This Thanksgiving, I have been drawn more than once to the book of Ephesians. Thanksgiving morning, I spent some time meditating in Ephesians 1 in particular. After all, this chapter is full of blessings and praises to God the Father–and is one of the most breathtaking, worship-inspiring chapters of the Bible.
So what are some of the major themes of this book? What are some of the big ideas in this little letter that are supposed to catch our breath (and our attention)?
Theology of Ephesians
Ephesians is highly doctrinal, and the themes almost leap off the page. The Father is everywhere the one working, always in accordance with His eternal plan. He is lavishly pouring out blessings on the Church. “In Christ” language abounds. And all of this highly theological material (most concentrated in chapter 1-3) results in extremely practical application as the letter transitions from doctrine to the believer’s walk in chapters 4-6. Ephesians is a book of exalted theology and clear application. It takes very little unraveling: its doctrinal flights, while high and breathtaking, are clearly traceable. Its applications issue forth from its doctrine, and touch concrete areas of life.
Major Theological Themes
Not only is the Father mentioned directly several times, but in addition, many pronoun references to Him throughout the book highlight His primary position in the content of the letter. At the fountainhead of each truth in the doctrinal portion of this epistle, the attentive reader can observe a loving, powerful Father at work, planning, enabling, revealing, and enacting salvation’s plan.
- He chose us (1:4), predestined us (1:5), purposed His kind intention (1:9); He calls (1:18), and He has carried out His eternal purposes in Christ (3:11).
- He is powerful (1:19), loving (2:4), and forgiving (4:32).
- He has revealed Himself (1:9, 17).
- He gives grace (1:6, 7-8; 2:7) and has worked mightily in behalf of believers (2:5, 6, 8).
The Father, in His working, is entirely sovereign. His eternal purposes govern His wonderful workings. Even the very existence of the Church is the outworking of His plan.
- The “will of God” determined Paul’s apostleship (1:1) and directs believers’ behavior (5:17; 6:6).
- God’s calling (1:18; 4:1, 4)
- God’s predestination (1:5, 11)
- God made known “the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed” (1:9).
- God carried out His eternal purpose (3:11).
Ephesians, particularly the first chapter, reads like a gift list. God the Father has, “in Christ,” abundantly supplied the believing members of the body, the Church, with rich spiritual blessings.
- God’s blessings are abundant (“every spiritual blessing,” 1:3; “the riches of His grace which He lavished on us,” 1:7-8; “surpassing greatness of His power to us,” 1:19).
- They are spiritual
- Redemption/Salvation (1:7-8; 2:5, 8)
- Adoption (1:5), inheritance (1:11, 13-14), and access to the Father (2:18; 3:11)
- Gifts for the building up of the body (4:7-16)
- Christ Himself (5:1, 25)
- Grace (1:2, 6, 7; 2:5, 7, 8; 3:2, 7, 8; 4:7, 29; 6:24)
The Church is the beneficiary of God the Father’s working, an organic body that demonstrates God’s wisdom in bringing together Jews and Gentiles.
- The Church as a body
- Christ the head (1:22)
- “One body” (2:16, 4:4)
- A “body” that includes Gentiles (3:6)
- “A mature man” (4:13)
- “The building up of the body of Christ” (4:12)
- The “body” as a growing, living organism (4:16)
- The Church is a now-revealed “mystery” (the word occurs 6x in letter) in the unfolding plan of God, unifying Jews and Gentiles together into one organism (3:6, 2:11-19). Actually, the matter of the incorporation of Jews and Gentiles into one entity takes up much of 2:13-3:12!
- Other references to the Church
- “Of God’s household” (2:19)
- The Church is to bring glory to God (3:21).
- The Church’s relationship to Christ is pictured by human marriage (5:32).
Ephesians is packed with references to the abundant blessings that come to believers. The Father is doing good things in the Church and individually for His children. But there is nothing good that can come to the believer that does not come to him “in Christ.” The “in Christ” terminology, so prominent in Paul’s theology, is absolutely pervasive in this short letter. This is how the Father is working. What He is doing, He is doing through His Son.
- Believers are the “faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1) and “fellow partakers of the promise” in Him (3:6).
- The Father has, in Christ, blessed (1:1), chosen (1:4), bestowed grace upon (1:6), purposed His kind intention towards (1:9), will demonstrate His great grace toward (2:7), created for good works (2:10), and forgiven (4:32) believers. He has made us alive together with Christ (2:4) and seated us with Christ in the heavenly places (2:6). The Father predestined believers “through” Christ (1:5, δια).
- The Father brought about the working of the strength of His might in Christ when He raised Him from the dead (1:19-20), carried out His eternal purpose in Christ (3:11), and He will receive glory in Him forever (3:21).
- Believers hope in Christ (1:12), believe in Him (1:13), are sealed in Him (1:13), have obtained an inheritance in Him (1:10-11), have access through Him (2:18) and by faith in Him (3:12), have been brought near in Him (2:13), and are taught in Him (4:21).
- In Christ, all things will be summed up (1:10).
- The bringing together of Jew and Gentile into “one new man” was done “in Him” (2:15).
There is an end to the Father’s working that is greater than might initially appear. What He is doing through Jesus Christ He is doing for His glory. Although numerically, references to God’s glory are not as prolific as the references of some of the other major themes of the book, the concept of God’s glory is mentioned in strategic locations that highlight the importance of the concept of God’s glory in the theology of the letter.
- Threefold repetition at the beginning of the book: “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (1:6), “to the praise of His glory” (1:12, 14)
- Use in the doxology at the end of the doctrinal portion of the book (3:21)
- What He is doing for believers He is doing “according to the riches of His glory” (3:16).
The Believer’s Walk
- Must be in contrast to his unsaved life (2:1, 4:17, 5:8).
- Is to be “in” good works (2:10), “worthy” of his calling (4:1), “in love” (5:2), and wise (5:15).
- Interestingly, the introductory verse for the doctrinal section (chapter 4-6) begins with an exhortation for the believer to walk worthy of his calling. This worthy walk will be fleshed out in various applications, perhaps most notably by an extended section on relationships in chapters 5-6. However, the doctrinal portion in chapters 1-3 is foundational for this application.
- This “worthy walk” of the applicational section was anticipated in 1:4 (“that we should be holy and blameless”).
The message of Ephesians becomes clear as one surveys the main themes and how the text connects them. God the Father is sovereignly and graciously working in the Church, through (“in”) Jesus Christ, for His glory, and necessitating the believer’s worthy walk. As members of Christ’s body, the believer can take confidence in the fact that he is chosen by the Father, the recipient of every blessing in Jesus Christ, part of God’s wise plan to bring glory to Himself, and in light of these truths, must live a worthy lifestyle in keeping with his divine calling.
© Timothy Hughes, 2017.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.