She had gone down in history as "America's Greatest Miser," yet when she died in 1916, "Hetty" Green left an estate valued at over $100 million. She ate cold oatmeal because it cost to heat it. Her son had to suffer a leg amputation, because she delayed so long in looking for a free clinic that his case became incurable. She was wealthy, yet she chose to live like a pauper. Eccentric? Certainly! Crazy? Perhaps—but nobody could prove it. She was so foolish that she hastened her own death by bringing on an attack of apoplexy while arguing about the value of drinking skimmed milk! But Hetty Green is an illustration of too many Christian believers today. They have limitless wealth at their disposal, and yet they live like paupers. It was to this kind of Christian that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Ephesians.
Some names in history we identify immediately, and "Paul" is one of them. His name was originally "Saul" (Acts 7:58); and, since he was from the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:5), it is likely he was named after the first king of Israel (1 Sam. 9). Unlike his namesake, however, Saul of Tarsus was obedient, and faithfully served God. As a devoted rabbi, Saul became the leader of the antichristian movement in Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2; Gal. 1:13-14). But in the midst of this activity, Saul was "arrested" by Jesus Christ and was converted (Acts 9:3ff; 26).
Saul of Tarsus became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). While he was ministering in the church of Antioch, he was called by the Spirit to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, and he obeyed (Acts 13:1-3). The Book of Acts records three missionary journeys that took Paul throughout the Roman Empire in one of the greatest evangelistic endeavors in church history. About the year 53, Paul first ministered in Ephesus but did not remain there (Acts 18:19-21). Two years later, while on his third journey, Paul stayed in Ephesus for at least two years and saw that whole vast area evangelized (Acts 19:1-20). During these years, he founded a strong church in the city that was dedicated to the worship of the goddess Diana. For a description of Paul's ministry in Ephesus, read Acts 20, and for an explanation of the opposition to Paul's ministry there, read Acts 19:21-41.
It was nearly ten years later when Paul wrote to his beloved friends in Ephesus. Paul was a prisoner in Rome (Eph. 3:1; 4:1; 6:20), and he wanted to share with these believers the great truths the Lord had taught him about Christ and the church. Compare Ephesians 6:21-22 with Colossians 4:7-9 and Philemon to get a better understanding of the historical background. Onesimus, a slave, ran away from Philemon, his master, who lived at Colosse. While in Rome, Onesimus met Paul and was converted. Tychicus, one of the pastors of the church at Colossae, which may have met in Philemon's house, was also in Rome to discuss some problems with Paul. So Paul took advantage of the presence of these two men to send three letters to his friends: the Epistle to the Ephesians, the Epistle to the Colossians, and the Epistle to Philemon. At the same time, he sent Onesimus back to his master.
So, the letter was written from Rome about the year a.d. 62. Though Paul was on trial for his life, he was concerned about the spiritual needs of the churches he had founded. As an apostle, "one sent with a commission," he had an obligation to teach them the Word of God and to seek to build them up in the faith (Eph. 4:11-12).
Are you surprised to find Paul addressing his letter to saints? After all, saints are dead people who have achieved such spiritual eminence that they have been given that special title, saints. Or are they?
No word in the New Testament has suffered more than this word saint. Even the dictionary defines a saint as a "person officially recognized for holiness of life." Who makes this official recognition? Usually some religious body, and the process by which a person becomes a saint is technically known as canonization. The deceased person's life is examined carefully to see whether he qualifies for sainthood. If the candidate's character and conduct are found to be above reproach, if he has been responsible for working at least two miracles, then he is qualified to be made a saint.
As interesting as this procedure is, we do not find it authorized in the Bible. Nine times in this brief letter, Paul addresses his readers as saints (Eph. 1:1, 15, 18; 2:19; 3:8, 18; 4:12; 5:3; 6:18). These saints were alive, not dead, though once they had been "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1-3). And it is clear that they had never performed any miracles, though they had experienced a miracle by trusting Christ as Saviour (Eph. 2:4-10). The word saint is simply one of the many terms used in the New Testament to describe "one who has trusted Jesus Christ as Saviour." The person is "alive," not only physically, but also spiritually (Eph. 2:1). You will find Christians called disciples (Acts 9:1, 10, 19, 25-26, 36, 38), people of the Way (Acts 9:2) and saints (Acts 9:13, 32, 41).
The word saint means "one who has been set apart." It is related to the word sanctified, which means "set apart." When the sinner trusts Christ as his Saviour, he is taken out of "the world" and placed "in Christ." The believer is in the world physically, but not of the world spiritually (John 17:14-16). Like a scuba diver, he exists in an alien environment because he possesses special equipment—in this case, the indwelling Holy Spirit of God. Every true believer possesses the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19-20), and it is through the Spirit's power that the Christian is able to function in the world.
Now for the important question: How did these people at Ephesus become saints? The answer is found in two words: "faithful" and "grace" (Eph. 1:1-2). When Paul addresses his letter to the "saints... and faithful in Christ Jesus" he is not addressing two different groups of people. The word faithful carries the meaning of "believers in Christ Jesus." These people were not saved by living faithful lives; rather they put their faith in Christ and were saved. This is clear from Ephesians 1:12-14, 19.
The word grace is used twelve times in Ephesians, and refers to "the kindness of God toward undeserving people." Grace and mercy often are found together in the Bible, and they certainly belong together in the experience of salvation. Grace and faith go together, because the only way to experience grace and salvation is through faith (Eph. 2:8-9).
The phrase "in Christ Jesus" is used twenty-seven times in this letter! It describes the spiritual position of the believer: he is identified with Christ, he is in Christ, and therefore is able to draw on the wealth of Christ for his own daily living.
Each book in the Bible has its own special theme and message, even though it may deal with many different topics. Genesis is the book of beginnings; Matthew is the book of the kingdom; Galatians is the book of liberty. Ephesians 1:3 states its theme: the Christian's riches in Christ.
The source of our blessings. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." God the Father has made us rich in Jesus Christ! When you were born again into God's family, you were born rich. Through Christ, you share in the riches of God's grace (Eph. 1:7; 2:7), God's glory (Eph. 1:18; 3:16), God's mercy (Eph. 2:4), and "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8). Our Heavenly Father is not poor; He is rich—and He has made us rich in His Son.
J. Paul Getty, one of the richest men in the world, was worth an estimated $1.3 billion. The weekly income of some of the "oil sheiks" runs into the millions. Yet all of this wealth is but "pennies" when compared with the spiritual wealth we have in Christ. In this letter, Paul explains to us what these riches are and how we may draw on them for effective Christian living.
The scope of our blessings. We have "all spiritual blessings." This can be translated "all the blessings of the Spirit," referring to the Holy Spirit of God. In the Old Testament, God promised His earthly people, Israel, material blessings as a reward for their obedience (Deut. 28:1-13). Today, He promises to supply all our needs "according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19), but He does not promise to shield us from either poverty or pain. The Father has given us every blessing of the Spirit, everything we need for a successful, satisfying Christian life. The spiritual is far more important than the material.
The Holy Spirit is mentioned many times in this letter, because He is the one who channels our riches to us from the Father, through the Son. Not to know and depend on the Holy Spirit's provision is to live a life of spiritual poverty. No wonder Paul began bis Ephesian ministry asking some professed Christians if they really knew the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-7). We might ask professed Christians today, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? If the answer is no, then you are not saved." "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (Rom. 8:9). Unless you have the witness of the Spirit (Rom. 8:15-16), you cannot draw on the wealth of the Spirit.
The sphere of our blessings. Our blessings are "in heavenly places in Christ." Perhaps a clearer translation would be "in the heavenlies in Christ." The unsaved person is interested primarily in earthlies, because this is where he lives. Jesus called them "the children of this world" (Luke 16:8). The Christian's life is centered in heaven. His citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20); his name is written in heaven (Luke 10:20); his Father is in heaven; and his attention and affection ought to be centered on the things of heaven (Col. 3:1ff). Evangelist D.L. Moody used to warn about people who were so "heavenly minded they were no earthly good," but that is not what Paul is describing. "The heavenlies" (literal translation) describes that place where Jesus Christ is right now (Eph. 1:2) and where the believer is seated with Him (Eph. 2:6). The battles we fight are not with flesh and blood on earth, but with satanic powers "in the heavenlies" (Eph. 6:12).
The Christian really operates in two spheres: the human and the divine, the visible and the invisible. Physically, he is on the earth in a human body, but spiritually he is seated with Christ in the heavenly sphere—and it is this heavenly sphere that provides the power and direction for the earthly walk. The President of the United States is not always seated at his desk in the White House, but that executive chair represents the sphere of his life and power. No matter where he is, he is the President, because only he has the privilege of sitting at that desk. Likewise with the Christian: no matter where he may be on this earth, he is seated in the heavenlies with Jesus Christ, and this is the basis of his life and power.
When she was young, Victoria was shielded from the fact that she would be the next ruling monarch of England lest this knowledge spoil her. When her teacher finally did let her discover for herself that she would one day be Queen of England, Victoria's response was, "Then I will be good!" Her life would be controlled by her position. No matter where she was, Victoria was governed by the fact that she sat on the throne of England.
The fact that Paul is writing about wealth would be significant to his readers, because Ephesus was considered the bank of Asia. One of the seven wonders of the world, the great temple of Diana, was in Ephesus, and was not only a center for idolatrous worship, but also a depository for wealth. Some of the greatest art treasures of the ancient world were housed in this magnificent building. In this letter, Paul will compare the church of Jesus Christ to a temple and will explain the great wealth that Christ has in His church. Paul has already used the word riches; but you may want to check other "financial" words such as inheritance (Eph. 1:11, 14, 18; 5:5) and fullness, or filled (Eph. 1:10, 23; 3:19; 4:10, 13; 5:18). Paul is saying to us, "BE RICH!"
Paul's letter to the Ephesians is as carefully structured as that great temple of Diana, and it contains greater beauty and wealth! We inherit the wealth by faith and invest the wealth by works. Without this balance, our spiritual riches do us no good.