The letter to the Ephesians

The Church in Ephesos (west of Asia Minor, just across the Aegean from Macedonia and Achaia of Greece) was always a good egg, apparently. In the last book of the Bible, she received a good report from Christ Himself for her discernment with regard to the Apostolic authority:

“To the angel of the church at Ephesus write thus: A message to thee from Him who bears the seven stars in his right hand, and walks amidst the seven golden candlesticks: ‘I know of all thy doings, all thy toil and endurance; how little patience thou hast with wickedness, how thou hast made trial of such as usurp the name of Apostle, and found them false. Yes, thou endurest, and all thou hast borne for the love of My name has not made thee despair. Yet there is one charge I make against thee; of losing the charity that was thine at first. Remember the height from which thou hast fallen, and repent, and go back to the old ways; or else I will come to visit thee, and, when I find thee still unrepentant, will remove thy candlestick from its place.”

Apocalypse, 2: 1-5

Yes, there is that one thing about charity; but Ephesos did not fall into the trap of disunity when multiple preachers arrived in the new, non-Jewish churches to challenge the Apostolic teaching and attempt to judaise these Christians. Probably as a result, unlike the letters to the churches of the Corinthians and the Galatians, there isn’t a great deal of scolding in this letter. Only lots of… catechism! There is some wonderful material here. The very introduction presents material for a hymn:

“Blessed be that God, that Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us, in Christ, with every spiritual blessing, higher than heaven itself. He has chosen us out, in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to be saints, to be blameless in His sight, for love of Him; marking us out beforehand (so His Will decreed) to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ. Thus He would manifest the splendour of that grace by which He has taken us into His favour in the person of His beloved Son. It is in Him and through His Blood that we enjoy redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. So rich is God’s grace, that has overflowed upon us in a full stream of wisdom and discernment, to make known to us the hidden purpose of His Will. It was His loving design, centred in Christ, to give history its fulfilment by resuming everything in Him, all that is in heaven, all that is on earth, summed up in Him.”

Ephesians, 1: 3-10

I couldn’t possibly produce a good sample of this letter for a short article. The first two chapters are alone thick with Christian doctrine. Here’s another short Christian catechism: free grace and mercy unmerited!

How rich God is in mercy, with what an excess of love He loved us! Our sins had made dead men of us, and He, in giving life to Christ, gave life to us too; it is His grace that has saved you; raised us up too, enthroned us too above the heavens, in Christ Jesus. He would have all future ages see, in that clemency which He shewed us in Christ Jesus, the surpassing richness of His grace. Yes, it was grace that saved you, with faith for its instrument; it did not come from yourselves, it was God’s gift, not from any action of yours, or there would be room for pride. No, we are His design; God has created us in Christ Jesus, pledged to such good actions as He has prepared beforehand, to be the employment of our lives.”

Ephesians, 2: 4-10

This is another effort of Saint Paul’s to draw the largely non-Jewish Christians into the Jewish matrix of the Church, trying to demonstrate that the outward signs of belonging to the old religion, such as circumcision, are often merely superficial. What actually matters is that their nature as outlaws (non-Jewish) has been undone by the work of God, so that they are not foreigners in the Church of Jewish Christians, but fellow citizens and members of God’s household!

“So he came, and His message was of peace for you who were far off, peace for those who were near; far off or near, united in the same Spirit, we have access through Him to the Father. You are no longer exiles, then, or aliens; the saints are your fellow citizens, you belong to God’s household. Apostles and prophets are the foundation on which you were built, and the chief corner-stone of it is Jesus Christ Himself. In Him the whole fabric is bound together, as it grows into a temple, dedicated to the Lord; in Him you too are being built in with the rest, so that God may find in you a dwelling-place for His Spirit.”

Ephesians, 2: 17-22

Chapter three is a long prayer of Paul’s, on his knees, asking that the Ephesians grow continually in love. I could picture him actually dropping to his knees as his secretary scribbled all of this down furiously: 

“With this in mind, then, I fall on my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that Father from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its title. May He, out of the rich treasury of His glory, strengthen you through His Spirit with a power that reaches your innermost being. May Christ find a dwelling-place, through faith, in your hearts; may your lives be rooted in love, founded on love. May you and all the saints be enabled to measure, in all its breadth and length and height and depth, the love of Christ, to know what passes knowledge. May you be filled with all the completion God has to give.”

Ephesians, 3: 14-19

Chapter four gives us a corporate picture of the Church that is familiar from other letters of Saint Paul: we are all one, but at the same time we have different functions within that body, and we have to work together to achieve maturity, and so be able to discern truth from falsity, with a spirit of charity.

“But each of us has received his own special grace, dealt out to him by Christ’s gift… Some He has appointed to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, or pastors, or teachers. They are to order the lives of the faithful, minister to their needs, build up the frame of Christ’s body, until we all realize our common unity through faith in the Son of God, and fuller knowledge of Him. So we shall reach perfect manhood, that maturity which is proportioned to the completed growth of Christ; we are no longer to be children, no longer to be like storm-tossed sailors, driven before the wind of each new doctrine that human subtlety, human skill in fabricating lies, may propound. We are to follow the truth, in a spirit of charity, and so grow up, in everything, into a due proportion with Christ, Who is our head.”

Ephesians, 4: 7, 11-15

To achieve this maturity, Christians would have to let go of their old, pre-baptismal habits, and be clothed in Christ.

“If true knowledge is to be found in Jesus, you will have learned in His school that you must be quit, now, of the old self whose way of life you remember, the self that wasted its aim on false dreams. There must be a renewal in the inner life of your minds; you must be clothed in the new self, which is created in God’s image, justified and sanctified through the truth. Away with falsehood, then; let everyone speak out the truth to his neighbour; membership of the body binds us to one another.”

Ephesians, 4: 21-25

That begins a discourse on good behaviour, for our inward conversions should result in an edifying, outward manifestation. A good Christian should be well-behaved, not because he is following the dictates of a law, but because he has put on Christ and is in harmony with the Will of God, through grace. 

“Once you were all darkness; now, in the Lord, you are all daylight. You must live as men native to the light; where the light has its effect, all is goodness, and holiness, and truth; your lives must be the manifestation of God’s will. As for the thankless deeds men do in the dark, you must not take any part in them; rather, your conduct must be a rebuke to them; their secret actions are too shameful even to bear speaking of. It is the light that rebukes such things and shews them up for what they are; only light shews up. That is the meaning of the words, ‘Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.'”

Ephesians, 5: 8-14

And that brings us to the most famous part of this letter, where Paul demonstrates the equality of men and women in marriage, a message that would have sounded quite odd in his time. ‘Husbands love your wives!’

“You who are husbands must shew love to your wives, as Christ shewed love to the Church when He gave Himself up on its behalf. He would hallow it, purify it by bathing it in the water to which His word gave life; He would summon it into His own presence, the Church in all its beauty, no stain, no wrinkle, no such disfigurement; it was to be holy, it was to be spotless. And that is how husband ought to love wife, as if she were his own body; in loving his wife, a man is but loving himself. It is unheard of, that a man should bear ill-will to his own flesh and blood; no, he keeps it fed and warmed; and so it is with Christ and His Church; we are limbs of His body; flesh and bone, we belong to Him.”

Ephesians, 5: 25-30

There is a little bit following about everybody dwelling virtuously in his or her own station: children, honour your parents (be virtuous children), parents, do not rile your children (be virtuous parents), slaves, honour your masters (be virtuous slaves), masters, deal well with your slaves (be virtuous masters). All this, while remembering that all of them, all of us, have a Master up above who doesn’t recognise these social structures that the Church dwelling in human society has to work with. And that’s quite the end of it. The last picture is a call to arms against the cunning of the enemy of our souls, and I shall end with this:

“You must wear all the weapons in God’s armoury, if you would find strength to resist the cunning of the devil. It is not against flesh and blood that we enter the lists; we have to do with princedoms and powers, with those who have mastery of the world in these dark days, with malign influences in an order higher than ours. Take up all God’s armour, then; so you will be able to stand your ground when the evil time comes, and be found still on your feet, when all the task is over. Stand fast, your loins girt with truth, the breastplate of justice fitted on, and your feet shod in readiness to publish the gospel of peace. With all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fire-tipped arrows of your wicked enemy; make the helmet of salvation your own, and the sword of the spirit, God’s word.”

Ephesians, 6: 11-17
S. Paul stands with the sword that killed him, outside the basilica of his name outside Rome
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