Lesson 2: Introduction to Ephesians
Book of Ephesians
Paul's Prison Epistles. This is lesson # 2. An introduction to the book of Ephesians, one of the epistles that Paul wrote from Rome, from the imperial prison. You will remember, after two years of incarceration at Caesarea, Paul appealed to Caesar, i.e. the emperor, that man named Nero, for justice. Festus, the newly appointed governor in Palestine placed Paul in the custody of a centurion named Julius (Acts 27:1). When Paul finally arrived at Rome after a long trip, a hard winter, a ship wreck, and a snake bite among other problems; Paul was delivered to the captain of the guard in that big capital city (according to Acts 28:16). But, that verse also informs us that Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him. Luke called this Paul's, "own hired house" (in Acts 28:30). In other words, Paul was connected to a chain (i.e. bonds) that were also connected to that soldier. However, beyond tolerating that chain; it would appear Paul was allowed to have visitors, write letters and otherwise carry-on the best he could. Some months later, the book of Ephesians was undoubtedly written under these conditions. As Paul waited for that hearing before Nero, he must have mentally reviewed and relived those three missionary journeys many times. Having spent more time in Ephesus than in any other place (three years, according to Acts 20:31); Paul undoubtedly yearned for his friends and brethren in that fair city many times. It would appear Luke, Timothy and others of Paul's co-workers must have tried to carry on: business as usual; teaching, traveling and communicating on Paul's behalf. There is a great lesson in that as to how we should operate. Do the best we can! Tychicus, one of Paul's co-workers, a minister from Asia, (according to the list in Acts 20:4); must have visited the apostle in chains. It's a pretty good bet that the epistle to the Ephesians was delivered by Tychicus, a man mentioned only about a half dozen times in the whole New Testament. As Paul closed out this epistle (Eph. 6:21-22), the apostle wrote to his brethren of the Ephesian church these words: "But that ye also may know my affairs, and how I do, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister of the Lord, shall make known to you all thing: whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that ye might know our affairs, and that he might comfort your hearts."
Now, as you and I focus in on the Ephesian church, the camp of the saints in that vast seaport city on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea; the capital of the Roman province of Asia; let's try to review for a moment and re-acquaint our selves with what we know about Ephesus, which is not very much really. The best picture I can get is something like this. Ephesus was about the third largest city in the Roman empire at that time; Rome and Alexandria being the only two cities larger than Ephesus, i.e. population wise. It was located on a plain 2 or 3 miles wide with mountains on three sides and the Aegean Sea on the west. It was a natural seaport. Like Corinth across the Aegean Sea, a couple hundred miles to the west; Ephesus was a great center of trade and one of the key transportation points in the Roman empire. Undoubtedly you have heard of the Appian Way, a great Roman highway that ran from the city of Rome to what we might call the "boot heel" of Italy. Parts of that road is even used to day, I'm told. The Roman army, at the time of Paul, had built many such highways across the empire. As I said they were built by the army; but it seems everyone used them. One such highway began at Ephesus and ran eastward across Asia Minor, passing through Colosse about a hundred miles to the east of Ephesus; you might remember. However, the reason I mention this here is to help you get a mental picture of that great seaport city of Ephesus. The city must have been a 1000 years old at the time of Paul. And, you might be interested in knowing the city does not exist today. It has been destroyed and is now a sight for archeological digs. Thus, travelers from all over Asia Minor (what we call Turkey today) converged at Ephesus where passengers and cargo were shifted from ships to that great highway and visa versa. One of the great attractions at the time of Paul was the temple of Diana (that's what it's called in Acts ch. 19, KJV); but, most books and encyclopedias refer to it as the temple of Artemis, spelled A-R-T-E-M-I-S, if you're interested. It was originally built in about 550 BC, i.e. while the Jews were still in Babylonian captivity. That first structure was burned about 356 BC and it was then rebuilt, and the new structure (at the time of Paul) was considered to be one of the seven wonders of the world. It was made mostly of marble, 377 feet long and 180 feet wide. My encyclopedia says it had 106 marble columns 40 feet high. The roof was made of wood covered with tile. This pagan temple was burned and destroyed ALSO by the Goths a couple hundred years after the time of Paul. But it was considered a sight comparable to the Egyptian pyramid at the time of Paul. Are you getting the picture?
Now if I might be so trite as to suggest you re-read Acts ch. 19 one more time and as you read; try to reconstruct this city of Ephesus, in your mind. Then back up a moment to Acts ch. 16, do you remember Paul's second missionary tour? His companion was Silas. Timothy was circumcised and joined Paul and Silas at Derby, a city of Galatia. Then down in v.6, of Acts ch. 16, Luke did a long stroke. He said: "Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the regions of Galatia..." what happened? They were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia. Do you remember that? Paul undoubtedly was planning to head for Asia, and that probably means Ephesus there on his second missionary tour. But, the Holy Spirit said: NO! So, they decided to go north instead into the northern part of Asia Minor. Luke mentioned Mysia and Bithynia (v.7). But, again the Holy Spirit said, NO! Don't go! And, you will remember: they were led in a negative sort of way to Europe, i.e. Macedonia; more specifically to Philippi and on to Thessalonica by what we some times term the Macedonain call (on down in Acts 16:10). Luke joined them at Troas. However, after Paul and his companions evangelized Europe, i.e. Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea; followed by Paul passing through Athens and then spending a year and a half at Corinth: Paul, it seems, still had Ephesus in the back of his mind. After leaving Corinth, Acts 18:18-21 on his way to Syria and Jerusalem as he brought the second missionary journey to an end; Paul stopped over at Ephesus and checked the place out, leaving his friends Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus while Paul went on to Jerusalem, Antioch of Syria and then back through Galatia and Phrygia one more time. Luke gave no details. Instead, the writer jumped back to Ephesus. He told us about that Alexandrian, the eloquent man named: Apollos; who knew only the baptism of John. Do you remember? That's the way Luke introduced us to Ephesus (at the end of Acts ch. 18). When PAUL returned to Ephesus (Acts ch. 19), he found about a dozen disciples there who knew only the baptism of John the Baptist, they said they had not so much as heard of the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit. Paul baptized them in the name of Christ Jesus (i.e. they were re-immersed, scripturally this time, of course). Luke did not (there) give us the name of even one disciple at Ephesus with the exception of Aquila and Priscilla. There was a synagogue at Ephesus. Paul began to speak boldly in that synagogue for a space of three months. Then Luke said, Paul "separated the disciples," i.e. from the synagogue and began to dispute daily in the school of one Tyrannus (that's Acts 19:9). This was the beginning of the church of Christ in Ephesus. Paul spent three years teaching, disputing and nurturing that congregation. Obviously, the congregation was a mixture of both Jews and Gentiles, predominantly Gentile, I would presume. In the vs. 10-19, Luke gave a quickie summary of Paul's work at Ephesus.
Luke said, "God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul." He said, "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word...both Jews and Greeks." It wasn't easy; but, Paul got their attention. Luke tells about one Jew named Sceva who had seven sons and how they tried to mock Paul and how a negative miracle from the hand of Paul left them naked and wounded. Luke said in v.17, "fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many that believed came, and confessed, and showed their deeds." Confession was part of it. They repented of their evil deeds. In v.19, Luke tried to impress us with numbers. He said, "Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver." Now, curious arts! What is that? I would assume mostly what we would classify as astrology: i.e. fortune telling, palm reading, the signs of the zodiac and all that ho-do stuff of interpreting the influence of the stars and planets on persons, events, etc. Books were expensive. They still are; but, all books were then hand-copied, very time consuming and that made them even more expensive, comparatively. In writing to the Corinthians, sometime during Paul's stay at Ephesus; he described his work at Ephesus to the Corinthians as: fighting with wild beasts (that's found in I Cor. 15:32). However, Luke summarized Paul's success at Ephesus like this: "So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed." (Acts 19:20). Of course, the big riot brought on by the silversmith's union, the makers of the little silver idols, was undoubtedly the closest call with which he had to deal; I trust you remember. This event undoubtedly caused Paul to leave sooner than he had planned. In the first verse of Acts ch. 20, it says: "after the uproar was ceased, Paul called unto him the disciples, and embraced them, and departed for to go into Macedonia," which probably means Philippi and Thessalonica. But, take just a moment here to re-read that verse and try to visualize the situation. "Paul called unto him the disciples." That's the middle of v.1 (Acts ch. 20). Try to visualize that occasion. Paul "embraced them, and departed." Jesus had said: "whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house OR CITY, shake off the dust of your feet." (Matt. 10:14). Someone has paraphrased that like this: leave their dirt with them. So, Paul had to leave their dirt with them and move on; but, to obey the Lord we are sometimes ALSO forced to leave behind some of the dearest friends we have. It's the story of every gospel preacher;
Then, it must have been within a year of Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem, Paul had an opportunity to stop at Miletus for a few hours. Miletus was a seaport about 20 or 25 miles to the southwest of Ephesus. Acts 20:17 said: "from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church." On this occasion, Paul was accompanied by at least eight other men (seven of them are listed up in v.4) and the other man was Luke. Those Ephesian elders that came down to Miletus that day were some of those same disciples Paul had embraced a few months earlier as described in that touching scene (up in v.1). There in Miletus by the seaside, Paul preached a great sermon and taught a great lesson (that's the rest of Acts ch. 20). And again, a touching scene as they departed company. The last three verses in ch. 20 reads like this: "And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship."
As Paul sat there in that Roman prison, chained to a soldier; he must have reflected on such scenes and such occasions many times. When Tychicus, "a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord," Paul called him in Eph. 6:21, came; it must have rekindled Paul's memory and compassion for his Asian brethren. It must have been under the weight of that chain, after that Paul had been recharged with all the good news and depressed with the bad news that Tychicus carried about the Ephesian church; that Paul determined to write a letter to those brethren and tuck in a few sermons pointers here and there. When this letter arrived at Ephesus, it must have been read first by those same elders of the Ephesian congregation that had accompanied Paul to his ship at Miletus some four years before. As they listened to the words of Tychicus concerning Paul's chain and as they read this letter and as they later re-read this letter to the Ephesian congregation; they must have again "wept sore" as Luke~ described that last occasion beside the ship at Miletus (Acts 20:37). Apollos came back to Ephesus while Paul was there; we learn this in I Cor. 16:12. Whether Apollos was still at Ephesus when this letter arrived; of course, we don't know. I would infer from I Cor. 16:19 that Acquila's and Priscilla's home had at one time served as a meeting place for Christians in Ephesus. But, we learn in the Roman letter (16:3) that Aquila and Priscilla went back to Rome and that was before Paul's imprisonment. We don't know the details; but, Paul said they had "for my life laid down their own necks," i.e. Aquila and Priscilla.
This was undoubtedly NOT the first letter that Paul wrote to this church. Down in ch. 3, v.3 of this book; Paul tucked in a parenthesis which says: "as I wrote afore in few words." That's one hint. It would seem Timothy (also spell "Timothous") was closely associated with this congregation. Paul sent Timothy from Ephesus to Macedonia (Acts 19:22). In I Cor. 4:17, written from Ephesus; Paul mentions this sending of Timothy also. Timothy is not mentioned in the Ephesian letter; but, he is mentioned at the beginning of Philippians, Colossians and Philemon as being with Paul at the time of those writings. So, it is most likely that Timothy was in Rome with Paul when this letter was written, also. In later years, Paul sent Timothy back to Ephesus. The book of I Tim. we have mentioned before in this study; Paul wrote that book to Timothy 2 or 3 years after the time we are now talking about. Timothy was in Ephesus when the book of First Timothy was written (I Tim. 1:3). In that verse, Paul said he left Timothy there, "that thou mightest charge some [the Ephesians] that they teach no other doctrine." In Second Timothy, Paul wrote to Timothy (at Ephesus, 4:3): "For the time will come when THEY will not endure sound doctrine." In the book of Revelation, written perhaps 30 years after the Ephesian letter; Jesus in his appearance to John on Patmos, commended the Ephesian church for their works, labor and patience among other things. Thus, we find THAT church was careful not to embrace false doctrines. However, the Lord rebuked the Ephesians for departing from their first love (that's in Rev. 2:4-5). So, we find the church was careful in one way; but, careless in another. There is much we can learn from this book. It has been preserved by the Holy Sprit for our benefit. If I might prod you a little; review the circumstances surrounding this book. Get a good mental image of Paul in prison, the city of Ephesus, what we know of that congregation, their strengths and their weaknesses. And, have a good day!