An Enduring Foundation – Ephesians
Lesson 1 – Ephesus in Context
Have you lived your whole life in the same community? How has your community shaped you?
- Life-long friendships
- Prayer support through hard times
- Exposure to economic, generational and ethnic variety
- It’s where I found the love of my life!
Until recently, I never lived more than nine years in the same place. Someone asked me which one was my favorite. I couldn’t pick. One had great scenery, another the nicest neighbors, one a house I really liked, and a wonderful church family at yet another. Each one also had a downside: too many stairs, parking issues, traffic noise, aloof neighbors. For some, the downsides outweighed the positives.
My father said of the community of his childhood: “it’s a great place to be from.”
This lesson will focus on the ancient city of Ephesus. It is representative of the places we come from spiritually.
This lesson is the first in a series broadly based on the book of Ephesians. The series won’t be a verse-by-verse study of the book; I’ll leave that for other Bible scholars. We’ll be looking at the history, the symbolism, the themes and the structure.
I call this a Christian life study. I have several goals for this series:
- help you identify basic spiritual principles and incorporate them into your day-to-day living
- work through different techniques for studying Scripture
- challenge you to make prayer a two-way conversation with God, and to intercede for the spiritual growth of your family and friends—and yourself
- let you “try out” different spiritual disciplines
- point you towards an intimate relationship with Christ
I see this as a building process. The Bible is our blueprint, and God is the Architect. We seek the wisdom of other saints. Brick by brick, board by board, our relationship with God becomes bigger, stronger, more glorious, more intimate.
The apostle Paul lived in Ephesus for a time, and from there the gospel spread to all Asia. Ephesus is one of the seven churches of Revelations. God had his hand on the city and the believers there.
We learn in Acts 19 about Paul’s time in Ephesus. I suggest that you read the whole chapter, but here are some highlights.
Acts 19:8-10 (CEV)
For three months Paul went to the Jewish meeting place and talked bravely with the people about God’s kingdom. He tried to win them over, but some of them were stubborn and refused to believe. In front of everyone they said terrible things about God’s Way. Paul left and took the followers with him to the lecture hall of Tyrannus. He spoke there every day for two years, until every Jew and Gentile in Asia had heard the Lord’s message.
We hesitate to speak about God in public places. Think about Paul: he spoke publicly for more than 800 days! And his words made quite an impact in Ephesus (and beyond):
At that time there was serious trouble because of the Lord’s Way. A silversmith named Demetrius had a business that made silver models of the temple of the goddess Artemis. Those who worked for him earned a lot of money. Demetrius brought together everyone who was in the same business and said:
Friends, you know that we make a good living at this. But you have surely seen and heard how this man Paul is upsetting a lot of people, not only in Ephesus, but almost everywhere in Asia. He claims that the gods we humans make are not really gods at all. Everyone will start saying terrible things about our business. They will stop respecting the temple of the goddess Artemis, who is worshiped in Asia and all over the world. Our great goddess will be forgotten!
When the workers heard this, they got angry and started shouting, “Great is Artemis, the goddess of the Ephesians!” Soon the whole city was in a riot . . .
Can you find Ephesus on a map? It was a Mediterranean seaport, on the coast of what is now Turkey. In Paul’s time it was a center of travel and trade. The Temple of Artemis referenced in this passage is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was 425 feet long, 220 feet wide (compare it to a football field, 360 x 160 feet). One of the temple’s 127 columns still stands today.
Artemis was a venerated Greek god (Diana to the Romans). She was the daughter of Zeus; twin sister to Apollo; goddess of the hunt, wild animals, childbirth and fertility; protector of young females and healer of women’s diseases. Images of the “Lady of Ephesus” on Ephesian coins depicted her with a staff of entwined serpents or a single serpent with its tail in its mouth.
Ephesus is also the first of the seven churches in Revelations.
This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Ephesus:
I am the one who holds the seven stars in my right hand, and I walk among the seven gold lampstands. Listen to what I say.
I know everything you have done, including your hard work and how you have endured. I know you won’t put up with anyone who is evil. When some people pretended to be apostles, you tested them and found out that they were liars. You have endured and gone through hard times because of me, and you have not given up.
But I do have something against you! And it is this: You don’t have as much love as you used to. Think about where you have fallen from, and then turn back and do as you did at first.
We are more familiar with the phrase from the NKJ version: you have left your first love. Have you moved away, in a spiritual sense, from your first love?
We can (and will) refer to commentaries and historical documents as we study Ephesians. But first and foremost, we should look to God for wisdom and understanding. Put your questions to God, and be attentive to his response.
These lessons will include snippets from my own dialog with God regarding our Scripture readings. These aren’t intended to be the final word on God’s Word. I present them merely as examples, sharing the process as well as the insights. My goal is to open the door for your own conversation with God, which may well head in an entirely different direction.
Typically, I ponder my Bible study on my commute to and from work:
Me: Why Ephesus? Lord God, why is it worth my time?
God: It is your call to persevere, and it is your vision.
Me: I understand the persevering part—to keep at it, like Paul. How is Ephesus my vision?
God: What could put your community “in a riot” because the people became believers?
Me: I can imagine the bars and liquor stores empty and their owners upset. And the drug dealers complaining that their customers are getting high on God.
God: Yes! Pray into that vision.
And another day, on a different track:
Me: Seems kind of odd, Lord, that the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is also the site of one of the seven churches of Revelation.
God: I don’t do coincidences. I do parallel symbolism. Remember: all that remains of Artemis and her temple are damaged images and a single pillar. The “Lady of Ephesus” is now an object of curiosity, not worship. The letters to Ephesus (Paul’s and the one in Revelation) have been and are still read by millions.
Me: I can see some similarities between Ephesus and my own culture. We don’t worship silver statues, but lots of people set their hearts on money and possessions. Future archeologists may dig up our shopping malls and think they are our temples.
God: And not be far off the mark.
Note that I am not presenting any dialog on my “first love.” I leave that as an open door for your own conversation with God. Talk with him about your first love, your congregation’s first love. Listen for his evaluation. God’s side of the discussion will most likely come as a gentle impression settling into your expectant mind, but it could include the remembrance of specific Scripture, unexpected encounters during your day, unsolicited comments from other Christians, memories long forgotten or even a the symbolism in a dream.
There are other topics in these passages to discuss with God: the connection between Artemis and the serpent, how Paul’s teaching reached everyone in the region, how those who said terrible things about Paul complained that he said terrible things about them, the accomplishments of the church in Ephesus that brought praise. Let God guide your thoughts.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon is known as the “prince of preachers.” He preached to almost 10,000 people in his lifetime. He was pastor of the New Park Street Chapel in London for 38 years. In 1858 he preached a sermon on Revelation 2:4, Declension from First Love. The full text is available online at http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0217.htm and is worth reading. Here’s just one section:
“. . . how happy you used to be in the ways of God. Your love was of that happy character that you could sing all day long; but now your religion has lost its lustre, the gold has become dim; you know that when you come to the Sacramental table, you often come there without enjoying it. There was a time when every bitter thing was sweet; whenever you heard the Word, it was all precious to you. Now you can grumble at the minister. Alas! the minister has many faults, but the question is, whether there has not been a greater change in you than there has been in him.”
Bible study is a spiritual discipline; that is, it takes planning and perseverance.
Plan to read the entire book of Ephesians several times over the next few months. As a group, we will look at the whole book, study individual words, focus on specific sections. Do the same on your own. Take time to read it in different versions. Rewrite it in your own words. Commentaries are useful, but don’t rush to them. Invite God to your Bible study. Develop the discipline of talking with God about God’s Word.
The discipline of Bible study should become a habit; that is, you should feel a serious lack if you miss it—akin to leaving home without your pocketbook. It is the essential foundation for your first love.