Ephesians - Lesson 2

By Curt Niccum

A Saving Knowledge. Ephesians 1:15-23


  1. The student can list the three things that Paul specifically wants the Ephesians to know (power, placement, and purity).
  2. The student can explain the two possible meanings of the phrase "hope of His calling."
  3. The student can connect contemporary problems in the church with those the Ephesians faced.


  1. Bibles and pens as needed.


There are three things you need to know: placement, power, and purity.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Introduction and Review:

  1. Call the roll or have someone check it. (It is very important to know who is present so someone can check on those who are absent.) Introduce and welcome visitors, take prayer requests, and make any necessary announcements.
  2. Prayer and songs as desired.
  3. Last week we saw that Paul atypically introduced Ephesians with a blessing rather than a prayer of thanksgiving. Q: Why did he do that? A: The Ephesians needed to be reminded of God's single-minded devotion towards them. God has made full placement in and the power of His kingdom available to the Gentiles enabling them to live in purity to the praise of His glory.
    1. Q: In what ways did you inject elements of praise into this past week as you reflected on the previous lesson?
    2. Q: What spiritual blessings did you note this last week that you would like to share with the class?
  4. This week we examine the "thanksgiving" portion of Paul's prayer (1:15-23). Just like the blessing, this too is just one long sentence in the Greek.
    1. Q: What conclusion did we come to last week about why Paul used just one sentence for the opening prayer? A: He wanted to connect everything together, to show how things interrelated.
    2. Q: What might Paul be emphasizing with the length of this prayer? A: The same things. (See "Learning Experience" points 2-3 in the previous lesson.) The difference this time is that Paul now prays specifically focusing on the Ephesians' needs rather than on God's blessings.

Learning Experience:

  1. Naturally, what is most on Paul's mind are those things about which he is going to write. Thus, the prayer of thanksgiving at the beginning of his letters often works like a table of contents, introducing us to the themes to be covered. (As a result, any interpretation of a letter that does not match what Paul states at the beginning should be questioned.)
    1. In the prayer of thanksgiving (verses 15-23) Paul groups topics into two sets of three.
      1. Q: What is the first grouping you can find? A: (Look for something familiar in verses 15 and 18.) In verse 15 Paul mentions "faith" and "love." The last member of the triad, "hope," occurs separate and apart. Q: Why might Paul separate the third element? A: The Ephesians clearly have the first two but still lack the third. Therefore, Paul highlights the third element as more important for the community's immediate needs.
      2. Q: What is the next grouping of three themes to be found in this prayer? What are the three things Paul specifically states he wants the Ephesians to know (verses 18-19)? A: 1) "The hope of His calling" (verse 18) which we will find out refers to purity, see for example1:4; 2) "His glorious inheritance"(verse 18) which refers to placement, and 3) "the surpassing greatness of His power" (verses 19-23). Although Paul writes a great deal about the immensity of God's power and the full integration of gentile believers into His kingdom, the reverse order in which each of these elements are addressed in the letter (power = 2:1-10; placement 2:11-3:21, and purity 4:1-6:9) along with the overlap with the previous triad (faith, love,and hope) further emphasize the importance of "the hope ofHis calling."
      3. Note or have the class discuss how these themes also surfaced in the blessing (vv. 3-14).
  2. Paul does not downplay the need for the Ephesians to know their placement and power. Paul devotes the next two chapters to address those problems. Such "problems," though, are more perceived than real. Since their conversion the gentile believers have always had power and placement. Without their fully comprehending this, however, they run the danger of falling back into lifestyles lacking purity shaped by the power of Satan. (See 2:1-3).
  3. This raises the issue of how the phrase "hope of His calling" should be interpreted.
    1. Almost every genitive construction (where the word "of" connects two nouns) is inherently ambiguous. Grammarians talk about the "subjective" and the "objective" use of the genitive. In other words,the phrase following the preposition "of" can serve either as the subject or the object of the first noun. So, "the love of God" can either mean "God's love (for us)" or "(our) love for God." The origina lGreek of the New Testament allows either translation. Only context can help us determine which is the most appropriate.
    2. The question here, then, is what did Paul mean with the phrase "the hope of His calling"? Our hope from being called or God's hope for those He calls? Q: What do we typically think of when we speak of Christian hope? A: Eternal life. Life in heaven. Indeed, such language does occur in Ephesians. In 4:4 Paul connects "hope" with "body" and "spirit." The latter is a down payment guaranteeing our future inheritance (1:14). The body is the church that still looks forward to being proportionate to Christ, the head (1:22 and 4:11-15). Thus, Paul could mean that God's calling gives us hope for the future.
    3. Paul could, though, mean something else. What if he wants us to think about God's hope in us? In other words, God called us in hope that we would live in accordance with His divine will. Such language occurs much more frequently throughout Ephesians. Indeed, Paul describes"the hope of His calling" in ethical and moral terms later in the letter (4:1-6:9). In contrast, God excludes the immoral from any inheritance (5:5).
    4. Perhaps, in this case, the lines should not be drawn too sharply. Living according to God's expectations (God's hope in His calling us) determines our future (our hope resulting from God's calling). Still, most do not think of God's own expectations in us when looking at this phrase. That is unfortunate. God has high hopes, to which we would do well to pay attention. Thankfully, he has also empowered us to live within them.
  4. In fact, verses 19-23 emphasize the total power that every Christian commands. The same power that raised Christ from the dead and provided him complete victory over the spiritual powers belongs to the Christian. Justas Christ has been "raised" and "seated" (v. 20) above the fray, far above any otherworldly spiritual influences, so also has the believer.
    1. The terms "ruler, authority, power, and lordship" refer to otherworldly beings.
    2. The phrase "above every name that can be named" relates to magic: the attempt to manipulate the spiritual world into performing a person's bidding, often by invoking special or secret "names."
    3. God has exalted Jesus above all of these. God has given the church a position corresponding to Christ's! (Paul will return to this in the next section.)
  5. Verses 22-23 close with powerful imagery and language summarizing the reality of Christian life.
    1. Using Old Testament terminology, Paul indicates that all enemies have been placed under Christ's feet. This portrays the enemies of Christ in total subjugation. Significantly, believers compose part of Christ's being. Rather than being apart from Christ, as the defeated spiritual enemies are, they constitute Christ's own "body." Thus, they too are superior to these demonic beings and share in Christ's victory.
    2. These verses also contain eleven "p" sounds. In the ancient world,orators punctuated strong points in their communication by repeating explosive sounding letters, most often "p" or "k." (One should note that all writing in the ancient world was performed orally. Paul, for example, dictated rather than wrote his letters. The Ethiopian eunuch read his scroll of Isaiah aloud.) To place so many similar sounds together was equivalent to writing in bold or using an exclamation mark today. Thus, Paul places special emphasis here: As Christ is the fullness of all things, so is the church!


  1. The words "wisdom," "revelation," "knowledge," "enlightening," and "to know" highlight Paul's concern that Christians clearly perceive the reality that belongs to them in Jesus Christ. The problem with the Ephesians was not total failure. They clearly excelled in some areas (1:15-16).
    1. The class should also share in the affirmation of what the congregation does well. Have students share incidents to reinforce the idea of how knowledge of the truth affects the church's actions.
      1. Q: In what ways does our congregation show faith?
      2. Q: In what ways does our congregation show hope?
      3. Q: In what ways does our congregation show love?
    2. Ask the class to think on and look for other ways in the next week that the church models these three Christian virtues.
  2. Although doing well in some areas, the Ephesians fell short in understandingGod's calling and His hope in them (1:18).
    1. Look for challenges today to both the church and/or its role in the community. In what ways might the congregation suffer from a lack of adequate knowledge like the church in Asia Minor? Or, in what ways does the world's failure to know God shape its conduct?
      1. Q: In what ways does our congregation not show faith? Or, in what ways does our church or society lack faith? Q: What can be done to improve or fix this?
      2. Q: In what ways does our congregation not show hope? Or, in what ways does our church or society lack hope? Q: What can be done to improve or fix this?
      3. Q: In what ways does our congregation not show love? Or, in what ways does our church or society lack love? Q: What can be done to improve or fix this?
    2. Ask the class to brainstorm ways the class might address or fix some of these problems. (Make sure that any good ideas do get acted upon. Share them with church or class leaders. Do not just urge the class to action. Provide the call and the means for them to act.) Note for the teacher: The above questions should connect how knowledge informs and affects behavior. Several humorous compilations of student answers to Bible questions exist that could serve as an opener. One can imagine how a student's misreading of a text could in some way affect his or her behavior or expectations. One could then proceed to actual behaviors shaped by a misunderstanding or ignorance of God's will. On the lighter side, I have preached to a basset hound. A woman in the church, having read Mark 16, where Jesus commands that the disciples preach the gospel to "all creatures," brought her beloved pet into the assembly. Her incomplete knowledge shaped her behavior. Often new converts, unaware of all that holiness entails, continue to live in sin until brothers and sisters in Christ gently show them a more perfect way. One's knowledge of God's will has a tremendous impact, either positively or negatively, on daily conduct. Paul concerns himself about the Ephesians' lack of knowledge, but he devotes most of the letter to inspiring behavior fitting the "saints." Those who know God know to be "holy and blameless." Since all things are ours through Christ (1:23), our lives should reflect this.

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