Sabbath School Lesson for June 24-30, 2023
Overview of Lesson 1, Paul and the Ephesians
Memory Text: “Making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” Ephesians 1:9, 10 ESV
What to expect:
- Sunday: Paul, Evangelist to Ephesus–a description of the city of Ephesus and why miracles and book burning took place there
- Monday: A Riot in the Amphitheater–why a riot occurred and how the crowd was dispersed
- Tuesday: Hearing the Letter to the Ephesians–examining why Paul wrote to them and what he expected them to do with the letter
- Wednesday: Ephesians in Its Time–looking at the beginning and ending of Paul’s letter will help us understand why he wrote it
- Thursday–Ephesians, a Christ-Saturated Letter–“in Christ” is mentioned more than thirty times, with four metaphors of the church given
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is most interesting when we know a bit about the recipients and the overall purpose of the writer. We learn from the introduction of the whole quarter’s study that Ephesus was one of many cities where Paul planted Christian churches. It was the fourth-largest city in the Roman Empire–a thriving metropolis with a population of 250,000. It was an urban, port city, dominated by an established pagan culture. Paul’s letter was written in about the year 62 A.D. during his time of confinement in Rome.
The citizens of Ephesus seem to match the type of society many of us find ourselves in today. While pagan influences are not as prevalent, our largely secular tendencies still prove a major hindrance to our Christian walk. Surely, Paul has something we can profit from in his pastoral letter to the believers in Ephesus.
Sunday: Paul, Evangelist to Ephesus
Paul first visited Ephesus at the end of his second missionary tour, but didn’t stay long with them (Acts 18:18-21). It made sense to go to the capital of the Roman province of Asia though (a province that covered much of modern Asia Minor). The Jews that Paul met at the synagogue seemed interested in his teaching. They even wanted him to stay longer.
At the time Paul had felt compelled to reach Jerusalem, but when he was later able to return, he ended up staying with them for three years, firmly establishing a Christian church in Ephesus (Acts 20:31).
They weren’t without obstacles there, with so many pagan deities worshiped in the city. A major influence was the worship of the city’s protector goddess, named Artemis, called Diana by the Romans.
Acts 19 recounts several incidents that occurred in Ephesus. First, seven Jewish exorcists were attacked when they tried to drive away demons using the name of Christ, when they weren’t actually Christians. Another major episode was the large book burning that Paul’s preaching inspired. People burned all their valuable books of magic, as a public demonstration of their newfound Christian faith.
- What does this story tell us about using the name of Jesus, or even calling ourselves Christian?
- How was this book burning different from others that have been ordered by rogue leaders and authoritarian governments?
- Is book banning something also to be wary of?
Monday: A Riot in the Amphitheater
Things seemed to be going well for Paul’s work in Ephesus during the three years he was with them, but there were some rumblings of trouble coming their way. A silversmith named Demetrius began to cause others in his craft to complain that their trade was suffering because of the new teachings of Paul that did not call for the expensive idols they had been supplying. Their profits were going way down when people stopped needing idols to bow down to.
Protests reached a fever pitch and led to a major gathering and riot at the city’s large amphitheater, which seated 25,000 people. After lengthy chanting of “Great is Diana of the Ephesians”, a city clerk was finally able to dismiss the crowd, convincing them that they should seek legal means to have their complaints addressed, not do it through disorderly, riotous means.
This event, which threatened the lives of Paul and his helpers, caused the apostle to leave the city and move on to other fields of service.
- What does this story teach us about the difficulties of spreading the gospel and how we should react to conflict?
Tuesday: Hearing the Letter to the Ephesians
Such a large city as Ephesus meant that there were several house churches for the Christian believers. Paul’s letter would be read aloud in all of them, in hopes of reminding them what it meant to be a Christian and what God expected them to do with their faith.
Read his letter to the Ephesians aloud in one sitting and notice how much it feels like you’re listening to a sermon by Paul.
- Greeting and introductory blessing (Ephesians 1:1-14)
- Prayer for them to have spiritual wisdom (Ephesians 1:15-23)
- Their once fallen condition, compared to their new lives, saved by grace (Ephesians 2:1-10)
- How God brought Jews and Gentiles together to form His church (Ephesians 2:11-22)
- The reason Paul was sent to preach to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:1-13)
- Paul’s prayer that they would experience God’s love (Ephesians 3:14-21)
- How they should walk in unity, use their spiritual gifts, continue to grow their faith with the help of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4)
- By walking in God’s love, light, and wisdom, their homes would be greatly blessed (Ephesians 5-6:1-9)
- They should stand together as the army of God (Ephesians 6:10-20)
- Closing prayer (Ephesians 6:21-24)
- What metaphors (comparisons) of God’s church do you notice in Paul’s letter? [hint: a body, a building/temple, a bride, an army]
Wednesday: Ephesians in Its Time
Paul clearly identifies himself at the beginning of his letter, tenderly expressing his wishes for the Ephesian believers to be full of grace, peace, and love (Ephesians 1:1,2).
Once again, in the middle of his letter (at the beginning of chapter 3), he mentions himself by name and reminds them of his work of ministry there. Ephesians 3:13 states that they should not lose hope, despite any present difficulties, such as his imprisonment.
His closing includes a desire for them to know that he is well, despite his current, unfortunate confinement in Rome. And that his friend, Tychicus, was being sent to them with the letter. He wants them to feel comforted with this information, and once again sends them all the peace, love, and grace that God can provide.
Ephesians 1:1, 2 and 6:21-24
- How do these words confirm that Paul is indeed the author of these words to the Ephesians?
- Why was Paul worried that they might lose hope?
Thursday: Ephesians, a Christ-Saturated Letter
Christ is the main theme that permeates Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The phrase “in Christ”, or “in Him”, appears more than thirty times. He reminds them that they belong to Christ, that Christ has a plan for them, and that Christ is always there to help them in their God-appointed roles of glorifying the Father and saving humanity.
Much later, the apostle John was given a vision about seven churches, which would represent God’s church down through its history. The first one is Ephesus, which notably had Christ as its first love, but it became a love that was lost. Paul tries desperately to admonish them not to lose that first love they had for Christ when he was with them.
He continuously pointed out that they were the body of Christ, they were His temple, that they were the bride of Christ, and even were to function as an army of Christ’s prayer warriors.
- Why do you think Christ is mentioned so many times in this passage?
Revelation 14:6, 7
- In what way does Paul’s letter feel like the first angel’s message in Revelation?
Friday: Final Thoughts
The Ephesians certainly needed God’s armor to fight the fierce spiritual battles that had invaded their city. Paul reminded them that they were not fighting against human opponents, but “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NKJV).
This struggle could not be done in their own strength. Only the mighty power of God could free them from the evil forces that held their city captive. Their attempts to control these cosmic powers through charms, amulets, magical invocations, and idol worship would prove worthless in the end. Their only hope was to invoke the name of Christ and live according to His will.
Surely, today, many in the world feel they, too, are in the midst of evil forces. We see wars, natural disasters, and political upheavals all around us, no matter where we live on this planet. Only by placing our hope in the future God has planned for us will we be able to survive the coming storms of life that are sure to come to each of us.
We can learn much from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, a society much like our own.
Next Week: God’s Grand, Christ-Centered Plan
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