The First in a Series of Sermons on Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was said to be John Calvin’s favorite book of the Bible. I know that a number of you would likewise answer “Ephesians,” should someone ask you to identify your favorite portion of Scripture. I am choosing to preach on this epistle not only because it is an important letter in terms of its rich doctrinal content, but also because of the fact that Paul sent this circular letter to the churches in western Asia Minor including Ephesus. Ephesus is the same city which was the home of the Apostle John who composed his three epistles about thirty years after Paul wrote this letter. Therefore, this is an important letter for us to study on its own terms, but a study of this epistle fits well with our previous series on the three Epistles of John.
F. F. Bruce once called this letter the “quintessence of Paulinism.” I couldn’t agree more. While it is difficult to discern any single theme in Ephesians, this epistle is loaded with doctrinal content which would have been very important for any number of the congregations scattered throughout western Asia Minor. Paul discusses his two-age eschatology (how the end-times unfold), the Lordship of Christ over all things (including death), he offers a powerful declaration of salvation based upon God’s gracious and eternal decree, which is worked out through the person and work of Christ and received by faith alone (the famous declaration in Ephesians 2:8–“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God).” Paul also discusses the role of Jews and Gentiles in God’s redemptive purposes, and as well as setting forth how the church comprises a new society, one in which God turns all other fallen human societal structures (i.e. racial division, social status, etc.) on their head.
Given the somewhat impersonal tone of this letter–which is surprising in light of the fact that Paul spent several years in the city of Ephesus and certainly knew many of the members of this church–this may be an indication that this epistle is a sort of circular letter which eventually became associated with the church in Ephesus. In light of this possibility, a number of commentators have argued that Ephesians was a theological tract, which originally circulated in the form of a letter. One writer even calls Ephesians a commentary on Paul’s letters, picking up on the fact that the letter lacks a central theme and doesn’t address any specific controversy, as is typical of most of Paul’s letters. While it is probably not the case the Ephesians is a summary of Paul’s other letters, it is clearly a revelation of the mystery of Christ, set forth by Paul, as the wisdom of the age to come.
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