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.
Ephesians 1:1-2 ESV
Having first observed Paul’s over two-year ministry in Ephesus and the spiritual conflict that resulted there, we now begin our study of his actual letter to the Ephesians. Since Paul declared twice that he was a prisoner of Christ and for the Lord (3:1; 4:1) and also was “in chains” (6:20), Ephesians is often categorized as being one of Paul’s Prison Epistles (along with Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon). Most commentators and theologians presume that Ephesians was written during Paul’s two-year imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:30), but Caesarea is another possibility (Acts 24:27). As is the typical structure of epistles, Ephesians begins with a greeting that announces the author, the recipients, and gives a salutation or a word of blessing to the readers.
PAUL, AN APOSTLE OF CHRIST JESUS // VERSE 1
Modern textual critics now tend to question the validity of the very first word of this letter. Of the many letters they deny (or at least question) as being authored by Paul, this is one of the foremost. Many of these scholars are not Christian, or if they do consider themselves Christian, most’s theology would not considered orthodox. The general argument is that someone wrote this letter using Paul’s name as a pseudonym. Although the writing style is “significantly” different from Paul’s other letters (this is the chief argument for why Paul did not write the letter), the real mystery author was likely attempting to imitate Paul (perhaps using Colossians as the chief example, which would explain the large similarities between the two letters). Some even suggest that because of the comprehensive scope of the letter that it may have written as an introduction to Paul’s actual letters.
The reality is that these theories are nothing more than fanciful speculation. The letter claims to have been written by Paul, and the Ephesians (and early Christians in general) were wary of being deceived by false apostles and teachers (Revelation 2:2). The burden of proof, therefore, is not upon proving Paul’s authorship but upon their own claims. Indeed, in comparing Ephesians to Colossians, they speak out of both sides of their mouth. The writing style of Ephesians is said to be so different that Paul could not have written it, yet the content is so similar to Colossians that Colossians must have been used as inspiration. The much simpler (and, I believe, more logical) solution of Paul writing both letters around the same time is dismissed entirely. We will discuss the stylistic differences of this letter in a moment, but for now, let us be content not to allow speculative theories of the present to negate two thousand years of affirming Paul’s authorship.
Note Paul’s authority given: an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. The office of apostle was a position of high authority within the early church. Paul will note in 2:20 that the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” The apostles, as those who were sent personally by Jesus, were those who laid the foundations for the beliefs and practices of Jesus’ people, the church. Thus, we still today study the writings of Paul and the other authors of the New Testament because, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, their words are still authoritative for us today. Indeed, Paul does not ground his authority solely in his apostleship; instead, Paul was an apostle of Christ Jesus. Jesus alone holds authority over His church, yet Paul and the other apostles acted as representatives of Christ. Their authority derived only from Jesus Himself.
Furthermore, note that Paul did not make himself an apostle, nor was he elected by the church to be an apostle. Instead, God willed him to be an apostle. As we mentioned last week, Paul once actively persecuted the church until Jesus dramatically called him to His service. Paul did not seek Jesus out; rather, God claimed Paul even as he was zealously attempting to destroy God’s people. The Gospels describe the other apostles as receiving calls to follow Jesus as well, such as leaving their fishing nets (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) or tax booth (Matthew). Furthermore, the prophets of Old Testament received similar special callings from God (i.e. Moses, Samuel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah). Thus, the authors of Scripture throughout both Testaments are quick to acknowledge their status as an instrument through whom the Lord instructs His people.
In short, we read this letter of Paul to the Ephesians as God’s authoritative Word, not on the person and character of Paul himself, but because Paul was an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. To reject the words that follow is not a rejection of Paul but of the Creator who speaks to us through the apostle.
SAINTS IN EPHESUS | FAITHFUL IN CHRIST // VERSE 1
Next, we are told who the recipients of Paul’s letter are: the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus. Here again we find another disputed element of the letter. As the ESV’s footnote says, some manuscripts omit the phrase in Ephesus. Thus, some question whether Ephesians was really written to the Ephesians after all. In fact, a heretic of the early church, Marcion, identified it as the letter to the Laodiceans that Paul mentions in Colossians 4:16. Tertullian, however, offered a very early refutation against Marcion on that point.
Yet one of the primary arguments against this letter being written to the Ephesians is Paul’s apparent lack of familiarity with the recipients. He mentions throughout the letter having heard about the Ephesians, which would imply that Paul did not know personally the Ephesian church. This would be odd since the apostle spent over two years with them. Yet there are a multitude of reasonable and likely answers for Paul’s more formal writing style.
First, even though the letter was written to the Ephesians, the apostle likely had every intention that it would spread beyond Ephesus into all of Asia and the world, just as his preaching in Ephesus had done. Indeed, Tertullian made that very argument in the footnote above, and Calvin makes a similar thought about Paul’s first letter to Timothy.
Second, since Paul wrote several years after his ministry in Ephesus, we could reasonably suggest that the church of Ephesus would have been quite different from his memory of it.
Third, both Romans and Colossians end with an extensive list of greetings, which could be seen as Paul establishing a familiarity with those believers especially since he had not been to either city. Conversely, Paul may have felt no need to reinforce his personal connection to the Ephesians because they knew of his connection to them and (unlike his letters to Corinth) he was not rebuking any rampant heresy or sin.
As with Paul’s authorship, the rationale for securely denying Ephesus as original audience is not sufficient.
Turning now to study the actual wording of the recipient line, we find two distinct clauses: to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus. Succinctly here, Paul has both given us a general map for understanding this letter in its entirety and the liminal nature of the Christian life. Let us address the liminal nature of Christianity first.
The Oxford Dictionary defines liminal as 1) “relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process” or 2) “occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.” The second definition certainly describes the reality that Paul presents. The apostle wrote to those who were simultaneously in Ephesus and in Christ. They were physically located in a city within Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) and yet they were also, as Paul will state later in the letter, raised up and seated with God “in the heavenly places in Christ” (2:6). Or, to use the kingdom motif, they were both citizens of Ephesus and of the kingdom of God, both Ephesians and Christians.
The same is true of every follower of Christ until our Lord returns to make our faith sight. We are not of the world, but we are most certainly still in the world. We, therefore, do not withdraw from society entirely, but neither do we conform to the pattern of the world.
Our dual citizenship is seen in how we pay respect and honor to our earthly authorities (Romans 13; 1 Peter 2:13-17), while also acknowledging Jesus alone as our King. It is right for us to submit to the law, and as long as they do not violate Scripture, it is sinful to break them. Yet our identity in Christ has more weight than our location in the United States. If these loyalties ever become opposed, we joyously stand with Christ even, if necessary, to the death. After all, our status in Christ is eternal, while our citizenship on earth is transient and fleeting.
Paul also gives two other terms for his readers: saints and faithful. The biblical notion of sainthood is, of course, radically different from the Roman Catholic view. Catholics, and even many Protestants still speak this way, giving the title of saint to exceptional servants of Christ, to those who lived particularly devout and holy lives. Or we may say that saints are Christians who were extraordinarily faithful. Yet Paul did not write to the super-Christians in Ephesus; he wrote to Christians, ordinary and sinful though they were. In reality, all Christians are saints because all who are in Christ have also been made holy (saint means holy one, after all) by “redemption through his blood” (1:7). Although we were once defiled by our sin, Jesus gave His sinless and perfectly holy life in order to make us holy before God. Our status as saints, therefore, does not derive from our faithfulness to God but instead purely from the grace of God in the person and work of Jesus. Of course, our position as God’s holy people now demands our faithfulness to God, but our faithfulness flows from our sainthood (it in no way merits our sainthood).
Paul, therefore, summarizes our liminal state well with these short clauses. Physically, we are in the world (in Ephesus) and our actions within the world must be faithful to our Lord. Yet simultaneously we are also in Christ as saints of God who have been made holy by Jesus’ sacrificial atonement. But notice also that the spiritual realities are intermingled with the physical ones. We are saints who are in the world, and we are faithful in our ordinary lives because we are in Christ. One day our physical reality will match our spiritual one as we dwell forever with our Lord in resurrected and glorified bodies, but until that day, our feet in two places at once. We inhabit two realms, two kingdoms.
But these statements are also miniature map of the letter. Ephesians can very easily be divided into two halves, chapters 1-3 that address and teach doctrinal and spiritual realities and chapters 4-6 that describe how those truths ought to be displayed in our daily lives. The first half, thus, is more theological, while the second is more practical. This division is unmistakable. However, the two halves form cohesively this single letter of Ephesians. The “practical” half is only properly understood when it is rooted in chapters 1-3, and the “theological” half is incomplete until its good news begins to transform how we walk, talk, and relate to one another as described in chapters 4-6. Or we could say that chapters 1-3 describe how God the Father through Christ the Son and by the Spirit has made us into saints, His people and church, while chapters 4-6 describe what being faithful saints looks like. Yet we cannot forget that we are saints who are still within the world, even as we also remember that we are faithful only because we are in Christ.
Let us prepare our hearts appropriately for the remainder of our study through this letter. The first half of the letter will resemble in many ways our study last year through the Apostles’ Creed. Although there will be plenty of practical matters to address, the primary application of these texts will be to believe the truths that the Holy Spirit through Paul is declaring. Similarly, the second half will be rather like our study of the Ten Commandments. Doctrine will continue to permeate each sermon, yet the goal of the final three chapters is not merely to confess the truthfulness of the gospel but to display its power in every aspect of our lives.
GRACE TO YOU AND PEACE // VERSE 2
Paul concludes the opening greeting of this epistle with this blessing: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice that two blessings (grace and peace) come from two sources (God and Jesus Christ). Furthermore, two titles are given to the divine sources of blessing (God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ).
First, let us consider the sources of blessing. God, the Creator almighty, is described as being our Father, and Jesus Christ is called the Lord. While many claim to believe in God in at least some sense, not many know Him as their Father, and while many claim to respect and admire the teachings and example of Jesus, few submit themselves entirely before Him as Lord. Moreover, these two are entwined together. Although He is fatherly toward creation in general as the Creator, God is only Father to those who confess Jesus as Lord and have faith that they are saved solely through the sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Indeed, our adoption by God as our Father is the fruit of the redemptive work of Jesus that we rightly call the good news.
Finally, consider the blessings which flow from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord: grace and peace. The order of these blessings is important. By the grace of God, we have the peace of God. Of course, both of these presume that we understand the great problem of sin upon all of humanity. Beginning with the Fall, peace with God has been lost. Through our sin, we willfully reject communion with God. We forego peace with God in favor of joining Satan’s cosmic treason. Yet we who were once “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Colossians 1:21) have been reconciled through Christ’s atoning death on our behalf. This salvation is an act of grace, a free and undeserved gift that has been unilaterally bestowed upon us, and by that grace, He has reconciled us in peace to God.
We rightly should marvel at these blessings. We should behold with wide-eyed wonder that the Glorious One whom we reviled has responded to us with grace and peace. We should stand amazed that He has marked us as His holy ones by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ our Lord. We should take courage to be Christ’s witnesses as citizens here, knowing that our true citizenship is in heaven and that even now we are in Christ. We should joyfully receive and hunger for the words of Paul to the Ephesians, knowing that by the Holy Spirit these are the Words of our God for our good and His glory.
- What is an apostle? What is the significance of that office, and how does it impact our reading of this letter?
- Why is it significant that Paul’s audience were both in Ephesus and in Christ? How does this apply to us today?
- What is the relationship between the designations saint and faithful? How do they reflect the overall structure of the letter?
- In Paul’s benediction, why does grace precede peace?
 F. F. Bruce helpfully notes that “if in Colossians the role of Christ as Lord over the cosmos has been unfolded, Ephesians carries on the same train of thought by considering the implications of this for the church as the body of Christ” (231).
 I use the past tense because the office of apostle did not extend past the first generation of disciples who could physically testify to Christ’s resurrection.
 “We have it on true tradition of the Church, that this epistle was sent to the Ephesians, not to the Laodiceans. Marcion, however, was very desirous of giving it the new title (of Laodiceans), as if he were extremely accurate in investigating such a point. But of what consequence are the titles, since in writing to a certain church the apostle did in fact write to all” (Against Marcion 5.17)?
 “I believe that this letter [1 Timothy] was written not so much for Timothy as for others, and those who are disposed to consider carefully the whole work will agree with me. I do not deny that Paul was also concerned to instruct and counsel Timothy, but I would argue that the letter contains many things which would be superfluous if Paul had been addressing Timothy alone” (Sermons on 1 Timothy, xxi.) Interestingly, Timothy was ministering in Ephesus when he received Paul’s first letter, making 1 Timothy a letter for the Ephesians as well.
 The phrase in Christ is a hallmark of Ephesians, and particularly the giant sentence that is 1:3-14 explores the glorious realities of our union with Christ. We will, therefore, be unpacking the tremendous truths of being in Christ for the next several weeks.
 Of course, we know that the Father and the Son are the First and Second Persons of the one true God.
 Notice that Paul does not say our Lord, even though Jesus certainly is; instead, he simply describes Jesus as the Lord. This is a fact, whether anyone acknowledges it or not.