You’ve probably never heard of Hetty Green, but at one time, she was known as the “Witch of Wall Street,” becoming the richest woman in America. By the time of her death in 1916, she was known as “America’s Greatest Miser.” Even though she left an estate in excess of $100 million dollars—nearly $3 billion in today’s money—she lived like a pauper. Stories were told of how she ate her oatmeal cold because she didn’t want to spend money heating it up. We might find that bazar or at least eccentric, but we can forgive her that. The fact that her son had to have his leg amputated because she refused to pay for a physician to care for him but looked for a free clinic to treat him is harder to swallow.
Hetty Green isn’t the only wealthy person who lived as a poor person. I could tell you about Elizabeth Johnson Williams, the Cattle Queen of Texas, who only burned one piece of firewood a day in her stove during winter. I could also tell you about Howard Hughes, but you probably know his story. It’s curious that those with more money than they know what to do with chose to live as if they had no money to do anything with it.
What is even harder to understand is why Christians, who have limitless spiritual riches at their disposal, choose to live as spiritual paupers.
This was certainly a concern for the Apostle Paul, one he addressed in his letter to the Ephesians. This study is about the tremendous treasures we possess in Jesus Christ and how we might experience genuine wealth in our Christian lives.
1. Why Ephesians? Why Now?
- A Reminder of the Sufficiency of Christ
First, Ephesians reminds us of the spiritual wealth that we already have in Jesus Christ. We are living in an age in which everyone wants more—more money, more prestige, more recognition, more pleasure—and that insatiable desire for more extends to their spiritual life as well. Many believers, tired of a mediocre relationship with God, decide, “There has to be more to being a Christian than this,” and so they chase after new doctrines or new experiences to try and satisfy that new desire.
But the book of Ephesians reminds us if we are “in Christ”—a phrase repeated throughout this epistle—we already have everything we need for a rich relationship with God.
- A Reminder of the Centrality of the Church
But there is another reason, beyond our personal experience, that I think this letter is important for us as a church to study. In a day when Christians are questioning the relevance of the church, Ephesians reminds us of the centrality of the church in God’s plan.
While we have a beautiful Worship Center, we must remember that the church isn’t a physical building, no matter how lovely. The church is a spiritual temple constructed by God. Or, as Paul calls it in Ephesians, “the body of Christ.”
Our responsibility in building this spiritual temple—the church—is making disciples, as Christ commanded in Matthew 28, walking in holiness and faithfulness, and working toward unity. As we’ll see when we get to the details of Ephesians, Paul places a high emphasis on unity between Jews and Gentiles and on love.
As we begin our study in the book of Ephesians, we need to do three things. First, we will look at some background information about the letter. Second, we will briefly survey some of the subjects we will look at in the coming months—think of it as a preview of coming attractions—and finally, two brief applications for our lives.
2. Overview of Ephesians
- The Author (Ephesians 1:1)
Usually, we sign our letters at the end—sometimes, you have to search through several pages to find who sent the letter. But in New Testament times, the author of a letter identified himself at the beginning. And Paul does so here.
We know that Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, was a zealous Jew who spent the early part of his life persecuting Christians, not out of some sadistic desire he had to see people suffer, but out of a genuine persuasion that he was doing God’s business by stamping out this new heresy known as Christianity.
But in Acts 9, we find the story of Saul’s conversion. While on the way to Damascus to persecute more Christians, Jesus appeared to Saul, and Saul was miraculously saved. Not only was Paul saved, but he was also called to a specific ministry—to bring the gospel message to the Gentile world. It was Paul who first took the gospel message to Greece, which was the first time anyone in Europe ever heard about Christ. In a very real sense, Paul is our spiritual father. We are Christians today because of Paul’s faith and fortitude in proclaiming the gospel.
Interestingly, Paul identifies himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus “by the will of God.” Paul could have flashed his credentials early on, reminding the Ephesians of his qualifications to write this letter. After all, Paul came from a prominent family. He had studied under the great rabbi Gamaliel; he was a Pharisee. Even after his conversion, the Lord Jesus had appeared to him personally and commissioned him to be the one to take the gospel to the Gentiles.
But as one writer says, Paul’s emphasis here is not on the fact that he WAS an apostle, but on HOW he became an apostle. It wasn’t by his will but by God’s will. If it had not been for God’s grace and mercy, Paul would not have been an apostle; he would not have even been a Christian.
- The Audience
Paul sends this letter “to the saints who are at Ephesus, who are faithful in the Lord.” The book of Acts actually records four missionary journeys of Paul. The first three were voluntary. His final journey was to Rome as a prisoner, but even though he was a prisoner, Paul continued to proclaim the gospel.
About the year 53 A.D., on his second missionary journey, Paul first visited the mighty city of Ephesus. He arrived there with two friends he had met in Corinth—a couple named Acquilla and Priscilla—whom he met in the city of Corinth.
The City of Ephesus, located in the Western part of Asia Minor, today forms part of the Republic of Turkey. It was the political and commercial center of a large and prosperous region. Its port was so large that it became the chief communication and commercial link between Rome and the East.
Ephesus had the largest of all the Greek open-air theatres, one that would seat 25,000 spectators. But the city’s greatest claim to fame was the fact that it contained one of the seven wonders of the ancient world—the temple of Artemis, or as the Romans called her, Diana. This temple was four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens and housed a statue of Diana, the goddess of hunting. This temple was served by several hundred temple prostitutes. This temple, the remains of which are visible today, played an important role in Paul’s ministry.
Paul stayed only a brief time in Ephesus, and then he went on to Caesarea, but he left Aquilla and Priscilla behind to lead a church in Ephesus. On his third missionary journey, Paul returned to Ephesus, where he spent more than two years.
In fact, Paul spent more time in Ephesus than in any other city, and in many ways, the Ephesian church was Paul’s headquarters. During those more than two years, a great revival broke out in Ephesus. Those who were practicing magic brought their books together and started burning them.
After nearly two years, Paul left Ephesus, went to Caesarea, and then visited the church in Jerusalem, where he was arrested and taken to Rome. Remember, there were two Roman imprisonments.
During the first imprisonment, Paul was under house arrest at his own expense and was chained to a rotating guard of soldiers from the emperor’s personal guard: the Praetorian. You have to get the image in your mind. Paul was sitting in his apartment, chained to a Praetorian Guard, talking with visitors about what the Lord was doing in the churches and dictating the Prison Epistles.
His second imprisonment was his final one, where he was put in the Mamertine Prison and eventually beheaded. He wrote 2 Timothy at that time. There were four letters from Paul’s first imprisonment: Ephesians, Philippians, Philemon, and Colossians.
Paul could receive visitors while under house arrest in Rome. One of his visitors, Epaphroditus, came from the Philippian church with a financial gift. During his stay, however, Epaphroditus became ill, near enough to the point of death, Paul said, which delayed his return home (Philippians 2:27). But when he was well enough to travel, Epaphroditus carried the letter known as Philippians to the church at Philippi.
Two other significant men also visited Paul in prison. One was a slave by the name of Onesimus. He had run away from his Christian master, Philemon, who lived in the city of Colossae. Paul won Onesimus to Christ, becoming Paul’s spiritual child. Another man from Colossae, Tychicus, who was one of the pastors of the church there, also visited Paul in Rome. These two men, Onesimus and Tychicus, were the carriers of three other prison letters.
Paul encouraged Onesimus to return to his master, Philemon, and carry a very personal letter we know as Philemon. Tychicus, however, carried two letters. He first carried a letter to his home church in Colossae, what we call the Colossians. He also carried a letter addressed to “the Ephesians.”
Now, some of the most ancient manuscripts omit the words at Ephesus. It is possible that this letter was what we call an encyclical letter. That is, it was circulated among several different churches that Paul had founded on his missionary journeys. When the letter arrived to the Laodiceans, the pastor filled in the blank and said, “To the Christians in Laodicea,” when it arrived in Ephesus, the pastor said, “To the Christians who are at Ephesus.”
The fact that there are no personal references in this letter strongly indicates that it was the type of letter it was. If so, we could properly insert our church’s name here. “To the saints who are at First Baptist Church Dallas.”
- Outline of the Book
Key Verse: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).
Key Verse: “Therefore, I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).
3. Survey of the Book
We begin our study by looking at what God has already done. He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heaven. He chose us, He predestined us. Not only that, he has sealed us for the day of redemption. In chapter two, Paul reminds us that we have been saved by God’s grace alone. In the last part of chapter two, Paul discusses our relationship to the body of Christ, and in chapter three, he delves further into the mystery of the gospel—that believing Jews and Gentiles are joint heirs with Christ. And then he closes with one of the greatest benedictions found in the Bible in Ephesians 3:20-21.
Then, beginning in chapter four, we find that “Therefore,” how should our riches in Christ impact our behavior? In verses 1-6, he speaks of unity among Christians. He then talks about spiritual gifts and laying aside your old way of living. Paul tells us how our faith should transform our relationship with our mate, children, employers, and employees. Finally, Paul reminds us that being a Christian does not exempt us from the attacks of the evil one.
As you can see, Ephesians is filled with rich doctrinal truth but also with a wealth of practical application.
4. Practical Principles From the Book of Ephesians
- Every Christian Lives in the World
- Every Christian Lives in Christ
Paul reminds us that although we live here on earth, we also live in another realm. We are in Christ. And that realization governs our thoughts and our actions.
Therefore, I urge you, Paul says, to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.
Full Passage: Ephesians 1:1-2