This beautiful letter, the favorite of many, is one of the gems of the NT. Paul is taken up with the overwhelming goodness that God in Christ has showered on believers, and with his amazing plan to unite Gentiles with Jews in a new community—the church, the body of Christ. Here we have one of the finest descriptions of the Christian life in the entire NT. Though written from prison, this letter is full of joy, praise, and thanksgiving. It is a fitting reply to the wonder of God’s amazing grace in Christ, poured out in abundance on those chosen to know his love—Gentiles as well as Jews.


Paul’s third missionary journey (AD 53–57) centered on Ephesus, capital and port city of the Roman province of Asia on the western coast of what we now call Turkey. In Paul’s time, Ephesus was the fourth-largest city in the Roman empire, with a population of perhaps 500,000. Many people visited the city to see the famous temple of Artemis.

After an initial brief visit (see Acts 18:19–21), Paul returned to spend between two and three years in this large and flourishing city (see Acts 19:1–20:1). It was a difficult time for him: He encountered much opposition and suffered much abuse (see Acts 19:21–41; 1 Cor 15:32; 2 Cor 1:8–9; 11:23–27). But during this time, people all over the province heard the Good News of Christ for the first time, and many small groups of believers sprang up, meeting together in homes, in villages and towns across the province (the seven churches addressed by Revelation probably originated during this time). Some of these churches (at Colosse, for example) were begun by Paul’s converts, and had no firsthand acquaintance with Paul.

It is not clear how accurate their understanding of the gospel was, but we know from Paul’s letter to the Colossians that some of them had encountered wrong teaching and distorted perceptions. In Ephesians, Paul is concerned with a perception that Gentile Christians were inferior to or distinct from Jewish Christians, and not fully part of God’s “new Israel.” What gave rise to this misunderstanding is not clear—discrimination by Jewish Christians? Gentile aversion to Jewish Christians?—but it reflects traditional ethnic tensions between Jews and Gentiles throughout the Roman world. Paul was also concerned with a lack of awareness that God’s people are to live in a distinctly different way from that of the surrounding world.

The Setting of Ephesians. Paul was in prison when he wrote his letter to the Ephesians. It is unclear where he was—either in ROME, as traditionally thought, or perhaps in EPHESUS. It is also unclear exactly who were the recipients of the letter. It might have been intended for the Christians in Ephesus, or as an encyclical for all the churches in the province of Asia, including Ephesus.

As spiritual father of these early converts, and as one commissioned by God to carry the Good News to the Gentiles, Paul was deeply concerned that the Ephesians have a correct understanding of all that God had given them in Christ and of the kind of life God wanted them to live in response. He writes a letter from prison that seems to be intended for several of these churches full of new converts.

With a heart full of praise for all that God has done, Paul beautifully summarizes the Good News of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ—emphasizing that it is for Gentiles as well as for Jews. He also gives practical instructions on how believers are to live in response, turning away from their former lives to become truly good and like Christ. There are no major, urgent problems addressed in this letter; it is a general summary of Paul’s theological and moral teachings.


This letter summarizes the Good News of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, emphasizing that it is for Gentiles as well as Jews (chs 1–3). It then gives specific instructions on how believers should live in response (chs 4–6).

Following a brief introduction (1:1–2), Paul praises God for the amazing grace that believers have received in Christ (1:3–14). In his sovereign love, God has chosen them, forgiven them, brought them into his family, made them his children, and promised them eternal blessings. In giving them his Spirit, he has marked them as his own so that they might praise his grace forever. Paul then prays that God will give them spiritual understanding to grasp the full depth of all that he has done for them (1:15–23). Though fully deserving of God’s wrath, they have been saved by God’s grace, not by anything they have done, but simply by being joined to Christ (2:1–10). As Gentiles, they were utterly alienated from God and his blessings, but in God’s mercy, through the reconciling work of Christ, they have now been made members of God’s family, fully equal to Jewish Christians. They are no longer outsiders (2:11–22).

Paul is the one commissioned by God to bring this wonderful Good News to them (3:1–13). His second prayer for them (3:14–21) is that God will give them spiritual power, strengthen them in their faith and love, enable them to understand Christ’s saving love fully, and fill them with the life and power of God himself.

In response, they are to live a life of humility, grace, and love—a life worthy of their calling, as they use their God-given gifts to build up the body of Christ (4:1–16). They are to turn from the darkness of their former sinful ways and live an absolutely good life as children of light. Filled with kindness and love in the Holy Spirit, and following the example of Christ, their lives are to please God in all things (4:17–5:20).

All their relationships at home—between husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves—are to be characterized by respect and love, as they live for Christ (5:21–6:9). Finally, they are warned to take on God’s armor to protect themselves from the devil (6:10–20). Paul closes with some personal words and a benediction (6:21–24).

New Living Translation Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2008), Eph.

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