Ephesians is one of my favorite books of the Bible. The beautiful prayer Paul prays for this church, his explanation of life in the Spirit, the description of the armor of God—I love it all. We’re going to spend the next few weeks in the book of Ephesians. It won’t necessarily be a verse-by-verse study, but I want to explore some of the treasures God has for us in this book.
Here are five things you need to know before we get started:
1. It was a church Paul loved.
Many scholars argue—and I’m inclined to agree—that the letter to the Ephesians was written as a circular letter intended to be circulated to all the churches in the region of Ephesus. There’s not much in the way of personal greetings or notes in this letter, unlike some of Paul’s other letters. Still, I think Paul’s deep love for this congregation comes through. Paul spent more time in Ephesus than he did in any other city, approximately three years. Priscilla and Aquilla, two of Paul’s closest companions, helped him start the church. I think Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:17-35 shows the great love he had for this congregation. Paul knew this church. He had spent time with them. He loved them.
2. It was a diverse congregation.
Only God could take a group of Jews, idol worshippers, sorcerers, masters, slaves, and rulers of the city and combine them into one church. Our God delights in bringing unity from diversity, and he did it marvelously in Ephesus. We know that Paul started his ministry in Ephesus as he often did, by first seeking out any known believers and then preaching in the synagogue till he got kicked out (Acts 19:8-9). Both Jews and Gentiles heard the word of the Lord (17:10). Some abandoned their magic arts to pursue Christ (17:19). Many abandoned their idols (17:24-26). Masters and slaves worshipped together (Eph. 5:5-9) and Paul counted some of the leaders of the city among his friends (Acts 19:31). It was to this congregation that Paul wrote so powerfully about unity in the Spirit and the power of knowing who we are in Christ.
3. It was a church birthed out of a powerful move of God.
It’s been said that wherever Paul went he started either a revival or a riot. In Ephesus he started both. The Spirit was on Paul so strongly during his stay in Ephesus that people even carried his discarded handkerchiefs or aprons to the sick and they were healed. Some tried to imitate him. Seven sons of a Jewish priest tried to cast out a demon in the name of “Jesus who Paul preaches.” The demon-possessed man overpowered them and beat them until all seven men fled the house wounded and naked. That one got the whole city talking (Acts 19:15-17).
It didn’t stop there. A group of sorcerers who had accepted Christ brought their magic books and publicly burned them. So many people were accepting Christ that the tradesmen who made silver idols of Artemis began to fear that their trade would be affected. They sparked a riot, claiming that “this Paul” was bringing so many people to Jesus that the great goddess Artemis might be regarded as worthless (Acts 19:23-29). That’s like a revival sweeping LasVegas until the casino owners start worrying they’re going to have to shut down.
The church at Ephesus didn’t wonder what would happen if God really moved. They had witnessed it firsthand.
4. It was a church well acquainted with spiritual warfare.
It’s no accident that Ephesians is the book that gives us Paul’s beautiful description of the armor of God. The church at Ephesus was birthed in the midst of a spiritual battle. The Greco-Roman world boasted a plurality of religions, but Ephesus took it to a whole new level. Ephesus was a city proud of their religious plurality and religious tolerance. Though it was home to the Artemis cult, at least 50 other gods were worshipped in Ephesus. This included Greek gods like Zeus and Athena as well as Egyptian deities like Isis and Sarapis. Ephesus was also a center for Emperor worship—interesting considering that one of the major themes of Ephesians is that Jesus is Lord.
The central religious figure of the city was Artemis. The ancients considered the temple to Artemis one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Life in Ephesus revolved around the worship of Artemis. A month of the year was named after Artemis and the city held annual games in her honor. The Ephesians believed their relationship to Artemis was governed by a covenant relationship between the city and the goddess. No wonder people got upset when they believed this new religion was mocking the goddess. When someone starts suggesting your patron saint is only an idol made by human hands, it tends to get folks riled up.
With all that mishmash of sorcery and idol worship going on, Satan surely had a strong foothold in Ephesus. The church needed to know the authority and power that they had in Christ so that they could claim their rightful victory (Ephesians 6:10-17). So do we.
I hope that whets your appetite. I’m looking forward to digging into the book of Ephesians over the coming weeks. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss a post!