Background Scripture: Ephesians 1.
Devotional Reading: Psalms 33:8-12.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge said that Ephesians is “One of the divinest compositions.”
It is also one of the most unusual books in the Bible, because it is quite unlike any other New Testament epistle. So for the whole month of December we will be focusing on this unique and challenging book.
Although Ephesus, then the Roman capital of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), is mentioned 30 times in the New Testament, none of the early manuscripts of the Greek New Testament contain the words “in Ephesus.” They do not appear in 1:1 or anywhere else in the letter until the 4th century A.D. These words were obviously added at a later time.
Furthermore, when the writer refers to himself, he speaks as one personally unknown to his readers (1:15; 3:21) and vice versa, although, in fact, Paul had ministered three years in that city (Acts 20:31), probably his longest ministry anywhere.
So most scholars are of the opinion that this letter was not written in particular to Ephesus. Some believe it was originally Paul’s letter to Laodicea, mentioned in Colossians 4:16, but not preserved.
Paul or Pauline?
Most scholars of the Bible also question whether Paul was the actual writer of this epistle. Why?
For one thing, the style of writing is not similar to other letters bearing his name. The vocabulary of the writer is quite different from the vocabulary in Paul’s letters. There are 82 words in Ephesians that Paul does not use at all in his epistles, 38 of them not encountered anywhere else in the New Testament.
The letter does not begin with the greetings so prevalent in his letters and, unlike his other letters, the sentences in this letter are astonishingly long.
We must remember that in the times when the New Testaments books were written, it was not thought unethical for a writer to ascribe his writing to a more well-known figure. Instead of a deception, it was thought to be an honor to the person named.
But even those scholars who doubt Paul’s authorship believe this epistle to be Pauline, that is: grounded in Paul’s writing and teaching, an exposition of Paul’s gospel. Whether Paul wrote it or one or more of his disciples, it doesn’t matter. It is true to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This letter is focused on the unity of the Christian message and the discipleship with which it challenges us. The writer is repeating over and over again that all the preaching, teaching, worship and witness are our response to God’s blessing and there is a purpose behind these blessings.
In 1:5 he speaks of “the purpose of his will” and again in 1:11. In 1:9 he calls this “the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time.”
In 1:18, he speaks of it as “the hope to which he has called you.”
Unite All Things
So, what is this “purpose,” “mystery,” “plan” and “hope?”
It is the theme of the whole letter: “’to unite all things in him, things in heaven and on earth” (1:10).
Instead of dividing the peoples and nations of the earth — and certainly instead of dividing the followers of Christ — in the mystery, purpose and plan, there is God’s will to “put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (1:22, 23).
Christ is to be pre-eminent over everything and the purpose is to unify, not divide. So, although it reads beautifully, this book is meant to come to the churches and the world as a threat to any manifestations of divisiveness.
That is the good news, but the bad news is that God’s purpose runs counter to the usual divisiveness of human behavior.
So Ephesians would be the most perfect text for Christians to read — and take seriously — before any meeting of their church governing boards, committees or larger bodies. This unity of the body of Christ takes precedence over all our other desires and goals.
When Christians threaten to leave their congregations or denominations as an act to “purify” the church of error and those who error, it should be a reminder that God’s will, despite all else, is for everything to be under his will for purity in unity, our “oneness” under the priority of Jesus Christ.
When we divide the body of Christ, we bring disgrace upon the Christ who unites us. Therefore, Ephesians reminds us that this epistle is written not just for Christians who lived 2,000 years ago. Because, in actuality, we all are Ephesians.