The situation in the Roman Empire grew more tense with each passing month. Taxes were rising as the need to supply the expansion of the army became a growing strain. The once great “land owner” armies of the Republic had slowly given way to a professional fighting force from the time of Scipio Africanus and the Carthaginian Wars to the time of Nero (when Paul was writing). The Roman pubs (popinae) were filled with soldiers discussing the new fronts and continual offensives that had stretched the army to the breaking point.
By the time of Paul, the Roman army could not continue its expansions without the assimilation of new ranks from the conquered Barbarians. Yet, these Barbarians were not considered “true” Romans by the whole of the “rank and file”. A great many were brought in to the legions, trained and educated to understand the “civilization” that Rome offered. Still, the older native Italians did not assimilate them without some hostility. Many such Barbarians became the support troops to the Roman legions, guards and transport officers. Many of the harshest jobs or most painfully boring assignments were given them by an establishment that still quietly favored native Romans.
Perhaps such “civilized” barbarians were assigned the tedious work of guarding the prisoner Apostle. It may have been the quiet discrimination that he saw in the ranks that got him thinking about the problems of the Ephesian church. After all, was not the same kind of discouraging discrimination occurring in the small developing church? Teachers from Judea were assailing the small flock with the notion that God wanted all Gentiles to become Jews to in turn be followers of the Hebrew Messiah. Paul prayed continually that the small group of Gentile-born believers would not feel pressed into utter discouragement. The Spirit may have captivated Paul with the way the problem of assimilation was handled by the legions of Rome to assist him in his writings to the church. No doubt Paul used terminology and imagery from the army of Rome in his encouragement and instruction to the Ephesians; an obvious one is found in the armor passage of Ephesians 6:10ff. Both Paul and the Ephesian believers knew the way the assimilation problem was addressed by the Roman army. Note how Paul uses the provisions of the army as a pattern in his letter to the Ephesians about their own “assimilation” and status as believers.
In order for the Empire to gain the loyalty of the captured barbarian fighters, several provisions were given to them.
• First, they were offered a basic education in their new identity as Romans. They were expected to cease living as a barbarian, and understand their natural place in the order of the society (cp. Ephesians 1:5; 2:12,19). They also needed to understand those in stations above and below them (cp. Ephesians 3:10).
• Second, they were offered a piece of land, establishing an inheritance (cp. Ephesians 1:11) for the first time in their lives (as many were from roving and foraging tribal bands). With this land was a NAME and a FAMILY.
• Third, they were taught how to act as a true Roman, and how to become a “civilized” citizen (cp. Ephesians 4:1, 17-23).
• Fourth, they were trained in their rank and work as a soldier (Ephesians 4:8; 6:10ff). Though some served in key positions (some Emperors chose foreigners as personal guards), for the most part, they were given service positions of a lower station.
Under an emotional and spiritual attack by well meaning but misdirected first century Jewish believers, the small but growing band of believers at Ephesus had a “self-image” problem not unlike assimilated barbarian soldiers in the legions of Rome. They were caught up in the battle that defined much of Paul’s teaching and writing (i.e. the battle to see God’s commitment to Israel and to the Gentile world as separate but equal and linked priorities to God). Some were pressing the Ephesians to come under the covering of the covenant God made with the Jewish people at Sinai in order to follow after Jesus. In the end, the net effect was that same as many movements in Christianity through the ages – they were made to feel inadequate in what God called them to be if they did not do things the according to the standard of a certain group within the faith.
The same was true of other groups of believers, like the Corinthians (1 Cor. 7:18-20).
• The letter to the Ephesians was therefore to lift and encourage the beleaguered Gentile believers, and to assure them they were fully accepted by God apart from the covenant promise God was upholding eternally to the Jewish people.
• Beyond encouragement, the letter also offered a call to that small group to walk in a way that showed they were a part of the Kingdom.
• Finally, Paul warned them about being casual in their walk for the days were part of an ongoing battle that promised to continue until Jesus returned.
The book can be easily divided into three parts: The Call of the Believer (Encouragement, Chapters 1-3); The Conduct of the Believer (Instruction, Chapter 4:1-6:9); The Conflict of the Believer (Warning, 6:10-20).
The Historical Setting of the Writing:
Paul wrote the letter at about age 55 while he sat under house arrest in Rome. Other letters like Colossians and Philippians were written about this time.
Paul lived and traveled under five Imperial rulers in his life –
• Augustus (23 BCE-14 CE)
• Tiberius (14-37 CE)
• Caligula (37-41 CE)
• Claudius (41-54 CE)
• Nero (54-68 CE)
Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula were princeps during Paul’s unsaved life, and none seemed to care much of the beginnings of the Christian movement.
Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because of unrest evoked by Christians: “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome” (Suetonius, Life of Claudius, 25:4; Acts 18:2).
Officially, Emperor Claudius died at around noon on 13 October 54. Unofficially, he died during the preceding night or just before dawn. The “missing” hours were needed for Agrippina, after having a significant hand in her husband’s death, to make the proper arrangements for the smooth transition of power. Initially, Agrippina made little effort to conceal her expectations control. She had several enemies openly killed, and was even found on coinage.
Though the first years of Nero’s reign (54−59) were widely regarded as excellent, the accession of Nero as the fifth “princeps” in 54 saw a young and inexperienced prince elevated to the most powerful office in the world, and it was a recipe for disaster. Nero initially did quite well, in particular because of the influence of advisors Seneca, Nero’s tutor and Burrus, the Praetorian Prefect, who held his vices in check. He ruled with reason and moderation on the surface. Behind the scenes, there were worrying indications as Nero chafed against the influence of his mother (who placed his counselors around him. As he grew into the role, he showed less and less interest in mundane administration, but treasured writing poetry and pursuing music, and the thrill of gaming. Agrippina his mother did not like what she saw. What she didn’t see was his deep drives in sexual vices.
Nero, at one point early fell in love with a freedwoman named Acte (55 CE). Seneca and Burrus tolerated the affair, but Agrippina was appalled. Agrippina publicly upbraided her son for his feelings, and began to extol the virtues of Britannicus (a possible rival to the throne). Nero had Britannicus poisoned and his mother removed to her own house, and her imperial guard was withdrawn. She faded from the coinage of Rome from that time. The next we hear of her is in the writings of Tacitus in the year 59.
By the year 59 CE, Paul was awaiting trial in Caesarea, and that year marked a turning point in Nero’s reign for three reasons:
• First, he performed on stage for the first time. Nero had been devoting himself to playing the lyre, singing, acting, and composing poetry. To put Nero’s desire to perform in perspective, we must appreciate the fact that stage performers usually came from the lower orders. The Roman aristocracy found them repellent. He knew his mother would never approve of such behavior.
• Second, he fell in love with Poppaea Sabina (of Pompeii): a beautiful woman that was in her second marriage when Nero and her rendezvoused in love (She was married to general Otho). She was later to die, likely being kicked to death while pregnant by Nero himself, if Suetonius is to be believed.
• Third, he killed his own mother. An ex-slave called Anicetus built a collapsible boat to make the murder look like a maritime accident. When she survived, Nero dispatched with a column of troops, who surrounded the villa, and Agrippina was then hacked to death by her son’s soldiers.
Later in 59 Nero indulged a fantasy and donned racing chariots, an even newer low for the Roman princeps. His lyre-playing and singing annoyed the social upper classes. By the year 60 CE, Nero staged the “Neronia” (humbly named after the sponsor!): a literary, musical, gymnastic, and equestrian competition modeled on Greek spectacles.
Paul likely met Nero for his first hearing in the end of the year 61 CE (following William Ramsey’s date) or perhaps in year 62 CE.. He had been staying at his own expense under guard in a small area close to the Tiber (near or at San Paolo alla Regola in Rome) where tanners and dyers had their operations. He lived in modest chambers and offered us letters like Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. Particularly in Philippians, one can see the hope of the future, as Paul felt optimistic that he could explain his faith in non-threatening terms to the state. He wrote to the Philippians toward the end of his house arrest, anticipating the trial with confidence:
Phil 1:12 “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.”
In essence, the charge made against him regarded an issue for Jewish courts – the violation of a barrier in the Temple past which he was accused of taking a non-Jew. It was not a capital crime, and Paul felt he could argue effectively. Dr. Luke apparently volunteered to come along with Paul in his transport, which implies openly that he traveled as his slave to Rome in Acts 28 (or would not have been afforded the opportunity). He suffered the shipwreck on the way, but offered the confidence and hope Paul needed on cold nights facing his trial. During the time of his house arrest, Paul seems to have sent his companions on deliveries (Luke may have carried Philippians, Aristarchus and Epaphrus were sent back toward Asia Minor. Demas was with him, but Paul had doubts about his reliability. The last part of his time in Rome he was mostly alone, but he was soon released and began to travel again.
While in Rome in the year 62 CE, an earthquake (subduction in the Bay of Naples) caused a tsunami with a tidal wave that swamped the ships at Ostia harbor near to Rome, ruining as much as one third of the Alexandrian grain. Coins were minted to show the people that all was well in spite of the disaster, but Nero must have found himself scrambling to meet the needs of the people for bread in that year. Paul was released to travel more between the years 62 and 65.
Each of the “Prison Epistles” share a common organization that reflected something important about Paul’s practice during this confinement. Each began with a specific prayer (cp. Ephesians 1:15-23; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-12) that Paul continually offered for the believers in that city. The prayer, when examined carefully, yields the outline of the argument of the letter. In essence, the prayer’s answer was (at least in part) the revelation God offered to them through Paul’s pen. It is worth remembering that God’s answer came through Paul’s systematic obedience, day after day, praying that God would answer a need. Eventually, God did answer. Paul had the joy of not simply “getting” an answer to his prayer; he got to “be” an answer to the prayer! Think of it! We have these letters, in part because one believer prayed for others! What can God change for future believers because of YOUR faithfulness?
Let’s look carefully at the prayer in this letter. In Ephesians 1:15-23 Paul prayed continuously that God would reveal to them (1:16-17) three specific things: 1) an understanding of the hope of their calling (18a); 2) a knowledge of the rich inheritance that those distinctly called to God’s Kingdom could exhibit (18b); 3) an absolute trust in God’s unstoppable might in the midst of any conflict (19-23). One can make a direct link to the argument of the letter for each of these three revelations. The first (understanding the promise of their calling) is directly related to chapters one through three. The second (their distinction of inheritance) relates thoroughly to the conduct portion of the book (4:1-6:9) where Paul calls on them to walk in a manner worthy of their inheritance, or their “distinctive class” in the society (4:1). The third (grasping God’s might) can easily be linked to the third section (6:10-24) concerning the protection God has supplied for the battle of the Christian life. The outline of the letter, then, is internal and expressed through the prayer of Paul in the beginning. If you look carefully, the same pattern exists in each of the “Prison Epistles”.
Part One. The Call of the Believer (Chapters 1-3)
Chapter 1. The Divine Heritage: What can lift a believer that is suffering in an attack on his life and testimony?
Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and [who are] faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, [that is], the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation– having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of [God’s own] possession, to the praise of His glory. 15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which [exists] among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention [of you] in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 [I pray that] the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. [These are] in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly [places], 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Paul carefully exposed the hope (or more accurately “solid assurance”) of the calling of each Ephesian believer in three ways in the beginning of the letter. First, he reminded them of the unique heritage God bestowed on them. As with a physical son, blessings were bestowed by virtue of their birth into a powerful and wealthy family (Ephesians 1). Continuing this encouragement, Paul moved into the initiative of God in their blessing. They were not simply sons, they were chosen (as in adoption). They were the object of God’s great affection (Ephesians 2). Finally, Paul openly proclaimed they were not a secondary idea in the plan of God, they were part of the fabric of His design and choosing (Ephesians 3).
All of us go through times of feeling a distance with God, times of testing in our walk and times we cannot see clearly through the fog of this world into the beauty and purposes of the next. The church of Ephesus was set in a town that was glorious, but commercially declining. It was a town in which hostility came easily to anything that would undo the tradition and history of the place and its pagan goddess, Diana (cp. Acts 19:27). Paul wrote to the local body of believers that had come from a pagan lifestyle (Eph. 2:11; 3:1) in an effort to lift them spiritually, as well as to assure them that they were fully accepted by God, a teaching that ran contrary to the Judaizers that were attempting to bring the believers into the bondage of acting out a covenant that was not made with them at Sinai.
Chapter 1. After greeting them (1:1-2), Paul set out to encourage the Ephesian believers as he told them that he continually praised God because of the work God did on their behalf:
• He chose them to be distinctly set apart (3,4).
• He adopted them (as Gentiles!) in the work of Jesus deliberately (5-7), wisely and willfully (8,9) to bring everything together under Christ’s mighty rule (10).
• He purposely gave them an inheritance that they may be the first of many to praise and glorify God (11,12) when they trusted His Word and were cemented into a relationship through the Spirit’s power (13).
• He gave His Spirit as a promise of the new inheritance to reassure them (14).
• When Paul heard about their faith he began praising God for this (15,16) constantly praying that they would receive more wisdom and Divinely uncovered truth concerning implications of the great call of God for them: hope, riches of the inheritance, a deep understanding of His mighty power available to them, and a knowledge of the powerful exalted position of their Savior!
Application (timeless truths for all believers of every age):
1) Remember that God recruited them thoughtfully, and specifically chose His army to gain victory in the battle: You are not a “mistake” -He is qualified to choose the right ones!
2) God gave an unshakeable inheritance to them. You have an incredible future planned for you -He has guaranteed it!
3) God moved into their hearts to offer incredible power and to reassure them when they felt beaten down. You can be lifted countless times – He has power to keep restoring and rebuilding you!
Yet, all these things needed to be clearly understood for them to keep their heart in the battle! The key to real encouragement is the understanding of God’s perspective on who we are and what we are worth!
Chapter 2. The Divine Initiative: What in the world is God doing?
Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. 11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” [which is] performed in the flesh by human hands—12 [remember] that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both [groups into] one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, [which is] the Law of commandments [contained] in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, [thus] establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner [stone], 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
Paul continued the encouragement by helping them look past the circumstances of their daily lives. Peering into the veil of the spiritual world, Paul told them a tale of God’s great rescue work and His eternal purpose:
• You were shackled in the dungeon of the dead, enslaved by a wicked prince that forced you to entertain him in the filthiness of the flesh (1-3),
• Yet God was moved by love and rescued you (giving you life! 4-5).
• He has granted you royal privileges that include full rights to His throne (6) in order that he might someday show all realms His true self! (7)
• He is gracious, our mighty Savior, a wondrous Creator of good things (8-10).
Paul then carefully explained that because of what God called them to be a part of in Jesus, believers must remember their former state of distance from God (as part of the unbelieving nations) was something completely cared for by God in their salvation. There were two implications he highlighted:
• They were NOT second-class believers as some Messianic Jewish teachers were inferring (2:11-18).
• They were different, but fully part of the new structure that God built to be whole and unified (19-22).
Application (Timeless truths for believers):
1) When God found us, we were lost and unlovable, but that won’t stop a God who sees through the present into the future (1-3).
2) When God makes something happen, it happens, no matter who objects or protests. When God says you are “in”, you are “in”! (4-5)
3) The greatest privileges are God’s alone to give to His creation, and they have been poured out on those he rescued from darkness (6-7). When discouraged, remember, we play a role in eternal history whenever we choose to participate. We have the King’s ear, and access to His throne room.
4) When we walk in the confidence of His work in us we show His victory over sin. When we walk in the sins of the flesh, we contradict what He has said that we were created for (7-10).
5) God flies everyone first class, and doesn’t distinguish between our backgrounds and former failures. He transforms failures – it is what He loves to do! (11-18).
6) God wants us to share, and celebrate unity. We can find a thousand ways to divide us, but His objective is to build a united Body of Messiah that gives glory to Him! (19-22).
Chapter 3. “The Divine Purpose: The Secret God Whispered about YOU!”
Ephesians 3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; 3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 [to be specific], that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; 10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly [places]. 11 [This was] in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. 13 Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; [and] that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him [be] the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Paul carefully crafted an argument to encourage the believers of Ephesus. He first lifted them when he spoke of their Divine inheritance (chapter 1) and then strengthened the argument as he drew them into an understanding of the Divine Initiative that made their inheritance possible (chapter 2). Paul wanted them to see this as, not as a late breaking thought in God’s mind, but as part of His eternal purpose!
In eternity past, God had a secret. Not everything He was going to unfold was known to even the highest angels of Heaven. He waited for the right time and place, and whispered something that no doubt shocked the angels of the throne room. The name of every believer was part of the secret. Do you know what He said? YOUR NAME!
• God’s covenant with Abraham did not limit His ability to bless the whole earth, even the pagan nations (3:1-8).
• Men found this an unbelievable mystery (9), and even Heaven was shocked with the news (10)!
• It was not an afterthought for God; it was part of His original Divine plan (11).
What did this mean to the individual believer?
Application (The timeless truths for believers):
1) A believer can have bold and have confident access to the Father (12)
2) They can see past the troubles of this life, taking their troubles to a Savior who listens to people of every background that believe on Him (13-15).
3) God’s purpose in saving men is to give them:
a. Incredible and rich blessing in accordance with His abundance (16a).
b. Powerful might to stand in the encouragement of the Spirit within (16b).
c. Integrity and purpose that will demonstrate that Messiah is “at home” in their heart (17a).
d. Deep roots of passionate love for each other and for Him (17b).
e. Some small comprehension of how overwhelming His love for us is, and how much He desires to show it to us by filling us with Himself (17b-19)!
Paul was overwhelmed by what God wanted to do for believers, and closed in a worshipful benediction. Perhaps this was a chorus or a worship song of the early church. Perhaps, because of its great words, it ought to be one in our time!
Benediction Song (paraphrased):
“God is able to do more than we truly think He can.
He is more powerful than what we have experienced so far.
He is worthy of incredible praise and honor!
He will receive that in never-ending praise soon!”
(The Apostle Paul, Ephesians 3:20-21)
Part Two. The Conduct of the Believer (Chapters 4:1-6:9)
Paul argued that each Ephesian believer had a great calling of God, a great “Divinely-initiated” relationship that should lift and encourage any who examine it. Yet, there was a practical side to this call. The rich inheritance they received through the Father necessitated that they cease living as though they were not a part of their new “station” or “class” in society.
Chapter 4. The Walk of the Believer: What does the “march” of Jesus look like?
The image may be properly made (based on 4:1) that they were slaves that had been set free (2:1), then subsequently adopted by a family of great stature (2:11-13). They were supposed to change their lifestyle to match this calling! It was time for the believers to act significantly different than the world around them. It was time they get in step with the cadence call for the march with the Master. For a prince to live as a self-imposed slave was silly. They were free to live their new calling! They were to walk distinctly, as a marching army that had been trained to put off the casual stroll of the world and take on a distinctive look.
What does the “WALK of the believer” look like? Paul seems to have used five images well known to the Ephesian Roman citizens to instruct them on HOW TO WALK. Paul used that term “WALK” five different times between Ephesians 4:1-6:9.
Walk Image #1: The image of the FORUM SLAVE MARKET:
Let’s start with the first of the five “walks” found in Ephesians 4:1-3: Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Paul spoke of WALKING WORTHY by taking the Ephesians into the familiar shopping area or forum of Ephesus–to the well-known but unlikely teaching place of the ROMAN SLAVE MARKET of Asia Minor.
The Romans fully believed they had the right to own slaves. These were not just for the wealthy – slave ownership was common among Romans. The law demanded that dealers disclosed the ethnic origin (natio) of the slaves they were selling. In the market placards (tituli) were hung from the necks of the slaves for sale detailing their place of origin, abilities, their good and, less frequently, their bad points. Most were sold with “money back” guarantees.
Paul reminded the believers they were BOUGHT by Jesus, and need to live up to the tituli of their skills. Look closely at Ephesians 4:1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore (parakaleo: encourage) you to walk in a manner worthy (viewed as suitable because the cost “matches” actual value) of the calling with which you have been called,
Paul said: As I sit here under house arrest, unable to travel about freely, let me encourage all of you at Ephesus to walk in the way that matches the value of what our Lord paid to purchase each of you – and enlist you in His service. You are a servant purchased with His precious blood – the highest price ever paid. Walk like you were right for the chosen position He placed you in.
Here is the point: Jesus paid an incredible price for us – and we should serve the role that He placed us in with certain specific character traits. What are they? Serve with these five characteristics today:
1. with all humility (other person centeredness) Put the other people in your life before yourself.
2. with gentleness (prah-oo’-tace: feminine noun from the root pra-, emphasizing divine origin of its “gentle strength” which expresses power with reserve and gentleness). Care for others tenderly.
3. with patience (makro-thumia). Don’t easily boil or erupt with them.
4. showing tolerance (an-ekh’-om-ahee: endure, bear with) for one another in love (agape). Bear with their needs, and meet them where you are able.
5. being diligent (spoo-dad’-zo: be swift, quick) to preserve (tay-reh’-o: to guard) the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Catch every opportunity to build up and keep people together.
I am walking with Jesus well when I put others before myself – just as Jesus did in dying for me. I am pleasing Jesus in my walk when I am tender to others, not snapping or angry in responses to them. I make Jesus smile when I look with understanding at my needy brothers and try to meet their needs – even when it will cost me. I please my Lord when I am swift to hold believers together, and keep the unity that He gave us in Jesus. In a strange way, Paul said, rise to the price you cost God, and that will please Him.
Walk Image #2: The image of the THERMAE (ROMAN BATH):
Ephesians 4:1-6:9. The second use of walk was found in Ephesians 4:17: “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 2 1if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in [the likeness of] God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Let be careful to look at the words and see what Paul was saying to the believers through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
For the image of this WALK, Paul went to the familiar setting of a ROMAN BATH (thermae) and urged the Ephesians to GET CHANGED into the right outfit for their call in Jesus.
• All free Romans knew well the inside of a Roman bath. Most business contracts in the city were forged either in the shadow of the union hall called a COLLEGIUM or in the bath complex. Lawyers in Rome took client meetings at the baths.
• Every Roman bath had a locker room called an APODYTERIUM, where slaves stood guard over their master’s clothing, or had that clothing cleaned while the master bathed and lounged in the hot, tepid or cold bathing rooms – or perhaps in the porches or athletic gym areas attached to the baths.
• In every Roman bath complex where the artwork is still visible archaeologically, there are two themes – sexuality and pagan mythology. Nude statuary abounds, and some of it was quite provocative.
• Paul’s instruction to the believers was to recognize that the pagan mind doesn’t have the connection to God, and therefore has NO SENSITIVITY to pleasing God. They are self-centered about pleasure, and calloused about sensuality. They live to please apetites, not to please the God that made them.
Believers are to take off the old clothing of that life and put on godly behavior –that includes the distinctive behavior of right acts and holy deeds. In the end of the chapter (4:25-32), Paul applied the practice of this walk to WORDS about each other, PATIENT BEHAVIOR to one another, PEACE between believers, and the IMMEDIATE CEASING of anything that hasn’t been pleasing to God. Here is what God instructed through Paul:
Don’t walk like the world. Be distinct in pure thinking and pure words. Show good behavior between believers – not lustful and shady acts and words. If you are taking what isn’t yours – quit. If you are letting your mind wander – stop. It is time to change your clothes into new garb God wants you to wear! In this image God simply said: “Put on the distinctive clothing of one who walks in purity!”
Walk Image #3: An Image from the Roman Theatre
The third use of walk is found in Ephesians 5:1 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. 3 But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and [there must be no] filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
Rome was a vast empire, spread across three continents, with a variety of people groups and national backgrounds. They didn’t have a common alphabet, or common background. They were ethnically diverse with no common history. How can you mold that variety into an empire that sees itself as a singular people? The Romans used spectacles and entertainment to do it.
They borrowed from the Greeks the theatrical entertainment used in Greek cities to tell tales of pagan mythology and morality – but the Romans moved the plays into more action and less thought. They liked violence, and they liked crude groin humor.
The Greeks had Tragedies – where the gods and goddesses would mess with men and bring a turn of fortune to human characters. Comedies were produced to show how the foolish slave may show more wisdom than his wealthy owner – and surprise endings like that. Rising quickly in the Roman theatre was another kind of play – THE MIME. A mime didn’t act like they do in parks today – they were more like a “Saturday Night Live” presentation that was thoroughly base and sexual in its speech.
The characters and situations were farcically portrayed as they MIMICKED characters of government – much like Tina Fey imitated Sarah Palin on stage a few years ago. The coarse dialogue and ludicrous actions were to get the crowd laughing.
Paul seems to mention this by saying “Be imitators of God” (using the term “mimic”).
Mimicking God means to walk in love – to meet needs of those around you. Mimicking lost men was to walk controlled by insatiable lusts. Follow God meant NOT walking with a coarse speech. Our mouths should show our Savior. We should speak truth, not empty chatter. We should speak in a way that builds up – not sensual and base speech.
People should know we are believers by the way we speak. They should know by the way we encourage. They should notice that some words we used to use – we WON’T use now. They should see that even our sense of humor was changed by Jesus.
In this theatre image, Paul said: “Don’t imitate actors, imitate God!” His words are true, loving, encouraging and helpful – they are never base or inappropriately sensual. His children should speak like their Father speaks – not like the street speaks.
Walk Image #4: The Vigiles (Night Watchman) of Roman Street
The fourth image is found in Ephesians 5:7 Therefore do not be partakers with them; 8 for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light 9 (for the fruit of the Light [consists] in all goodness and righteousness and truth), 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; 12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.“
Roman cities were teeming with people in the daytime, but the streets were not full after dark. Because there was no refrigeration or way to keep food fresh, markets had to be resupplied every night for the next day’s commerce with fresh meat, fish, vegetables and fruits. Since the streets were so full, many cities would not allow load carts to occupy the streets during the daylight hours. As a result, the people on the street in the darkness of night were delivery carts, those leaving the brothels and pubs, and a range of seedy characters associated with the darker side of Roman life. Respectables traveled together from a dinner party as a caravan, and were accompanied by body guards. Theft and murder were much more common in a world that had so many poor in close proximity to the rich, and didn’t have the advantages of a “CSI” to find the guilty.
The Romans established the Vigiles Urbani (“watchmen of the City”) as both firefighters and police of Ancient Rome. In the beginning, the “Triumviri Nocturni” were privately owned slaves of the state, organized into a group that attempted to watch over the city at night. They were respected by law abiding citizens, and feared by thieves and thugs. They worked to please the magistrates of the city who called them to this excellent service.
Paul told the believers to be like the night watchmen – the vigiles. They needed to wake up in the darkness, and use the light of their torches to expose the dark deeds of men. They weren’t to be naïve, nor were they to be ANY part of the dishonesty and darkness.
The people of God carry a torch in the darkness. They help law abiding people to feel safe. They create safe places for people by their trustworthy character and their refusal to be involved in the shady work of wicked men and women. They work to please their Master.
Notice that Paul especially pointed out that when believers walk as children of the light, we get excited about learning what will bring our Master joy. Mature believers seek God’s delight – and not their own. They plan their day around things that will bring their Master honor – and not simply care for their desires.
Paul told the people to be like the NIGHT WATCHMEN that walk in dark streets – but they carry the light of the truth – and that brings a measure of comfort to others around them while it makes God smile because of them.
Walk Image #5: The Roman Pub (Popinae and Tavernae)
The fifth image of “walk” is found in Ephesians 5:15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
Roman’s celebrated Bacchus – the god of wine – and his gift daily. They had a fundamental belief that wine was a daily necessity to daily life. They made the drink “democratic” and ubiquitous: it was available to slaves, peasants and aristocrats alike. Wine bars are found all over Pompeii and Herculaneum – cities uncovered by archaeologists.
The Roman popina (plural: popinae) was an ancient Roman wine bars, where a limited menu of olives, bread, and soups or stews were sold, along with a selection of wines of varying quality and taste. This was the common pub for plebians of the lower classes of Roman society – the part of Roman social culture where so many believers came from. Every one of them knew about the popina, as we would know about a “Chilis” or “Outback Steakhouse”.
The wine bar had simple stools and tables. They provided food and drink, but also often provided sex and gambling. Respectable Romans of the upper classes considered these as places of crime and violence. Though gambling with dice was illegal, huge numbers of dice have been uncovered in excavations of popinae in cities like Pompeii that most people ignored this law. Several wall paintings from Pompeian popinae show men throwing dice from a dice shaker. Prostitutes frequented popinae, met their customers and took them elsewhere. Some of them, perhaps many of them, had players of music, and provided background for drinking songs that echoed into the night.
Paul told the believers not to be foolish as the people who gambled away their money and fell into a drunken stupor. He called to their attention a different kind of song they could sing-the spiritual and uplifting song both on their tongue and in their heart before God.
The term DRUNK is literally “dominated by” – and refers to an issue of control. Don’t be CONTROLLED by wine – it is a waste. Rather, be filled with the Spirit of God – dominated by HIM. That domination of the Spirit – as opposed to “spirits” will lead to SONGS for the believers, and placing others ahead of ourselves.
Drunks don’t care about how loud they sing in the dark streets. They aren’t concerned about the baby they will awake. They are unaware, and empty of caring and consideration. Spirit-filled believers are filled with song that builds up, song that pleases the Master. They have songs of the heart, and songs of the lips while the do service with their hands.
Paul told the people to get out of the “spirits” of the PUB and into the Spirit of God.
Part Three: The Conflict of the Believer (Chapters 6:10-20)
Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly [places]. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, 15 and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil [one]. 17 And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and [pray] on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in [proclaiming] it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
Followed by some personal verses: 21 But that you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts. 23 Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible [love].
Why do believers with seemingly good lives fall into collapse and ruin? Why are young zealous Christians often very quickly “cooled off”? Why does it seem some don’t have the fire in their walk with God they once had? It may be because believers are getting hit by shots of the enemy, and aren’t using the protection and power God offered.
The last section of the letter relates to Paul’s desire they learn from God the “greatness of His power toward the believer” (1:19). He had prayed continuously they would finally understand how powerful God’s work for them had been. He wanted them to practically appropriate all the protection of an awesome and powerful God. As a result, God gave Paul a specific word on how that could be done in their lives – by putting on a specific set of armored protective devices.
Chapters 6. “Arming Yourself God’s Way” (Ephesians 6:10-20)
The armor of the Roman soldier became the image of the protective covering God provided for the believer. Paul took inventory and assessed the implements for the fight. He urged the believers of Ephesus to be strengthened in God’s power (10). How?
1) By using the resources God gave them (11);
2) By identifying the real enemy (11b-12);
3) By deliberately putting on all the protection provided by God (13). In 2 Corinthians 2:11 Paul stated that his ministry team was not ignorant of Satan’s devises. Sadly, he knew that many believers ARE ignorant of the war, let alone the strategy of defense. Paul wrote of two types of armor.
The FIRST TYPE was that armor which must always be at the ready. If there was a lull in the battle, the fighter was not to remove the first three implements. He indicated that in the verb form “always having” the:
a. Belt of truthfulness: (alethia: truth as content) vulnerable area, carefully protected (14); Paul was not addressing the truth of salvation (as in v. 17 and the sword, Word), but rather the commitment to truthfulness of the believer!
b. Breastplate of righteousness (holy choices): covering heart, able to take direct blows when positioned correctly (14b), breaks your heart when not maintained. In the Hebrew world, the “heart” is the mind! (Prov. 23:7; Mark 7:21). Paul does not refer to self righteousness (Eph. 2:8-9), nor of imputed righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21), but of a life practice of righteousness, or holy living.
c. Sandle guard straps fixed in position to provide a firm stand with the Gospel: metal tabs that protected the surface of the foot with cletes to hold the soldier in place. Paul refers to the unmovable faith in the Gospel to bring peace in the life of the lost.
The SECOND TYPE of armor was indicated in the poor translation of “Above all” (v.16). The grammar was NOT indicating the shield is more important, but is linked to the verb form of all of the next three items. They were to appropriate at the time necessary the:
d. Blocking shield of faith (theuron; large shield to block arrows; 4.5 feet by 2.5 feet., cp. Psalm 18:30). His reference is not to “belief” as such, but to “trust” that changes our view of ourselves and the world around us. When the battle rages, use the shield. 1) they were effective when locked together; 2) they were effective when held tightly and trusted and all remained in place.
e. Helmet of salvation (refers to the protection of the transformed mind) when we understand that our salvation has a PAST aspect: justification; a PRESENT aspect: sanctification; and a FUTURE aspect, our eventual glorification. We must see things through God’s eyes and learn to call the battle by His Word!
f. Sword of the Spirit: the WORD (RAMA: From the word “to pour, an utterance”) of God. The “machaira” dagger is not the broad sword, rhomphaia). A specific Word from God that He gives to take a direct shot at the enemy!
4) How can believers use the armor? (18)
• It is used in prayer (for God wants us to ask Him for what we need)
• Believers use it when they persevere in troubles.
• Believers use it when they stand with one another in love.
Paul pressed a simple case to the beleaguered Ephesians. They were Divinely called to a new citizenship, carefully selected to depart the ranks of pagan barbarians and offered the chance to become a soldier in the great Kingdom of God. They were recruited into an army for which they had to serve faithfully with the equipment provided them. They could not allow the jeering of others to allow them to be derailed in their service of the King! They were not second to Jewish believers, they were to assimilate into the Kingdom while appreciating the unique nature of the choice God had made on their behalf. They were not encouraged to disparage God’s commitment to Jewish believers, but rather to walk in God’s unique commitment to them!