Even in ruins Ephesus is an impressive site. When I visited Ephesus in 2003, Ergin, our tour guide, described it as a metropolis, calling it the “Big Apple of Asia Minor”. It certainly had similar features to many big cities: busy streets, theaters, a public library, places of worship, two thriving markets and even a brothel that advertised its location with a carving in the street that included directions! Life in Ephesus was really quite pleasant as long as there were no uprisings to disturb the peace of Rome. The climate was temperate and the city had a public sewage system, paved streets, beautiful architecture and homes heated with steam heat. People had jobs and families too. The world they lived in was not primitive as we are prone to think. It was sophisticated and very much like our own. But their culture was also steeped in pagan worship and myths, amoral indulgences and greed- very much like our own!
In spite of Artemis’ central role in the city’s economy and spiritual life, the Ephesians were a confused religious lot. Not only did they practice various forms of pagan worship, but sorcery and witchcraft as well. The streets of Ephesus were dotted with many temples to the various gods they worshipped. However, the worship of Artemis was the most prominent religion practiced there. Paul spent over 2 years in Ephesus and his ministry had a major impact on the people as witnessed by the showdown between Paul and the silversmiths in Acts 19 and a heartfelt good-bye in Acts 20:17-35. It is slightly surprising that Paul’s letter does not have an intimate slant to it as say Philippians does.
But there is no question that the Book of Ephesians is “The Queen of the Epistles” as William Barclay noted in his commentary. This is due to its presentation of the Church universal as the body of Christ (1:20-22; 2:14-18; 4:1-6), a holy temple built on living stones by the Holy Spirit (2:19-22), and a family to which every believer belongs (3:14-19). Ephesians also contains some of the most beautiful truths of the Christian faith: the role of each Person of the Trinity in bringing us salvation (1:3-14); the lost condition of man and wonder of grace (2:1-10); the unifying work of reconciliation through Christ (2:11-22); a call to work together and minister to one another (4:1-16) as well as instructions on life together with Christ as our model (5:1-2, 15-33; 6:1-9); and presents the tools by which the believer is equipped to walk the walk and fight the good fight (6:10-18).
One would think that living in a vibrant and thriving city nestled in an area with a temperate climate and located in a relatively peaceful corner of the Roman Empire that the people of Ephesus were a care-free and happy bunch. But as Lawrence Richards noted, “Though institutional religion was a great success in Ephesus and a source of both pride and profit, it failed to meet the deepest needs of the population”. It is into this mixture of the good life and hollow souls that the Gospel enters and transformation takes place (Acts 19:11-20). It may have been easy for believers in Ephesus to become distracted with the same pursuits in life as their non-believing counterparts. Of course, that never happens today! I am constantly struck by how similar our days are with theirs. I see the same empty pursuits in our culture today and unfortunately many believers get sucked into them as well. I am then driven to pray as Paul did in this eloquent letter (1:15-19; 3:14-19) because it is only by knowing Jesus that we will understand (even in the least bit possible) what life is truly meant to be.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 2/12/2017