Summary: God's call as set forth in Ephesians 1:1-2 shows the beginning of God's supreme purpose for believers.
Today I would like to begin a new series of sermons. For seven Sundays, I plan to preach through Ephesians 1 in a series I am calling, “God’s Supreme Purpose.” That will take us to the Missions Conference at the end of February. After the Missions Conference, I plan to do a different sermon series until Easter. And then, after Easter, I may return and do another series of sermons on Ephesians 2. My plan for the foreseeable future is to preach shorter series of expositional messages from different parts of Scripture, but we will eventually get through Ephesians!
Let’s begin by reading Paul’s introduction to the Ephesians in Ephesians 1:1-2:
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:1-2)
Last week, my wife and I had the privilege of visiting our daughter and son-in-law in the city of Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia. On one of our daily excursions, we visited Monserrate, a mountain that dominates the city center of Bogotá. Monserrate rises 10,407 feet above the sea level, and is about 1,800 feet above the city below. We accessed Monserrate by a funicular on the way up, and descended by a cable car on the way down. While on top of Monserrate we had a magnificent view of downtown Bogotá, south Bogotá, and some sections north of the city. Monserrate is a mountain that is visible from many parts of the city below. It is easy to see why residents of Bogotá take visitors to the top of Monserrate because it is the place from which one can get the best possible view of Bogotá.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians stands in relation to the rest of his writings rather like Monserrate. It isn’t the longest or fullest of his writings, but it offers a breathtaking view of the biblical landscape. From Paul’s letter to the Ephesians you get a magnificent view of biblical truth: God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the church, the means of salvation, our position in Christ, our practice as Christians, marriage, family, and spiritual warfare. Like a visitor to Bogota who visits the top of Monserrate, you will be able to see magnificent views of biblical truth in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
Over the course of time, I hope to work through the entire letter of Paul to the Ephesians. Ephesians consists of only six chapters. In the pew Bible, it is only four pages long. It contains 155 verses. It will take you only about 20 minutes to read the entire letter aloud. Yet, it is an incredibly powerful letter. Commentator William Barclay calls Ephesians “the queen of the epistles.” John Mackay, a former president of Princeton Theological Seminary who was converted at the age of fourteen through reading Ephesians, called it the “greatest… maturest… [and] for our time the most relevant” of all Paul’s writings. “This letter is pure music,” he said. Missionary Ruth Paxson called Ephesians “the Grand Canyon of Scripture,” meaning that it is breathtakingly beautiful and apparently inexhaustible to the one who wants to take it in. And commentator Klyne Snodgrass wrote, “Pound for pound Ephesians may well be the most influential document ever written.”
Therefore, it is appropriate to ask the question: Why study Ephesians? Commentator Tony Merida suggests several reasons for studying Ephesians, which I would like to mention briefly.
First, Ephesians deepens our understanding of the gospel. Sadly, shallow Christianity is common in our day. Ephesians helps us to understand “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).
Second, Ephesians magnifies the importance of the church, perhaps more than any other New Testament letter. We also live in a day in which people do not really value the church. They are inclined to think, “If nothing else is going on this weekend, then I guess I will attend a worship service at church.” Yet when we look at Ephesians, we read how the church is central to God’s supreme purpose; the church is put in eternal perspective. It is through the church that God has chosen to make known his “manifold wisdom” (3:10).
Third, Ephesians has changed lives forever. John Mackay, recalled how, at the age of 14, he took his Bible into the hills of Scotland and studied Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He wrote these words: “I saw a new world… everything was new…. I had a new outlook, new experiences, new attitudes to other people. I loved God. Jesus Christ became the center of everything…. I had been ‘quickened.’ I was really alive.” Ephesians can do that today too!
Fourth, Ephesians may also be the “most contemporary” letter in the New Testament. Apart from the mention of slavery, this letter “could have been written to a modern church.” That is because Paul did not write to correct a problem in Ephesus. His letter is more reflective and less corrective. Paul did not name false teachers, mention specific problems in the church at Ephesus, or include his travel plans as he did in other letters. As a result, Ephesians resonates with contemporary Christians because it seems Paul could have written the letter to any twenty-first-century church.