Apparently there’s a debate as to which church this letter was intended for, something that I haven’t necessarily come to a final conclusion about yet. Many scholars believe that the Book of Ephesians wasn’t solely meant for the church at Ephesus but rather the whole of Asia Minor. This is mainly because the word “Ephesus” wasn’t in the first verse in the original transcript of the letter. It is also strange that Paul seemed to be quite impersonal and unspecific, whereas in his other letters, like to the church at Corinth, he wrote with deep affections and addressed particular problems they were having. Paul probably would have done the same if he was writing to the church at Ephesus since he founded the church and spent three years with the Ephesians according to the Book of Acts.
This makes me favor what most scholars have concluded that the letter was a “circular letter” intended to go around all the churches across the Asia Minor. This, however, is only the opinion of a group of scholars, while others scholars maintain that Paul did in fact write to the church at Ephesus, as this is was virtually left undisputed in the early church (except for the heretical Marcion who argued the letter was written to the Laodiceans).
Whether Paul wrote specifically to Ephesus or to the believers across the Asia Minor, Paul seems to be addressing the false worldview that was compromising the believers’ faith across the peninsula. In the first century, the practice of magic and astrological religions was common. There were also many local cults and followers of the goddesses Cybele and Artemis.
In addition, pre-Gnostic ideas began to emerge (although full blown Gnosticism didn’t rise until after the time of the apostles). Pre-Gnosticism
beliefs may have influenced the Christians at the time to trust in knowledge as the source of salvation (the Greek word for “knowledge” is gnosis). Knowledge, in the form of mysteries, was the answer to everything. Mystery religions developed around these beliefs. Because their rituals and rites were kept private to outsiders, there isn’t much information regarding these secret practices.
Additionally, because of the rise of “cosmic dualism,” people believed that their bodies were evil and that only the human spirit was good, and were therefore disconnected from each other. This led people into either asceticism (where the denial of worldly pleasures and punishment of the body was encouraged) or libertinism (where overindulgence without restraint was encouraged since the body was bad).
All of these different cults and various forms of religious practices led people on the whole to fear evil spirits and the “cosmic powers.” So the question for the believers in Asia Minor, what was the way to salvation? Where did Jesus stand in comparison to the authority of these evil spirits? What exactly did Jesus accomplish on the cross?
Paul makes it very clear that in the first part of the book that everything that the believers ever needed was found completely in Jesus:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…
The believers didn’t have to worry or fear that the evil spirits might take their salvation away. They were saved once and for all as soon as they believed and Jesus maintained all authority:
In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit…
God put this power to work 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 age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church…
Their need for spiritual wisdom and understanding was also found in God, not in secret religions and rituals:
With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ.
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him…
And perhaps best of all, their need for eternal salvation was met in Christ. They didn’t need to become more spiritual to obtain this. They could rest in the knowledge that His grace was enough:
All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ —by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…
This letter is beautiful. It proves that mankind can rely fully on God for all of their needs. We are needy human beings, and God knows what we need and when we need it.
Because He is true to fulfill our needs (for wholeness, peace, joy, love, wisdom, comfort etc), this should encourage all of us to learn how to trust in
Him him fully.
This can only come through experiencing His provision in a personal relationship with Him. It’s a process of learning how to get our needs med in Him, but He will teach us and show us if we continue to seek it.