I recently finished up a Bible study with our college and career class at church through the New Testament book of Ephesians, Paul’s letter to the Christians at Ephesus. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover the perfect title for a series through Ephesians until the very last lesson. That’s because the phrase I am using for the title of this series is literally the last two words of the entire book: “Love Incorruptible.”
The book of Ephesians is a wonderful letter full of affection, love, and sincere emotion on behalf of the Apostle Paul for these Ephesian believers. To say that the Apostle Paul feels a fatherly affection for these fledgling churches would be an understatement. To the Philippians he says, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (1:3). Likewise, to the Ephesians, he says, “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (1:16).
We could say then, from the start, that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is “rooted and grounded” in his own love for them as a spiritual father to spiritual children. Excluding the introduction and conclusion, the letter then is really composed of three large sections:
- The Love of God in the Gospel (1:3-2:10)
- The Love of Believers in the Church (2:11-5:21)
- The Love of Believers in the Home (5:22-6:9)
At the end, Paul concludes his letter with a benediction: “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus with love incorruptible.”
Many bypass Paul’s introductory addresses in the epistles as if they were rote, pedantic greetings with no theological significance; but nothing could be further from the truth. Far from being a perfunctory opening, Paul’s benediction, “Grace to you and peace from the God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” is filled with immense theological weight that reveals the heart of the gospel as giving sinners what they could never deserve. “Grace and peace” are offered to us from God, contrary to what we should otherwise expect (see 2:1-3).
1. The Love of God in the Gospel (1:3-2:10)
It is no stretch to say that Paul’s entire letter is summed up in this final benediction. To love the Lord Jesus with “love incorruptible” begins at the first with a sovereign, omnipotent God who knows and loves his own from “before the foundation of the world” (1:4) with a love that is uniquely incorruptible and indestructible. This divine, sovereign love accomplishes our salvation from the first to the last; it is a love that is not dependent on our good works, but certainly produces good works (2:8-10).
2. The Love of Believers in the Church (2:11-5:21)
As if to immediately convey the essence of these “good works” which are produced in us by faith, Paul devotes the largest chunk of the book detailing how this gracious, life-giving gospel changes, transforms, and affects our lives. Based on the foundation of the incorruptible love of God in the gospel, Paul describes the true spiritual unity that exists through the blood of Christ; a unity that links believers together as brothers and sisters with no earthly barriers of hostility or separation (2:14). Perhaps the most significant display of unity in the church is identified by Paul as the recognition and use of spiritual gifts for the mutual service of one another within the local body. Such gifts are given and empowered by the Spirit of God whereby God causes his people to rejoice, preserves them in the truth, and enables us to “walk in love” (4:12-15, 5:1-2, 5:18-21).
3. The Love of Believers in the Home (5:22-6:9)
A secondary sphere of the good works that are produced in us as a result of God’s incorruptible love in the gospel is that of the Christian home. Beginning (appropriately) with the core of the Christian home, husbands and wives, Paul details the submissive love and respect that is to exist between a husband and his wife. This sacred union is likened to nothing less than the cosmic union that exists between Christ and his Church, identified here as his bride. In fact, Paul says that this mystery is the ontological crux of marriage (5:32). Paul then addresses the Christian home in relation to children, slaves, and masters; detailing again how each relationship is to overflow with love and mutual respect (we’ll detail some of the difficulties when dealing with slaves at a later point).
Oddly enough, after nearly an entire letter devoted to incorruptible, indestructible love; Paul concludes with images of warfare. Paul is not unaware that the devil and all the powers of darkness are in a constant state of war against God and his purposes. Since Paul has been laboring to encourage believers to live and walk in God’s love, he is well aware that the enemy is close at hand, seeking to tear down every fortress of love that he can. As such, Paul reminds believers that the task of growing in love is not one that will be accomplished without a fight. The devil with all of his “flaming darts” is on the offensive and will stop at nothing to “steal, kill, and destroy” (6:16, Jn. 10:10). Paul concludes that believers, equipped with God’s armor and empowered by God’s Spirit, will be able to “withstand in the evil day” (6:13). This is because God’s love, which is the source of all love, has been destined to victory from the beginning.
As we continue through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in the coming posts, we’ll trace the sovereign love of God from the first to the last. That divine love which predestined and elected us from the beginning is the same love that is empowering the brotherly love in the Church and the martial love in the home. Without fail, this divine, sovereign love will see us through to the end; giving us victory over the attacks of Satan and securing us forever in the hope of the gospel.