Ephesians 5 is quite a chapter. Take a couple minutes to read it. If you have 20 minutes, read through the entire letter Paul wrote to this church at Ephesus. Make note of any questions you have. Engage with the text. Wrestle with it.
Paul’s writings make up much of the new testament in scripture. He can come across as rude, mean or stubborn. It can be easy to write off some of the things Paul says in scripture because of our perception of him. In a similar way, it can be easy to write people off who I don’t agree with or don’t think are nice.
Why is it easy to write off people that think or act differently than we do?
Chapter 5 contains a lot of directives, and if I perceive Paul as rude or mean I may want to write off these things he writes to the Ephesians. We can do that often with scripture we find difficult, or if it’s written by someone we find difficult. We can ignore, or blindly follow, or just pretend it doesn’t exist.
How do we know what to hold as unchanging? How do we know what to hold as being only historical or cultural? There’s not really an easy answer to this question.
Scripture has often been used to belittle and to hurt others. Paul talks here about the relationship between a husband and wife, and these verses have often been used by men to badger women into submission. Paul starts this part of the letter by encouraging the Ephesians to be “imitators of God”, to “be Christlike”, and the Jesus i know to be true is not found within belittling or manipulating or forcing submission. Sometimes scripture doesn’t seem to make much sense. What do we do with it then?
What do you do with scripture when it doesn’t make sense?
Remember that Paul builds this amazing perspective of relationship with God for the people of Ephesus in the first half of his letter. That God loves them, that even while they were dead in sin, God chose them and Jesus went to the cross to die for them. That even though they were once outsiders, by Jesus they have been brought into the family of God and been made one in unity with the Jews, the people of God.
It’s from this perspective that Paul gives the directives of chapter 5. It’s Paul’s call for the Ephesians to respond to the truth he presents in chapters 1-3. Paul repeatedly brings this moment out in his writings. Concepts like follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.
It can be easy to just “do it”, or to just “not do it.” Process and faith call for deeper engagement than just doing blindly or not doing spitefully.
You can find all kinds of directives in scripture that would probably be terrible to follow blindly or to ignore completely. Old testament things that are unfamiliar and almost laughable for us today, like not wearing clothing made of two kinds of material. Some more familiar new testament directives like we see in Ephesians chapter 5. And then we have all of the directives that come straight from Jesus. Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Don’t worry about life. Take up your cross.
With the whole host of directives throughout scripture, how can you determine which are really important and which can be ignored?
Maybe you’ve seen videos of people getting complete makeovers and looking completely different after the process. When thinking about directives of scripture, we can approach them as these external “do’s and don’ts.” If someone changes everything about their external appearance (haircut, clothing change, plastic surgery, etc.), in the end, is that person really changed? Sure they look different, but is that because of something momentary?
We can view biblical directives as a radical makeover tool. At least it’s easiest to celebrate an external change moment. But what about internal transformation? Transformation that takes a lot of time? Something that shifts who we are? Something that maybe isn’t even visible externally at first?
How does the truth of scripture change, transform, refine, animate or motivate people?
We’re reading these directives as 21st century people. While some are straightforward, others make a little less sense. How would the Ephesian people have interpreted Paul’s directives? The question that continually comes up for me when thinking about directives is are belief and action mutually inclusive? Can one change (or stay changed) without the other changing?
Paul didn’t initially minister to the gentile Ephesians. There was a synagogue in Ephesus that Paul started his ministry in. For three months he preached the message of the gospel but many of the Jews became obstinate, refusing to believe Paul’s message. So he went instead and brought this message to a lecture hall, where many Greeks (Ephesians) were the ones to follow and believe.
Ephesus was a prosperous city connected to much of the commerce of the time. Literally, the Ephesians as a whole had everything they ever wanted. They had it all. In need of nothing. Even in terms of faith, they were following the most powerful god known in the time. What’s amazing about this is that Artemis was not just a deity, but was esteemed above all other gods. The temple at Ephesus wasn’t just a building. It was viewed as one of the seven great wonders of the world at the time. Paul came with a message saying that God is the one true God, and that would mean Artemis was really no god at all.
What do you do when your belief systems get challenged?
So many of these Ephesians decided to give up following Artemis and follow this God Paul spoke of instead. Why would they?
What caused these Ephesian believers to abandon their beliefs in artemis in favor of following Jesus?
God did some extraordinary miracles through Paul. It is written that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul had the power of God in them and were taken to those who were sick, and their “illnesses were cured and evil spirits left them.”
Paul’s first line of this part of the message reflects the truth “That Jesus loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us.”
The Ephesians certainly would have understood the concept of sacrifices, as they had lived for ages offering sacrifices to Diana in hopes that fertility would come to them. They would have thought about all the sacrifices they had made to try and get things to go in their favor.
Then they would have understood that Jesus made a sacrifice, but not like they had.
He literally made the sacrifice of himself. Giving up his own life.
Why? So he could get something?
So he’d be blessed by the gods with fertility or wealth or power?
No, so these people(and all people) could be forgiven and brought into the family of God. They were dead in transgressions, but have been brought to life in Christ.
Paul came with not only a message that challenged them to change their beliefs and actions, but he did it through building relationships with these people.
These Ephesians saw Paul, a total outsider, come to them and minister in humility. He was unaware of their lives, their customs, their culture, but spent his life on them. He came with this message that there was only one God, a message that clearly challenged the belief systems of the Ephesians. As Paul spent more time there, the power of God became very evident. Paul gives them this picture that, while they’ve been spending their lives making sacrifices to get what they want from a god who isn’t real, the real God himself sacrificed his own life so that they could actually get what He wanted for them from before they ever had a say in it. That is life altering.
It’s through this lens the Ephesians would have heard Paul’s directives. These “do’s and don’ts” of how life should look. I believe they would have taken these things on willingly after knowing the truth of Jesus and what He had done for them.
We see this writing in Revelation that John admonishes the Ephesians to “come back to their first love.” To move away from the comfort they had put their security into. Comfort was such a standard of living for Ephesus. Much like us in the US. Paul came and lived a life mostly absent of comfort.
The reality is that Paul saw the potential these people had. He knew that God’s plan was to bring them into Himself. Paul did everything he could to love these people, to invest in them, but at the end of the day it was their choice, as individuals and as a church, whether or not they were going to follow Jesus. We see these Ephesians choose to change their beliefs, and chapter 5 is Paul reminding them of how belief and action go together.
What causes you to change your beliefs, and in turn, your actions?
We were privileged to have our friend Tori join us this week for preparation and for our message. She shared this story with us about this amazing missionary woman named Gladys Aylward. She served people in China, providing hospitality for travellers in a hotel she founded and sharing Jesus with people. She spent her life there, working with orphans and adopting some children as her own.
At one point a riot broke out in a prison near Gladys. Inmates had started killing each other.
The half-starved Chinese prisoners in Yangcheng were rioting. In the center was a man with a large bloody kitchen meat cleaver. All were shouting. Several men had already collapsed on the ground, mortally wounded. The warden called to A-Weh-Deh, “Go in and stop them!” The woman known to foreigners by her English name, Gladys Aylward, stood trembling at the entrance. “Why me?” she gasped. The warden challenged, “You tell us your God is all powerful. Is He or is He not?”
“He is,” she declared, seeking to bolster her courage, as she stepped into the sandy courtyard. “But only through the help of Jesus will I prevail, for the Gospel of God in our Bible states, ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.’” *
In this moment, Gladys experienced the point at which belief required action. I can have beliefs all day, but if they never turn into actions, do I really believe?
What about you?
Based on your actions, what traits can others identify in you?
Take It Deeper Questions
Read Ephesians 5
How do you best receive direction? Worst? Why?
How do you best receive correction? Worst? Why?
How do you decide if a Biblical directive or correction is for you or not? How do you decide if you will do it or not?
How do faith, belief, teaching and community fit into that equation?
If Paul was writing you with some reminders, directives and corrections, how would you receive/process/react to his letter?
Bible Reading Plan
What to be reading as we are studying Ephesians
Read the book of Galatians. How are Galatians and Ephesians similar and different?