Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

Commentary on the Book of Ephesians

By: Tom Lowe                                            Date: 11/7/16

 

 

                                                                           

         Lesson 1: Dear Ephesians (1:1-2)                        

 

 

 

Ephesians 1:1-2 (NIV)

 

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:

2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

Ephesians 1:1-2 (ESV)

 

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Introduction

The first two verses of Ephesians make up the salutation.  This type of salutation was the usual way of starting a letter in Paul’s day.  The custom was to give first the name of the writer, then to identify the reader or readers and finally to express greetings.  Paul in his letters followed this pattern.  However, he always gave it a decidedly Christian flavor and varied and amplified it according to circumstances.

Evidently, the Ephesians letter was originally circulated as an epistle intended for all the churches of the Roman province of Asia (of which Ephesus was the capital city).  The church at Ephesus likely received this letter first, and later was entrusted with its safe keeping.  Thus the letter eventually became identified exclusively with Ephesus.

 

Commentary

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus[1],the faithful in Christ Jesus:

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus.” Ancient correspondence—like its contemporary counterparts—opened according to a traditional formula.  Our practice is to write the recipient’s name at the beginning and the author’s signature at the end.  Modern e-mails have reverted to the more sensible ancient form in which the names of both the writer and the recipient were given first, usually followed by some words of greeting. Paul (his name means “small”) adopted this basic formula in almost all of his letters.  Only in his strongly worded letter to the Galatians did he refrain from all expressions of thankfulness to God for his blessings on the recipients. 

Paul identifies himself as the author, describes his readers, and sends his greetings (v 2).  The opening words— Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus—reveal both the name (Paul) and the status (apostle) of the author.  Paul states that he is “an apostle.” What is an apostle?  It is the highest office that the church has ever had.  No one today is an apostle in the church for the simple reason that they cannot meet the requirements of an apostle. Here are the requirements:

1)     The apostles received their commission directly from the living lips of Jesus.  Paul made that claim for himself.  He wrote, “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead)” (Galatians 1:1).  This is the reason I believe Paul took the place of Judas.  The disciples had selected Matthias, but I don’t find anywhere that Jesus Christ made him an apostle.  Apparently all the apostles received their commission directly from the Lord Jesus.

2)     The apostles saw the Savior after His resurrection.  Paul could meet that requirement.

3)     The apostles exercised a special inspiration.  They expounded and wrote Scripture (see John 14:26; 16:13; Galatians 1:11-12).  Certainly Paul measures up to that more than any other apostle.

4)     They exercised supreme authority (see John 20:22-23; 2 Corinthians 10:8).

5)     The badge of their authority was the power to work miracles (see Mark 6:13; Luke 9:1-2; Acts 2:43).  I do not believe such power is invested in men today.  That was the badge of an apostle.  John wrote at the end of the first century, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed” (2 John 10).  The badge was no longer the ability to work miracles but having the right Doctrine.

6)     They were given a universal commission to found churches (see 2 Corinthians 11:28). 

Paul definitely met these six requirements for apostleship.

Paul was born on the island of Tarsus, and since the time of Pompeii (106-48 b.c.), Citizens of Tarsus had enjoyed the privilege of Roman citizenship.  Paul used this to his advantage on more than one occasion (Acts 16:37; 21:37-40; 22:24-29).  Thus by birth he was a citizen of two worlds, a Hebrew of Hebrews (Philippians 3:5), but also a citizen of Rome.  He was Saul (his Jewish name), proud descendant of Benjamin.  But he was also Paul (his Roman name), free born Roman citizen.

Saul of Tarsus became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15).  While he was ministering in the church of Antioch, he was called by the Spirit to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, and he obeyed (Acts 13:1-3).  The Book of Acts records three missionary journeys that took Paul throughout the Roman Empire in one of the greatest evangelistic endeavors in church history.  About the year 53, Paul first ministered in Ephesus but did not remain there (Acts 18:19-21).  Two years later, while on his third journey, Paul stayed in Ephesus for at least two years and saw that whole vast area evangelize (Acts 19:1-20).  During these years, he founded a strong church in the city that was dedicated to the worship of the goddess Diana.  For a description of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, read Acts 20, and for an explanation of the opposition to Paul’s ministry there, read Acts 19:21-41.

It was nearly 10 years later when Paul wrote to his beloved friends in Ephesus.  Paul was a prisoner in Rome (Ephesians 3:1; 4:1; 6:20), and he wanted to share with these believers the great truths the Lord had taught him about Christ and the church.

So, the letter was written from Rome about the year a.d. 62.  Though Paul was on trial for his life, he was concerned about the spiritual needs of the churches he had founded.  As an apostle, one sent with a commission, he had an obligation to teach them the Word of God and to seek to build them up in the faith (Ephesians 4:11-12).

It is worth remembering who and what Paul was.  He was an amazingly influential Christian, but he was often persecuted in the world and demeaned and despised within the church.  In his own eyes he was “the very least of all the saints” (3:8).  Ancient literature provides us with only one physical description of Paul.  It is found in the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla (originally composed probably in the second century): He was “a man little of stature, thin haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows joining, and nose somewhat hooked.” There was another aspect to him which the same document mentions: “Sometimes he appeared like a man, and sometimes he had the face of an angel.” The language obviously echoes the description of the martyr Stephen (Acts 6:15), but in so doing gives an indication of how venerated Paul’s ministry continued to be.  He was a small man who became great.

It was “by the will of God” that Paul was an apostle of Christ Jesus.  The Greek word apostolos means “a sent one.” It was sometimes used in classical literature for a naval expedition, the commander of which might also be known as an apostolos.  The authority of an apostle to speak and act was therefore dependent on the nature of the authority of his sender.  That is why it is important to notice that the word is used in more than one way in the New Testament.

  • It is used of Jesus Himself (Hebrews 3:1) as the Son whom God sent into the world (John 3:17). 
  • In the New Testament it is primarily used in reference to “the 12” whom Jesus called and trained to be part of the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20).  These men had a special and direct commission from Christ and they went forth endued with His power and clothed with His authority.  In affirming his apostleship, therefore, Paul is actually asserting his right to address his readers, and in essence is declaring that the teaching which he set forth is invested with divine authority.
  • It is sometimes used of believers commissioned by their congregation for special service.  In this sense, “apostle” and “missionary” mean basically the same.  The former term is derived from the Greek, the latter from the Latin, verbs “to sin.”  Barnabas and Saul were both apostles in this sense (Acts 14:14)—sent out by the church at Antioch.

But Paul was conscious that he was also, and more fundamentally, an apostle not only of Antioch but of Christ Jesus.  He had received a direct commission from the Lord Jesus himself, just as surely as had Peter or James or John.  He was emphatic about this, especially when his calling was demeaned and under attack, as it was in the churches in Corinth and Galatia (see 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:3-10; 2 Corinthians 11-12; Galatians 1:11).  This explains why his letters carry such a weighty sense of his own authority.

Central to the apostle’s ministry was a calling to be the vehicle of God’s revelation.  Jesus had made this clear in the upper room, shortly before his death (John 14:24-25; 16:12-15; 17:18).  He had breathed His Spirit on them in order to equip them for this ministry (John 20:22).  They did foundation work (Ephesians 3:4-5).  And although Paul felt himself “born” into this office in a different way (“one ultimately born” as he describes himself in 1 Corinthians 15:8), he claimed to have the mind of Christ and the gift of the Spirit for this ministry (1 Corinthians 2:6-13).  It was Christ’s authority ultimately, not Paul’s, that he expressed.

Thus Paul—the littlest one—was enabled to fulfill his calling.  He had a deep consciousness that it was God, not man, nor even his own aspirations that had brought him into the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.  A Christian must never be filled with pride in any task that God gives him to do; he must be filled with wonder that God thought him worthy of a share in His work.  To the end of his life, Paul was amazed that God could have chosen a man like him to do His work.

“How Thou canst think so well of us,

And be the God Thou art,

Is darkness to my intellect,

But sunshine to my heart.”

God is sovereign—but the sovereignty of God does not destroy the freewill of individuals, as we will clearly see in our study of Ephesians.  Paul was a chosen vessel to make known the mystery hidden from the foundation of the world, but revealed to us upon whom the ends of the world have come.  Knowing that he was an apostle by the sovereign will of God, Paul wanted every believer to know and be assured of the same spiritual truth.  Let me repeat: “The sovereign will of God and the sovereign grace of God do not destroy the freewill of individuals.”

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” Paul rested his apostleship upon the will of God rather than any personal ambition or will of man or request of the church.  He wrote to the Galatians: But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen . . .” (Galatians 1:15-16).  Paul said to Timothy: “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:12-13).  Paul made constant reference to the “will of God” as the foundation of his apostleship.  You can check 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians: 1; Colossians 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1.  He said it in all these places.

“To God’s holy people in Ephesus.” Here, I prefer the English Standard Version (ESV),” which says, “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus,” to the New International Version (NIV),” undoubtedly because I love the thought that God thinks of me as a saint.  The readers of this letter are described in several ways.  They are saints, they are at Ephesus, and they are also faithful in Christ Jesus.  Please notice the term saint is used to denote all those in the church in Ephesus. Some of the other names given Christians during the apostolic period are “believers,” “disciples,” “followers of the way,” “brethren,” and “Christians.” By saints nowadays we mean virtuous in goodness, or people who have been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as great Christians. 

According to the New Testament all born again Christians—young and old, rich and poor, wise and simple—are saints.  Saint refers to the believer’s standing in Christ, and is applied to even the most unworthy believer.  If you will read the first and second letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians, you will note that some of these dear people certainly did not act like a saint—but in spite of their carnality they were saints because they were born again and were members of the body of Christ.  All believers are saints because all believers are “in Christ.” They have been set apart (“sanctified”) or reserved for God’s special purposes.  For Paul becoming holy is the natural fruit of becoming a saint.  For a person becomes a saint, not by years of hard work leading to promotion among the spiritual elite when the Christian life ends, but by the spiritual resurrection and transformation with which it begins.

The Christian is a man who always lives a double life.  Paul’s friends were people who lived in Ephesus and in Christ.  Every Christian has a human address and a divine address; and that is precisely the secret of the Christian life.  Where ever the Christian is, he is still in Christ. 

“The faithful in Christ Jesus.” These saints are also faithful.  That is, they were people who had put their whole trust in Jesus as Son of God, Lord and Savior.  The expression “in Christ Jesus” suggests not only that He was the object of their faith but that they enjoyed a living union with Him.  Geographically they were at Ephesus, but spiritually they were in Christ Jesus. 

Faithfulness also describes their response to God’s grace—they were full of trust that led to obedience.  “Faithful” is the description of the believer when he lives the kind of life that every saint of God should live.  If we are what we should be as a believer, we will be faithful in all that we do and say and in all that we are, for Christ’s sake.  The word, “faithful,” means “believing ones” and is thus a description of all true Christians.  Of course, believers should also be faithful in the sense that they are reliable and trustworthy.  But the primary thought here is that they had acknowledged Christ Jesus to be their only Lord and Savior.

We are saints—and we should be faithful because we are in Christ Jesus.  Listen to these glorious verses:

  • In Colossians 1:27 Paul declares, “. . .  Christ in you, the hope of Glory.”
  • Again, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
  • Again, “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).
  • “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

Notice in all of these Scriptures we are declared to be “in Christ” if we are children of God. 

Someone may be asking, “How do we get in Christ?” Our Textbook gives us the answer: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

We become a member of the body of Christ—bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh (Ephesians 5:30) through the baptism of the Holy Ghost; and this occurs the instant, the split second, we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Savior.  Jesus declares, “Except a man be born of the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).  The spiritual birth through the power of God is an imperative if we would enter the kingdom of God.  We are saints because we are in Christ Jesus.  All believers should be faithful because we are saints in Christ Jesus.

We are told But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17).  We belong to Him, and there's nothing as wonderful as that. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus . . .” (Romans 8:1). Can you improve on that?  Being in Christ Jesus is the great accomplishment of salvation.  The Lord Jesus said, "Abide in me, and I in you . . ." (see John 15:4).  How wonderful!  We are in Christ.  I can't explain it; it's so profound; but, perhaps these analogies may help to explain it:

The Bird is in the air; the air is in the bird.

The fish is in the water; the water is in the fish.

The iron is in the fire; the fire is in the iron.

The believer is in Christ and Christ is in the believer.  We are joined to Him.  The head is in the body and the body is in the head.  My body can't move without the head directing it.  The church, which is "the body of Christ" is in Christ, the Head.  All the truths of Ephesians revolve around this fact.

 

2Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Grace and peace to you.” Ancient letters opened with greetings.  Paul transforms the usual formula, elevating it to new Heights.  As an apostle, he writes with Christ’s authority.  He wishes them nothing less than grace and peace—from both the Father and His Son.

“Grace” is God’s amazing favor and love, not only unmerited by us but also actually de-merited, because we don’t thank Him and we keep on doing the same old sins.  This letter is full of it (see 1:6, 7; 2:4-5; 3:2, 8).  This single word summarizes the first three chapters Paul is about to write, in which he will expound its origin and the means by which He expresses it.

“Grace” always has two main ideas in it.  The Greek word is charis which could mean charm.  There must be a certain loveliness in the Christian life.  A Christianity which is unattractive is not real Christianity.  Grace always describes a gift, and a gift which it would have been impossible for a man to procure for himself, and which he never earned and in no way deserved.  Whenever we mention the word grace, we must think of the sheer loveliness of the Christian life and the sheer undeserved generosity of the heart of God.

The grace of God is the means by which He saves us.  You must know the grace of God before you can experience the peace of God.  You must have grace before you can experience peace. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

“Peace” is the Old Testament’s “shalom”—not just a feeling of quiet, but the well-being of our whole lives.  The word denotes wholeness, soundness, or prosperity, especially in spiritual things.  True peace is peace with God because our sins are forgiven.  Our sins can never be forgiven until we know something of the grace of God.  In the bible peace is never a purely negative word; it never describes simply the absence of trouble.  Shalom means everything which makes up man’s highest good.  It is what Paul goes on to described in the second half of Ephesians: reconciliation in Christ which creates unity-in-diversity in the new community of the church (4:1-16), transformation in the way we live (4:17-5:21), and strength to remain standing in the spiritual battle (6:10-20).

Christian peace is something quite independent of outward circumstances.  A man might live in comfort and luxury and on the fat of the land, he might have the finest of houses and the biggest of bank accounts, and yet not have peace; on the other hand, a man might be starving in prison, or dying on the battlefield, or living a life from which all comfort has been removed, and be at perfect peace.  The explanation is that there is only one source of peace in all the world, and that is doing the will of God.  When we are doing something which we know we should not do or are evading something that we know we ought to do, there is always a haunting uneasiness at the back of our minds; but if we’re doing something very hard for us to do, even something we do not want to do, so long as we know that it is the right thing there is a certain contentment in our hearts.  Our peace comes from being in His will.

When we become the recipients of God’s grace, then we have peace that passes all understanding; but apart from God’s grace there is no peace . . . There can be no peace.  The statement “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” is not just a tribute to the deity of the Son who is co-equal with God the Father.  The statement sets before us the exalted position of Jesus with the Father “in the heavenlies.” This position is set forth and unfolded by the Holy Spirit throughout the Ephesians letter.

Please note that grace and peace are in Christ Jesus.  There is no other place to find grace.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His Glory, the Glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:1 and 14).

It’s interesting that Paul’s conclusion (6:23-24) reverses the order of his introduction.  There he wishes peace (6:23 and grace 6:24).  Is this a hint that, between the two bookends of his letter, grace will lead to peace, and peace will always rest in grace?  How marvelous!

“From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”The grace and peace is from God our Father.  In fact, He becomes our Father when we experience the grace of God and are regenerated by the Spirit of God.  Grace and peace also come from the Lord Jesus Christ.  Why didn’t Paul say they also came from the Holy Spirit?  Doesn’t Paul believe in the Trinity?  O, yes, but the Holy Spirit was already in Ephesus indwelling believers.  The Lord Jesus was seated at God’s right hand in the heavens.  We need to keep our geography straight when we study the Bible.  A great many people get their theology wrong because they don’t have their geography right; and when we get that straightened out, it even helps our theology.

Let us not overlook the marvelous conjunction of the words “God our Father.” The word, God, taken by itself might convey the impression of One who is infinitely high and unapproachable.  The name, Father, on the other hand speaks of One who is intimately near and accessible.  Join the two by the pronoun, our, and we have the staggering truth that the high and lofty God, who inhabits eternity, is the loving Father of everyone who has been born again through faith in the Lord Jesus.

The full title of our Savior is “Lord Jesus Christ.” As “Lord” He is our absolute Master, with full rights to all we are and have.  As Jesus He is our Savior from sin.  As Christ He is our divinely anointed Prophet, Priest, and King.  How much His name unfolds to every listening ear! 

Note: “Grace . . . and peace comes from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Paul did not hesitate to put the Lord Jesus on the same level as God the Father; he honored the Son just as he honored the Father.  So should we (John 5:23).

Those around you may be thinking what people in Ephesus were probably thinking about these young Christians: “They seem to belong somewhere else.”We do.  No matter where Christians live, they ultimately belong in Christ.  What this means Paul explains in the course of the six chapters that follow.  We need to read on!

Final Comments:

The epistle has been completed in Paul’s rented house at Rome.  It has been carried safely over sea and land, and now it has traveled up from the Aegean shore, by the long ship canal, and found its way to Ephesian hands.

 

End Notes

[1] The city of Ephesus was situated at the mouth of the Cayster River on the West Coast of what is now Asiatic Turkey.  Ephesus had from very early times been a city of considerable significance, but it was during the days of the Roman Empire that it reached the height of its importance.  The city covered a vast area, and its population likely was more than a third of a million.  It was the center of the worship of Diana, the goddess of fertility.  The temple of Diana, located about a mile outside of Ephesus and considered one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, was the chief glory of the city.

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