Why a Letter to the Ephesians?
“GREAT is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Can you imagine a theater, capable of holding twenty-five thousand spectators, packed with people in an angry religious frenzy who were shouting the above phrase incessantly for two hours? It happened!—Acts 19:28, 34.
Why such ardent fervor? Who was Artemis? For that matter, who were the Ephesians? Who sent them a letter—and why?
An Ancient Religious Center
Ephesus was one of the most prominent cities of the first century of our Common Era, with an estimated population in excess of a quarter million. The city was a wealthy center of trade and culture, but it was not just the wealth, mild climate and beauty of the area that attracted multitudes. Ephesus was a religious center of the ancient world and boasted a temple so great that it was called one of the seven wonders of the world.
The goddess Artemis, or Diana, was worshiped in this plush temple, where gold is reputed to have been used between the joints of marble blocks. On occasion, as many as seven hundred thousand from Ephesus and distant lands would line the streets as the “virgin goddess” was paraded through the city. The making and selling of silver images of this multibreasted goddess of fertility was a thriving business in Ephesus.—Acts 19:24, 25.
It was into a city of this kind that the man Paul came preaching Christianity to the Ephesians. He had been commissioned by Jesus Christ to be “an apostle to the nations.” (Romans 11:13) A congregation was formed and grew rapidly in Ephesus. The new ones quickly discarded their images and books on magic. (Acts 19:19) Because this fast-growing new religion opposed the use of images, Demetrius, the silversmith, incited the people to near riot, resulting in their crying, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
The Ephesus congregation had essentially been formed by Paul, the writer of the letter. It was a congregation made up primarily of Gentiles, that is, non-Jews, or people of the nations. (Ephesians 3:1) Those who became Christians in Ephesus had abandoned a degrading form of worship.—Ephesians 4:17-19.
Restoring Unity and Peace
From Rome Paul wrote to the Ephesians while he was in prison, about the year 60 or 61 C.E. (Ephesians 1:1; 6:20) Near the letter’s outset he provides a statement of God’s grand purpose for restoring unity and peace, as outlined in the Scriptures. It becomes the focal point around which the rest of the letter hinges.
Paul wrote: “He [God] made known to us the sacred secret of his will. It is according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself for an administration at the full limit of the appointed times, namely, to gather all things together again in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth.” (Ephesians 1:9, 10) As shown here, it was God’s will to right all the wrongs that had occurred throughout the universe as a result of the rebellion of Satan.
Paul wanted these Gentile Ephesian Christians to get the full import of what an unspeakable privilege it was for them to be so intimately involved in the outworking of God’s will. So, immediately after his opening greeting, Paul pointed to their privileged situation. They had become part of a group that God had chosen “before the founding of the world” to be with Christ in his heavenly Kingdom.—Ephesians 1:3-7.
Truly, what a privilege for the Gentile Ephesians, once “alienated” and “without God in the world,” to enjoy the prospect, along with Jews, of becoming heavenly rulers with Christ in God’s Kingdom! This was the “sacred secret” that Paul repeatedly refers to in this letter, “namely, that people of the nations should be joint heirs and fellow members of the body and partakers with us of the promise in union with Christ Jesus.”—Ephesians 2:11-13; 3:3-6.
So the letter to the Ephesians reveals that Jehovah God purposes to restore unity and peace universally. As Paul wrote, God will “gather all things together again in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth.” It was only prior to Satan’s rebellion that true unity existed in all the universe. But by means of God’s “administration,” that is, his handling, or managing, of affairs, such unity will again be realized.
By accepting Christ as their ransomer, “the things in the heavens”—that is, those persons who are adopted to be heavenly sons—‘are gathered together again in the Christ.’ However, in keeping with God’s purpose, the due time must come for the accomplishing of the second feature of His “administration,” namely, to gather together “the things on the earth.” This occurs during Christ’s presence in Kingdom power when he gathers his “other sheep” who are destined for life on the earth under the heavenly Kingdom.—John 10:16.
Following along on his theme, Paul shows how peace and unity need to be pursued by all within “the congregation, which is [Christ’s] body.” (Ephesians 1:22, 23) Thus there is no longer to be a distinction between Jew and Gentile, circumcision and uncircumcision. All must be willing to work for unity and peace.—Ephesians 2:11.
All together Paul uses the word “union” 13 times in this letter, more than in any other letter of his. And he uses the word “peace” eight times, more than in any other letter except the one to the Romans. We can better understand the need of emphasizing unity and peace when we appreciate the sharp differences that had existed for centuries between Jews and Gentiles. (Acts 10:28) Paul stresses the important role of Christ in this matter. “For he is our peace,” Paul says, “he who made the two parties one and destroyed the wall [the Law of Moses] in between that fenced them off.”—Ephesians 2:14.
Working for Peace and Unity
The last three chapters Eph 4-6 of Paul’s letter address situations and provide counsel that would make for peace and unity in the immediate circumstances of those Ephesians. And how can peace and unity be achieved? The exercising of love is vital. To emphasize this fact Paul uses the words “love,” “loved,” “loves” and “loving” 19 times, more often than in any other letter of his! Thus he urges “putting up with one another in love, earnestly endeavoring to observe the oneness of the spirit in the uniting bond of peace.”—Ephesians 4:2, 3.
Paul goes on to describe God’s provisions for unified activity. As he says, God “gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers . . . until we all attain to the oneness in the faith.” Then Paul uses the illustration of the unified workings of a human body, which make “for the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”—Ephesians 4:11-16.
So things that disrupt peace and unity must now be avoided. These would include speaking falsehood, being wrathful or lazy, and uttering rotten sayings rather than sayings that are good and upbuilding. Stealing was actually encouraged in Ephesus, since a thief could flee to the temple of Artemis and escape arrest. But Paul said: “Let the stealer steal no more.”—Ephesians 4:25-30.
Just imagine how the application of Paul’s following admonition would make for peace and unity: “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness. But become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.”—Ephesians 4:31, 32.
Fornication, uncleanness, greediness, shameful conduct, foolish talking, obscene jesting, drunkenness—all such things lead to trouble not only with fellow humans but also with God. So Paul urges: “Quit sharing with them [people of the nations] in the unfruitful works that belong to the darkness.” “Keep strict watch that how you walk is not as unwise but as wise persons . . . because the days are wicked.”—Ephesians 5:1-20.
Paul describes that following the loving example of Christ and the counsel of God’s Word will make for peace within families. He also emphasizes how employees and employers can get along together peaceably by remembering their obligations to God. (Ephesians 5:21–6:9) Yet it is necessary to realize that the one who first disrupted universal peace and unity, Satan the Devil, will strongly oppose all efforts of Christians to do God’s will. So they must “put on the complete suit of armor from God” to resist the Devil and his demons successfully.—Ephesians 6:10-18.
When we consider all that it contains, how thankful to God we are that he inspired Paul to write the letter to the Ephesians! His letter has been praised by many scholars, one describing it as “embracing in its brevity the whole field of the Christian religion.” Not only does it expound on God’s grand purpose to right the wrong in all the universe but it also gives much practical counsel and admonition to help us serve God in such a way as to win his everlasting favor and blessing.