We are sharing a special series about teaching the Book of Ephesians in small groups. If you haven’t read the Introduction to the series, we invite you to read it here.
Whether you are interested in studying Ephesians for the purpose of teaching it to small groups or for your own personal study, we believe you will find this series helpful.
Basic Premises for Studying Scripture
- God is worth knowing
- His Word is worth learning and obeying
- Because God is worth knowing and His Word is worth learning, we will follow a proven method of knowing Him and learning His Word.
- We will use the I – M – D – I method of Bible study:
- Inductive – Methodical – Direct – Independent
- Inductive study – “logical, objective, impartial reasoning” … examining specifics of Scripture before reaching conclusions
- Methodical study – “a way or path of transit” (Greek – methodos) … focused on taking the proper path to gaining knowledge about God
- Direct study – “relying on Scripture as the primary tool for learning”
- Independent study – “original thinking combined with Spirit insight”
- Observe (See and Record)
- Question (Ask and Answer)
- Interpret (Determine the Holy Spirit’s Intent)
- Apply (How God’s Truth applies to your life)
Bible Study – The Group Process
We invite you to model the process of observing, asking questions for interpretation, interpreting for meaning, and applying for discipleship for your small group. This process may be new to some of the people in your group, so going through it with them for awhile may help them feel comfortable with how to do it.
One of the biggest mistakes people make in reading the Bible is trying to interpret the meaning of individual verses before observing everything in the verses. Studying in context also helps keep us from making incorrect interpretations. That means starting the observation process at the beginning of each Bible book.
The challenge in studying alone or with the group is trying to determine the meaning of passages in the Bible before assuring that we’ve observed everything in the passages and asked every possible question. We carefully answer all of the questions before reaching a conclusion to the meaning.
Read the Scripture and go through each step with your group. You may be able to cover observation,questions, interpretation and application in one meeting, but don’t rush the process. It takes time to see everything in a text, ask good questions, get good answers to those good questions, interpret the meaning of the text and apply the meaning to life. If it takes two or three meetings to do that for each text, that’s fine! The goal is to rightly divide God’s Word, not finish by a certain date.
Observe – Write what you see
“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, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.”
Ephesians 1:3-14 is one continuous thought. It’s one of the longest in the Bible (more than 200 words in Greek, more than 250 words in English) with a number of clauses making up this one, great sentence. How great is this sentence? It is among the richest, deepest and most important sentences in the Word of God. Paul reveals God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit in these verses.
You will be laying the theological groundwork for your group in verses 3-14, so we’ll share some thoughts to help you in the process.
First, we see the “will” of the Father, then the “work” of the Son, and the “witness” of the Spirit.
Paul began and ended this amazing sentence praising God – “Blessed be the God” (vs. 3) and “to the praise of His glory” (vs. 14). As we will see in our study of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, the glory of God is utmost on the apostle’s mind and heart; as it should be to every child of God.
Invite your group members to use their study guide to record all the words they believe are important to understanding Paul’s greeting.
Some of the important words are:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – two Greek words are translated “blessed” in the New Testament … makarismos and eulogia … markarismos is the idea of being “happy” about something … eulogia means “good speaking, praise, spoken well of” (our English word “eulogy” comes from eulogia) … the Greek word in Ephesians 1:3 is the adjective eulogetos and is always used in the New Testament to describe God … “Praise be to God”
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – Paul further describes God as the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” … He quickly defines God (theos) for his readers and introduces a special relationship between God the “Father” (pater) and “our Lord Jesus Christ” (kuriou hemon Iesou Christou) … We will see that the relationship between God the Father and God the Son plays an important role in the general and specific doctrines Paul taught the church through this letter.
who has blessed us – “who” is ho (the one) and points back to God as being the actor of the verb … eulogesas, the verb, is active voice, aorist tense in the Greek, meaning something God completed in the past and something we can look at and admire, like a photograph of an important event in our lives. It happened at a past time and had a huge impact on our lives. Christians are not waiting “to be” blessed. We are “already” blessed. We “were” blessed. We “have been” blessed. Our blessings going forward are based on the blessings God has already given us. We bless Him with words because of His gift of blessings. God always acts first. Our act of blessing (praising) God is always in response to His blessings (action).
With every spiritual blessing – pase (every) means “all, every kind” … eulogia pneumatike (blessing spiritual) is about “blessings” (noun) that come from the “spiritual,” which imply the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer, which Paul addresses later in this same sentence. The blessings are more than merely spiritual. They are “of and from” the spiritual (Spirit). The “kind” of blessings we have are only limited to the limits of the Holy Spirit. As we will see throughout Ephesians, Paul emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit on the human spirit … Paul uses an interesting literary technique here by using one word in three methodologies in the same clause of a lengthy sentence. The words are eulogetos (adjective), eulogesas (verb), and eulogia (noun). God who is blessed (praised) blessed us (gave to us) with every spiritual blessing (every kind of blessing from God’s Spirit) in the heavenly places – en tois epouraviois, “in the heavenlies,” pertains to those things that occur in Heaven … the work of God’s Spirit in blessings us was done in the sphere of “heavenly places,” far above the natural and petty things of this physical world in Christ – these blessings in the heavenly places are “in Christ,” meaning in the sphere of Christ, from Christ, because of Christ … just as He chose us in Him – kathos exelexato humas en auto … the word kathos means “even as, in conformity with the fact” … God’s blessing us is in conformity with the fact that He chose us … exelaxato (chosen, picked out, selected out of) is aorist tense, middle voice, indicative mood, which means God made a choice “for Himself” at a past time. Indicative mood presents God’s action of choosing as real and certain. His choice is an objective fact. It also carries the idea of choosing certain ones out of group, which means not choosing others in the same group. Think about what that meant to the Greek-speaking Christians who read Paul’s letter. What God did in choosing them was not because He had to do it. There was no outside force making God Him choose us. He chose because He wanted to for His own reasons. That precludes any idea that something about the Ephesians or us caused God to choose. He chose us because He wanted us for Himself without any pressure or purpose other than His own will … God’s choice was “in Him,” being in the context of “in Christ.” God the Father chose us for Himself in the sphere of God the Son.
Before the foundation of the world – God chose us for Himself in the sphere of His Son at a past time that Paul described as “before the foundation of the world” … pro kataboles kosmou … the word “foundation” comes from kataboles, which means “casting down, throwing down, laying down” … kosmou means “world” … “throwing down” the world is a description of God creating the world … God’s choosing us for Himself happened “before” (pro) He “threw down” the world. This is the idea of God choosing from eternity past, not just moments before He created. What a remarkable truth that God “chose” us before time and space. Think about this. Doesn’t the fact that God “chose” us before He created mean that He “knew” us before creation? Wouldn’t God choose what He knew? Think about how God knew you and chose you before He created the heavens and the earth. That fact should play a major role in shaping our faith and trust in God Who has known us from eternity.
That we should be – The present infinitive (einai) expresses purpose on God’s part, not obligation on ours. God had a wonderful purpose in choosing us in Christ “before the foundation of the world.” His purpose was that we would be “holy and without blame.” Paul presents the doctrine of God’s purpose first, then our responsibility for living out the doctrine later in this epistle.
Holy and without blame – holy is hagious and means “separated.” Ancient Greeks understood the word to be used as something that was sacred and “dedicated to the gods.” Once chosen and dedicated to the gods, the thing was not to be used again for secular or common purposes. God’s purpose in choosing us from eternity past was that we should be dedicated to Him. We are a separated people, dedicated to worship God and serve Him forever. God also purposed before the creation of the world that we should be “without blame.” The Greek word is amomous and means “without blemish.” The translators of the Hebrew Bible into Greek (Septuagint) used the word amoumous to describe animals that were without blemish and therefore acceptable as sacrifices to God. That is our standing before God because of Christ. Humans are not able to make themselves acceptable to God. He chose us before the creation of the world for the purpose of accepting us through the perfection of His Son.
Before Him in love – katenopion means “to see down in.” It is the idea of a deep and penetrating gaze into something. That is how God sees us. Hagar called God, El Roi, “You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees.” When Samuel was searching for the young man God would make the new king of Israel, the Lord said to him, “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) To stand “before” God is for Him to see deep down into the heart of our intent. He knows us better than we know ourselves. God chose us before Him “in love.” The word for love is agape. It is one of several Greek words translated “love,” but the noun agape and verb agapao are the dominant words for love used in the New Testament. In fact, Greeks in the ancient world rarely used the words agape and agapao. They are found primarily in the New Testament, leading some Greek scholars to think that Christians may have coined the word. Agape and agapao have the idea of “unconditional” love, which focuses on the one who loves rather than the one who is loved. It is not necessary for the one being loved to be worthy of that love. God loves the unlovely. Agape is primarily a “spiritual” love, rather than physical/lust (eros), mental/emotional (phileo), natural affection (storge), or deep desire (thelema). God was not under any “condition” to love us. His love is truly “unconditional.” Paul will explain this beautiful truth in more depth later in this epistle.
Having predestined us – It was in that unconditional love that God “predestined us” before the creation of the world. The word proorisas is aorist tense, active voice, nominate case, participle, which means that God determined, ordained in the past that He would do something to or for us. It is different than foreknowledge (knowing something beforehand). It is descriptive of God’s choice. Many Christians shy away from the doctrine of predestination because it has been so misunderstood and maligned through the centuries. Proorisas comes from the preposition pro and the verb horizo, which means “to mark out a boundary, define a limit.” When the preposition and verb are connected it means “before.” Predestination is something someone does “before” something else. In the case of God choosing us from before the foundation of the world, predestination is a type of decree. In the process of choosing us beforehand, God pre-determined something about us beforehand – thus the predestination or foreordination. In other places where the word proorisas or proorizo is used in the New Testament, it is used of God determining from eternity past.
To adoption as sons – What God determined in the past (before the creation of the world) was to “adopt” us “as sons.” The preposition eis is often translated as “with a view to” and signifies purpose or result. The act of God predestinating (foreordaining) is to the “adoption as sons.” The Greek word is huiothesian. Only the Apostle Paul uses it in the New Testament. He alone speaks of the adoption of sons. We will see later in Ephesians why he uses that specific word when speaking to Christians. Paul also uses the term in Romans 8 and Galatians 4. Huiothesian comes from huios, “a son,” and thesis, “a placing.” The Greeks understood huiothesian as a legal term, which meant “a placing in the condition of a son.” A child who did not have natural placement in a family would be adopted by the legal head of the family and placed into a legal position equal to that of a natural-born child. Under Roman law, the adopted son became a legal heir entitled to both property and the rights and burdens of civil status. The process of adoption was as real and as legally secure as the process of birth. That is what God chose to do to us from before the foundation of the world. He placed us into a real and legally secure position as “sons.”
By Jesus Christ to Himself – This adoption is “by” or “through” Jesus Christ to Himself – dia Iesou Christou eis auton. The preposition dia with the genitive case means “through, by means of.” It is often used with the genitive as the instrument used to accomplish something. God’s adoption of us as sons is “through, by means of” Jesus Christ. God “accomplished” His intent from before the creation of the world that we should be holy and without blemish before Him in love having predestined us to adoption as sons “by means of” His Son, Jesus Christ. The words eis auton, “to Himself,” speaks to the fact that the adoption of sons by Jesus Christ is to the God who predestined. How marvelous is that!
According to the good pleasure Of His will – “good pleasure” is eudokian. The Greek word comes from eu (well) and dokeo (to seem) and carries the idea of “gracious purpose, satisfaction with a good object in view, pleased with a choice.” God’s choice from before the foundation of the world to adopt us as sons was according to His gracious purpose- a purpose with which He was satisfied – as it came from “His will” (tou thelematos autou). The word thelematos speaks objectively to that which is willed. The Greeks also understood it be a desire which came from a person’s heart/emotions. God has deep feelings about His choosing us in Christ from before the foundation of the world. It is dominated by a sense of satisfaction based on what God willed to do based on His personal purposes. If someone asks why God chose them from eternity past to adopt them as sons, the answer is simple: it pleased Him to do so.
To the praise – eis epainon … this is the strengthened form of ainos (a tale, narration), which developed in ancient Greece into the idea of praise, commendation. What is it that is to be praised and commended?
Of the glory of His grace – doxes tes charitos autou … The word doxes (doxa) comes from dokeo (to seem). That makes doxes and eudokian (good pleasure) closely aligned. Doxes signifies the honor that results from a high opinion of someone or something. Paul and the other apostles use the word many times in their epistles to describe God, His Words and His Works. In the context of Ephesians 1:6, it is the glory of God’s “grace.” Charitous means “favor, kindness, gift, blessing, goodwill” and speaks of God’s Divine Character. The glory of God’s grace is what is to be praised and commended.
Look at what He has done for us! He chose us “in Him” before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” Is it any wonder that He should be praised and commended?
By which He made us accepted in the Beloved – es echaritosen humas en to egapemeno … “by which” refers to God’s “grace,” which He freely bestowed on those He chose. The word translated as “accepted” is echaritosen. It also comes from the root word for “grace” and carries the idea of receiving blessings because of favor. God’s acceptance of us is based on His “grace.” The words en to egapameno are translated “in the Beloved.” Egapameno comes from agapao and is a participle in the perfect tense, which speaks of an action completed in the past that has present and, in this context, permanent results. It also demonstrates the degree of love that God has for “the Beloved.” Who is the “Beloved?” It is God’s Son, Jesus Christ. We are graciously favored and accepted by God in Jesus.
Observe – Write what you see
“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, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:3-6
Question – Ask and answer questions based on observations
Interpret – What is the Holy Spirit’s intent in these verses?
Apply – How can you apply these spiritual truths to your life?
We will look at Ephesians 1:7-10 in the next part of our series, Teaching Ephesians.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.