"The letter to the Ephesians is a marvelously concise, yet comprehensive, summary of the Christian good news and its implications. Nobody can read it without being moved to wonder and worship, and challenged to consistency of life," so claims theologian John Stott.
But can a nearly 2000 year-old letter, written to people you've never met, in a completely different culture, context, and time really achieve that? How does it achieve that? What's so amazing about this letter that nobody can read it without being moved and challenged?
To begin to answer that question, we should first realize that the first-century city of Ephesus was not all that unlike our own city of Lincoln in the present. At about 300,000 people in size, Ephesus was one of the largest and most important cities in it's respective area. It was a center for trade, commerce, politics, as well as recreation and worship.
The Temple of Artemis (or "Diana") was there. Within reason, the Temple or Artemis was approximately the size of Memorial Stadium, made entirely out of marble, and regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. As the goddess most worshiped in private devotions in the Mediterranean world, thousands upon thousands of people flocked to the city of Ephesus to pay tribute to Artemis. While there, they spent lots of money and kept the local economy alive and thriving.
Sometime early in the 1st century (likely A.D. 52), the people of Ephesus began to encounter the gospel of Jesus in a significant way when a missionary named Paul visited the city (Acts 18:19-20). Upon arriving, he preached the good news about Jesus to the Jews in the synagogue but did not stay long, leaving to move on but later returning to stay for two and a half years there (see Acts 19).
When Paul did return, he found a city full of pagans as well as religious people (both Jews and non-Jewish God-fearers). Additionally; however, as we read in Acts 19, there were also some people who had heard about Jesus, believed themselves to be disciples of Jesus, but truly were not saved.
Paul labored through tears and trials (Acts 20:19) for two and a half years in this city. During that time, the church was established in Ephesus.
Some years laters (between A.D. 60-62) Paul wrote at letter from prison in Rome intended for the fledgling Christians in Ephesus. Some of the recipients (not unlike the makeup of a typical modern-day church) had been "religious" all their life but had only recently encountered the good news of the gospel of Jesus. Others were pagans who became believers and found themselves growing into leadership in the local church. Still others were those who believed they were Christ followers, only later to realize they weren't, who had since now become true Christ followers.
These fledgling Christians now found themselves "marginalized in a pluralistic culture tolerant of many things but not of the Christian gospel or the church which proclaimed it." (Ferguson, Let's Study Ephesians).
The letter to the Ephesians was thus written to encourage and instruct these believers.
The Message: Encourage and Instruct
Perhaps the best summary of Ephesians is found in Ephesians 5:8: "For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light."
The order of that summary is important: Who we now are (in Christ) proceeds, undergirds, and drives how we are to live.
This is the message of Ephesians. Ephesians is a letter that is all about who we are "in Christ" (the first half of the letter) and how we are to live "in Christ" (the second half of the letter).
The divine structuring of the letter reminds us that everything we're to do is founded on all that Christ has done—in other words, our gospel identity forms our gospel life.
This is a message that transcends centuries, cultures and contexts. It is the very heart of Christianity itself. And it's for this reason that none of us should be able to read the letter to the Ephesians without "being moved to wonder and worship, and challenged to consistency of life."
Read. Wonder. Be moved. Be challenged.