Growing from milk to meat takes work and discipline. While God works in us to accomplish His purpose (Philippians 1:6), we also play a part in our spiritual growth. And taking the time and effort to study His Word and apply it to our lives is one of the ways that we grow. So we’ll be starting a feature on Mondays called “Monday Meat” where we use Bible study principles to dig into the Word.
In Bible study, context rules. This refers not just to the immediate surrounding verses, but the book as a whole and even the whole Bible. Context also involves the historical and cultural context. When in history was this book written? When was it taking place? The culture in Jesus’ day portrayed in the Gospels was a different culture than during David’s reign in 2 Samuel. The time of the exiles was a different historical period than when the Israelites left Egypt. And the historical and cultural background is not the same as where we are today. These are all factors that affect what the text originally meant to the original audience. As we study we need to remember that the text cannot mean what it never meant. In other words, we need to determine what the text meant to the original audience. We can then determine the principles from that to bring it into our modern day setting. But if the text did not mean something to the original audience, then it can’t mean that to us either.
In looking at the book of Ephesians (our first venture in the Monday Meat posts), we look at who wrote it, when it was written and to whom. The genre of Ephesians is an epistle or letter. It identifies Paul the apostle as the author. The opening verses tell us “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus”. Some commentaries note that the phrase “in Ephesus” might not have been in the original letter but was added later. It was likely written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome, probably around 60 AD. It was written at the same time as Colossians and Philemon and was likely meant to be a circular letter to the churches throughout Asia Minor. Ephesus was the capital of the Roman Province of Asia and was located on the west coast of Asia Minor. It was also the home of the temple goddess Diana (also known as Artemis). Acts 19 and 20 give us some background on Paul’s time in Ephesus. Tychicus delivered the letter (Eph. 6:21-22) and gave the church information on how Paul was doing and could answer any questions they had. The purpose for Paul writing this letter was likely to write about the church being the body of Christ. It was written at the same time as Colossians, which was written to confront heresy and he likely took the opportunity to write a more general letter to be sent with the Colossae letter. There are a lot of similarities between the books of Ephesians and Colossians. See Bible.org‘s page for more detailed info.
When studying a book of the Bible, it is helpful to read through the whole book in one sitting. This isn’t always possible with some of the longer books, but Ephesians is very do-able, with only 6 chapters. This helps us get an overview of the book, see key and repeated words or phrases, and get an idea of the theme or message of the book. Some of the key words and phrases that we see throughout Ephesians are “in him”, “in Christ”, “according to” and gospel and grace. As you read through the book, jot down any ideas that stand out to you. Write down what the overall theme seems to be. When you’ve finished studying the book, it is helpful to look back at the original theme that you saw and see if it has changed from more careful study.
The book Let’s Study Ephesians by Sinclair Ferguson is an easy-to-read layperson commentary on the book of Ephesians. Here is his summary of Ephesians:
“They needed to know that they were secure-Paul teaches them that they are anchored in the eternal purposes of God. They lived under the threat of dark and sinister powers – they needed to know that Christ had conquered all his and their enemies. They were surrounded by the influence of the world, the flesh, and the devil – they needed to know that God had raised them out of that spiritual death. They were confronted on a daily basis with Gentile paganism – they needed to know that Christ had brought them into the family of God. They lived under the shadow of a false temple and a false idol – they needed to know that they were the true temple of God. They lived in an ungodly society – they needed to know how the gospel would transform their lives. They saw life in marriage, family and business corrupted by self-interest – they needed to know how grace could transform all relationships. They were under attack from the forces of darkness – they needed to know how they could remain standing in the battle.”
Next week, we’ll dive into chapter 1.