We’re currently going through Ephesians at my church, and we have just crossed the halfway mark of the book. This seemed to me like a great place to have a think about the structure of Ephesians, because embedded within it is a great lesson about how the Christian should view the relationship between theology (or any study of the Bible, really) and the way we live our lives.
You can think of Ephesians in two big blocks – the first half of the book (chapters 1-3) is one, and the second half (chapters 4-6) is another. The first block contains a lot of theological insight and teaching, and the second block is more practical insight into how we should live as a result of that teaching. The second block, of course, is completely dependent on the first. The practical advice can only be given once the theological insight has been understood.
Ephesians 4:1, then, is the crux of the whole book. It’s the turning point between the first half (teaching) and the second half (practical advice). Having concluded his teaching and prayer in the first half, we writes, “I urge you to live a life worthing of the calling you have received” (4:1). The second half of the book is primarily Paul explaining – in practical, concrete terms – how the Ephesians should live in light of everything God has done, and the life that he has called them to.
The first 3 chapters contains a lot of deep theological truths: we’ve been given every spiritual blessing in Christ, we’ve been predestined and chosen in Christ, sealed with the Holy Spirit, rescued from eternal death, made one in Christ, made into an ever-growing dwelling where God lives by His Spirit… and heaps more. These are very high, lofty truths. But the problem with such lofty truths is that they feel very disconnected from our everyday lives.
- So what if I’ve been sealed with the Spirit (1:13)? What does that actually look like, and how on earth do I respond to that?
- Okay, God’s people have been made one in Christ (2:13), but how does that actually play out in my life?
- It’s great that Jesus has sacrificed Himself for the good of His church (1:7), but what concrete implications does this have for how I live?
Good theology is important, but it is of no use to us if it doesn’t connect to how we live. The book of Ephesians is a great example of how we connect the dots. As you move into the second half of Ephesians, be on the look out for the ways in which Paul connects great spiritual truths to practical ways that we should live.
- Since you’ve been sealed with the Spirit, you should arm yourself with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (6:17) – the Bible.
- If we’ve been made one in Christ, then you need to live in unity and love with believers of other races, without hostility (2:14).
- Because Jesus sacrificed Himself for the good of His church, you husbands should likewise sacrifice yourselves for the good of your wives (5:25). You are to put her before yourself and seek her good before your own, just as Christ did so for His bride, the church.
These are just a few examples of the many concrete applications that we can draw from the book of Ephesians. It’s absolutely vital for the Christian life that we grasp the importance of theology and how it connects to our life, which isn’t always easy. There are two extremes that we should seek to avoid:
On the one hand, some people love to study theology, to stretch their brains, to learn, and to debate and discuss in-depth theology, but it has no connection to the way they live their lives. If you find yourself more tempted to lean in this direction, be very careful that you don’t let Christianity become merely an intellectual exercise. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).
On the other hand, some people couldn’t care less about theology, because they would rather just live good lives for Jesus. But since their life practice isn’t informed by and based on good theology, they are prone to go astray. If you find yourself eager to do good works, yet you are bored by studying the Bible, then I encourage you to remember that the Bible is the only sure way that we can know how to live and do good works. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16).
Rather than falling into either of these extremes, we are to study the Bible and theology in order that we might better know God, His character, and His will for our lives. We learn and listen in order that we might live rightly, and honour God in all that we do. It is absolutely vital that we connect the dots between theology and the way we live our lives. Either one of these two is fatally insufficient on its own.
So whether you’re reading Ephesians or some other part of the Bible at the moment, be on the lookout for how these practical applications are tied to the great spiritual truths of what God has done for us in Jesus. They’re not always handed to you on a platter, but they’re always worth your time. Listen, learn, read, and study the Bible – not just to gain head knowledge, but so that your life might be changed.
Just as Paul urged the Ephesians, then, so I urge you now to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
Don’t try figure out how to do so apart from the teaching of the Bible. And don’t study the Bible if you’re not going to let it affect the way you live.