The epistle is in two parts as are most epistles, and they are Belief and Behaviour.
The two main themes are The Church and The Spirit.
Paul uses a number of illustrations as pictures of the church of which the Gentiles had become part.
They are a ;
Body, a Bride, a Building, Branches, and a Battalion -( part of the worldwide army)
We will consider each of these in turn later.
First, we shall see the second great theme of this epistle which is the Life and Work of the Holy Spirit in the church.
He emphasises the life of the Spirit in the church. No longer is there need for the letter of the law to keep God’s people in order, as was the case with the Jews, but the very presence and power of the Holy Spirit of God, dwelling in each individual life. His purpose is to cause Christ to grow in each believer, and by his guidance and strength, cause them to accomplish that very reason God had made them part of his church, or part of the Body of Christ.
Each chapter tells us something of the Spirit's work in us.
Sealed by the Spirit, Ch 1:13 and Ch 4:30
Quickened by the spirit. Ch 2:1
Access to the father as his child through the Spirit Ch 2:18
Strengthened by the Spirit, Ch 3 :16,
United by the spirit. Ch 4:4-6.
Bearing fruit by the Spirit. Ch 5:9,
Being filled with the Spirit. Ch 5:18,
Sanctified by the Spirit through the word Ch 5:27,
Warring in the Spirit Ch 6:10,
Praying in the Spirit. Ch 6:18
Surely we can see how important is our individual relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Well might Paul advise strongly that we do not grieve the Spirit in ch 4:30.
Watchman Nee wrote a small book on Ephesians entitled “Sit, Walk, Stand.”
These three little words sum up the content and message of the book admirably. ( I have to admit that his booklet makes me offer my exposition with a certain amount of chagrin)
We are shown where we are spiritually as far as God is concerned. Totally undeserved yet we have been taken from the miry pit and deadness of sin, and positioned in Christ Jesus in heavenly places. All purely because God has showered the riches of His grace upon us. Our first exercise therefore in the christian life is to learn to Sit in faith. In other words to rest in Christ Jesus. This is the first step in the Christian life and covers the doctrine of our Justification by Faith
The second phase of our christian life is to Walk. This is referring to the way we live now upon this earth, because we are now children of both kingdoms, God’s Kingdom and the Earthly Kingdom. A Kingdom denotes a KING and authority. So when we become a child of God, Christ becomes our king and we must learn to obey his commands. (See the last few verses of Matthew’s Gospel)_
His commands cover every area of earthly life. These scriptures cover the doctrine of Sanctification. God is Holy and commands us to be Holy also, for holiness and happiness are wedded together. He wants the best for his children.
It is vitally important that we understand the two doctrines we have just referred to. - Justification & Sanctification. The cart and the horse, so to speak- so we should know what comes first.
Justification by Faith:
There seems to be much confusion in the church today. Those who emphasise Grace and our Righteousness being a free gift are apt to also emphasise the dangers of legalism. this is a term used for people who accept Christ Jesus but live under the allusion that how they live afterwards will determine whether they remain "saved". This has the effect of them living by strict rules. This can be done with very pure motives, but it is usually because before they accepted Christ, their idea of Christianity was to be good and do good works. But the danger lies in the fact that it is easy to begin to put more faith in your good works than the "work of Jesus Christ". The truth is that His was a perfect sacrifice for sin. We cannot add to it, it does not need us to add to it by our good works. To think of doing so is to suggest his death was not sufficient payment for all our sin. So legalism as such is to be avoided. The church in Galatia had been tarnished by preachers coming to them and telling them they still needed to fulfil the Laws of Moses, especially the act of circumcision to be accepted by God. Paul's exhortation, offered somewhat in holy anger, was to get rid of the Law and enjoy being under grace. Romans also clearly declares that if we continue in sin, then grace will abound. However, the point that should not be missed is that God’s grace has been showered upon us for a reason. The love of God shown towards us surely must bring a response, if we truly are appreciating such love and grace. In the end of Galatians ch 2 we read the sentence "I do not frustrate the grace of God". I once heard a preacher say "we should not abuse the grace of God, but there is a difference in meaning between 'frustrate' and 'abuse'. To frustrate is to stop Grace fulfilling its purpose. see "sister article "Grace and Legalism "
1 John 4 19 says "We love him because he first loved us". So our response to his love should be to want to please Him. Note this verse in 1 John 2:5 "Herein is the Love of God perfected when we keep his word." Perfected means that it has come to its fullness. Its purpose has been fulfilled- when we willingly keep his commandments. Jesus said “If you love me, keep my commandments” (1 John 14:15) and added "this is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you" Who is it that loves God? It is the person who keeps his commandments. So you see, we really have come under a different type of legalism. Under the old law we were simply commanded to do what by nature we didn’t want to do, but under Grace (love) we should want to do what God commands us. Love is a powerful force when it operates into our will. There is nothing a person will refuse to do for someone who they really love. Greater love has no man than this that he gives his life for his friends
Our response to Calvary should reasonably be the giving of our lives, the offering of our bodies as a living sacrifice unto God (Rom 12:1)
Therefore we should speak of the dangers of legalism with respect, for one man's legalism could well be another man's sanctification. The dangers of condemning legalism without truly defining what it means (end of the Law of Moses) could lead a second generation to see it as an excuse for spending their time money and energy on the pleasures of the world and the satisfaction of the flesh. Indeed, sadly this can well be seen in part today among some strong exponents of anti-legalism. Hence the reason that a true understanding of these two great doctrines should be expounded.
The key to the doctrine of justification is Faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Faith (not works) is man's part, and when God sees the faith he then pours out his grace and love upon them in forgiveness and the gift of His Holy Spirit. God’s unconditional love for us has a purpose. The old parable of the wind and the sun trying to get the man to take off his heavy overcoat illustrates this powerful force of love.
Supposing a man desired to obtain some item or achievement. However in order to obtain what he desired he was told it would cost him a goodly sum to begin with, and thereafter a weekly payment of 50% to 90% of his wages for the rest of his life. You would hardly think that even one man would willingly submit to such conditions, yet almost every man who gets married takes on himself as commitment such as that..
So we should not be surprised that a great section of this epistle is taken up in commands for Christian living. We are not justified by obeying these commands, for we are already justified by faith in Jesus Christ, but our Sanctification is truly our response to the desires and prompts of the HOLY Spirit within us. It is his work to prepare the bride for her marriage to Christ and ch 4:16 explains that he does this by washing the bride in the word of God.
So we can find at least 43 “commands” in this epistle. So much for freedom from "legalism" If we obey them, then the word does indeed wash us clean and keeps us clean. How can a young man cleanse his way?
Here is that list of all-life-embracing commands, which love alone will energise us to keep willingly.
I trust you can now see how this epistle was written to young Christians as a “nurture lesson”, rather than a deep theological exegesis of christian doctrine which some preachers have made it today
Paul introduces these commands with this exhortation.
17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles (heathen) walk, in the vanity of their mind,
1 That you put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
2 be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
3 And that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
4 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.
5 Be angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:
6 Neither give place to the devil.
7 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needs.
8 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
9 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption.
10 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
11 And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.
12 Be therefore followers of God, as dear children;
13 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.
14-16 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becomes saints;
17-19 Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.
20 Wherefore he says, Awake you that sleeps, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.
21 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
22 Wherefore be not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
23-24 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
25-28 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
29 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;
30 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
31 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
32 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
33 Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.
33a Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;)
That it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth.
34 And, fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
35 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;
36 And, masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.
37 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
38 Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
39 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
40 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
41 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
42 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
43 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;