The apostle Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians packs a great deal of teaching and Christian living principles into six chapters. Here is a brief overview.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is one of the most beloved and quoted books in the Bible. It has been called “the sublimest and the most majestic expression” of the gospel, “the Rolls-Royce of the epistles,” “the divinest composition of man” and “the distilled essence of the Christian religion.”
The NKJV Study Bible gives this background about Ephesus:
“Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia (today part of Turkey). Located at the intersection of several major trade routes, Ephesus was a vital commercial center of the Roman Empire. It was the site of a famous temple for the fertility goddess Diana that was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Most important, however, Ephesus figured prominently and dramatically in early church history, for Paul used the city as a center for his missionary work in that region.”
Paul visited Ephesus for a short time on his second journey, then spent about three years there on his third journey. His preaching made a major impact. So many people were converted and gave up their pagan ways that silversmiths in Ephesus started a riot because they felt their business of making idols was threatened (Acts 19:18-20, 23-41).
Paul’s deep connection to the congregation is demonstrated in his tearful good-bye to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:17-38.
Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians while in prison in Rome, probably around A.D. 61-62. Thus it was one of Paul’s four Prison Epistles, along with Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. The book has similarities to Colossians, suggesting it was written about the same time. Also, since Ephesians lacks the personal references found in many of Paul’s letters, many believe it was written to be circulated to various congregations in the area.
Interestingly, the Bible gives a sort of postscript to Ephesians through a later letter to the same area. In Revelation 2:1-7, more than 30 years later, Christ gave another message to Ephesus that hints at developments in the area. He commended them, “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil,” but warned they had left their “first love” (verses 2 and 4). See “Ephesus” in our series on the “Seven Churches of Revelation.”
Outline of Ephesians
Here is one way to outline the book of Ephesians:
Chapters 1 through 3 describe God’s blessings for members of Christ’s Body.
- Paul’s greeting (1:1-2).
- The blessing of being chosen and redeemed by God (1:3-12).
- The blessing of being sealed by the Holy Spirit (1:13-23).
- The blessing of being saved by grace through faith (2:1-10).
- The blessing of being unified in the Church (2:11-22).
- The blessing of understanding the mystery of God’s plan (3:1-21).
Chapters 4 through 6 describe what our response should be to God’s blessings. We should:
- Walk worthy (4:1-6).
- Build up the Church using our gifts (4:7-16).
- Put on the new person (4:17-32).
- Walk in love (5:1-7).
- Walk in light (5:8-14).
- Walk in wisdom (5:15-17).
- Walk in the Spirit (5:18-21).
- Build husband-wife relationships (5:22-33).
- Build parent-child relationships (6:1-4).
- Build work relationships (6:5-9).
- Put on the full armor of God (6:10-20).
- Paul’s salutation (6:21-24).
God’s blessings for members of Christ’s Body (Ephesians 1-3)
Paul uses the first half of his letter to remind the members of the Church of God in Ephesus and other areas of God’s blessings and His incredible plan. This plan was a mystery in previous times and to those who have not been called, but God reveals it to the Church. The blessing of Christian unity is a main theme of the book.
This section contains some of the grandest and most majestic language in the Bible, but it becomes more understandable within the framework of clearer scriptures throughout the Bible.
Paul describes God’s plan for each person, from calling, to faith, to repentance of sins, to forgiveness through Christ’s blood, to the gift of the Holy Spirit, to conversion, to good works, to preparing for a glorious eternity in the household of God.
Our response (Ephesians 4-6)
Chapters 4 through 6 give practical Christian living principles. Considering all the blessings God gives, Paul addresses how we are to think and act in response. Living God’s way shows our appreciation for His awesome gifts, and it shows our faith that God’s way of life is the right way—the way that produces good results.
Knowing that God hates sin and evil and that Christ was willing to die to pay our penalty for sin should motivate us to strive to avoid sin. Instead we should seek God’s help to obey all of His good and beneficial laws.
How we live is compared to a “walk” several times in the book (Ephesians 2:2, 10; 4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15).
Paul admonishes Christians to walk worthy of the awesome calling we’ve been given by humbly showing love and seeking unity.In chapter 4 Paul admonishes Christians to walk worthy of the awesome calling we’ve been given by humbly showing love and seeking unity (verses 1-6). He urges us to grow in “the stature of the fullness of Christ,” to avoid being “tossed to and fro” by “every wind of doctrine” and to “speak the truth in love” (verses 13-15).
He encourages us to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind”—to “put on the new man”—and to not “grieve the Holy Spirit” (verses 23-24, 30). He gives practical tips about anger, stealing, communication and forgiveness (verses 26, 28-29, 32).
In chapter 5 Paul continues his discussion of the Christian walk. Christians are to imitate how God thinks and acts (verse 1). We are to walk in love, light and wisdom (verses 2, 8, 15). He further defines this with warnings against following society into sexual immorality, covetousness, evil communication and disobedience to God’s laws (verses 3-6). He encourages us to apply God’s wisdom (taught throughout the Bible) and to be “redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (verses 15-16). We should be “filled with the Spirit,” which members often express in songs of praise and thankfulness (verses 18-20).
Next follows one of the most important teachings on the subject of marriage in the Bible. Paul shows that the relationship of husband and wife is meant to mirror the spiritual relationship of Christ and the Church. (See more in our article “What Is Marriage?”)
Chapter 6 continues the discussion of human relations principles. The relationship between parents and children is anchored in the Fifth Commandment, a “commandment with promise” of benefits for obedience (verses 1-4). Verses 5-9 examine relationships in the working world, showing how bondservants and masters of that time—and, by extension, employees and employers of today—should treat each other.
Then Paul caps his letter with the famous “armor of God” (verses 10-20). Christians are in a spiritual battle, but God provides powerful defensive armor along with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (verse 17). Paul was clearly inspired by Isaiah’s description of God putting on “righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head” (Isaiah 59:17). And, as a prisoner, Paul was likely also reminded daily of his Roman captors’ armor.
See our overview article “Put on the Armor of God,” which has links to articles about each of the pieces of armor. Studying these spiritual tools strengthens us for our battles with Satan, society and ourselves. With God’s help, we will be able “to withstand in the evil day” and to come out victorious.