Years after the exciting start of the Christian mission in Ephesus, the Ephesians struggled with the significance of their Christian faith.
Paul, writing to them from prison, worries that the believers in Ephesus may “lose heart,” forgetting what it means to be Jesus’ disciples in their sophisticated, pagan culture. Though his hearers are Christians, Paul seeks to reignite their devotion to Christ, and to resurrect the excitement of being part of His church.
As Paul seeks to draw these believers into fresh devotion to their Lord, he does not dumb down the demands of discipleship. Christians are called to Spirit-inspired, Christ-honoring, God-directed worship. Devotion to Christ impacts how one acts and speaks. It means resisting the patterns of mean-spirited and sexually decadent behavior so rampant in their culture. It means offering fellow citizens of Ephesus clear examples of a new pattern of human existence.
Paul spends a good deal of his letter expressing his excitement for this new pattern of what it means to be a member of God’s church. He is especially invigorated by how God has joined Jews and Gentiles as one in the church. In living out unity where hostility would be expected, they have an opportunity to exhibit the characteristics of God’s new society and His coming kingdom.
In pursuing the importance of being part of God’s church, Paul develops four metaphors for the church. Believers make up the body of Christ, demonstrating their devotion to HIm and their unity with each other. They are a living temple, built through Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. They are the bride of Christ, and look toward a grand marriage ceremony when the Bridegroom comes to claim them as His own. In a final metaphor that expresses Paul's efforts to reenlist them in Christian faith, they are the army of Christ, which wages peace in His name, combating the forces of darkness in God’s strength as they look toward Christ’s return.
Ephesians, then, speaks specifically to times like our own in which the allure of the world and the passing of time threaten to dull Christian discipleship. It lifts up Christ and accents the significance of following Him as engaged, active members of His church as we live out the hope of His return. As we study this quarter’s guide, written by John K. McVay, we have the privilege of listening prayerfully to Ephesians and experiencing anew the excitement of following Jesus in challenging times.