Recently I had the task of writing an essay on the book of Ephesians, looking at the historical contexts, what it meant for people of the day and for those of us living today. Whilst I was reading Ephesians, I thought there were some great encouragements, and equally warnings, that I wanted to share in a blog. So, I hope and pray this blog speaks to you in some way, as I believe there is something for everyone in this passage for everyone.
To help set the scene, I’ll give a bit of background to the book of Ephesians. The book was written by the Apostle Paul, formerly know as Saul, to the people of Ephesus, around the time of his first imprisonment by the Roman Empire around 60 AD. So in the depths of prison, why did Paul bring it upon himself to write a letter to the people of Ephesus? Unlike some of his other letters, Paul doesn’t specify an issue that he is trying to address. But, after reading the book of Ephesians and summaries of the 2002 book “Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary” by Harold W. Hoehner, I can suggests two reasons.
Firstly, Paul saw that the Ephesians needed to know more about God’s love. He understood they were loosing the “Vibrancy of their first love for Christ”, as it says in Revelations 2:4. Through chapters one to three, Paul highlights the need for the Ephesians to increase their awareness of God’s love for them, and so be able to give God more of the glory for what they were doing. And through chapters four to six, there are more practical expressions of love for one another in God’s meaning of love.
Secondly, after hearing of how the church of Ephesus was created, Paul wanted to encourage the Ephesians to maintain a position of unity between them. The church of Ephesus centred it’s theology on God’s provision and so lead to great unity in the church. Paul was so impressed by their unity, that he wanted to rally them in this and call them to continue to be unified in obedience, love and spiritual warfare for God.
With these possible motives in mind, I’m going to be looking at the passage of Ephesians chapter 4, verses 17 to 32, which has been subtitled as “Instructions for Christian Living”. I’ll break down the passage into 3 sub passages, discussing what Paul meant to say to the Ephesians with this passage and, before moving onto the next sub passage, I will look more at what this passage means for us today living in the 21st Century.
Ephesians 4:17-19 How The Other Half Live
The first three verses of this passage talk about how the Gentiles, who they know and live with in community, live a different way to them. Paul highlights this because he needs to warn them that the way the Gentiles live has no value, and the church of Ephesus should now be living for God.
This is a very serious point from Paul. He describes the way they used to live, like blind men whose minds were confused. Paul expresses the need to be careful in the way they should conduct themselves. At the time, the empires of Greece and Rome had major cultural influences which did not promote a life that was seen to be befitting of a follower of Christ. To live as the Gentiles then was an evil life, not one to be pursuing.
Paul also goes on to say how these Gentiles had no shame of their actions and that this led to them to becoming even worse in their ways. This, again, was another warning to the Ephesians. With this, Paul is calling them to put their energy into living the right way for God and not putting it into evil actions that take them further away from relationship with God.
For us as Christians today, I feel the same warnings carry the same weight. With the emergence of the internet and a more inter connected world, it is easier than ever to see and be tempted by how the other half lives. For example, many young Christians today can get carried away in a life of partying and drinking, leading them to get involved with the wrong crowds and to commit acts that ultimately don’t honour God.
Drinking themselves into oblivion for no good reason is exactly the sort of thing Paul was talking about with the Gentiles of the day, who put all their time and effort into evil actions. From personal experience, such actions are in pursuit of finding something more but in fact it results in an even deeper sense of worthlessness, that has only been satisfied by a personal relationship with God.
This passage should be taken as a warning by the Christians of today that the secular way of living ultimately doesn’t bring happiness, it carries little or no value. We should be looking to God to see how we should living, as this is the way that has the most value in the eyes of God and provides us with the best quality of life.
Ephesians 4:20-24 Away With The Old, In With The New
In this sub passage, Paul talks about how the Ephesians have now been enlightened with a new way of life, one that brings life and not death. The Christians at Ephesus will have been taught about Jesus through their Christian Teachers. They will have been shown that now they have life in Jesus, their minds are no longer dark and confused any more, as described in verse 18. The evil ways they used to lead brought death, but living now in Jesus brings truth and life that results in eternal life with God.
Like the previous sub passage, there is some warning about their old nature but this time Paul instructs them they need to think a new way, a God way. There is a hint from Paul that they are on the fence still with their actions, some of the time they will commit the bad actions of their old nature and sometimes they will live good lives for God. I believe, in verses 23 and 24, Paul is calling them to decide to live only on one side of the fence, the God side. He calls them to live for God, and God alone, for He will make them ‘holy and good’.
The same sentiments apply for the Church today. The revelation of Christ Jesus giving His life so that we may have a new life with Him is something that is as important for us as it was for the people of Ephesus, though we read about it through books like Ephesians rather than hearing about it from people who actually met Jesus! Before accepting Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, life today tells us that we must have everything, as quickly as possible, to be happy, that money can answer all of that. But with Jesus in our lives, we realise it is only one thing we need to be happy and live full lives: Jesus.
Again, as the Ephesians were, we are also still called to live fully for Jesus. A phenomena that would appear to have been around since the time of Jesus is the ‘Sunday Christian’. A Sunday Christian is someone who attends church on a Sunday, gets involved with whats going on in the service but during the rest of the week a relationship with Jesus seems to have no bearing in their life. Even though they hear about the love of Christ each Sunday, they don’t live differently because of it. For most of my childhood this was me, I went to church each Sunday with my family, helped with Audio Visuals in my church, but it didn’t change the way I lived. I was still living for myself, living without purpose and so consequently living for evil things.
Paul is calling Sunday Christians to make a decision. They have their feet in both camps, and this is ultimately destroying them. It is like an insect in an apple, though it may look nice and edible from the outside, it is in fact being eaten from the inside out. So, as Paul encourages, the answer for a full, good life is to live for God alone. That way, we glorify Him most and allow Him to mould and use us.
Ephesians 4:25-32 Live As A Christian
As I said earlier, one of the pain purposes of Paul’s writing of Ephesians is his desire to see the Ephesians remain unified, through thick and thin. One of the reasons the Ephesians had such strong faiths to begin with was their unity, and, if Paul is reaffirming this to the degree He does in this sub passage, then it must have been something they were starting to struggle with.
The list of practical ways to live as a Christian, that Paul offers, is not exhaustive but it does highlight the need to be unified. He tells the Ephesians to not leave anger unresolved, as the devil will use the anger to do something wrong, before directly telling them not to fight with one another. If Paul is talking about this so much, that might indicate the Ephesians were starting to become less unified.
Through this sub passage, Paul tells the Ephesians exactly what they must change about the way they are currently conducting themselves. He wants to see their faith grow but he knows this means they must remain unified. By offering constructive criticism to the Ephesians, he builds them up as a community rather than aiding their destruction.
I think the same message of unity needs to be relevant to the modern day church as well, not only between denominations but also between individuals in church. Like Paul says, the devil will use our anger and isolation to pull us further away from God, if we do not reconcile ourselves before God.
Even though we are all different and unique, I think that when we are unified through love we are more powerful than we would be on our own or fighting against each other. Talking people down and gossip provide tools for the Devil to use against us, ultimately acting as poison to any community or person. Paul calls us to continue to learn how to work together and show love to one another, through all circumstances.
By keeping our emotions in check with God we allow Him to work best through us. If we put differences and anger in the way then He can’t use us so well. The church, and Christians, need to hear the word of Ephesians because it will teach them more about how to love better through unity under the name of God.
The book of Ephesians is all about love for one another and unity in Christ, as Paul writes. He offers very practical ways that we can live better as Christians, but also reminds us of why we must live differently.
In the passage I’ve looked at, Paul tells the Ephesians, and us today, that there is a reason we chose to live for God, because the other way of living was and will still kill us. By living this new life for God, we get to live in peace with God and experience His love. The message for the Ephesians, and for us today, was a call to love and live differently because of Jesus’ sacrifice.