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
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Some Background To The Letter
One of the most poignant moments in the Book of Acts was when Paul said goodbye to the leaders of the Ephesian church. It was during the time when Paul was sailing from Greece on his way to Jerusalem. He stopped in Miletus and sent word to the Ephesian elders to visit him. Paul told them that the Holy Spirit had testified to him that chains and tribulations awaited him in Jerusalem.
But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more.Acts 20:24-25
Paul warned the Ephesian elders to “take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:28-30)
All of the elders from Ephesus “wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more.” (Acts 20:37-38)
Even though they wouldn’t see Paul again, they would receive a special letter from him a few years later – the Epistle to the Ephesians – and in that letter Paul would share with them some of the greatest truths ever written by a human being under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God.
Ephesians 2:8-10 in Greek
For by grace … τη γαρ χαριτι
The word chariti means “grace, kindness, favor.” This is from God’s heart to our heart. We saw this a few verses earlier when Paul wrote – “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” God’s love is at the ‘heart’ of all that He is doing today and all that He has done and will do. God’s love is the driving force behind His great and eternal plan.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.John 3:16-17
you have been saved … εστε σεσωσμενοι
The word sesōsmenoi means “rescue, save, heal, preserve.” The idea of the word is to ‘deliver out of danger and into safety.’ Paul wrote in verse 5, “by grace you have been saved,” and he repeated it in verse 8 and expanded on it.
through faith … δια της πιστεως
Our salvation, Paul wrote, is ‘through faith.’ Faith is the ‘means’ by which a sinner accesses the salvation that comes from the grace of God. The word ‘faith’ is pisteōs and means “belief, trust, confidence.”
I understand how someone can be gracious toward us and how we can believe they are being gracious, but how can we have the faith to be saved by grace if we are ‘dead’ in trespasses and sins? How do we get past the ‘dead’ problem?
and that not of yourselves … και τουτο ουκ εξ υμων
What is “that”? Of course the grace of God is “not of yourselves.” That’s obvious based on what Paul wrote a few sentences earlier about the richness of God’s mercy and “His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses.” But what about ‘faith’? Did Paul also mean that ‘faith’ is not of ourselves? Could it be that someone who is dead in trespasses and sins, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and by nature a child of wrath, could not muster the ‘faith’ to be saved? If a person is ‘dead’ in trespasses and sins, was Paul saying there is no way for that person to have a flicker of ‘life’ to believe in God’s salvation? Is there no way a sinner can play a role in their own salvation?
I ask those questions because many people think they have the ability to ‘work up’ the faith to believe in God’s salvation and when they do they can share in some of credit for their own salvation. Is that true?
The issue here is the ‘source’ of ‘faith.’ From whence does it come to us? Is ‘God’ the source or are ‘we’ the source? Keep in mind that sinners are “dead in trespasses and sins” (2:1). Can a ‘dead man’ believe anything? Can a ‘dead man’ respond to anything? What must be done so that a ‘dead man’ can believe and respond?
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).Ephesians 2:4-5
God is the One who “made us alive together with Christ” even when “we were dead in trespasses.” God made us “alive together with Christ” and “raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:5-6).
That’s why salvation is “not of ourselves.” We had nothing to do with it. So then, what is it if not something we cause to happen?
it is the gift of God … θεου το δωρον
Aaah, and there we have it. Salvation is the ‘gift’ of God. The word ‘gift’ is dōron and means “present, offering, gift” and focuses on the free nature of the gift. Yes, people are told to ‘believe’ in Jesus. That’s what Paul told the Philippian jailer to do (Acts 16:31) and what he wrote to the Christians in Rome –
… that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.Romans 10:9-10
Believing is not a ‘work’ on our part for which we can claim credit. We are saved when we believe in Jesus Christ – when we confess with out mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead. However, the act of confessing and believing is “not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”
not of works … ουκ εξ εργων
The Greek words ouk ex translate “not as a result of.” The word ergōn means “deed, action, work that accomplishes something.” Paul gives us an oppositional view about salvation. It is God’s gift to us, not something for which we worked.
Most religions are based on the idea of performing ‘works’ for whatever the religions view as ‘salvation.’ Paul’s audience in Ephesus, and other cities in the ancient world, were made up of Jews and Gentiles. Both groups were part of religions that emphasized ‘working’ for salvation.
The same is true today. Look into the foundational beliefs of religions around the world and ‘works’ plays a vital role in their relationship with whatever they view as God or supernatural being(s).
Paul struck a mighty blow to all of the world religions and various worldview when he wrote – “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works …”
There is an important reason for this –
lest anyone should boast … ινα μη τις καυχησηται
People will take credit for something they earn. If I work for something, I can boast about getting it. However, a free gift is different. If someone gives me that kind of gift, the credit goes to the giver of the gift. They gave the gift freely, without coercion. I may boast about what someone freely ‘gives’ me, but I can’t claim I earned it. Any credit goes to the gift-giver. In the case of salvation (eternal life), that credit goes to God – all of it. As Paul wrote in Galatians – “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)
This is a foundational truth that sets Christianity apart from every other religion and worldview. In order to understand what God accomplished in sending His Son from Heaven to earth to die for us, we must grasp the majesty of His saving us –
- by grace
- through faith
- not of ourselves
- it is the gift of God
- not of works
- lest anyone should boast
That the glory of that salvation belongs wholly to God and in no degree to man, and that it has been so planned and so effected as to take from us all ground for boasting, is enforced on Paul’s hearers again and again, in different connections, with anxious concern and utmost plainness of expression. Expositor’s Greek Testament
The suppression of boasting was a purpose of God in his scheme of salvation; not the chief or final purpose, any more than the manifestation of his grace in coming ages was his chief or final purpose in showing mercy to the Ephesians, but inseparable from the nature of his plan. The spirit of glorying is essentially unsuited to the relations between the creature and the Creator, between the Redeemer and the redeemed. Pulpit Commentary
For we are His workmanship … αυτου γαρ εσμεν ποιημα
This verse, verse 10, is often overlooked by Christians. We quote verses 8 and 9 easily and often to support the truth that salvation is a free gift of God. No one can work for it. However, Paul does quickly add an important note about the importance of works.
First, Paul points out the we are God’s ‘workmanship.’ The Greek word is poiēma and means “a thing made, what has been made.” We Christians are God’s ‘workmanship.’ We are the ‘work’ of His hands and heart – God’s ‘handiwork.’
created in Christ Jesus … κτισθεντες εν χριστω ιησου
Paul goes on to say that God ‘created’ us in Christ Jesus for something. The word ‘created’ is the Greek word ktisthentes. It means “built, formed, shaped, made.” God created us “in” (en – inside, within) Christ Jesus for something. That something is ethical, spiritual in nature, rather than physical. That is what happens to a person when they are saved by grace through faith and not of themselves. God’s ‘work’ of grace in a sinner’s life brings about a new life which is both spiritual and ethical. That ‘new creation’ changes people on the inside as they are now ‘inside’ Christ Jesus. As Paul wrote the Corinthians – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
for good works … επι εργοις αγαθοις
God created us in Christ Jesus ‘for’ (with a view toward) ‘good works.’ The Greek words are ergois agathois (works good) and mean “deeds, actions” that are “intrinsically good, good in nature.”
While Ephesians 2:8-9 tell us ‘how’ we are saved, verse 10 tells us ‘why’ we are saved. We are saved to ‘work’. We are not saved ‘by’ good works, but we are saved ‘for’ good works.’ What we do in obedience to God’s will is not ‘for’ acceptance, but ‘from’ acceptance.’ God gives us the free gift of salvation, then puts us to work to fulfill His will for our lives.
Jesus made the interesting comment that “whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). The Lord was laser focused on doing His Father’s will – “He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 6:39) Jesus taught His disciples to pray – “Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.”(Matthew 6:10)
We learn something of the ‘work’ Jesus came to do from what the Apostle John wrote in his first letter – “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)
What is our work? To do the ‘will’ of God. As Paul wrote to Timothy – “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) God gave us His Word to thoroughly equip us for “every good work.”
which God prepared beforehand … οις προητοιμασεν ο θεος
The words “prepared beforehand” are an English translation of the Greek word proētoimasen. It means “to prepare or appoint beforehand, to predestine, made ready in advance.”
God designed a grand plan in eternity that included the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (e.g. 1 Peter 1:10-21; Ephesians 1:3-14; 2 Timothy 1:8-10) and our service to Him (e.g. Ephesians 2:10). Our service is explained in the phrase “good works.” That’s what God intends for us to do from the moment we are saved. The sooner a new Christian understands God’s purpose for their lives, the more they will glorify God and enjoy His blessings.
Here are some thoughts from other commentators about this important truth –
God prearranged a sphere of moral action for us to walk in. Not only are works the necessary outcome of faith, but the character and direction of the works are made ready by God. Dr. Marvin Vincent, Word Studies In The New Testament, Eerdmanns Publishing, 1946
God’s purpose in the place which He gave to good works in His decree was that they should actually and habitually be done by us. His final object was to make good works the very element of our life, the domain in which our action should move. That this should be the nature of our walk is implied in our being His handiwork, made anew by Him in Christ; that the good works which form the Divine aim of our life shall be realised is implied in their being designed and made ready for us in God’s decree; and that they are of God’s originating, and not of our own action and merit, is implied in the fact that we had ourselves to be made a new creation in Christ with a view to them. Expositor’s Greek Testament
The phrase does not state, but surely implies, the happy truth that the Divine pre-arrangement so maps out, as it were, the duties and the sufferings of the saint that his truest wisdom and deepest peace is to ‘do the next thing’ in the daily path, in the persuasion that it is part of a consistent plan for him. Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
that we should walk in them … ινα εν αυτοις περιπατησωμεν
“we should walk” is a translation of peripatēsōmen. It is the idea of “walking around” in a complete circuit. In an ethical sense this means how we conduct our life. In this context, it concerns how we conduct ourselves in the sphere of “good works.”
Another way of understanding the word is “to order one’s behavior.” How do we order our behavior, our conduct? How do we speak, act and react? Paul used the word peripatēsōmen many times in his letters.
In Romans 6:4, Paul wrote that Christians “should walk in newness of life.”
In Romans 13:13, Paul wrote that Christians should “walk properly…not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.”
In Galatians 5:16, Paul told Christians to “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul urged Christians to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
It is important how Christians “walk”. In our context of Ephesians 2:10, we are to “walk in good works.
Observe – Write what you see
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10
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 2:11-13 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.