"I am the vine; you are the branches." — John 15:5

St. Helen’s Summer Bible Study 2021: Ephesians

Paul’s letters to the early Church are the oldest Christian documents as yet discovered, written before the Gospels were recorded. The letter to the Ephesians is addressed to ‘the saints’ and  is a meditation, of sorts, that reflects on God’s purposes, primarily God’s will to reconcile all things in Christ. It speaks of matters of doctrine and of ethics, or the practicalities of the Christian life. The church, that is the community of believers, is pictured as a tool for God’s purposes, called to bring unity to the world. It was probably written at the same time as the letters to the Colossians and Philemon, when Paul was in prison in Rome (A.D. early 60’s)

I suggest that you read the whole letter through once first (yes, even if you have studied it before!). Begin each time of study with a simple prayer, asking God to open your mind and heart to what our Lord would like you to hear.  Then read the chapter and the notes provided, and reflect on the meaning of these verses, or new revelations, and consider how to apply them in your journey with Christ.

Ephesians Chapter One St. Paul uses the phrase ‘in Christ’, or its equivalent, frequently throughout this letter, beginning with his opening greeting chapter 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus…”(1:3-14, reading for July 11)   He speaks of ‘spiritual blessings’ and teaches that we are God’s children, by adoption, and that we are forgiven and redeemed by God’s free grace. And Paul writes about ‘inheritance’ and how, in Christ, believers are called to live for Christ, to God’s glory. The rest of this chapter(1:15-23) is largely Paul’s prayer for the faithful which includes a reflection on the church as the Body of Christ.

Some Questions to Consider:

What does it mean that you are God’s adopted child, and written into God’s Will? How does that inspire you or make a difference in your life? Have you been saved?  If you are ‘saved’, what for? For what can you pray for the Church in our time and place?

Ephesians Chapter Two This chapter recalls conversion from ‘following the course of the world’ to life in Christ. (2:1-10)These verses speak of God’s grace and include the beloved quote, “For by grace you have been saved by faith…it is a gift of God.” (V. 8)

Verses 11-22(reading for July 18) introduce the theme of what it means to be ‘One in Christ’. Paul speaks about God’s reconciling purpose and about peace.  He provides the vision of the church “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone…in him the whole structure is joined together”.

Some Questions to Consider:

What is most challenging for you to ‘leave behind’ in order to live the new life in Christ? Reflect on the gift of Grace. What does that mean, for you? We know that The Church, is not ‘one’, not even in its local versions.  How might you help to build up/change up the Church?  How can we ‘preach peace’ in such a broken world?

Ephesians Chapter 3 (3:1-13) Paul takes time here to provide the people of Ephesus with his background check!  He describes his call and his ministry to the Gentiles and his insight into the ‘mystery’ therein. He encourages them to boldness and confidence through faith in Christ. He then prays for them again; truly the ‘job and joy’ of all Christian spiritual leaders! (v. 14-21, reading for July 25) He prays that they will be strengthened by the Spirit, that Christ will dwell in their hearts, that they will be grounded in love  and be filled with all the fullness of God. The last two verses are the source of our prayer near the end of the Eucharist…glory to God, whose power working in us…”

Questions to Consider:

How do you share your faith, and the gospel good news? Do you pray for others, or most frequently for yourself?  Try picking someone and focus on them in your prayers for the coming week.  Do the same with a concern or issue of our world.  Note how God guides you and speaks to you in your prayers.

Ephesians Chapter Four (4:1-16, reading for August 1) This long reading would be good to read twice(or commit to memory?)  It contains key teaching about Unity in the Body of Christ. “There is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism…”(Sound familiar? It’s in the opening prayers of our liturgy for Holy Baptism.) This is also one of the letters where Paul describes the gifts of the Spirit, specifically for ministry in the church, and about “speaking the truth in love”. 

The rest of the chapter(4:25-5:2) is the reading for August 8.  This is where Paul is at his exhortative best as he teaches that the followers of Christ have  renounced their “former way of life” and have been clothed with a new life, with different behaviours and attitudes…one that puts away anger, evil, bitterness and is marked by kindness, forgiveness and being imitators of Christ.

Questions to Consider:

What gifts have you been given by God?  What gifts have you been given by God that you could(should?) offer in ministry in the church?  Try to think beyond the list Paul provides…What of the things Paul describes do you find difficult to change or curtail?  (Do you get angry at Orlean’s drivers?  Does it make you drive more aggressively?) Do you think that you ever “grieve the Holy Spirit”?

On Sunday, August 15 we mark the Feast Day of St. Mary the Virgin and so The Revised Common Lectionary chooses scriptures other than Ephesians for this day, meaning we miss reading Ephesians Chapter 5 entirely.  But don’t skip it because it is well worth reflection.  It continues in the same vein as the previous chapter and describes different elements of the new life in Christ.  Certain lines will surely resonate with you!   I like verse 10: “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” And for all choir and Emmaus members, and all who love music,  verse 18f, “Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.” And for us all, “And give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And you don’t want to miss a reread of Paul’s understanding of a Christian household(5:21-33). It begins “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” but somehow that verse is often deleted and other phrases quoted, misquoted and used as proof text for a variety of purposes.  This whole section is, of course, a sermon illustration for the Church but we often miss that important fact!

Questions to Consider:

What phrases or verses in this chapter speak to you most strongly, most eloquently? What are the challenges you face in your relationships with others, perhaps particularly family members,  that make living these verses an ongoing struggle? 

Ephesians Chapter Six We return to reading the letter to the Ephesians on August 22.(6:10-20) The first nine verses in the chapter continue Paul’s dissertation about families and about the relationship between slaves and masters.  When we consider that Paul was a product of his own place and era,  and that realties then are not the same as our world is(or seeks to be) now, we can read these verses out of interest but with understanding that context is relevant!  

Our Sunday reading includes the familiar passage about the whole armor of God.  The Church, that is to say, we, still struggle against evil.  The daily news confirms it. By faith we have not only protection for ourselves but instruments that can works change the world around us. Truth, righteousness, the word of God, the Spirit…

Questions to Consider:

What do you do to ensure that you have a ‘closet’ full of God’s clothing?  What could you explore to help you deepen your faith and grow in Christ?

In closing, St. Paul passes the peace…

”The peace of the Lord be always with you. And also with you.”

Blessings, Susan+