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Bookends: The opening and closing of Ephesians

Posted by on Dec 17, 2012 in scripture | 7 comments

Bookends: The opening and closing of Ephesians

Yesterday, when we gathered together with the church, we studied the last part of the book of Ephesians together. We spent about an hour discussing Ephesians 6:10-24.

As we’ve worked our way through this book together, different people have led our discussion – we usually call it “leading” or “facilitating.” This time, it was my turn to facilitate our discussion. Because of that, I probably had more to say than I normally do. I thought I would write a few posts about some of my observations on Ephesians 6:10-24, and even a few observations made by my brothers and sisters in Christ.

To begin with, Paul begins this section with an exhortation to “Be strong” (or, literally, “be strengthened” or “be made strong”) in the Lord. (Ephesians 6:10) Why did Paul want the Ephesians to be strengthened in (or by) the Lord? Because he knew that their battles was against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) With spiritual opponents like these, the Ephesians needed the power that can only be given by God.

But, then, that’s exactly how Paul started this letter. He started by praying that the Ephesians would understand the power that was available to them. What kind of power was that?

[I pray that you may know] what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:19-21 ESV)

So, at the beginning and end of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminded his readers of God’s power that was available to them, the power that subdued (and subdues) all spiritual enemies.

In literary terms, this is called an “inclusio.” Authors use the same or similar words, phrase, or themes at the beginning and ending of a section as a way to bracket or envelope that section of writing. The inclusio works to unify that section or writing.

In this case, then, the inclusio of Ephesians 1:19-21 and Ephesians 6:10-12 bracket almost the entire letter of Ephesians. And, the focus of the inclusio sections is on the power of God to overcome spiritual enemies.

I think the connection between those two passages in Ephesians is pretty straightforward. But, that connection leads to a more important question…

Does the fact that Paul focuses on the power of God having overcome (or to overcome) spiritual enemies at the beginning (Ephesians 1:19-21) and closing (Ephesians 6:10-12) of his letter to the Ephesians indicate Paul’s overall purpose in this letter?


7 Comments

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  1. 12-17-2012

    Ephesians is a beautiful exhortation on the Body of Christ – His ekklesia. Ekklesia, which is often translated “church” in our English Bibles, most commonly meant the body politic over a city. It was those “called out” to preside over a city on behalf of the ruling authority – most often the Roman Emperor. Thus, Paul opens and closes the book of Ephesians with a declaration of our authority in and through Christ over all other powers, principalities and authorities. That authority is express by and through His governing body politic in each city – His ekklesia.

  2. 12-17-2012

    Jim,

    Yes, Ephesians has always been one of my favorite books of the New Testament. I love the way Paul beging by saying that Jesus was raised and seated with God, then reminds his readers that they too have been raised and seated with God. There is so much parallel between Christ and us in that letter. We really get a sense of where our source of power is located.

    -Alan

  3. 12-17-2012

    Obviously Paul was a prophet and God let him in on lots of secrets,even the secrets that Gentiles would be saved. Therefore, he must have known what trials the Ephesians were about to encounter. I believe you are right about the overall purpose of the letter. It applies today as much as it did in Paul’s day. I believe we are about to encounter trials far worse than theirs and we need to understand spiritual warfare as much, if not more than, the Ephesians.

  4. 12-18-2012

    Alan,
    A very important question indeed.
    Excuse me while I go read Ephesians.

  5. 12-18-2012

    Jean,

    Thanks for the comment. Paul definitely viewed the inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s family as a mystery… and one that had now been revealed. Thank God that we’re included in God’s family through Jesus Christ!

    Nelson,

    I’d love to hear your thoughts after reading the letter.

    -Alan

  6. 12-18-2012

    Alan,
    My comment grew too long, so now it’s an article on my website.
    Thanks for the inspiration.
    It is titled “There is Plenty for Everyone”.
    Nelson

  7. 12-20-2012

    Nelson,

    Thanks!

    Everyone,

    Here is a link to Neslon’s post: “There is plenty for everyone

    -Alan