Ephesians: Unity Realized Through Christ
Among the Christian congregations that the apostle Paul established on his missionary tours was the one at Ephesus. He preached there on at least two occasions. On the first occasion he came with his coworkers Aquila and Priscilla and his stay was rather brief. (Acts 18:18-21) But when he returned he stayed much longer, even as he later told the elders of Ephesus: “For [some] three years, night and day, I did not quit admonishing each one with tears.” (Acts 20:17-35) These loving labors that Paul bestowed bore fine fruit, for his letter to them does not contain any strong reproofs such as he felt it necessary to give to the congregations in Corinth and Galatia.
That Paul wrote this letter is clear beyond any reasonable doubt. The letter itself contains two references to him as the writer. (Eph. 1:1; 3:1) Also, it is marked by Paul’s style of writing. And the testimony of the early ‘church fathers’ is that Paul wrote this letter. The weight of evidence is that he wrote it specifically to the Christians at Ephesus* while he was in prison in Rome and about the year 61 C.E.
Unity with and through Christ is the theme of this letter, even as can be seen from the fact that there are thirteen references to ‘union with Christ’ in this letter, more than in any other letter that Paul wrote. He shows that unity is Jehovah’s purpose and tells of the roles that Christ’s sacrifice and the ‘gifts in men’ play to that end. Further, in this letter Paul counsels family members, slaves and masters so that these likewise may have unity among themselves.
GOD’S PURPOSE OF UNITY
In chapter one Paul stresses the union with Jesus Christ that his true followers enjoy as a result of God’s undeserved kindness. In particular he calls attention to God’s purpose to gather all things in heaven and on earth together again by means of “an administration,” an administering of affairs. This unifying activity began at Pentecost when about 120 disciples of Christ received God’s holy spirit, and it was extended to Gentiles when Cornelius and his household responded to the preaching of the apostle Peter and were baptized. In modern times the facts show that there has been a ‘gathering of all things on earth,’ beginning with the bringing together of a “great crowd” of “other sheep.” This gathering work will continue until all those in the memorial tombs hear Jesus’ voice and come forth.—John 5:28, 29; 10:16; Rev. 7:9.
Continuing, Paul thanks God for these Christians and prays that they may have the spirit of wisdom. His referring to their sense of appreciation or evaluation as their having ‘the eyes of their heart enlightened’ appropriately points to how God makes them aware of something that has heart appeal. This may move them to be “made new in the force actuating [their] mind.” (Eph. 4:23) By such spiritual insight Christians are convinced of the glorious hope that awaits them—made certain by God’s mighty power as displayed by raising Jesus from the dead.
In chapter two Paul directs his attention to the Gentile Christians, who quite likely were in the majority there at Ephesus. They once walked according to the ruler of this world (Satan the Devil) and were conducting themselves in line with the desires of their fallen flesh and so did not have God’s favor. As uncircumcised Gentiles they were ignorant of and excluded from God’s covenant with Abraham. But now they have been brought into union with Jesus Christ. How so? Because Jesus’ sacrifice fulfilled the patterns in the Law and put an end to it, the Law having been a barrier between Jew and Gentile. Having become Christians, these Ephesian Gentiles are now fellow citizens and members of God’s household. All of this is due to no merit on their part but because of their exercising faith, which faith is a gift of God.
Next, prisoner Paul tells of the stewardship that God entrusted to him. Although less than the least of all the holy ones, he was entrusted with making known the sacred secret that Gentiles may also become partakers of the promises by coming into union with Christ. By means of Jesus Christ they can approach God with full confidence and freeness of speech.
Paul again prays for his Christian brothers, this time asking that God cause them to become strong and firmly established by faith and love upon a sure foundation. In closing this part of his letter he expresses the most encouraging thought that God can do superabundantly more than all we could ask or conceive.
GOD’S “GIFTS” AS AN AID TO UNITY
Paul begins the second half of his letter by counseling Christians to conduct themselves in a befitting manner, with complete humility and mildness. To what purpose? So that all may be united in the bond of peace. Yes, oneness is so important! “One body there is, and one spirit, . . . one hope . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all.” (Eph. 4:2-6) A sevenfold oneness! How far removed Christendom is from such oneness!
Continuing, Paul notes that God gave gifts in men, such as apostles, prophets, evangelizers, shepherds and teachers. Why? Again, for the purpose of oneness: “Until we all attain to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God,” no longer being babes but becoming spiritually full grown, able to stand firm and united as one body, where each joint and member contributes to the body’s well-being and usefulness.—Eph. 4:11-16.
CHRISTIAN QUALITIES ESSENTIAL TO UNITY
To this end Christians must strip off the old personality with its selfish desires and practices and “put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.”—Eph. 4:22-24.
For Christian unity to be maintained they must speak truth with one another, not continuing angry with one another, not stealing from one another. Neither are they to use foul language but, rather, are to be saying what is good for building up as the need may be. Far from being angry and screaming at one another, Christians are to be kind, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another, thus becoming imitators of God, who also freely forgives.—Eph. 4:25-32.
Next Paul warns against sexual immorality, which certainly can also act as a divisive force. Christians are to avoid fornication, uncleanness, shameful conduct, obscene jesting. Instead of associating with those who practice such things and sharing therein, they are to “keep on making sure of what is acceptable to the Lord” and keep reproving those who practice such wicked things. Yes, we must ‘keep strict watch that how we walk is not as unwise but as wise persons, buying out the opportune time’ for fruitful works, ‘for the days are wicked.’ (Eph. 5:10, 15, 16) Rather than get drunk with alcoholic beverages, Christians should get filled with God’s spirit; as an aid toward this it will help if we speak to one another with psalms, praises to God, spiritual songs, making music in our hearts.
SUBJECTION AIDS TO UNITY
Paul next notes the principle of subjection, so essential to Christian unity. All Christians are to be in subjection to one another. Wives are to be in subjection to their husbands. This certainly should not prove irksome, if husbands, as Paul next counsels, love their wives as their own bodies—in fact, even more than themselves, for they are to love their wives as Christ loved the congregation. How much did he love it? So much that he laid down his life for it. Truly where a husband has such love for his wife and his wife is fully in subjection, they will have, as God purposed in the beginning, a oneness together as “one flesh.” For Christlike family oneness, children must be obedient to their parents, and fathers must be careful not to irritate their children unduly but to bring them up in the discipline of Jehovah.—Eph. 5:21 to 6:4.
Carrying the principle of oneness into still another sphere of human relations, Paul counsels slaves to be obedient to their masters and to serve them with good inclinations. After all, God will reward right-doing regardless of whether human masters do or not. At the same time, human masters, in dealing with their slaves, should bear in mind that they have a Master to whom they are accountable, in the heavens.—Eph. 6:5-9.
SPIRITUAL ARMOR ESSENTIAL
Ephesus was a city famous not only for its great temple of Artemis but also for its magical arts. (Acts 19:11-20) Most fittingly, Paul urges Christians to put on the complete suit of armor from God, so as to be able to take a firm stand against “the world rulers of this darkness, against the wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:11-13) Of what does this armor consist? It includes the truth of God’s Word and a breastplate of righteousness for the heart. Also, there is the equipment of the good news of peace, the large shield of faith, the hope of salvation as a helmet, and as a weapon the sword of the spirit, which is God’s word.—Eph. 6:14-17.
However, together with this complete suit of armor something else is needed. What is that? Prayer, to get help from God. So Paul continues: “While with every form of prayer and supplication you carry on prayer on every occasion in spirit . . . in behalf of all the holy ones.” Humbly Paul asks that they also pray for him, that he may speak the good news “with boldness.”—Eph. 6:18-20.
In conclusion Paul writes that the beloved brother Tychicus will tell the congregation there at Ephesus how Paul is faring. From this it appears that he brought Paul’s letter to them from Rome. And, as Paul does in all his letters, he concludes by praying that they may have God’s undeserved kindness.
What an abundance of fine teaching and exhortation regarding oneness for us today the apostle has provided in his letter to the Ephesians! May we become ever more familiar with it, making it our own, and bring our lives more closely in harmony with it!
Some hold that this is the letter to the Laodicean congregation to which Paul refers at Colossians 4:16. But there is no historical evidence to support such a supposition.