Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. – Ephesians 1:1-4 ESV
It is thought that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written between A.D. 60-62 while he was under house arrest in Rome. The book of Acts records that Paul had been to Ephesus and had spent at least three years there ministering and spreading the gospel throughout Asia Minor. It was while Paul was in Ephesus, that his presence caused a great deal of concern among the silversmiths who made their living by fashioning idols for the worship of Artemis, their god. It seems that Paul’s success in sharing the gospel had caused a dip in sales and had put a dent in the income of the local silversmiths. Demetrius, a silversmith, decided to do something about Paul and his message. He gathered all the tradesmen together and made an inflammatory speech designed to turn them all against Paul.
“Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship” – Acts 19:25-27 ESV
Demetrius’ words whipped the crowd into a frenzy and almost resulted in a riot. But the authorities were able to calm the crowd and Paul managed to leave the town safely. But he never lost his love for the people of Ephesus or his concern for the local congregation there. So while under house arrest in Rome, he composed this letter as a means of encouraging them to continue in their love for God and one another. He seemed most concerned about the unity of the church. Like most of the newly formed congregations during that day, there was a unique blend of converted Jews and Gentiles, slaves and freemen, wealthy and poor, and educated and uneducated. This strange amalgam of individuals from all walks of life put a tremendous strain on the unity of the church. Paul was writing to call them to live in unity and to display holiness through their individual, as well as their corporate lives.
Paul describes himself as an apostle, a “sent one.” He had been sent by Jesus Himself to share the good news of salvation to the Gentiles. What he had done in Ephesus had been based on his commission from Jesus and according to the will of God. He was simply the messenger.
He addressed his audience as saints. He wanted them to remember that they had been consecrated or set apart by God for His service. By placing their faith in Jesus as their Savior, they had become the possession of God. They belonged to Him and were to live their lives in submission to His will and according to His Spirit whom He had placed within them. Paul reminds them that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3 ESV). Paul’s emphasis in this verse is extremely important to understand. He states that God has already blessed us. He refers to it in the past tense. God has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing, and the important thing to note is that those blessings find their source “in the heavenly places.” Paul is going to expand on that thought in the following verses, but it would appear that he is attempting to get his audience to understand that they have already been blessed beyond measure and the greatest aspect of their blessing from God is the salvation and justification they had received as a result of their faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul reminds them that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). Their salvation was not happenstance or blind luck. It was not even their decision. Paul tells them that God chose them, elected them for salvation, long before He even created the world. And Paul will expand on that thought in the verses to come. Salvation was God’s idea, not man’s. The idea that fallen man would choose to have a relationship with a holy God goes against all that we read in the Scriptures. Ever since the fall, mankind has been on a trajectory away from God, not toward Him. The farther man got from the garden, the more hazy his memory of God became. Men stopped seeking the one true God and began replacing Him with gods of their own making. Paul describes this downward trajectory quite well in his letter to the Romans: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:22-23 ESV). Paul goes on to quote from the Old Testament to drive home his point: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV).
Paul wants his readers to comprehend the incredible significance of the fact that God chose them. He made their salvation possible. He is the one who justified them through His Son’s death on the cross. And His choosing of them was not just so that they might escape death and eternal condemnation, but that they might live holy lives. Paul drives home the point that “he chose us in him … that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). God has an unwavering expectation for every believer to live holy and blameless because He has equipped them to be able to do so. Our holiness and blamelessness doesn’t start when we get to heaven. It begins here and now as we live as followers of Christ in this fallen world. We are saints, set apart ones, who belong to God and who are empowered by the Spirit of God to live as lights in a very dark world. We have been chosen by God to reflect His glory and to share His message of grace to all those we meet. As Paul told the Philippian believers: “Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people” (Philippians 2:15 NLT).