New Testament Lesson 39 (Ephesians)
Ephesians was written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome (AD 61–62). It may have been a circular letter for many branches in Asia. Its theme could be summarized as a concise and beautiful outline of how a person sets aside the things of this world in order to take upon himself the powers of godliness.
It is a deeply spiritual sermon that also provides a summary of Church doctrine and organization. It is directed to members of the Church who have maturity and understanding, and therefore it reflects great depth in its concepts. In fact, many Saints in Ephesus had been living righteously enough to be sealed up to eternal life (Ephesians 1:13).
Perhaps no other Pauline epistle contains so many doctrines that today are thought of as being distinctively Latter-day Saint. In it we find reference to the doctrine of foreordination, the dispensation of the fulness of times, the importance of Apostles and prophets in the Church, the idea that there is only one true and unified church, and the doctrine that the organization of the Church is essential. We also find some of the most sublime teachings on the role of the family and the importance of proper family life that are found anywhere in scripture.
OUR PAST & OUR DESTINY
God and Our Premortal Existence
● As usual, Paul opens with a distinction between the Father and the Son and with a statement of his apostolic authority (Ephesians 1:1–3). Paul uses “grace” twelve times and “peace” seven a times in Ephesians.
● “Predestinated” means foreordained (Ephesians 1:4–5). In King James’ time, predestination did not have the same connotation as it does today. Most modern versions translate the Greek word as “foreordain.” It is not an irrevocable decree of destiny but rather a divine declaration of trust. Based upon our actions in premortal life, God calls us to serve him in this life. Our exercise of free agency in accepting or rejecting that call determines the outcome.
The Dispensation of the Fullness of Times
● Paul speaks of our own latter-day dispensation, and suggest that what is happening to them will have an important role in the restoration (Ephesians 1:9–10).
— President Gordon B. Hinckley taught: “You and I are experiencing the profound and wonderful blessings of the dispensation of the fulness of times. In this day and time there have been restored to the earth all of the principles, powers, blessings, and keys of all previous dispensations.”1
Sealed by the Holy Spirit
● “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened” comes from a Greek idiom suggesting an enlightenment of the whole man through the gospel of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:18).
● Paul emphasizes the exalted status of Christ (Ephesians 1:21–23). The Church is the “body of Christ.” This suggests the status of those sealed up unto eternal life.
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “In the Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith describes the Father and the Son as ‘filling all in all’ because the Son, having overcome, has ‘received a fulness of the glory of the Father,’ and possesses ‘the same mind with the Father.’ Then he announces the conclusion to which Paul here only alludes: ‘And all those who keep his commandments shall grow up from grace to grace, and become heirs of the heavenly kingdom, and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ; possessing the same mind, being transformed into the same image or likeness, even the express image of him who fills all in all; being filled with the fulness of his glory, and become one in him, even as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one.3″4
● The full extent of God’s love and grace will be apparent when we find ourselves in the celestial kingdom because of it (Ephesians 2:6–7).
Saved by the Grace of Christ
● The Saints are made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1–5).
● Ultimately, we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8–10). Works cannot save us, but obedience to God’s commandments cannot be ignored. Paul taught that there must be a balance.
— C. S. Lewis said: “[The grace versus works controversy is like] asking which blade in a pair of scissors is [more] necessary.”5
● Christ made death subject to him, thereby freeing us from its bonds (Ephesians 4:8–9). This also applies to those in spirit prison, whom Christ visited before he ascended up on high.
LIVING LIKE SAINTS
The Church of Jesus Christ
● Paul describes the condition of those in the world without the gospel (Ephesians 2:11–12).
● Paul describes the condition of those who have been baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:19–22). Using a building metaphor, he calls Apostles and prophets the “foundation” and Jesus Christ the “chief corner stone (v. 20). Without these officers, the Church cannot continue to stand.
● Paul makes it clear the Church is led by revelation (Ephesians 3:3–8). A “mystery” is a sacred truth made known by revelation. The mystery spoken of here is that both Jew and Gentile alike may become heirs of the covenant through Christ, a doctrine not understood by ancient Israel. Note Paul’s humility about his calling as a minister.
● Paul describes the officers of the Church and its mission or purpose (Ephesians 4:11–14).
— Evangelists: The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “An Evangelist is a Patriarch. . . . Wherever the Church of Christ is established in the earth, there should be a Patriarch for the benefit of the posterity of the Saints, as it was with Jacob in giving his patriarchal blessing unto his sons, etc.”6
— Pastors: The Latin word means “shepherd,” one who leads a flock, as does a bishop or stake president. The term is translated variously in the English New Testament as “pastor,” “shepherd,” or “bishop.”
— Saints: The English word “saint” comes from the Latin sanctus and is used to translate the Greek hagios in the New Testament. All of these terms mean “holy ones”—those who are trying to become a holy people. The term in no way conveys sinlessness or any suggestion of superiority over other people. The members of the Church are given the name because they are attempting to live a holy life.
● There is only one Church of Jesus Christ, which is the appropriate place to exercise our faith and into which we must be baptized by authority (Ephesians 4:5).
Being Children of Light
● People of the world alienate themselves from God by refusing to look to God, by being “past feeling,” and giving themselves over to lasciviousness or immoral desires (Ephesians 4:18–19). Members of Christ’s Church are expected to do better—to live by the light they have been given.
● A list of sins to watch out for: Paul warns against involvement in “filthiness,” in a sexual context, “foolish talking,” and “jesting”—using polished and clever speech to accomplish evil purposes (Ephesians 5:4–6).
● The righteous are children of light, the wicked are children of darkness (Ephesians 5:8–14).
● Practical advice on how to dwell together in love as Saints (Ephesians 4:25–32).
● Characteristics of good relationships: wisdom, consideration for time, spiritual inspiration, good music, willingness to submit to others (Ephesians 5:15–21).
● The relationship of wives to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22–24).
● The relationship of husbands to their wives (Ephesians 5:25–33).
— President Spencer W. Kimball taught: “Can you find in all the holy scriptures where the Lord Jesus Christ ever failed his church? . . . Was he faithful? Was he true? Is there anything good and worthy that he did not give? Then that is what we ask—what he asks—of a husband. . . . Can you think of how he loved the Church? Its every breath was important to him. Its every growth, its every individual, was precious to him. He gave to those people all his energy, all his power, all his interest. He gave his life—what more could one give?”7
● The relationship of children to their parents (Ephesians 6:1–3).
● The relationship of parents to their children (Ephesians 6:4).
● The relationship of masters to slaves (Ephesians 6:5–9). In our present society, this would apply to the relationship between employers and their employees.
Putting on the Whole Armor of God
● Paul uses the metaphor of a Roman soldier’s armor to illustrate our best defenses against worldly enticements and Satan’s “fiery darts” (Ephesians 6:10–18).
— Our shields against the fiery darts of the Devil are truth and righteousness.
— Our weapons—with which we will defeat Satan—are faith and knowledge of scriptures.
— Truth will protect our virtue and chastity (our “loins”).
— Righteousness will protect our conduct (a “breastplate” for our heart, feelings, and desires).
— The gospel should direct our paths and objectives in life (our “feet”).
— Salvation should be central to all our thoughts (the “helmet” covering our head).
● Paul also advises prayer, both for ourselves and for our leaders (Ephesians 6:18–20).
1. In Conference Report, April 1992, 98; or Ensign, May 1992, 70.
2. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith , 149; also McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 2:493–95.
3. Joseph Smith, comp., Lectures on Faith , 50–51.
4. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:497.
5. Mere Christianity, 129.
6. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 151.
7. “Men of Example”, Address to religious educators, 12 Sept.