The Apostle Paul probably wrote Ephesians during a two year prison stay in Rome (59-61AD), towards the end of his life. It was probably written at a similar time to his letters to the Colossians and Philemon. The wording in Ephesians 6:21-22 and Colossians 4:7-8, explains that Tychicus acts as the postman for both. The letter was probably intended to be shared with other churches of Asia Minor, including Ephesus as ‘Ephesus’ is not in the original manuscript. However, Ephesus is accepted as being the primary destination because Paul says he had been glad to hear news of them (1:15) which makes sense because, according to Acts, Paul had spent three years with the Ephesian church.
The city of Ephesus was a major city in the ancient world, estimated to have 300,000 inhabitants, and to be the second largest in the world at that time. It included the Temple of Artemis (or Diana, according to her Roman name) ranked as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ephesus became a good base for Paul’s missionary work. In Acts we read that he went into the synagogue there and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God (Acts 19:8). This was around Spring 52AD. He later taught in the school of Tryannus, in Ephesus, for two years. Luke records as a result, ‘all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.’ (Acts 19:9-10).
But Ephesus was a challenging place to preach. It had many who used charms and magic and evil spirits, which may explain why Paul felt the need to mention the spiritual battle that Christians face.
The letter is a little like the letter to the Romans because it contains Paul’s inspired doctrinal definitions of the relationship between God and the believer, and how Christians should live, rather than a specific focus on an issue.
It seems likely that Paul was looking to encourage the churches in Asia Minor, especially as he anticipated heading west, towards Spain. He hears news of the church in Colossae facing heretical challenges and so decides to finish his letter to the Ephesians and use some of the same material to write to the Colossians. The news of heresy may have come from Epaphroditus or Onesimus. Onesimus was a runaway slave, who had abandoned and robbed his owner. Paul writes to Philemon (in Colossae) at the same time to encourage him to accept the slave back, as a fellow Christian. Tychicus is thus able to take the three letters (Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon) on the same journey.
Why read it?
Know why you are here
The way Paul divides the letter gives us a clue to how we need to think about faith. In it he spends the first half telling us who we are as Christians and then the second half explaining how we should behave. We are Christians because of God’s unmerited favour, and Paul explores the rich language of this, especially how we are adopted into God’s family. All people with this faith - Jews and Gentiles alike - were dead in their transgressions and sins but have been made alive because of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Know what you are here for
If we know who we are as Christians, we then live this out in our daily lives. We don’t live good lives to earn our salvation, but because we are saved, we learn how to live. Paul explores how you should live in the home, in the work place, in relationships, and in the church.
The local church is an important place for you to develop your relationship with God. Jesus has given the church ministers so that you can be enabled to play your part in serving. So don’t expect them to do it all, but allow them to equip you for involvement.
Improve your praying
On two occasions Paul includes two of his prayers for the Ephesians, providing a model of the sort of things we can pray for ourselves and others. Paul asks that the church grows in knowledge and understanding of God, and we can pray the same.
The letter includes one of the most thorough sections on our spiritual battle in the whole New Testament, and how you can withstand the very worst that the enemy can throw at you, by resting in what Jesus has done and taking authority in His name.