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Backpacking Ephesians

I just finished another small group study of Ephesians; and, as you may know, I like to encourage folks to list what they believe are the top 3 or 4 main things God wants us to learn/do from a book, and then to come up with a title that would make a good summary or would capture the essence of the book (other than “Ephesians,” of course). To “backpack” the book, in other words. I continue to try to do that for Ephesians and am not yet satisfied (check out the “Seven Wonders of the New World” document on the website). The following is certainly not perfect, but another attempt that might be worth sharing—as a way to remember or sum up what Ephesians is about. And it makes use of the letter E (as in E-phesians). Maybe we call it “The 3 Es of Ephesians.” How about this?

Be Enlightened, Be Encouraged, and Be Empowered . . . by Being the Church [and for those of you Greek-familiar peoples, another E, from Ekklesia]

Let me expand.

Be enlightened . . .

In the introductory Thanksgiving, Paul prays for his readers—that the eyes of their hearts would be opened or enlightened, and to 3 things in particular: (1) the hope of his calling, (2) the glorious riches of his inheritance among the saints, and (3) the surpassing greatness of his power upon us who believe (1:18-19). Paul’s prayer for them and the purpose of the letter go hand in hand. Thus, by tracing out the meaning of these 3 major themes, we can have our hearts and minds opened “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ . . . that surpasses knowledge.” A primary purpose of Ephesians is educational, but in a deeply spiritual sense (“just as truth is in Jesus”), and thus God is trying to tell us some things about what he is doing “in Christ” that go beyond human plans or understanding, some things we need to understand to be what he has made us “in Christ.”

Be encouraged . . .

When Paul sent letters to the churches, the purpose of a letter was related to, if not the same as, the purpose of the letter-carrier (which Paul sometimes mentions in the letter). Paul sent Tychicus with this letter so that they could know how he (Paul) was doing and so that “he might encourage your hearts” (6:21-22). At the end of the very important section about Paul’s ministry and imprisonment (3:1-13), Paul says, “So don’t be discouraged about my suffering for you . . .” Apparently, what had happened to Paul and his current situation was distressing and potentially very discouraging to the Gentile churches he planted (and he had a very special rela¬tion¬ship with the church at Ephesus: see Acts 19-20). Knowing that God is working in Paul’s life and in all of their/our lives for his purpose and plan (“according to the working of his power”) provides an anchor in troubled seas. As their “pastor,” moreover, Paul was always trying to encourage the believers, and he does so in Ephesians with powerful pictures of what it means to be seated with Christ in the heavenly/spiritual real, as part of the one, new humanity and purpose of God “in Christ.”

And be empowered . . .

The remedy for discouragement is courage (thus to be “encouraged”) and courage comes from power. Being empowered is thus the most dominant, single theme of Ephesians. Our empowerment is based on the lordship of Christ; because he is Lord “over all things for the church” (1:22-23), being a part of the church means the Lord is in our corner. But it goes way beyond that. God is present in the world through the church. This may be the single most important point of Ephesians: the presence of God in the church—“the home of God by the Spirit” (2:22). As a means of that presence, Jesus dispenses gifts of his grace (= empower¬ment) for the unity and working of his body (4:7-16): “To each of us grace has been given.” This theme of the presence and empowerment of God in the church comes to a magnificent conclusion with the indescribable privilege of receiving the pieces of the armor of God as the letter’s conclusion. (Don’t get lost in the images of the individual pieces of the armor, but remember their purpose [“for our battle is not against flesh and blood . . .”] as representations of the presence and gifts of God “in Christ.”)

By being the church . . .

The end result of this enlightenment, the encouragement, and the power of God is so that we can know what we are and live up to it. We are to live worthy of our calling (4:1-2) “in Christ.” Whereas the first half of Ephesians tilts toward the learning or enlightenment side, as Paul is inclined to do, the second half is about how we live as God’s new creation humanity in Christ—on how we be the church. To fundamental values of loving community (4:25-32), we are to live in love (5:1-7), in light (5:8-14), and in wisdom (5:15-21), “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians is a book about what it means to be the church, with special focus on the challenge of living out the purposes of God as the united, one body of Christ. The reigning, lordship of Christ is for the church, which Jesus loves passionately as his body and his bride (5:22-33).

Because . . .

I threw that in, didn’t I? I did it because I believe that the basic or major premise of Ephesians, the belief or teaching that all of this is founded on, is expressed at the conclusion of the Introduction to the letter in 1:20-23: that Jesus is Lord “over all things for the church, which is his body.” Because Jesus is Lord over all things for the church, we can be encouraged, etc. You can use this idea to start almost any statement regarding the content/purpose of Ephesians. So, if you want to be very wordy like I usually am, you could add this to the end of this summarizing expression.

My “backpacking” of Ephesians (for the moment) looks like this:

Be enlightened . . .
    Be encouraged . . .
        And be empowered . . .
            By being the church . . .
Because Jesus is Lord over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness . . .

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