Four New Testament epistles attributed to the Apostle Paul mention that he is in prison: Ephesians 3:1, Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 1:7; Colossians 4:3; Philemon 1, 9, 13, 23.
We take these letters and compare them to the book of Acts in order to compile a timeline and greater context for the location and writing of these letters, to understand the big picture.
The Pastoral Letters (1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus) may also have been written from prison, but these are grouped separately.
The Prison Letters could have been sent from Caesarea, where Paul was imprisoned for two years (Acts 24:27), or from Rome where he spent two years in house arrest (Acts 28:16, Acts 28:30). The letters might also have originated from Ephesus, though the New Testament provides no record of Paul being imprisoned there. (1.)
It’s possible we may not have these letters had Paul not been imprisoned and been able to travel to these churches to visit them rather than writing to them, and we can see God’s sovereignty in that way.
Scholars’ comments on Ephesians:
F. F. Bruce, noted New Testament scholar, calls Ephesians “the quintessence (most perfect embodiment of something; pure and concentrated) of Paulinism.” (2)
C. H. Dodd called Ephesians “the crown of Paulinism.” (3)
William Hendriksen: Ephesians has been called “the divinest composition of man,” “the distilled essence of the Christian religion,” “the most authoritative and most consummate compendium of the Christian faith,” “full to the brim with thoughts and doctrines sublime and momentous.”
It’s hard to put your hand around this book and summarize a singular, or collection of, theme(s).
- There is no correction in this letter
- There is an extensive Christology in the first chapter
- The book contains interesting description of the immeasurable blessings for believers
- The impact of this on Paul personally
The brevity of this book lacks no depth.
Th scope of theological terms in this book is remarkable.
This book is chock-full of terms that are a deep study in and of themselves.
A possible summary:
Paul paints a remarkable picture of Christ’s work, from eternity past into eternity future. Lavishly he sketches the theological framework and beauty of God’s love toward sinful mankind, and presents the gospel in unforgettable terms, for by grace you have been saved, then he marshals the practical impact –the changes –that accompany the believer’s new relationship. Interlaced, Paul briefly explains his personal role in God’s plan, and hastens to teach the Ephesians –and us –what Christ’s church is to be.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.
A quick reminder, when we say “bless God,” we’re not doing something magical or religious. We’re talking about who God is and what He’s done. Blessing God means to speak well of Him (refer to 1 Chronicles 29 to understand what it means to bless God).
Why is that helpful? Does God need to hear it?
When we bless God, we’re reminding ourselves what He’s done.
When we read Ephesians 1:3, we remind ourselves that He has given us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.
The material blessings we thank God for in this life are minuscule compared to who God is, and the spiritual blessings He has given us.
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,14who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
You have to hear it and embrace it. Paul is explaining God’s sovereign election of believers, the redemption accomplished by Jesus, and now the seal of the Spirit. This seal is the Holy Spirit’s work and promise that secures, authenticates, and approves the new identification.
This is Trinitarian doctrine. Without a trinitarian Godhead, there is no salvation.
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins”
The cold, hard fact in our face: we were dead in our trespasses and sin. That’s hard doctrine. All of us were dead, and the good news of the Gospel is we respond by faith…
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” Ephesians 2:4-5
But God — rich in mercy — because of His great love…made us alive.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Arguably the (or one of the) most remarkable sentences in the world. God can make dead men live, and does it apart from any human work so that it’s clear who has done the work.
Paul’s theological approach to explaining salvation, beginning with his mention of the surpassing riches of His grace in v. 7, how can God save us? Because He loves us. We can’t be good enough to get to God, but because of His love, He was good enough to come to us.
We may not have a clue how constrained we are to the “right v. wrong” thing in our heads, like a set of scales – we need to “make up” for the wrong we do – but you can’t do that with God. Nothing we do can make up for our sin, only what Christ did.
This is so confounding to us, but it can be so liberating!
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
What do you have to do to be saved?
The reason that salvation does not come from our work is that salvation is God’s work. The word in Ephesians 2:10 is “workmanship” or “masterpiece” – Paul is saying that YOU are His workmanship.
We could never do enough to save ourselves.
Faith is the means by which we appropriate grace. Faith is not a work. We put our trust in Christ to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, that’s faith.
Do you believe Christ is who He said He is? All those who put their trust in Him are given eternal life and the forgiveness of sin.
Acts 20:28-30/Revelation 2:2-4
- Jason C. Kuo, “Prison Letters,”ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary(Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
- As cited by F. F. Bruce in The Epistles To The Colossians, To Philemon, and To the Ephesians(Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), p. 229.
- William Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians(Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1967), p. 32.
- 40 Evidences You’ve Lost Your First Love.