesus Christ is the lynch pin of what everything is about. Verse 10 gives us that purpose in Christ

10 to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

“To bring unity to all things…”

Basically Paul is saying that the story that started in the creation of the cosmos, has been culminated or gets summed up, or unified through Jesus. 

This is a pretty profound thing to say about someone. Think about it, the purpose and reason for the whole universe is brought together in the person of Jesus. You can’t just say that about anybody, can you? 

So what is understood then is we have a chaotic world, that is fragmented or messed up and all of this chaos is being brought together in the person of Jesus who will sum up or unify the chaos. 

Given this premise, we should ask the question, how did everything get messed up? Why is it fragmented? 

Paul answers this question in chapter 2, verse 1, 

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,  in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”

The problem is, humans are dead. The biblical representation of zombies, the walking dead. 

There you have it. Humanity begins in Eden, happy go lucky, walking with God. 

Until, humans mess up, due to a desire for autonomy and moral independence from the wisdom of the creator. This results in humanity fragmenting into a million different stories of people seeking life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We become disconnected from ourselves and other people. Paul puts it that humanity is alive, breathing etc. but in essence we are dead, due to transgression and sin. 

Transgressions are when moral choices are made that people know what they are doing is wrong, that it will hurt others but it doesn’t matter to them, they do it because they want to. 

Sin is the Bible’s word for moral failure. It’s like we know we are made for a certain purpose, we know we are made for something more. 

But we keep making choices and fail to make the best choices and continue to fail. And the human response is to focus on ourselves, take care of ourselves, or if we do help others it is only those who are part of our little tribe, or family, back to Tocqueville. We can throw money, technology, therapy whatever we can come up with to fix it, but Paul reminds us it’s because we are dead, outwardly alive but internally dead. Left to our own devices we remain messed up. 

But God has a plan, look at verse 4-6 of chapter 2, 

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” 

This is amazing stuff! 

Step back for a moment and put this into context. The human race has been messed up since exiting the garden of Eden. God’s plan was to choose one family out of all the families in the universe, to help out. We know them as the Israelites. Not that this family is any better or worse than another group of humans, but they are the family God chooses by His grace to solve the problem. God does this through an Israelite named Jesus Christ, Jesus, the King. It just so happens that Jesus doesn’t just save the Israelites, He comes to save all of humankind, 

“for whosoever believes, shall be saved.” 

Jesus was the one human that God created us all to be, but we couldn’t because we are dead inside. So Jesus lived on our behalf, He died on our behalf as well. He absorbed all of the sin and destruction humans create. His resurrection was also on our behalf. 

Paul puts this all together by saying that no matter who you are, if you accept what Jesus has done, all that is true for Jesus is now true for you. Regardless of how much we mess up, if we grab ahold of Jesus, His life now belongs to us. Look again at verse 5, 

made us alive with Christ

Remember, you did this, 

remember your baptism, 

when you symbolized being dead, 

under water, 

and being raised to life. 

Paul goes on to say, 

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 

You may be thinking this won’t happen until you officially die. 

But for Paul, this happens every time we open ourselves up to something God wants to change in us. When we choose to do what God says is best for us, 

not what we decide. 

Paul then goes on to describe who gets in. Verse 11-13,

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Remember, when this whole Christian thing began, Jesus was Jewish and so were His followers. 

So one the biggest issues that first arose, if Jesus was Jewish, does one have to become Jewish to follow Him. By the guidance of the Spirit, the leaders of the Church said no. If you were not Jewish you didn’t have to start eating kosher or worship on Saturdays. Paul continues in verse 14-16 

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility


His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God 

Let’s review, Paul is telling us that every nation, all people, who were once individual nations, seeking their life, liberty and pursuing happiness, sometimes doing this alongside one another, 

sometimes in competition with others, 


at the cross, 

Jesus has reconciled all humans. 

Once we have come through the cross, God creates a new humanity. This new family no longer derives its identity by what tribe you belong to, or what denomination you belong to, or what type of music you sing in worship.

Humans are perpetually dividing ourselves up into sub groups. It’s the homogeneous principle. We tend to hang out with those we are like, who have our similarities. But for Paul, he says the new family we belong to once we accept the blood of Christ, are children of God and are all on level ground. There is no hierarchy. All the classes, or ethnicities that humans use to identify themselves are gone, leveled. 

For Paul, when you enter the family of God, 

every human being becomes and 

every human being stands 

equal before God. 

In this new family of God, we are defined by one thing alone, 

we are alive, 

because of what Christ did for us, 

by dying on the cross, 

taking our sins, and

 becoming a new life. 

So the family of God combines people of various backgrounds, ethnicities, and experiences into a group of believers with a common story. 

The story of salvation. 

Meaning our lives are no longer our own, because King Jesus loved me and purchased me. There we have the overview of chapters 1-3 in the book of Ephesians. 

Now for chapters 4-6 we will be reading about the new humanity and how this new family of God should be living. For most of us, we have grown up in the church, we have heard the story of Adam and Eve and how they messed up in the garden and since then we have had to deal with sin. We’ve been told the story of Jesus, how He came to earth to solve the sin problem and if we believe in Him, accept Him as our Lord and Savior, we will be saved from sin and live in eternity with God. 

All of this is true, but …

American Christianity has left out the rest of the story. We have made this all too private. What has happened is we have lots of people who have their faith and they live their lives loving God, but when it comes to the church, they either do it their own way or they don’t want anything to do with it. Paul will be reminding us that the whole purpose of Christ’s coming, dying and resurrecting was to bring together a whole group of people who are bound to each other with a new covenant. Not by race, or class, or type of music, but by the cross. The rest of the book of Ephesians is all about how to live in the family of God. Look at chapter four, verse one, 

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 

That calling is to be a member of the family of God. Just like in our original families, we don’t get a chance to pick who is in it. Same with God’s family. 

Paul goes on to say, verses 2,3,

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Paul will spend time describing what this new family of God should look like. It’s not going to be a 2000 sq.ft house with a white picket fence and 2.4 children. Go down to verse 17, 

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 

Mind you, Paul is writing to Gentiles, but he wants to remind them that they are no longer identified by their ethnicity. In the family of God there are no Jews, no Gentiles, no masters, no slaves, everyone is equal. Paul goes on in verse 22 to explain

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Paul is telling us that we need to re-learn what it means to be a human. We think we know, but up until now we have been living the human way. God wants us to live like Jesus. 

What does that look like? 

In our new family of God, Paul will highlight three things,

First, UNITY should be one of our highest values. 

Second, our conduct should be all about HOLINESS. 

Paul will talk about holiness in regards to three great idols, money, power and sex. In the family God, we deal with money, power and sex very differently than we did in the world. 

Third, is LOVE. 

Not the erotic type of love with cupid’s arrows, but in the Bible love is an action verb. Meaning the love we are to demonstrate is where we actively pursue the well being of others, regardless. Love that is committed to laying down our rights and our agenda, and elevating others regardless of whether they deserve it or appreciate it. OUCH!

Exactly what Jesus experienced, OUCH! 

But remember, we are to live like Christ, and there is an OUCH in that process. 

Paul will teach us about the new humanity, in the family of God, being defined by unity, holiness and love. 

This is exciting news! 

Paul will take us through every relationship we can think of with these values in mind and teach us how to relate in them with the new family values. 

Time to check in. 

Here are a few challenges for us as we venture into reading Ephesians. 

First of all, this book is about the church. The church Paul will be describing is not necessarily the church as we know it today. We probably all have some negative views about the church and that makes sense because it’s made up of humans. Paul will guide us to see what God’s vision is for His church. 

Secondly, many of us have become sedentary and set in our ways when it comes to church. We become critics of how church is done and decide to pick and choose what we like and when we should or shouldn’t attend.

Hopefully, our study of Ephesians will help us reframe our idea of what we are doing every Sunday and what God’s family is all about. God has a plan that requires us to be in covenant with each other for the long haul. Paul will teach us how that’s done. 

Let’s pray.