God, Identity, and Everything Between

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
Grace and peace to you  from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Ephesians 1:1-2

So begins one of the most sweeping books in the New Testament—one that takes us to the heights of heaven, then swoops down to where we live in our everyday roles and responsibilities. Ephesians is just a little more than 150 verses long. It would take about 20 minutes to read the whole thing out loud. Yet pound for pound, one NT scholar says, Ephesians may well be the most influential document in history. So let’s talk about why we’re starting a 3-month verse by verse walk through this NT letter.

Why study Ephesians?

Last week our kitchen faucet got stuck. It’s supposed to swing from sink to sink, but it wouldn’t budge. So I yanked on it. And I yanked on it again…until I heard a crack. Then the faucet was moving again! Fast-forward to after dinner, I’m reading in another room when I hear my wife’s voice with a bit of panic call me into the kitchen. There’s a growing pool of water inside the sink cabinet. 

Turns out I broke the connection where the hot water tube reaches the faucet. Had to get a new faucet, and ultimately had to bring in a plumber when the hot water valve also began to leak. You know those valves you never touch for 15 years, but then when you do, they’re frozen in place. So I managed to break two connections in the space of a couple days. Ended up paying the price, literally. 

Ephesians, unlike the other NT letters, is not like a plumber coming in to fix problems. The other NT letters name specific people and circumstances that needed to be fixed. A couple of women in the Philippian church get called out by name for refusing to work things out and just get along. A guy in the Corinthian church is confronted for twisted sexual acts while the rest of the church pretends it’s all good. James calls out business owners who call themselves Christian but rip off their employees.

That’s the kind of thing you find in the other NT letters.

Ephesians is unique. Its content shows that it was written for a broad Christian audience, most likely spreading out from Ephesus but not limited to Ephesus. 

So we’re going to do something we’ve never done before. I’m going to take a few minutes to give several reasons why it’s worth studying this NT letter in particular. And then we’re going to show you a 9-minute video from The Bible Project that creatively shows and tells the big-picture overview of what’s in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. 

This is a great tool to see where we’re going, what Ephesians is all about, and why we would want to lean in and listen for what the Holy Spirit will say to us through the coming weeks.

Why study Ephesians? 

Let me to give you four reasons.

  • Because of who wrote it.

“An apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God…”

The book we’re about to study was written by a man radically changed because of encountering the risen Christ. And by that I don’t mean he saw Jesus like the other apostles did shortly after Jesus rose. No. 

Saul encountered Jesus Christ—or more accurately, Jesus confronted Saul—considerably after Jesus had ascended to heaven, where Philippians chapter two tells us “God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

(Philippians 2:9-11)

Saul encountered Jesus Christ who had been crucified, died and buried but was now alive and well, ruling and reigning from heaven. That is who Saul encountered. And it left him a changed man. 

His identity was transformed, and his new name reflected that. Before encountering Christ, Saul was religiously devout and convinced that Christians were a danger to Judaism. Once the risen Jesus confronted him, Paul eagerly embraced the truth that is in Jesus—and changed from persecuting Christians, to pursuing anyone who might listen and become persuaded of what he himself had discovered—that Jesus Christ is Lord. 

It is in light of that supernatural visitation that Paul is able to begin this letter by identifying himself as an apostle, an eyewitness of the risen Jesus, commissioned and sent by Jesus just as surely as the Twelve others. He writes with the authority of an apostle—not by self-proclamation, but by the will of God.

Acts chapter 9 gives us the backstory. You can turn there if you’d like to follow along. As Acts chapter 9 opens, Saul is “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” He gets official authority to hunt Christians down and haul them off to Jerusalem as prisoners because of their faith. 

But on his way, a brilliant light from heaven flashes around him. Saul falls to the ground and hears a voice interrogate him, asking, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

To which blinded Saul replies, “Who are you, Lord?” Lord here as a term of respect, not knowing who is speaking to him. This is what Saul hears in reply:

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Unbeknownst to Saul, at that same moment, the Lord is giving a vision to a Christian named Ananias. In the vision, Jesus tells Ananias precisely what house on what street in town he is to head, in order to place his hands on Saul for the Lord to miraculously restore Saul’s sight.

Hearing this, Ananias is alarmed, because everyone has heard of this persecutor Saul. He voices his fear, but the Lord tells him, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” 

Acts 9:15

So before Saul was even aware of it, the Lord has already chosen him to become an apostle—an eyewitness of the risen Jesus, sent to spread his message to all who might hear, believe, and be saved. 

There’s the first reason for studying Ephesians, because of who wrote it. 

A second reason it’s worth giving your time to this New Testament book is…

  • Because it deepens our understanding of the gospel. 

It is broadly acknowledged that the church in America runs a mile wide but an inch deep. Americans are known to be good organizers and good advertisers. We’re not known for deep thinking. 

Ephesians challenges that. For three of its six chapters, the Holy Spirit leads Paul to take us places we wouldn’t naturally go:

  • How should the Christian respond to being chosen and adopted by God?
  • What does it mean that we have been redeemed by the Son of God?
  • We have access to resurrection power. How is that intended to play out in everyday life, and in our life together as a local church?
  • What’s the significance of being marked or sealed by the Holy Spirit? What does that have to do with how I go through the day and week?
  • What could God do with a people who realize the level of hope Jesus came to impart?
  • When the rubber meets the road, what should it mean that Christ is the head of the Church, not any pastor or Pope?

Ephesians takes us high and deep in critical foundational questions like these and more. Over the next 3 months, the Holy Spirit is going to deepen your understanding of the gospel and how it is meant to impact and influence your life and ours together as a church. 

A third reason we’re studying Ephesians is…

  • Because it showcases the importance of the Church. 

Americans especially are known for being fiercely independent. We pride ourselves in that. One of the ways that plays out in in the myth of, “I believe in Jesus, but I don’t need to belong to a local church.” Said no one in the early church. 

When the New Testament was written, there was no concept of anyone belonging to Christ but not belonging to the local church. To be in Christ meant to be in the local church. Ephesians goes far beyond that basic starting point. In Ephesians, we hear about demonstrating our submission to Christ in the real-life rub of how we interact with one another within the church. This is where actual discipleship takes place, here and in the relationships that should develop from here. Over meals. In groups. While serving together. That’s where the theology gets tested, in the real-life laboratory of people who are different from you. 

Listen, I get it. If you commit to any local church and get involved in serving and in cultivating friendships, clashes will happen. That’s normal. 

Here’s what’s different about this New Testament letter. When you read Ephesians, you catch a glimpse of what God thinks of the Church—that it is his Church, and his Church is central to his eternal purpose. Ephesians shows us the local church in God’s eternal perspective. Ephesians 3:10 tells us, “His [God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known…”

Ephesians 3:10

God’s purpose in sending Jesus and creating the Church was that through the church he might display his wisdom in its rich variety, to all the unseen rulers and authorities in heavenly places. [mind blown]

Through followers of Jesus like you and me gathered in local churches, the extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among angels! That is a wildly higher vision of the Church than we typically go. So we’re going to let the Holy Spirit take us there.

And a fourth reason for studying Ephesians is…

  • Because it speaks to all kinds of situations.

Unlike the other NT letters which address specific problems and challenges, Ephesians is referred to as a “circular” letter, meaning from the beginning it was meant to speak to a broad audience of Christians, in all kinds of situations, not just in Ephesus. 

Ephesians speaks to children and to parents. It speaks to marriage and to how you make a living. It addressed honesty and generosity. It speaks to how we talk and how we express sexuality. It addresses

wealthy Christians, all the way down the social ladder to slaves who had come to trust in Christ. And finally, it speaks to the reality of unseen spiritual forces trying to influence us toward good or evil. 

As the series title puts it, it covers “God, Identity, and Everything Between.” All kinds of people, in a wide variety of situations. A whole lot of what we wrestle with, is addressed in this NT letter.  

That’s a brief introduction to why it’s worth studying this New Testament letter. 

Below is a video supplement that was show during the live presentation.