In 2020 I find myself, like many others, bombarded with news reports describing the division and tension ever-present in our country. Many are divided over how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, and racial tension is rearing its ugly head. Moreover, if the American people were not already polarized enough, a presidential election is fast approaching. We are grievously divided.
As a response to these unprecedented times, many pastors have adjusted their original 2020 preaching plan to address some of the country’s most pressing issues and trending hashtags. That’s a difficult task – but not an impossible one. Because the Bible speaks to people’s greatest need, it also addresses the division and tension present in our news headlines today. The book of Ephesians is a great example.
This past month I have spent time studying the book of Ephesians in preparation for a new expository series. Each time I read through Paul’s letter to the believers in Ephesus, I walk away more convinced that believers today need to dig into this significant book, and especially now considering our current cultural climate.
Five Reasons to Study Ephesians
Here are 5 reasons every Christian should study Ephesians, right now.
1. Ephesians reminds us of our ultimate hope.
Our hope is defined by whatever we believe will solve our problems and deliver personal happiness. For some, hope lies in a COVID-19 vaccine. Others place hope in political reform, financial stability, marriage, or academic advancement. However, we will be perpetually frustrated if we depend on anything in the created order to deliver hope apart from our Creator and Savior.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul calls believers to know this only true hope: being found in Christ. In Christ we have redemption, forgiveness, and a glorious inheritance – we are adopted into the family of God so that we might gain access to the rich spiritual blessings only found in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3-12).
Only in Christ can we find the ultimate solution to our problems and the source of eternal joy. This truth in the book of Ephesians protects us from grasping at earthly bubbles that promise hope, but eventually pop and leave us empty-handed and unfulfilled.
2. Ephesians reminds us of the root of all our problems.
Why do we continue to read headlines alerting us of yet another homicide, another act of violence, another terrorist attack, another racist action, or another scandal? The answer is simple. The world is filled with people who are spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins but who are physically alive, free to roam this world “according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:1-2).
We like to attribute the world’s problems to the people, ideologies, and institutions with whom we disagree. However, Paul reminds us that we are all corrupt lawbreakers apart from the grace of God, for “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph. 2:3). The command to put off our old self is a reminder to believers that the sinful nature doesn’t simply disappear at conversion (Eph. 4:22).
The problems in this world which can bother or even enrage us only exist because they are deeply rooted in sin, a deadly disease of which we are each a carrier. Only God’s grace can resurrect us, making us alive together with Christ.
3. Ephesians reminds us of the source of our unity.
Our hearts grieve over the division in our country and world. Dividing lines are constantly drawn based upon ethnicity, sex, socioeconomic status, and political party affiliation. Even (and sadly, perhaps especially) in the local church, personal opinions and preferences continue to build dividing walls.
For those of us who believe it is noble to defend our kingdom of personal preferences at the cost of losing friends and making enemies, Ephesians reminds us that division among God’s people is antithetical to the gospel: “And he came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:17-18). Conversely, for those of us who strive to manufacture unity apart from one’s union with Christ, Ephesians reminds us that the church family can only be united because we have one Father.
Paul implores believers to show “tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” (Eph. 4:2-6).
Pastors, we have a difficult task ahead of us as our churches begin to regather – flocks will have even more opportunity to be divided over tactics and methodologies. We need to be one diverse but undivided flock because there is one Chief Shepherd. To help preserve unity, we must collectively point our sheep to Jesus.
4. Ephesians reminds us that the home is the impetus for reformation.
I love studying the Protestant Reformation, and I’d love to see another reformation in my lifetime. But Ephesians reminds me that reformation and revival will not come with public activism divorced from personal integrity. Institutional reform will not occur until there is private, individual, personal imitation of God which impacts our most intimate relationships (Eph. 5:1). In other words, the home is designed to be the impetus for reformation.
Paul reminds us that our marriages should be public displays of the faithful and sacrificial love Christ has for the Church (Eph. 5:22-33). He charges us that the gospel should dramatically impact how we treat our children and parents (Eph. 6:1-4). Paul also declares to believers that the workplace is no place to take a break from living a gospel-saturated life (Eph. 6:5-9). In short, the gospel transforms all of our relationships, starting in the heart and then the home. Do you want to see reformation? Start small. Start living the redeemed life in your small sphere of influence.
5. Ephesians reminds us of our true enemy.
I’m convinced that one of the reasons there is so much division and tension in this world are because we have been wasting our time and energy fighting the wrong enemy. Our ultimate enemy is not a different political ideology. Our ultimate enemy is not another nuclear power. Our ultimate enemy is not another church member. On the contrary, our “struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
This spiritual enemy wants nothing more than to distract and occupy us with the scrimmages of preferences and politics so that we are too busy to suit up for the cosmic battle against sin and darkness. Paul calls us to know our enemy, don our spiritual armor, stand guard, and persist in prayer to the Lord of Hosts, our Commander in Chief (Eph. 6:13-18).
A Final Reminder
Most of us are probably aware that the book of Ephesians divides nicely into two sections: chapters 1-3 are theologically rich, while chapters 4-6 are practically rich. The first three chapters deal with orthodoxy; the last three chapters deal with orthopraxy. Ephesians reminds us that the gospel is far from merely a theological treatise or a ticket to heaven we can put in our back pocket; rather, it is a life- and relationship-transforming reality.
If we are saved by grace, we need to be walking in love (Eph. 5:2). So let’s keep walking. Keep living the redeemed life in the power of the Spirit, and be encouraged in these days by studying and applying the book of Ephesians.