In the epistle Ephesians, Paul the Apostle surveys the purpose of God from eternity to eternity; it leads us to look behind before creation and beyond into the infinite and the eternal, giving us the sense that this epistle is the most profound of them all.
Ephesians focuses on God’s eternal purpose to create through Jesus Christ a new society and humanity; one characterized by life in place of death; unity and reconciliation instead of division and alienation; righteousness in place of corruption and wickedness; peace and love in place of strife and hatred; and by a continual conflict with evil and the evil one instead of a weak compromise with the evil one.
This vision and purpose of God stand in deep contrast to the realities of sin and lovelessness in so many of our churches; those who call themselves the churches in our contemporary society are often guilty of dishonoring Christ, contradicting the true nature of the church and depriving the Christian witness of integrity and truth.
The relevance of this epistle in our current contemporary context is pretty obvious. Man has striven through the years to form a new society; politicians with the ideology of “the new man and society” have campaigned for such a vision and dedicated themselves to its realization of a classless society. However, it is still not feasible, given people’s selfish desires and the corruption of the hearts of men. Some pursue such a vision with a determined effort to achieve this with the solution in economic terms; others have called for revolution in society, whether it be a call for more democracy or more freedom or improved international relations, but all these are to no avail.
The human predicament is even deeper than the injustice in the world and the lack of equality and opportunities among various peoples. Ephesians presents a greater vision and a more radical solution: a new creation! Through Jesus Christ God is recreating men and women ‘for good works’, creating a single new humanity in place of the old disastrous Jewish-Gentile division, including the present world with its decaying values and impending disaster, and recreating us in His own image “in true righteousness and holiness”. The new man and the new society are God’s creative work; it is beyond the capacity of human power and ingenuity. It depends on the power and work of the divine Creator alone.
The role of Christ takes on a cosmic dimension with the sphere of interest in the heavenly realms in which the principalities and powers operate. The epistle tells us how Christ shed His blood in a sacrificial death for sin, was then raised from death by the power of God and has been exalted above all to the supreme place in both the universe and the Church. We, the believers, who are in Christ, organically united to Him by faith, have ourselves shared in these great events.
We have been raised from spiritual death, exalted to heaven and seated with Him there. We have also been reconciled to God and to each other through Christ and in Him. We are nothing less than God’s new society, the single new humanity which He is creating, including Jews and Gentiles on equal terms. Hence, we are to live in a manner worthy of this new calling, demonstrating unity and diversity in our common life, purity and love in our daily behavior, mutual submissiveness and care in our relationships at home and at work, and stability and steadfastness in the fight against the principalities and power of evil. In the fullness of time, God’s purpose of unification will be brought to completion under the headship of Christ, and God will be all in all.
The whole epistle is a wonderful combination of Christian doctrine and Christian duty, what God has done through Christ and what we must be and do as those who have been placed in Christ.
The epistle was probably intended to be a circular letter to the churches in the province of Asia, but traditionally believed to be directed specifically to Ephesus. Ephesus was a leading city in the first century A.D. of the Roman province of Asia. She was the proud possessor of the temple of Artemis (the Roman Diana), which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The active cult of Augustus in honor of the Emperor of Rome was closely related to the worship of Artemis Additionally, the practice of magic was rampant in this city.
It is interesting to note that the impact of the gospel and the transforming power of God in Ephesus led to many who had practiced sorcery to burn their scrolls publicly, worth 50,000 drachmas (Acts 19:18-20). Also, the silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis saw his business declined drastically because of the impact of the gospel. So he instigated a riot against Apostle Paul and his co-workers (Acts 19:23-26). The message that gods made by human hands are no gods at all is significant in the proclamation of the gospel. We see that sorcery and idolatry are not just a recent phenomenon; today, they take different forms with the interest in magic and witches on television, in films, in books and also in practices focusing on spiritual encounters and the new age movement.
What is unique in this epistle is the expounding of the doctrines of election, predestination, redemption, adoption and the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. The recurring phrase “to the praise of His glory” appears again and again. Also, the phrase “to the praise of His glorious grace” is seen in verse 6. One of Paul’s uplifting prayers, the first one recorded in this epistle, shares spiritual insight on the hope of His calling, the divine inheritance in the saints and the greatness of God’s power.
Ephesians deals with the glorious sovereignty of God on the one hand and human responsibility on the other. It also focuses on the work of the triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the creation of the new society and humanity, not as an after-thought, but established before the creation of the world, encompassing the renewal of creation itself in the new heaven and new earth.