New Hope UMC

Our study in Ephesians begins September 6, 2018. The letter to the church in Ephesus was written by Paul who founded the church in 52-55 AD. It was likely written about 10 years later while the Apostle was in prison, either in Rome or Caesarea. This is an epic theological work by the Apostle and it is fitting for us to study it at this point, just after our look at Romans. Here are some words from Ralph Wilson, the author: In the estimation of many, Ephesians is Paul’s crowning work, “the quintessence of Paulinism. It is both a literary gem and a treasure of spiritual nuggets. Those who study it may not fully plumb its depths, but will glean important understanding of Christ and his Church, as well as lessons for life.

Wilson, Ralph F.. Ephesians: Discipleship Lessons (JesusWalk Bible Study Series) (Kindle Locations 80-83). JesusWalk Publications. Kindle Edition.

Lessons 1: Spiritual Blessings in Christ (1:1-6)

September 6, 2018

Big Picture. Paul tells us that we are in Christ:

  1. Holy and blameless,
  2. Chosen,
  3. Adopted as sons and daughters of God, and
  4. Forgiven and
  5. have been given:
  6. Knowledge of the mysteries of God
  7. A purpose to live for God’s praise, and
  8. The Holy Spirit as a foretaste of future glory.

Paul starts by declaring grace and peace to the "saints in Ephesus", the faithful in Christ Jesus. Thus we have the understanding that saints are real people. People who are trustworthy, faithful and dependable. In verse 3, the Apostle brings blessings from the heavenly realm. These are spiritual blessings which we will discuss and consider.

Paul often uses the phrase, "In Christ" in Ephesians and elsewhere. It appears 11 times in the first 14 verses of Ephesians. What is meant by this expression?

We will once again discuss predestination as we did in Romans 8. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” 1.4. The gist is that God has a plan that he is bringing to fruition and you and I are part of it. Paul's meaning here is that we were chosen by God to do things to glorify Him. It is not no much that he has predetermined everything that will happen. We are chosen for holiness, so we need to understand what it is to be holy. We were chosen to be adopted. This is a common theme in Paul's writings - that we are sons and daughters of God.

Discussion questions.

Discussion question 1. Q1. (Ephesians 1:3) What does it mean to you to be “in Christ” – incorporated into Christ? What are the implications of this for your life?

Discussion question 2. (Ephesians 1:4-5) What is scary about predestination? What is comforting? Why does Paul bring up predestination? Why do you think he is praising God for it in the “hearing” of the Ephesians?

Discussion question 3. (Ephesians 1:4) What does it mean to be “holy”? In what sense can you stand “blameless” before God?

Discussion question 4. (Ephesians 1:5-6) Why is adoption a particularly apt illustration of God’s relationship with us? Why is the concept of adoption encouraging to us?

 

Lessons 2: God’s Plan of Redemption (1:7-14)

September 20, 2018

Key Verses.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:7-8)

“Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)

In this lesson, Paul takes us through God's plan of redemption, not only for us Christians but for all of mankind. He tells the Ephesians that God is ready to reveal the great mystery: "“And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” (1:9-10) This "mystery" refers to the ultimate fulfillment of salvation, the End Times. This salvation comes together "under one head" and that head is Christ.

It is necessary for Christians to understand that salvation comes through sacrifice, the sacrifice of Jesus, the redemption that comes through his blood. Though it may be unpleasant to think of our Saviour enduring the torture and the shedding of blood, this concept is a hallmark of our faith. We will did into this important doctrine in our lesson.

Our redemption carries with it the joy and abundance that comes with being a Christian. Paul says that that grace has been "lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (1:7-8) Our forgiveness has been abundantly given. We also cover how we are been "sealed" by the Holy Spirit as a mark of redemption.

Discussion questions.

Discussion question 1. (1:7) In what sense have you been “redeemed” from slavery? What do you think your life up to now would have been like, if you hadn’t been redeemed? What would your future be like without redemption, do you think?

Discussion question 2. (1:9-10) What is the significance that all things will be brought under one head – Christ himself? How does this relate to the Creator? What does it say about unity? Extra Credit: How does this verse relate to 1 Corinthians 15:24-28?

Discussion question 3. (1:11-12) According to verses 11 and 12, what is God’s purpose for our lives? What do we need to do to fulfill this purpose? How does this purpose relate to Matthew 5:13-16?

Discussion question 4. (1:13-14) These verses contain two analogies: (1) seal and (2) down payment, with the balance to be paid in a lump sum at the end of the term. When does the “end of the term” occur? How do these analogies help explain how the Holy Spirit functions in our lives?

 

Lessons 3: The Greatness of Our Christian Inheritance (1:15-23)

September 27, 2018

Key Verses.

“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:22-23)

In these verses, Paul is exhorting his readers to appreciate the greatness of God's blessings. He wants our hearts to be enlightened so that we can understand the richness of our inheritance. We have been called to a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11). It is our calling to look forward, to anticipate, even to hasten Christ’s coming in power and in glory (2 Peter 3:12). Third, Paul prays that we might know “his incomparably great power for us who believe.” This is the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Christians – and for us – runs into praise for his Jesus. His Christ is not but a pleasant memory, a hallowed tradition, or a sacred icon. His Christ is a living Victor. First, God raised him from the dead. God broke the power of death which held Christ, and set him free forever, the first-fruits of the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection, as we’ll see in the next chapter of our study, prefigures our own.

In verse 22, Paul makes it clear that God has placed all things under Jesus and has appointed him to be "head over everything for the church". Finally, Paul has a marvelous vision for the church, the recipient of Christ's conquering and headship over all things.

 Discussion questions.

Discussion question 1. (Ephesians 1:18b) What do we Christians have to look forward to? How should this hope be a major motivation in our present-day lives? How should this hope affect our decisions and our lifestyle? How does our great hope differ from the hope of the average non-believer?

Discussion question 2. (Ephesians 1:18c) If you knew that in a few years you would inherit $10 million, would it affect your life now? How should our expectation of an inheritance in God’s presence temper our present-day concerns? Since this inheritance will be shared with “the saints” – our Christian family – how should that affect our fellowship with them?

Discussion question 3. Q3. (Ephesians 1:18d) Why are we powerless sometimes? Is it an inadequacy with the source or with our faith? Why do some congregations and movements produce disciples with miracle-believing faith and others produce disciples with wimpy faith? How can this be changed?

Discussion question 4. (Ephesians 1:20-22) Why do we so often take a “pass” when it comes to spiritual warfare? Why is Christ’s exaltation, demonstration of complete victory, and superior rank over all spiritual powers important enough for Paul to mention it to his readers? Why do we tend to feel powerless in the face of spiritual enemies? What was Paul assuring the Ephesians of? What does this encourage us to do?

Discussion question 5. (Ephesians 1:22-23) When we neglect to be an active part of a local congregation, what particular blessings do we miss out on according to Paul in this verse? How do we, by our absence, withhold this blessing from others?

 

 

Lessons 4: From Deadness to Coming Alive in Christ (2:1-7)

October 4, 2018

Key Verses.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5) “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6)

The lesson starts with a dark picture, one that we are all too familiar with, sin. Paul does not shy away from letting us know how God deals with sin and Wilson adds an interesting discussion on the subject. God ultimate punishes sin as promised in the Old Testament. But Jesus all condemns sinners.

The good news is that God is always willing and in fact anxious to forgive our sin and make us whole for the work he has prepared for us to do. Paul gets us into the way that God works, specifically through grace. Once we have accepted the truth that we are all sinners, then we must be prepared to move away from that condition.

Paul will cover one of the fundamental concepts and perhaps most controversial concepts in the Christian faith: Grace versus Works. But not quite yet. He prepares un for what is coming by introducing and emphasizing the truth of experiencing God's grace, freely and completely without obligation. We are sinners by nature, but we don't have to remain in that condition thanks to God's grace and mercy.

Discussion questions.

Discussion question 1. (Ephesians 2:1-3) In what sense are our non-believing friends, neighbors, and relatives “dead”? What’s the difference between us and them? If we really believed that they were “dead” and subject to God’s “wrath,” what would we do?

Discussion question 2. (Ephesians 2:1-3) Few people would knowingly follow Satan. How can people unwittingly follow Satan? In what sense are we responsible for unwitting rebellion against God? How can God, in all fairness, blame us?

Discussion question 3. (Ephesians 1:4-5) In verses 4 and 5, which words describe God’s motivation and character? Which verbs describe what has happened to us in Christ?

Discussion question 4. (Ephesians 2:6) What does it mean that we are seated with Christ in “the heavenly realms”? What does this say about God’s grace? What does this say about our spiritual authority? How should this knowledge affect our prayers and our boldness?

 

Lessons 5: Salvation By Grace Through Faith (2:8-10)

October 18, 2018

Key Verses.

“8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

The lesson is only three short verses but they are critical to understanding the Christian concept of grace. It is one thing to grasp the idea that God has saved us through his grace as God is all powerful and can do anything he wants, even if it doesn't make sense. Wilson takes us through a discussion of that aspect of God's character. He touches on "prevenient grace", a concept made popular by John Wesley. This grace thing has nothing to do with us as it is up to God and Paul says "not from ourselves". Thus we are not saved by works, "so that no one can boast". Then along comes James, the brother of Jesus who says "faith without works is dead". Now then, we have the classic argument of Faith Versus Works. Or so it would seem. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Could it be that both Paul and James are right? Wilson does a great job of exploring this idea for us. You can't be far along in your Christian journey with encountering the concept of being saved by grace. It sounds too good to be true - and it is. This "cheap grace" or receiving it and doing nothing in return is not what Paul is teaching. We find out in the lesson that the works defined by Paul and by James are two different things. So that verse 10, "created in Christ Jesus to do good works" takes on a new meaning. We'll explore these two kinds of works and come away with some new ideas about the Faith versus Works conundrum.

Discussion questions.

Discussion question 1. Why is it so hard for us to understand grace? What commonly held life principle does it demolish? Translate the word “grace” into language a 10-year-old child would understand.

Discussion question 2. “Saved” has become Christian jargon. How can you “translate” this word into modern speech so people can understand what it really means and why they need it?

Discussion question 3. According to Ephesians 2:10, what were we created to do? Why? (Matthew 5:16) What is the difference between these works and the works Paul discredits in verse 9?

Discussion question 4. What exactly is faith? Can we take credit for having it? Can we be condemned for lacking it? Define “faith” in terms a 10-year-old could understand.

 

Lessons 6: Fellow Citizens with the People of God (2:11-22)

October 25, 2018

Key Verses.

“For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:18)

“And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:22)

Paul explains in these verses how Christians are meant to be a part of a something bigger than themselves. Starting with the church and then on to a brotherhood throughout the world. In the first verses of this lesson, he covers the plight of the early Gentile Christians in become a part of a largely Jewish Christian congregations. It is necessary for them (and us) to understand the Jewish history and traditions and how that changed with the advent of Christ. The nature and purpose of sacrifice and atonement are covered. Two important concepts are worth special mention and study. Their was a precedence for sacrifice as atonement for sins. This was an animal sacrifice. The sacrificial nature of atonement has been continued, but it is Jesus who became the sacrifice. Secondly, animal sacrifices were performed on behalf of the people by priests. Therefore, a separation of God and his people existed in Judaism. This separation has been removed with Christ. Christians have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit.

But this direct access does not mean that we can exist and function apart from other Christians. These scriptures tell us that is God's intention that we do just the opposite, that we engage ourselves with others, Christians and non believers as well. We are the cornerstone of God's world, which I his Church, founded by Jesus Christ. Our churches are to be a "dwelling place" for God. We are to have a unity with other Christians. Wilson tells us. "Yes, there is a place and time for spiritual retreat. Jesus and others drew away for a time of spiritual solitude, fasting, and prayer, but then came back again to be with God’s people. Being a perpetual hermit is an aberration, not our command. Our sense of identity according to Ephesians is as part of God’s people, part of God’s household, stones “being built together” to become a temple.

Discussion questions.

Discussion question 1. (Ephesians 2:11-12) Why does being out of touch with what it means to be “lost” impede our willingness to witness? In your own words, what is the spiritual condition of a friend or co-worker who doesn’t know Christ?

Discussion question 2. (Ephesians 2:14-15) In what sense did Jesus as Messiah “fulfill” the Mosaic Law? What is the significance of that for Jewish people? For us Gentiles?

Discussion question 3. (Ephesians 2:17) What does it mean to have “access to the Father”? In what way does the Holy Spirit facilitate this access? In what way does Jesus enable this access?

Discussion question 4. (Ephesians 2:22) What is the significance that your congregation was made to be “a dwelling place for God in the Spirit”? What hinders that from being fully experienced? What can you do to help that become more fully experienced and appreciated?

 

Lessons 7: The Mystery, Mission, and Ministry of the Church (3:1-13)

November 1, 2018

Key Verses.

“In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” (Ephesians 3:12)

In Chapter 3, Paul explains the mystery of our religion, particularly as it applies to the Gentiles in Ephesus. "That is the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly." (3:2). Wilson adds "Christianity is not a religion that men figured out or inferred. It comes to us by revelation, that is, God revealed it directly to us through inspired writers of Scripture – 'holy apostles and prophets.'" Also this. "The sacred teachings of the 'holy prophets and apostles' should inform our traditions rather than be subject to our traditions." So what are we saying here? It is certainly not just a passing thought on the part of Paul, as Wilson points out in his commentary. It is the fundamental truth about our religion. And that is that it is not based on logic but on revelation. God gave us the gift of logic and so perhaps it is "logical" for us to apply that reasoning power to our faith. But we cannot and we should not do it. It is fine to discuss, deliberate and even argue concepts but the truth we seek is in his Word, nowhere else. "We can’t figure God out with our minds and our logical deduction. That’s why sometimes theology can become merely speculation, the farther it gets away from what the Scripture reveals. The Scripture just doesn’t tell us everything we wonder about, and we need to be careful not to speak dogmatically where the Scripture does not clearly teach something."

Paul is assuring the Gentiles of their rightful place in the order of Christianity but he is also saying something about their mission. "I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” The words of Jesus from (Acts 26:16b-18)

In 3:8, Paul explores the unsearchable riches of Christ. From Wilson, " Paul had caught a glimpse of a different kind of riches than worldly wealth, was captured by it, and bids us come to explore Christ’s riches for ourselves...We can be confident of his favor and love. He delights in us. Like a father who enjoys his children, your Heavenly Father delights in you and longs to spend more time with you."

Discussion questions.

Discussion question 1. (Ephesians 3:2-5) Why is God’s revelation to “his holy apostles and prophets” our authority for faith and practice? What is the danger of minimizing or straying from that revelation? What is the danger of superseding that revelation? What is the danger of denying that God reveals himself to us and to his church today?

Discussion question 2. (Ephesians 3:6) Just what is the “mystery” that Paul is talking about? Why was it important to the Gentile Christians in Paul’s day?

Discussion question 3. ((Ephesians 3:7-9) Why is Paul so careful to be humble about his call and apostleship? How can his example help us remain as humble servants?

Discussion question 4. What does Ephesians 3:12 teach us about the manner of approaching God? What happens if we try to pray without these qualities?