letters of paul pt. ii
Paul’s letters typically follow a similar pattern. Though they are addressed to different audiences, cover different topics, and are usually written in response to different situations, Paul begins his letters with the theological truth of the gospel before moving on to the practical application of the gospel. Another way to think of this would be to say that the indicative truths of who we are in Christ come before the imperative truths of how we should live because of Christ. This pattern is evident in Ephesians and Colossians, which we will read this week.
Paul wrote Ephesians to the church he founded in Ephesus, which was an important port city in western Asia. Ephesus’ position as a global trading ground made it a hub of worldly religious and philosophical practices. Paul writes in response to this, in order to remind the church at Ephesus that by faith in Jesus, they have union with the creator and sustainer of all things. Chapters 1-3 remind the Ephesians that by their faith, they have embraced the love of Christ, while chapters 4-6 encourage them to also embrace the way of Christ in how they live.
Colossians was written to the church in Colossae, which was likely formed by a man named Epaphras, who heard the gospel while Paul was ministering in Ephesus. It begins with one of the more beautiful christologies, or statements about Jesus, in all of scripture (Colossians 1:15-23). Paul goes on to tell the Colossian people that they have been made alive by the grace of God through their faith in Christ (Colossians 2). Because of this, they should live lives that are motivated by their new life in Christ, putting to death anything that is contrary to Him and His commands (Colossians 3-4).
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Pauline Epistle Structure
Paul's epistles follow a similar structure, which always begins with theological truths about the gospel and concludes with practical applications of the gospel. There is usually a linking verse that transitions from one section to the other. In Ephesians 4:1, Paul transitions by saying, "I therefore... urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called."
Eph. 6:10-18; Rom. 1:16
Everyone loves a story with a magical world where good fights against evil and in the end, after conflict and battles, the good kingdom triumphs! We, as believers, are part of a Kingdom with miraculous power and a King who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Our Kingdom as believers, however, is not pretend and the forces of God’s Kingdom and Satan’s powers are not equal. The outcome is known. God will triumph. He waits for more to come to know Him! In the meantime, He calls believers to “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.” He gives us the reminder that our enemies are not people, but the forces of evil. He reminds us to put on the armor He has provided to equip us to fight alongside Him. The Ephesian church was hesitant to enter this battle. Doing so would cost them comfort, money, and security. They were called to live lives that were different than those around them. It is the same for us today. We are called to live “Out of the Comfort Zone.” These same pieces of armor detailed by Paul in Ephesians 6 are still available and ready for our use. Each piece gives us a different kind of defensive or offensive strategy. The King has not left His Church defenseless. Let us join in the battle with our weapons ready for His glory.
- What is different between the kingdom in the fairy tale Cinderella and the Kingdom of God?
- How is it different to be strong in God’s power than in our own strength?
- When you know that your real enemy is not your sibling or your friend, what difference does that make?
- Make a list of the pieces of God’s armor (Eph. 6:10-18). Which part of the body does each of them protect?
Activity: Armor of God Science Lab
Have kids pretend to put on pieces of armor and discuss how each piece might help them throughout day. Place two oranges in a bowl of water with their “armor” on; in other words, do not peel it. Talk about how the oranges are floating, or “standing firm” in the water. Little by little, begin peeling away some of the “armor” (peel) of one orange. Peel off a chunk and say something like, “Uh oh, this orange forgot to put on his belt of truth. When someone says something ugly about him today, he might believe it. If he believes that lie, instead of God’s truth that he’s wonderfully made, he might not stand as firm in the water.” Place the orange back in the water and notice that, although it doesn’t sink completely, it begins dipping further in the water than the orange still wearing all its armor. Continue peeling back a little at a time and talking about how that might affect his day, and then place the orange back in the water to see it sink more and more each time. By the time you remove all of the armor, the orange will completely sink. It is not able to “stand” at all. Challenge your children to think purposefully each day about putting on each piece of armor and stand firmly against the devil’s wily schemes.
Source: Our Journey Westward
Small Group Discussion
- The first three chapters of Ephesians center around the word “blessing,” specifically all the blessings we have by virtue of union with Christ. What principles are there to follow, namely what are those blessings?
- What commands are there to obey in Ephesians and Colossians?
- What principles are there to follow in the letter to the Colossians?