Introduction to the Teacher

By Curt Niccum


13 Lessons for

by Curt Niccum Professor of Bible Oklahoma Christian University 2005


It is difficult to extrapolate what exact issue(s) Paul attempts to address in any of his letters. We see only half of the conversation. Those who have tried to contribute to another's telephone conversation from across the room will immediately identify with the dangers inherent in such an enterprise. Still, the exercise can have benefits. In Ephesians, Paul appears to be addressing primarily the Gentile members of the church (3:1). They seem to be struggling with their place in the Kingdom. This manifests itself in two ways: 1) they do not feel like they really belong, and 2) they do not fully understand the power that they have in Christ Jesus. Although Paul knows the truth, he must respond to their doubts and address a further concern, 3) the possibility that their lives, as a result of these supposed deficiencies, do not fully reflect God's holiness. Throughout the lessons these three themes will be marked in bold: 1) placement, 2) power, and 3) purity. The Ephesian church (as also most other churches in Asia Minor) began with a strong Jewish core. Many members had grown up with the scriptures and had practiced a lifestyle in accordance with God's revealed will. The Gentiles, though, had no initial familiarity with the scriptures. They also did not grow up associating ethics or morality with religion. That belonged to the realm of philosophy. The Gentile believers also lacked knowledge of basic church/synagogue rituals, and so would have felt uncomfortable in the assemblies. Add to this that the inclusion of Gentiles into God's Kingdom appeared to be a rather late development in the history of salvation, and one could not blame some for developing an inferiority complex. Without any pressure from the Jewish members, many of the Gentiles could have easily felt second rate. Gentile converts entered Christianity from a world quite different than ours today. First, pagan religions did not require exclusive devotion. Those professing Christ in Ephesus would not have necessarily understood that Christ alone sufficed. One added gods and goddesses as needed. Second, the spiritual world was to be feared. Anyone familiar with Greek mythology will understand with what trepidation the Graeco-Roman world would have welcomed a god taking on human form. Worshipping multiple deities helped provide insurance against harm from the unseen forces. Third, the Ephesians had a vivid sense of the presence of spiritual beings. They inhabited the air, the water, and the earth. These demonic beings were to be feared. Although pagan religions had no demands on human behavior, many believed that certain activities would assist in appeasing the demons. Thus, people acted in ways designed to keep a balance in and to "fly under the radar" of the spiritual world. Greek gods and demons only acted on behalf of humanity when manipulated to do so. For this reason, Ephesus served as one of the centers for the practice of magic in the Mediterranean world (see Acts 19). Regardless of one's confession of Christ at baptism, dropping such religious baggage overnight would have been nearly impossible. Many Gentile Christians would have been tempted to merely "add" Christ to their collection of gods or to rely on various spiritual beings to "supplement" Christ should he prove not enough. Although circumstances have certainly changed, there are a number of parallels with people in today's society. Many sit on the back pews not truly feeling they totally belong to God's people, and, in some cases, we "do church" in ways that make people feel uncomfortable. Also, in our pluralistic world, Jesus no longer is the sole answer for many "Christians." People look to other religious traditions for solutions. It is easy to consider Jesus just one option among many, rather than the only source of divine power in the world today. I have tried to focus on these parallels and hope you will find these lessons on Ephesians relevant and beneficial to your spiritual growth.

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