Skip to content

Ecumenical Ephesians

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Study, Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples, ca. 1905 (Smithsonian American Art Museum, public domain)

The third chapter of Ephesians offers believers overwhelming yet mysterious divine power as a form of encouragement. Some interpreters focus on the personal benefit. God provides you the ability to break your prison of sin and relieve your suffering in the trials of life. This week’s Adult Bible Study Guide avoids this and focuses more on the communal. 

In the Teacher Comments, it helpfully highlights these themes:

1. Paul’s prayer and ideal for the church was to view the church as the new humanity, including the Gentiles.

2. The inclusion of the Gentiles was God’s great mystery and surprise to humanity. Paul was the humble steward of this mystery.

3. Because of the inclusion of the Gentiles, and thus of all humanity in the plan of salvation, the church became the display of God’s wisdom, love, power, and glory, both on earth and throughout the universe.

Community takes work. Much of Ephesians concerns itself with defining kinship in ways that redefine contemporary socio-religious norms. For Jews and Gentiles to find common religious grounds, it says over and over, requires and reveals God at work. 

This divine, communal work is incarnational. Sabbath’s memory text includes an expression of this: 

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20, 21, NIV)

The potential to recreate together in this world comes from an otherworldly source. But this divine-human incarnational power has been evidenced by the Messiah. 

“The united-in-diversity Church is the thing that tells the powers they are not in charge, and that’s why Paul can be confident,” states New Testament theologian N. T. Wright. In an overview of Ephesians for the Scottish Church Theology Society conference in 2013, he adds, 

This is God dwelling in our hearts by faith. Now that can collapse into a kind of self-indulgent pietism, but for Paul it is a human transformation which is designed to generate and sustain people who are part of this extraordinary community and who are facing outwards as they are called to those particular good works; a transformation in being filled with the fullness of God, knowing the love of the Messiah even though it passes knowledge.

On Wednesday, the lesson does slip back to a personal overcomer approach, but even within the language there lies a bit of Ephesians’ bigger view:

Your family, despite its imperfections and failings, belongs to God. Your family is not in the cruel grip of fate but in God’s caring hands. God loves imperfect families. 

Any family functioning somewhat harmoniously is no minor miracle. It takes commitment beyond the individual. If God can do this in a familiar way, imagine the power for socio-religious cooperation for those who seem unfamiliar. If God can love imperfect families, do we have to wonder about the divine feeling toward the human quest for understanding around the world? Is God’s goal ecumenism, if not deep interspiritual understanding? 

This fulsome divine knowledge lies at the heart of the early chapters of Ephesians. It’s a powerful message: true believers are filled with God in ways that point toward an even greater eternal unity. 

Just 10 days ago, in his series of weekly devotions, Reading Scripture Together, N. T. Wright discussed the presence and the fullness of God in Ephesians 3. 


Alexander Carpenter is the executive editor of Spectrum.

Title image: Henry Ossawa Tanner, Study, Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples, ca. 1905 (Smithsonian American Art Museum, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Norman Robbinspublic domain).

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.

Subscribe to our newsletter
Spectrum Newsletter: The latest Adventist news at your fingertips.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.