Ephesians: Discipleship Lessons
Many years ago I prepared inductive Bible study questions to facilitate a face-to-face study of Ephesians in a group. Feel free to copy these questions for any groups you're leading. For a different approach to studying Ephesians, see my free e-mail Bible study Ephesians: Discipleship Lessons (JesusWalk. 2010, 2022).
Yours in Christ's service,
Pastor Ralph F. Wilson
This chapter is effusive in its style, lavish in its praise, and chock full of blessings. One could explore each blessing for months and not exhaust it. However, we'll look this week at the panorama, and examine just a few of the nuggets.
1.1 What is Paul's authority for writing this letter? (vs. 1)
1.2 Paul lists at least ten blessings in vss. 3-14. List those you find.
Comment: "To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus." Ephesians puts a lot of emphasis on the position of God's people. The word "saint" (Gk. hagios) in vs. 1 means "dedicated to God, holy, sacred." We often hear the term saint as someone of extra special faithfulness to God like Mother Teresa, but here, all God's faithful people in Ephesus are called "saints."
2.1 There are several themes in vss. 1-14. List the verses and short phrases for each reference to these themes:
Which of these themes means the most to you at this point in your life?
2.2 In vs. 3 we see the word "heavenlies" or "heavenly realms" as the "location" of our blessing. This word occurs a total of five times in Ephesians. Look up each reference, and note what happens in each verse in the "heavenly places."
Now sum up your findings. What occurs in the "heavenly realms"? (We'll come back to this in coming weeks.)
Comment: The idea of "predestination" is closely related to the theme of God's purpose in this passage. The Greek word is prohorizō, "to decide upon beforehand, predestine" (BAG 709), made up of two words: pro -- "beforehand" and horizō - "to determine, appoint". The concept of predestination has been debated and caused division among Christians for centuries. Frankly, I have come to the place where I believe it because the Scripture teaches it, but I don't pretend to understand it. I can't wrap my mind around it, since I've never had an experience like it. Determination vs. free will: both have Biblical truth on their side. Let's not debate it. Rather, let's see what the Scripture here says about it and see what we can learn together.
2.3 In vss. 5 and 11, to what have the Ephesian Christians been predestined? (Don't argue about the meaning of "predestine," but tell us the "content" of the predestination, whatever it is.)
2.4 What is God's chief purpose in Christ revealed in vs. 10? How did that begin to happen in the First Century? How is it happening today? What forces try to prevent it from happening?
2.5 The word "redemption" in vss. 7 and 14 is Greek apolutrōsis, orig. "buying back a slave or captive, making him free by payment of a ransom." (BAG 96) What payment brought about this redemption according to vs. 7 ?
When will the redemption be complete according to vs. 14?
3.1 This passage is obviously intended to help the Ephesian Christians feel secure in the Lord. Which of these blessings help YOU feel more secure in Christ?
3.2 What is your part of fulfilling God's great purpose in vs. 10? What are you doing about it?
3.2 Would you like to share with the rest of us a very special way in which God displayed his grace in redeeming you? Testimony time! (Why don't some of you share who haven't contributed to the Bible study thus far.)
If you've ever felt small and inadequate, then this passage is a great tonic for you. Paul talks about greatness of prayer (15-17), greatness of revelation (18-19a), greatness of power (19b-20a), greatness of Jesus (20-22a), and greatness of the Church (22b-23)
If Paul were taking English 101 he would get marked down for run-on sentences, so as you're looking for separation of various thoughts, don't expect to find them in different sentences or verses.
1.1 List the words in vss. 15-23 which Paul uses to refer to greatness, fullness, etc.
1.2 (1:15-16) What did the Ephesians' love and faith prompt Paul to do? What three different types of prayer do you see in vss. 16 and 17?
2.1 (1:17) Why is spiritual revelation necessary to know God? (see 2:1) What do you think Paul means by his interesting expression "the eyes of your hearts"? (1:18)
Comment: Paul prays for three different kinds of revelation in vss. 18-19: hope, inheritance, power. We'll consider each in separate questions.
2.2 (vs. 18a) "That you might know the hope to which he has called you ..." What is the nature of this "hope" or expectation?
2.3 (vs. 18b) "... the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints..." What is an "inheritance"? What are the various aspects of the inheritance which we have? Why the phrase "in the saints"? What difference would it have made to the meaning if he had left it out?
Comment (vs. 19a) "... and his incomparably great power in (Greek eis) us who believe." The Greek word eis used here is more than our English "in" which indicates place. Eis often carries a sense of motion, "into, in, toward, to" and sometimes "goal" (BAG 228-29). The use here could carry the idea of power directed "into us," "toward us," or "for our benefit." While it's difficult to say which it is precisely, the idea is still wonderful!
2.4 (vs. 19a) Why does Paul use two words to describe the power when he directs our way? Why does it take a revelation to understand it? If we have so much power at our disposal, why are we so often powerless?
2.5 (vss. 19b-22) These verses give us a four-fold understanding of Christ's exaltation. List these four aspects below:
Comment: We see the term "heavenly places, realms" again in vs. 20b, which we first saw in 1:3, and which appear again in 2:6 and 6:12. It refers to the unseen spiritual realm in which dwell God, angels, and various members of a kind of evil demonic hierarchy: "rule, authority, power, and dominion" (vs. 21). The secular world, and especially the scientific community, used to deny the existence of the spiritual realm. Now the New Age movement has brought attention to spiritual forces, the "dark side of the force," etc. This is a place of struggle with evil (6:12) which can be overcome day by day only through God's spiritual "armor" and power.
2.6 What does vss. 1:20-22 say about Christ's level in the heavenly realms relative to the pecking order of other inhabitants of that realm? (Note: Let's save the discussion of our spiritual position until the next lesson when we discuss 2:6.)
Comment: "Under his feet" (vs. 22) is a military image, where the conquering king held his captives in complete subjugation. Vs. 22 is an echo of Psalm 8:6. See also 1 Corinthians 15:25 and Hebrews 2:8.
2.7 (Vs. 22b) "... and appointed him to be head over everything for the church...." We know that Jesus has the place of head in the Body image of the church (4:15-16). But what does it mean that he is head over all other powers and beings "for the church"? What are the implications of this?
2.8 Extra Credit. How does vs. 22 illustrate vs. 10?
Comment: The word "church" used in vs. 23 is Greek ekklesia, from ek, "out" + kaleo, "to call," with the root idea of "the called-out ones." Classical Greek used ekklesia to refer to an "assembly duly summoned" (Lidell and Scott). In the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Old Testament) it means "the Jewish congregation." This is not a "mystical church" idea, but an assembled group of people. The book of Ephesians has a very high view of the local congregation, much higher than both the world and church members who act as if the church were merely a human institution.
2.9 According to vs. 23, what function does the church have in relationship to Christ? What implications does this have for us and for the churches of which we are members?
3.1 What does this passage say to you about your own personal level of revelation about God's riches for you?
3.2 How can this passage provide a model for your personal prayers?
3.3 How does this passage encourage you in your struggles as a Christian?
3.4 What kinds of responsibilities does this passage imply are yours?
This week we examine our state before Christ helped us, and our state after he touched our lives. If we spend some time on sin, it is because we need a deeper understanding. It also brings a greater appreciation of God's gracious gift.
Our Father, please open our eyes afresh to the beauty of your open arms toward us, and let us drink in again your gracious love. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
1.1 Instead of answering a question, please read through the text three times. On your successive readings look for, in turn: 1. Words which describe our lost condition. 2. Words which describe out new state in Christ. 3. Words which describe God's attitude toward us.
2.1 "Dead" (vss. 1, 5) and "alive" (vs. 5) are used figuratively here. What are they speaking about? Why do "transgressions and sins" cause death?
Comment: "The power of the air" (vs. 2) is an interesting expression. "Power" (KJV, RSV) is Greek exousia, "authority," "the power exercised by rulers or others in high position by virtue of their office" ... "the domain in which the power is exercised" (BAG, 278).
"Air" (a transliteration of Greek aer). Great airy tomes have been written about what this word signifies here. The Greeks saw heaven as the abode of the gods, earth the abode of humans, and the air as the abode of the demons (BAG 20, quoting Ocellus' Lucanus). I think this is Paul's reference: to Satan as the prince of demons. Period. Paul didn't have to adopt Greek cosmology to employ it in speech.
2.2 (vss. 2-3) List the influences which secular people follow mindlessly. Which are spiritual, which are natural?
2.3 (vs. 2) In what sense had we "walked according to" (KJV) or "followed" (NIV) Satan? Can we be said to follow someone if we didn't follow knowingly or deliberately?
Comment: Vs. 3 talks about the "cravings of our sinful nature" (NIV) or the "lusts of our flesh" (KJV). The Greek word sarx is used in several senses in the New Testament: 1. literally, the skin and muscles covering our bones; 2. the body itself; 3. the human or mortal nature, then mankind, the "world" as it stands opposed to God; and 4. especially in Paul's letters, sinful, fallen human nature.
Our culture sometimes excuses an individual's failings as "evidence of his humanity." Paul, an apostle of Christ, would call it evidence of our sinful human nature.
2.4 What kinds of sins would fall under the categories outlined by three words in vs. 3a?
Are all human thoughts and desires evil?
2.5 (Vs. 3b) Why should we be under God's wrath if we didn't know any better? If we were spiritually blind and dead? Is it fair?
2.6 Paul writes effusively in awe of God's grace. What words in vss. 4-7 are used to describe the wonder of God's gift to us?
Comment: "Grace" (Greek charis) means literally "favor." It describes one's attitude toward another which is unilateral, that is, one-sided, not depending upon what another does. "Grace" isn't about merit or deserving, but about an unexplained love and generosity and giving on the part of the shower of that favor. Perhaps the best short definition of "grace" is "unmerited favor."
2.7 In vss. 4-6 you see no mention of what we did, but statements of three actions God did for us unilaterally. What are those three actions?
Comment: Greek is full of compound words. We see three such words in vss. 5-6:
These words assume our union with Christ, so that his action is our action, since we are in him.
2.8 (vs. 7) What is Christ's purpose towards us in the future?
3.1 (vs. 5) What does being "seated us with him in the heavenly realms" imply about your spiritual status and authority. Over whom is this authority exercised? (See 1:20- 22; 6:10-18). In what ways are you exercising this authority in your everyday life?
3.2 Do you have a "before and after" story you would like to share with us about how Christ delivered you from spiritual deadness and brought you to spiritual life? Let's limit these stories to no more than three paragraphs.
This week we are privileged to study the classic text in the Bible on the relationship of grace, faith, and human effort. If you haven't participated regularly so far in this study, please help us this week as we seek to discover afresh the wonderful truths in this passage.
Definition: "Grace" (Greek charis) means literally "favor." It describes one's attitude toward another which is unilateral, that is, one-sided, not depending upon what another does. "Grace" isn't about merit or deserving, but about an unexplained love and generosity and giving on the part of the show-er of that favor. Perhaps the best short definition of "grace" is "unmerited favor."
1.1 In vss. 4-10, the word "grace" is used three times. Which different facet of God's favor is highlighted each time? vs. 5 - vs. 7 - vs. 8 -
2.1 The concepts of "grace" and "gift" (vs. 9, Greek doxa) have much in common. What similarities do you see?
Comment: Too often we use Christian jargon to describe spiritual things. However, non-Christians don't understand -- and sometimes parody -- our jargon. "Saved" is one of those words. Greek verb sōzō, noun sōteria. In classical Greek "both the verb and the noun denote rescue and deliverance in the sense of averting some danger threatening life. This can happen in war or at sea. But that which one is delivered from may also be an illness. Where no immediate danger is mentioned, they can mean to keep or preserve" (Colin Brown in "Redemption," New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology [NIDNTT], 3:205ff). When speaking to non-Christians (and Christians, too, for that matter) I often substitute the word "rescued" for "saved," since that word is processed by the hearer in its normal rather than Christian-jargon sense.
2.2 So often we think of "saved" as meaning having eternal life, but it is considerably broader than that. In the context of vss. 1-5, from what have we been saved?
2.3 To what have we been rescued?
Comment: Another jargon word is "faith". In classical Greek, pistis means "the trust that a man may place in men or the gods, credibility, credit in business, guarantee, proof, or something entrusted" (Otto Michel, "Faith," NIDNTT 1:594).
Our society is plagued by "easy believism." "Oh, of course, I believe in God," really means, "I acknowledge that there is a Supreme Being." That's an important step from atheism or agnosticism, but it is not faith. "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that -- and shudder" (James 2:19).
The basic concept of Christian faith or belief is trust, having enough confidence in God to be willing to rely on Him. Of course, it is easily possible to have faith in some aspects of God's provision for us and not others. So there is much room to grow in our knowledge and trust -- or persist in various degrees of unbelief.
2.4 In what way is faith essential to accepting a gift of friendship? In what way is accurate knowledge essential to faith? How accurate a knowledge is necessary to adequate trust? How complete a knowledge (see Ephesians 1:18-19) is necessary to adequate trust?
2.5 Vs. 8 says "and this not from yourselves" (NIV). Is this phrase referring to grace, to salvation, or to faith? Why do you think so?
Comment: The word "works," Greek ergos, in classical Greek referred to "a deed, an action, by contrast either with inactivity or a mere word" (NIDNTT 3:1147). However, in this passage we need to understand the technical sense in Judaism in which Paul uses the word: "In Judaism ... the view of works necessary for the fulfillment of the law and therefore for righteousness is developed and consolidated. The way to godliness is casuistically prescribed for the Jew by a multiplicity of regulations for the performance of the law" (NIDNTT 3:1149).
Paul's background as a Pharisee (read Philippians 3:4-6) had led him to believe that if he acted righteously enough he could merit salvation. Today's strict Hasidic Jews are the spiritual descendents of the Pharisees. They believe they will be saved by their strict adherence to the 613 commandments in the Torah. Paul firmly rejects this view.
2.6 Does the popular American mythology concerning heaven and hell support salvation by faith? or salvation by works? Or both?
2.7 Extra Credit: In James 2:17-19, we see a verbal disagreement with Ephesians 2:8-9. Do James and Paul really disagree, or do they use different concepts for the same words? How does Paul use the word "works"? How does James use the word "works/deeds/actions"? Why is James' teaching an important corrective to evangelical misunderstandings of Ephesians 2:8-9?
2.8 Vs. 10 says we are supposed to do good works? How do these works differ from the works rejected in vs. 9?
Comment: The word "prepared in advance" (NIV; KJV "before ordained" in vs. 10 is Greek prohetoimazo, pro, "before" and hetoimazō, "get ready, hold in readiness" (NIDNTT 3:116).
2.9 In what ways has God made you "ready" ahead of time to do good works? How might this relate to your spiritual gifts?
3.1 In comparison to other Christians, do you sometimes feel superior? If so, what is the basis of your boasting? (see vs. 9. The purpose of this question is to help us examine our hearts and grow up, not to defend ourselves.) If you feel inferior to other Christians, what in vss. 1-10 can give you confidence?
3.2 Exercise: To clarify your understanding of the concepts we have studied, and strengthen your ability to communicate in everyday terms, paraphrase vss. 8-10 as you would to explain them to a non-Christian friend. You may not use any Christian jargon words in your paraphrase.
To strict Jews, Gentiles were utterly worthless, outside any connection to God. When Jews became Christians, they sometimes kept their prejudice toward Gentile now Christian brothers and sisters. There was sometimes tension between Gentile and Jewish factions in the churches at Jerusalem (Acts 6:1) and Antioch (Galatians 2:11-13). It was hard for people with prejudice to hear God's clear word: "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean" (Acts 10:15).
We, too, have tensions in the Christian church. Sometimes it is a class or racial tension within a congregation. Sometimes it is a denominational or minor doctrinal difference between Christian congregations in a city. This passage gives a strong argument for unity in Christ.
1.1 In verses 11-12, what privileges were Gentiles missing? What were they separated from?
1.2 In verse 19, what privileges do Gentile Christians now possess in Christ?
2.1 "Brought near through the blood of Christ" (vs. 13) is a shorthand way of describing Christ's work of reconciliation. Please spell out the steps involved in the process:
a. What prevents people from coming to God without Christ?
b. What does Christ's shed blood do, against the backdrop of the Jewish sacrificial system? c. How then does Christ's blood allow us to approach God?
Comment: The word for "peace" in vs. 14 in Greek, but probably reflects the underlying Hebrew concept of shalom, "wholeness, healing, salvation." Christ is our shalom.
Comment: Vs. 15 indicates that Christ brought reconciliation "by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations." The word translated "abolishing, abolished" is Greek katargeō (from kata, "separation, dissolution," and argeō, "to be idle, inactive" [Thayer]). It means "1. make ineffective, powerless, idle," literally, of a tree wasting a way, figuratively "make ineffective, nullify". It can also mean 2. "abolish, wipe out, set aside something," and 3. "be released from an association with someone or something, have nothing more to do with" (BAG 417).
Paul is dealing here with the issue which divided Jewish Christians from Gentile Christians: Is the law still binding upon Christians? It came to a head when as a result of the conversion of Gentiles in Antioch in the early days of the church (Acts 15:1-35), but continued to trouble many churches Paul established from synagogue-attenders.
2.2 How do we reconcile vss. 15-16 with Jesus' clear words in Matthew 5:17 - Do not think that I have come to abolish (kataluō) the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them"?
2.3 (Vs. 18) Can't anyone pray to God? What kind of special "access" to the Father does Christ give us? (See also 1 Corinthians 2:9-16)
2.4 How is the Trinity suggested in vs. 18?
Comment: The word "household" in vs. 19 is Greek oikios, which means literally "belonging to the house," i.e. "members of the household" (BAG 556), and comes from Greek oikos, which is used in two senses: 1. "house, dwelling," and 2. "household, family" (BAG 560).
2.5 How does Paul use both senses of the word house/household in vss. 19-22? (Don't give up on this too easily; this one's worth the effort. Hint: See also 1 Peter 2:4-5)
2.6 Does the "temple" mentioned in vs. 21 refer to our body or the church? How about the use of "temple" in these passages: body or church?
Comment: Vss. 21 and 22 use three words which describe Jesus' spiritual masonry:
vs. 21 "Joined together" (NIV, RSV), "fitly framed together" (KJV) is Greek sunharmologeō, "fit or join together" is another compound with sun, "together" + armologos, "binding, joining; from harmos, "a joint," and legō, "to lay with" (Thayer). Have you ever laid a brick or stone walkway? Or built a block wall? Then you know how important the joinery process is.
vs. 21 "grows into" (RSV, KJV), "rises to become" (NIV) is Greek auxanō/auxō, "grow, increase" (BAG 123)
vs. 22 "built together" is sunoikodomeō, another compound using sun, "together, with" + oikodomeō, "to build a house, erect a building".
2.7 (vss. 21-22) How does Christ's work to build His church run counter to hermit Christianity? Counter to denominational/sectarian Christianity?
2.8 (vs. 22) In what sense does the Spirit dwell in an assembled body of believers differently than he dwells with us as individuals?
3.1 What neighbor, relative, friend, or co-worker do you see regularly who is "without hope and without God in the world?" (vs. 12) What can you help reconcile them to Christ without overstepping appropriate boundaries?
3.2 What divisions exist in your congregation? How can you help to bridge them?
3.2 What can you personally be doing to work with rather than against Jesus' spiritual masonry project?
The Apostle Paul had been raised in the strictest sect of the Jewish faith. His family were Pharisees, and he absorbed this world view from his earliest days. He spoke Hebrew in the Gentile city of Tarsus and looked on the Gentiles with at best tolerance and at worst disdain. The Jews were the chosen people through whom light would come to the nations, the Gentiles. He was in for a surprise.
1.1 One of the themes of this passage is proclaiming, announcing. Which verses in 3:1-13 include this idea?
1.2 Paul now has a special personal affinity with the Gentiles, which verses support this theme?
Comment: "Mystery" in Paul's writings is not a puzzle to be solved from studying the clues, such as in a mystery novel. Rather "mystery" refers to a hidden thing which is revealed by God, not pieced together by human detectives.
2.1 (Vs. 6) Specifically, what is the mystery which has been revealed about the Gentiles? Why is this such a radical idea?
2.2 (Vs. 8) Why do you think Paul considered himself "less than the least of all God's people"? (See also 2 Timothy 1:15 and 1 Corinthians 15:9) Do think he really forgave himself? Is this kind of self-deprecation healthy, or flirting with spiritual danger?
Comment: Twice in this passage (vss. 2 and 9) Paul uses the word variously translated "administration" (NIV), "stewardship" (RSV), "dispensation" (vs. 2, KJV), and "fellowship" (vs. 9, KJV). The word is Greek oikonomia (from which we get the English word "economy"). It means 1. "management of a household, direction, office" and 2. "arrangement, order, plan" (BAG 559-560). It is closely related to the word for a household steward or manager (oikonomos).
2.3 Paul, the epitome of the righteous Jew, has a special calling to the Gentiles. According to this passage (Ephesians 3:1-13), what is Paul's commission? What other aspects of this commission do you see in Acts 9:15-16; 22:21; and 26:16-23?
Comment: In vs. 10 one of the key words is Greek gnorizō, "make known, reveal" (BAG 163).
2.4 Vs. 10 is a rather astounding statement. Read it carefully. What mission is given to the church here? Towards whom is this mission focused. Why should they be the focus, do you think?
2.5 (vs. 10) How can the church make an announcement in the "heavenly realms"? What affects beings in this realm? (See Ephesians 6:10-18). What form will this mission take? What elements of Jesus' ministry affected beings in the "heavenly realms"?
Comment: In both 2:18 and 3:12 we see the Greek word prosagonē, "approach, access" (BAG 711), from the verb prosago "come near, approach" (pros, "towards" + ago, "to lead or bring").
2.6 (vs. 12) On what basis can we have access to the Father? (see both 2:18 and 3:12) What produces "freedom and confidence" (vs. 12b) in that access? (See also Hebrews 4:14-16)
2.7 If we assume that God is able to hear the petitions of non-Christians, what is special about our access? What is the importance of the freedom, boldness, and confidence which are our birthright?
2.8 Extra Credit: What does vs. 13 have to do with what Paul has just written to the Ephesian church? What is the "therefore" there for?
3.1 How does your congregation carry out a mission towards "principalities and powers" in the heavenly places? (vs. 10) What could your church do to strengthen this mission? What could you do to aid your congregation in this?
3.2 Part of our ability to minister to others hinges on the freedom and confidence of access to God which we experience. How can this "ministry of access" affect the "Gentiles" around us?
A number of Paul's epistles are divided in half, first doctrinal and then practical. First, Paul lays a foundation of understanding of God and his revelation. Then he points to the practical implications of this faith as it is lived out in everyday life. Ephesians is no exception.
This week we'll look briefly at the prayer and doxology with which Paul concludes his exposition of God's plan for bringing unity to his creation through Christ and the church (chapters 1-3). After the new year, we'll be examining practical instructions for the Christian life (chapters 4- 6). In the meantime, we'll take a break for most of December and resume in early January.
1.1 (Vss. 16-19) Paul's prayer seems to have four main requests. What are they: a. b. c. d.
1.2 What indication of the Trinity do you see in this passage?
2.1 The ideas of "strength," "might," and "power" seem to dominate this short passage. Why do you think this is?
2.2 (Vss. 16-17a) I thought Christ lived within us by the Spirit whether we were weak or strong. What do you think Paul means when he prays "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith"? How does the Spirit's strengthening relate to Christ's dwelling?
2.3 (Vss. 17b-19) What relationship does love in our lives have to do with the fullness of God?
Comment: A "doxology" is literally a "word of glory" (Greek doxa - "glory," logos - "word"). This section concludes with a wonderful doxology. You can see other New Testament doxologies in Romans 16:27; Philippians 4:20; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Peter 4:11, 5:11; 2 Peter 3:18; Jude 1:24-25; and Revelation 1:6.
2.4 What does vs. 20 tell us about God? What does it tell us about ourselves?
2.5 What does it mean: "to him be glory in the church"? What does God's glory have to do with his church?
3.1 What are you learning about the importance in your own life of being "rooted and established in love"?
Many of the Apostle Paul's epistles have two sections, first the doctrinal and then the practical. Ephesians is no exception. In the first three chapters Paul has outlined the big picture of what Christ came to do, with a key verse being 1:10b "... to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ."
The unity of the church has been a key theme in chapters one, two, and three. Now in chapter four Paul moves from the theoretical to the practical: what does it take to bring about and maintain this unity?
In this lesson we will look at 4:1-16 to get the bigger picture of this unity, though we'll concentrate on vss. 1-10 which treats the essential unity of the body. In the next lesson we'll focus on vss. 11-16 which discusses the developing and maturing of this body.
1.1 What words do you see repeated several times in vss. 1-16? What does this tell you about the themes of the passage?
1.2 There are three commands in vss. 1-3. What are they?
Comment: Vs. 1 speaks of the "calling" (We get our word "vocation" from Latin vocatio, summons) with which we have been "called." Our calling is a general calling to be disciples, followers of Jesus. This is our "vocation" towards God. Our particular ministries (vs. 11) are usually for the benefit of the Body. Don't put your ministry before your calling!
2.1 What are the opposites of the character qualities mentioned in vs. 2? How do they undermine the unity of the Body?
2.2 Why is "bearing with one another" (see also Colossians 3:13- 14) so important to unity? Describe someone in your life that you are "bearing with."
Comment: Vs. 3 "Make every effort" (NIV), "endeavoring" (KJV), "being diligent" (NASB) translates Greek spoudazō, "hasten, hurry," then "be zealous or eager, take pains, make every effort" (BAG 763). This is the same word Paul uses in 2 Timothy 2:15 "Study to show thyself approved unto God." It indicates zealous effort.
Comment: Vs. 3 "maintain" (RSV) or "keep" (KJV, NIV) is more active than our English translations often indicate. The NASB translation "preserve" captures some of the active idea of Greek tereō, "keep watch over, guard; keep, hold reserve, preserve" (BAG 814-815). We are to actively guard this unity!
Comment: Vs. 3 "bond of peace". The idea of "bond" here denotes what keeps together a house, a garment, or different members of the physical body: the wooden beams, the fastenings, or the ligaments (Marcus Barth, Ephesians II: 428-429. See also vs. 16)
2.3 Now that we've defined the words, paraphrase vs. 3 to bring out what you think it means.
2.4 Seven "singular" elements unite Christians -- if we let them. In what way does each of these elements unite us? (Share a couple that seem obvious to you.)
2.5 Vs. 7 is a transition. Both sections of this passage vss. 1- 16 are about unity. How does the second part of this passage (vss. 7-16) contribute to the theme of unity?
Comment: Vs. 7 pictures a military victory procession where the conquering general leads the prisoners of war through the streets of the capitol and distributes gifts from the booty to his subjects. Paul quotes Psalm 68:18.
2.6 What does Christ's "descending" refer to? What does Christ's "ascending" refer to? Who are the prisoners of war? Who are the subjects who benefit from his largess?
2.7 What are the "gifts" which the Victor distributed? (We'll discuss them in more detail next week.)
3.1 Protestant Christians especially have been quick to split and start a new church when disagreements come. How can we avoid this, and turn from this ugly part of our history?
3.2 Christians have differences about baptism. How important are the differences of infant baptism vs. believers' baptism? Immersion vs. sprinkling? Should we seek for unity about this "in the bond of peace" or should we let it divide us?
3.3 How can you apply Paul's commands (vss. 1-3) in your church? In your family?
Vss. 1-6 described the unity, which Christ calls us to. Vss. 7-16 outline the means by which God intends this unity to come about in the church.
We're beginning in the middle of the idea -- that Christ ascended on high and distributed gifts to men. These gifts are the leadership ministries mentioned in vs. 11.
Let's resist the temptation to debate about what apostles and prophets really are. Rather, let's focus on the main thrust of the text.
1.1 While this passage doesn't mention all the leadership ministries in other "gift lists," what leadership gifts does it mention?
1.2 Read very carefully. Which words are repeated in vss. 11-16. What does this tell us about the theme of the passage?
2.1 "Pastor" comes directly from the word "shepherd." How do the duties of a shepherd parallel the duties of a pastor?
Comment: Vs. 12 includes the word "to prepare" (NIV), "perfecting" (KJV), "equipment" (RSV), translating the Greek word katartismos, from kata, "towards" and artios, "fit, sound, complete." It means "to put in order, restore, furnish, prepare, equip."
2.2 Who is to do "the work of ministry" (vs. 12)? The leaders, or the "saints", "God's people"? (Be careful here, the placement of commas in the KJV will throw you off.)
2.3 In what ways do you think pastors and teachers are to "equip" or train believers for their ministries?
2.4 What is the purpose of the ministry of the leaders and the people in a church according to vs. 12-13?
2.5 How can "speaking the truth in love" (vs. 15) differ from "speaking the truth" and from "speaking in love"?
2.6 In this analogy of the Body, what function do joints, bones, and ligaments have? (vs. 16)
2.7 Why is "each part working properly" (RSV, vs. 16) vital to produce a mature body? How well does your church measure up on this point?
2.8 What are the earmarks of a mature body in vs. 16?
2.9 Extra Credit: This complex passage contains two different "goal" verses to which all the rest move toward. Can you identify those verses?
3.1 What is the pastor or ministry staff of your congregation doing that people in the congregation could be trained to do? How can you help them focus on their core ministries without the distraction of extraneous activities?
Pastors Only: How much of your ministry time and energy are you focusing on your core ministry? How much of it is spent in other things.
3.2 Have you really submitted yourself to your pastor so you might be equipped or prepared? Are you trying to lead your pastor? Are you letting your pastor lead you? What would be the evidence that you have submitted to your pastor's ministry? (This isn't the place to criticize your all-to-human pastor.)
Pastors Only: What are the earmarks of a teachable, properly submitted, church member? (Give us your insights here, pastors!)
3.3 What ministry do you think Christ is trying to form in you so you can build up the Body? How can you help your congregation move toward the type of maturity described here?
1.1 Vss. 17-19. Break down Paul's description of the Gentiles (unbelievers) phrase by phrase. In your own words, paraphrasing Paul, what are the earmarks of unbelievers?
1.2 From vss. 17-32, list all the behaviors that are appropriate to Christians. (Some of these are stated negatively, such as stealing. Find the positive virtue to replace the vice, and list those.)
2.1 How responsible are unbelievers for their unbelief according to vs. 18?
2.2 Sex isn't wrong. So what is wrong with the sensuality described in vs. 19?
2.3 (vs. 22-24) How is repentance like taking off old, dirty clothes? How is repentance like putting on clean, fresh clothes?
2.4 What does vs. 24 teach us about our "new self"? What does the "new self" mean when applied to our behavior?
2.5 What are the reasons Paul gives for truthfulness in vs. 25?
2.6 (vs. 26-27) Is anger sin? Why or why not? In what ways does Satan take advantage of our anger?
2.7 What reasons does Paul give for stopping our stealing? In what subtle ways are Christians tempted to steal?
2.8 What are the three specific guidelines in vs. 29 which help us judge our speech? 1. 2. 3.
2.9 (vss. 31-32) What antidote to bitterness does Paul give in this passage? Is this always effective?
3.1 Which of the practices of the "darkened" life discussed in this passage have given you the most trouble? What has helped you the most to get victory over those temptations? (Hint: You don't have to have had complete victory to answer this question. Most of us still struggle with sin.)
3.2 What does bringing sadness to the Holy Spirit (vs. 30) mean to you? How does an understanding of this help you in your struggle with sin?
The key to Christian living is not mastering a list of do's and don'ts. It is imitating our Father like beloved children. Christian living flows from an attitude of love between child and parent which produces lives of integrity, rather than a righteous outer shell and a filthy inner core.
1.1 This passage teaches through contrasts. Can you find at least three things that are contrasted in this passage?
2.1 (vs. 1) Why does Paul use a child's tendency to imitate a parent to illustrate Christian living?
Comment: The word translated "fornication" (KJV) or "sexual immorality" (NIV) is Greek porneia, "prostitution, unchastity, fornication, of every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse" (BAG 693). A porne was a prostitute or harlot, from which we get our word "pornography." The KJV tends to translate porneia as "fornication," but this is too narrow. "Fornication" is defined in English as "consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other" (Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition). Porneia, on the other hand, includes not only fornication, but adultery, homosexuality, and any other kind of imaginable sexual perversion.
Comment: The word "prude" (which originally was short for "good woman" or "prudent woman") now means "a person who is excessively or priggishly attentive to propriety or decorum; especially a woman who shows or affects extreme modesty" (Ibid.). "Prig" means "one who offends or irritates by observance of proprieties (as of speech or manners) in a pointed manner or to an obnoxious degree" (Ibid.)
2.2 (vs. 4) Of course, anyone who doesn't conform to someone's loose behavior will sometimes be accused of prudishness and priggishness. But what is an appropriate ground for a Christian in a society where sexuality is an open subject? What is too prudish? What is "obscene" and "coarse joking"? What is good-natured laughing about God's gift of sexuality?
2.3 (vss. 3, 5) What do sexual immorality, impurity, and greed have in common?
2.4 (vss. 5-7) Does having no "inheritance" in the kingdom of God mean that a person is excluded from heaven for sexual immorality, impurity, and greed? Why or why not. (Make your case from scripture, rather than just give us your opinion, and make sure you consider 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 in your answer.)
2.5 While vss. 3-7 are negative in tone, vss. 8-14 are positive. How is the contrast between light and darkness helpful in training Christians how to live in a new way?
2.6 Vs. 1 and vs. 10 belong together. In practice, how do Christians "find out what pleases the Lord"?
2.7 (vs. 16) What "opportunities" are we to take advantage of? Why is "because the days are evil" an incentive for this?
2.8 (vs. 18) In what ways are drunkenness and the filling of the Spirit similar? In what ways are they different?
2.9 Why is music a symptom of being filled with the Spirit in vss. 19-20? Is thankfulness a necessary component of worship? Of being filled with the Spirit? Why or why not?
3.1 Men especially (though not exclusively), are often troubled with lustful thoughts. How do we deal with thought temptations like this? How do we stand against the temptations to view pornography so abundant on the Internet?
3.2 When we repent of our sins, it sometimes means exposure (vs. 11) of the sins of our "partners" (vs. 7). How can we get clear of sin ourselves without coming across "holier than thou"?
This week's passage is controversial in our day. Fundamentalists as well as liberals have grossly misinterpreted it, often with tragic results in lives. As we study it, I want to caution you to be slow to make pronouncements and assumptions as to its meaning. Let's carefully examine the concepts here in their own context so we can understand what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote.
Let's also be aware that we are looking for principles that can fit many cultural situations, not exact models expected to fit all cultures.
1.1 What is the theme verse of the Ephesians 5:21 to 6:9 passage?
1.2 Among which groups of people does Paul apply this theme in 5:21 to 6:9?
Comment: The Greek word hupotassō used in vss. 21-24 means "1. subject, subordinate, 2. subject oneself, be subjected or subordinated, obey" (BAG 848). Hupotassō is a compound of two words, hupo, "under" (we get our "hypodermic" from this, "under" the skin") + tassō "to place, to station, to place in a certain order" (Thayer 615). This word is in the middle voice, which suggests a reflexive idea. Rather than a command "to subject, to subordinate" Paul is saying, "subject yourself to...." Rather than teaching rote obedience in action and word, Paul is teaching a voluntary placement of oneself under another "out of reverence for Christ" (vs. 21b).
2.1 While the idea of submission usually includes obedience, submission is more than obedience. How does submission differ from obedience? In action? In attitude?
2.2 Extra Credit: We often use the word "head" as equivalent to "boss." That misunderstanding has caused lots of problems. The Greek word kephalē contains many other concepts such as origin, source, sustainer, source of unity, source of growth, first in rank, and ruler. Which of these "head" concepts do you find in:
2.3 While the scope of the submission of wives is very wide (vs. 24b), are there things in which a wife should not submit to her husband (vs. 22b)? What is the Biblical basis of such selective submission?
2.4 Should a wife try to persuade her husband if she thinks he is wrong? How is that submissive?
2.5 (vs. 25) How does our concept of "boss" conflict with Christ dying on behalf of the Church, his "bride"? If not "boss," then what is the overarching concept that underlies this act of love?
2.6 Husbands are commanded to "love their wives as their own bodies" (vs. 28) What is the rationale for this command? What great scriptural principle underlies this command?
2.7 What relationship does unity have to submission? What relationship does unity have to love?
2.8 How much of this passage is ideal and how much is practical? How much of the ideal can be achieved by one Christian spouse working at it? By two Christian spouses working at it?
3.1a (Women only) What is the biggest challenge for wives to fulfill the command to submit to your husband? What is the biggest blessing?
3.1b (Men only) What is the biggest challenge for husbands to fulfill the command to love your wife? What is the biggest blessing?
This week we continue our study of "mutual submission" in various relationships that began with 5:21 "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."
We're skipping this week and starting on at Level 2.
2.1 What are the reasons given in vs. 2-3 that children should honor their parents?
2.2 Childish anger is unavoidable where parents' wills conflict with children's wills. What is Paul getting at in vs. 4? (Hint: See Colossians 3:21) How do pride and will interact for children? For parents?
2.3 Are what Dr. James Dobson calls "Strong-Willed Children" likely to be less or more successful in society? How can parents affect their chance to succeed, according to vs. 3?
2.4 What do you think it means to bring up children "in the training and instruction of the Lord"?
2.5 How can parents teaching obedience affect a child's spiritual life?
Comment: Slavery was a given in Paul's time, and slaves were one of the groups in society most responsive to the gospel. Paul does not trying to justify slavery, but instructs believers how to live for Christ in spite of it.
I believe that the principles given in this passage are equally applicable to employees and employers. While slavery isn't our society's current battleground, employment is, so we will limit our discussion to these more familiar relationships.
2.6 What kind of attitude is required of employees? (vs. 5-8) What would justify this kind of attitude, given the circumstances in Paul's day?
2.7 In what ways is our service to employers actually service to Christ? In what ways is it not?
2.8 (vs. 9a) Paul says "And masters, treat your slaves in the same way..." What "same way" is he referring to? How are employers to treat employees according to this sentence?
2.9 (vs. 9b) Why the command against masters threatening slaves? What action is Paul prohibiting here which might apply to employers?
3.1 How much of a child's future is determined by their upbringing? How much by his or her own will? Name some "fine" offspring in the Bible. Name some "rotten" offspring. Where do God's "offspring" rate on this scale?
3.2 How has this passage been speaking to you about how you ought to change the attitude you have as an employee? As an employer?
3.3 Extend these principles to quitting a job, something slaves couldn't even contemplate. What elements are necessary in a "Christian way of quitting"? A "Christian way of laying an employee off"?
So often it seems like we struggle against people -- spouses, bosses, IRS agents. But Paul makes clear in this passage that our real struggle is not against people, but against a hidden but very active spiritual source of evil. That doesn't mean we need to look for a demon under every rock, or excuse ourselves with "the devil made me do it." It does mean, however, that unless we equip ourselves spiritually, we will not succeed in this struggle.
1.1 Which of the weapons listed in vss. 14-17 are defensive? Which are offensive?
1.2 Vs. 11 says "Put on the full armor of God...." Have you had any experiences in which you tried to "fight the good fight of faith" without the full armor? What happened?
2.1 While our struggle may not be against people ("flesh and blood," vs. 12), that's the way the struggle manifests itself to us. How are we supposed to treat the people who are dupes of the devil? Do we resist them? How can we both love our enemies and resist them?
2.2 In what way is "standing" (vs. 13) at the end of the battle considered victory?
2.3 Why is truth (vs. 14) an important weapon in the spiritual battle. Have you ever fought without this?
2.4 In what sense does Paul use "righteousness" in vs. 14? Imputed righteousness or practicing right living? Why is this righteousness important to the struggle? Have you ever been defeated here?
2.5 How is a readiness to share "the gospel of peace" an important weapon in the battle? How does this help win the conflict?
2.6 What kinds of "flaming arrows" (vs. 16b) from the enemy start to burn in our souls? Give some examples.
2.7 How can faith be a shield to protect us from these? Have you experienced faith putting out these burning missiles in your soul? How does it work?
2.8 How is an understanding of our salvation (vs. 17) vital to our struggle with the devil? What kinds of temptations does it help us resist?
2.9 How did Jesus use the Word of God in his struggle with the enemy? (see Luke 4:1-13) Is this "sword" an offensive or defensive weapon? How can we use the Word offensively without being personally offensive?
2.10 To which modern military "weapon" is prayer analogous (vs. 18)? How is this important in our struggle?
3.1 Specifically, how do you "put on" this battle gear in your daily life? When do you do it?
3.2 You've seen people who are out of balance, focusing on the devil and his antics rather than God, blaming things on the devil which are our own fault, not his. How can we keep the balance we need?
We've left Paul's analogy of "weapons" in vs. 17, but now have come to perhaps the most important weapon of all: prayer. Finally, we'll take one last long look at Ephesians to summarize what we have learned here.
2.1 What does it mean to "pray in the Spirit" (vs. 18)?
2.2 Why do you think that the word "all" is used four times in vs. 18? Why kind of attitude does this seek to counter? -2.3 Paul asks prayer for fearlessness in vs. 19-20. How does prayer enable him -- and us -- to declare the good news without fear? What is prayer doing in terms of the spiritual struggle which is going on?
2.4 Why is it so difficult to pray sometimes? Why do we need exhortations to pray as in vs. 18?
2.5 We never hear of Tychicus doing anything extraordinary, or being a specially gifted leader. What is Tychicus commended for in vs. 21? How did these qualities strengthen Paul? His ministry?
3.1 Now that we've studied Ephesians, I'd like you to read it from the beginning and make a simple 6 or 7 point outline. What are the main sections of this letter? What are the major themes?
3.2 What are the five most important single keywords in the book?
3.3 If you were to select five truths from Ephesians which speak especially to you personally, what would they be? (Give the verse in which that truth is found also.) How has this been important to your growth?
3.4 What two truths do you think are the most important for our churches to put into practice? What worldly tendencies would these help the church overcome?