Ephesians: A Bible Study

Please note: this is a rather specialized post intended for those who are in Bible study groups. I crafted these questions for my own group and am passing them on for anybody who would like to use them.

Ephesians: A Bible Study Guide by Tim Stafford

(Nine Weeks)

(Feel free to use and distribute. If you sell it, send me a royalty check.)

Study 1–Ephesians 1: 1-14

  1. In this incredibly dense and tangled patch of prose, what is the main point that Paul is trying to communicate?
  2. Who are the actors? What do they do? (Please list who does what.)
  3. What is our role and how important is it?
  4. What is the point of the whole exercise? I mean, why did God plan and operate this whole thing?
  5. Note and list the words that get repeated. What do you think they mean? How is their meaning elaborated in this context?
  6. What, if anything, gets you excited in this passage?
  7. Go back to question 1 and answer it again.

Study 2–Ephesians 1:15-23

  1. Paul introduces his first great prayer (there are two in Ephesians) with the words “for this reason.” He is explaining why he gives thanks for the Ephesians and prays for them. As you refer back to the first section of Ephesians that we studied last week, what do you think is “this reason?” What is it about God’s great plan that motivates Paul to pray?
  2. What about us? Is there something in the magnificence of God’s plan that motivates you to pray?
  3. Paul prays that the Ephesians would receive two gifts from God (verses 17 and 18). What are they?
  4. What does it mean to pray that somebody receive “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation?”
  5. What does it mean to pray that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened?”
  6. What are said to be the end results of these two prayers?
  7. When you pray for those you love, do you pray for these kind of results? Why or why not?
  8. How would you explain “the hope to which he has called you?”
  9. How would you explain “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints?”
    10. When talking about God’s power, Paul doesn’t refer to Old Testament displays such as creation or exodus (as the Psalms often do) but to Jesus’ resurrection and heavenly authority. Why does the resurrection trump those other displays of God’s power in Paul’s encouraging words to the Ephesians?
  10. If this kind of power is “for us who believe” (verse 19) how does it show itself?
  11. What is the church and how does it fit in all this? (verses 22-23)
  12. Is this a model prayer for us? How should it influence our prayers as a Bible study group?
  13. Does anybody pray for you like this?

Study 3–Ephesians 2:1-10

  1. Let’s review: how would you summarize the main thrust of 1:1-14?
  2. What does Paul pray constantly that the Ephesian Christians would “get?” (1:15-23)
  3. In this new section (2:1-10) Paul introduces the personal history of the Ephesian Christians—past, present and future. What does he say about their past? Please write down everything you learn about them, as Paul sees them.
  4. What does he say about their present?
  5. What does he say about their future?
  6. These verses seem paradoxical—the Ephesians were dead, yet they were living—in sin. (vv. 1-3) How could they be active and yet dead? What does Paul mean when he says they were dead?
  7. Why does it matter that this new life was not produced by the Ephesians’ will but by God’s gift? (vv. 8,9) Why should it matter who is responsible so long as the end result is good?
  8. Where is the dignity for humanity in this story?
  9. What end does God have in mind? (v. 7) How do you picture that?
  10. What does Paul want the Ephesians to do? If God is responsible for their salvation, and even for their good works (v. 10), for what are they responsible?

Study 4–Ephesians 2:11-22

This is the third time Paul has told the Ephesians’ story. In 1:3-14 he explained their lives in what you might call “the love story,” in which the Father loves and cherishes his child. After a prayer that the Ephesians would “get it” about God, Paul tells their story again in 2:1-10, this time as “rescue from death.” Now, in this passage, he tells their story a third time.

  1. What was the situation of the Gentiles in Ephesus? (2:11-13)
  2. How was this different from what Paul described in 2:1-3, “You were dead”?
  3. Paul seems to regard the division between Jew and Gentile as very significant. Why?
  4. To make peace between the two communities, what did Christ Jesus do? Why this and not a meeting to explore mutual understanding?
  5. What place did the law play in creating and promulgating hostility?
  6. What does Paul mean, “he himself is our peace”? (2:14)
  7. Paul uses temple-language to describe the new, unified community in verse 21. What was the temple to the Jews? To the Gentiles?
  8. What kind of religion is formed by these developments, and how is it different from the old?
  9. In what way does this passage clarify the stories of what God has done as told in 1:1-14 and 2:1-10?
  10. In the first-century social situation, this new unity between Jew and Gentile had obvious significance, perhaps like desegregation in the South. But what does it mean for us?
  11. Does the church today sometimes replicate the Jew/Gentile division in another form?
  12. If so, what is the answer? What creates peace?

Study 5–Ephesians 3

Having told the Ephesians’ story three times—once as a tale of loving predestination, once as a story of rescue from death, and once as a story of a lost people joined into God’s people to make a new temple for God—Paul now tells his own story as it relates to the Ephesians. He concludes with an amazing prayer and benediction. With this, he has set the stage for the rest of the book, where he will begin to lay out the practical implications for action.

  1. Paul begins by saying, in paraphrase, “I’m in prison because of what I do for you Gentiles.” Why do you think he wants the Ephesians to know this?
  2. Paul’s story begins with his insight into the mystery of Christ. What is that mystery? How did he come to understand it?
  3. Why is that mystery so significant?
  4. Given Paul’s insight into the mystery, what is Paul supposed to do with it? In other words, what is his job, as he understands it? (verses 7-9)
  5. If Paul does his job, what will be the result? (verses 10-12)
  6. Paul ties up this section in verse 13, suggesting that he wants to turn upside down the Ephesians’ view of his imprisonment. What does he suspect they have been thinking of it? What should they think and feel, and why does that matter?
  7. Paul turns to prayer in verse 14. What does he mean that every family gets its name from the Father? Why is this significant to the Ephesians?
  8. Twice in his prayer Paul mentions power. How does he pray that power will manifest itself?
  9. Love is lovely stuff, but given what we have learned about the Ephesians, why do you think it is so central in Paul’s prayer for them?
  10. Why is it central to you? To your loved ones? To your friends?
  11. What are you asking for? What is the most you can imagine? Why is that not enough?

Study 6–Ephesians 4:1-5:2

Having set out a magnificent and inspiring story of what God is doing in the universe, and in the Ephesians, Paul now brings his letter to practical implications.

  1. Paul begins by urging the Ephesians to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Go back through the first 3 chapters and list at least five things God had called them to do and to be.
  2. Verses 2-6 emphasize living together in unity and peace. What about their calling makes this imperative?
  3. “Unity” might be interpreted to mean uniformity and a total lack of hierarchy, but in verses 7-11 Paul acknowledges that different members of the body of Christ will look and act different. What is their “differentness” based on? What is its purpose?
  4. What does a church of mature, well-taught Christians look like? What are some of its marks? (Verses 12-16)
  5. Beginning at verse 17, Paul immediately tells them how not to fulfill their calling. They must not live like Gentiles, whose hopelessness he described in 2:11-13.  How does he describe the Gentiles’ lives (verse 18,19)? How might this be different from the Jews? Does this describe any group today?
  6. How (by contrast) were the Ephesians taught to live? (verse 22)
  7. If God has given us a calling and a life, why do we have to “put it on?”
  8. List the expectations for a Christian’s life that Paul gives in verses 25-32. Do any of these seem to have particular relevance in our lives?
  9. 5:1-2 closes this section with a command to imitate God, as he shows himself in Jesus. What are we to imitate, and how does that look?
  10. Why do you think this section is necessary? What do you think it accomplished in the life of the Ephesians that the first 3 chapters did not?
  11. What about the life of our church community? Is there something parallel that needs to be stressed?

Study 7–Ephesians 5:3-20

In this section we carry on learning how to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (4:1).  It’s practical advice mixed in with amazing asides.

  1. Go over our last lesson (4:1-5:2) and make a list of the main pieces of practical advice.
  2. Paul starts this section concerned with an unholy trinity of immorality, impurity and greed (verse 3 and 5). What are his reasons for being against them?
  3. Verse 4 considers how we talk, as did 4:15, 25, 29. Looking at all those verses, what do you learn about what kind of talk to avoid? What talk should you pursue?
  4. Twice in this section Paul refers to “the disobedient.” (verses 6, 12) Who are they? What do you think this word reveals about Paul’s basic understanding of the motivation for sin?
  5. Considering verse 5, what hope is there for any of us?
  6. In verses 8-14 Paul uses the metaphor of light and darkness. What does the metaphor itself reveal about the nature of good and evil?
  7. What is the source of light? What does it produce?
  8. If light comes from God, what is our part? Who can resist the light?  (The little ditty in verse 14 is worth pondering.)
  9. The comment that “you once were darkness” (verse 8) seems to harken back to Paul’s description of the Gentiles’ way of life in 2:12 and 4:17-19. Do you think Paul is fair to the Gentiles?
  10. In the next section (15-20) Paul switches from the metaphor of light to the classic Jewish contrast between wisdom and foolishness. What are the characteristics of wisdom? What are the characteristics of foolishness?
  11. Paul returns to the way we talk in verse 19, this time with a musical theme. Should we take this literally?
  12. In this section, what advice do you find most helpful? Most challenging?

Study 8–Ephesians 5:21-6:9

In this passage Paul continues to urge the Ephesian believers to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” In other words, there ought to be congruence between the amazing transformation that God is doing, and their actual lives. Obviously, Paul did not regard this as automatic! (Even though he was confident in the power of God to overcome all obstacles.)

Having dealt with interpersonal issues, Paul comes to relationships within households. Most homes would have a married couple, children, and slaves all living as members of the family. It’s helpful to look at this section as a unit, to notice what these different kinds of relationships have in common (and how they are distinct).

  1. In Paul’s treatment of these three pairings–husband and wife, parents and children, masters and slaves—what is parallel? (For example, all three start with the subordinate partner.) What is different?
  2. Why do you think Paul addresses household relationships? What’s different about this advice from what came before?
  3. On the scale of radical to conservative, where does Paul fall?
  4. Many people have argued that Paul is endorsing slavery. Do you think that is so? Why or why not?
  5. Greco-Roman tradition would have the father as absolute ruler of the household, no questions asked. Is that what Paul is endorsing?
  6. What is the difference between “submit” and “obey?”
  7. Generally, what is different about the husband-wife relationship from these other relationships, in Paul’s way of thinking?
  8. Since no Christian today would tell a slave to obey his/her master, why do they tell children to obey and wives to submit?
  9. How do you understand the statement that “the husband is head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church?” Has your understanding changed over the years?
  10. What does the parallel of Christ and the church tell you about marriage?
  11. Do you have trouble living by Paul’s advice for marriage? Why or why not?
  12. From a Roman perspective the most radical advice Paul offers is to the husband. Is it still radical today? In what way?
  13. From today’s perspective, the most radical advice Paul offers is to the wife. Do the many changes in society and family mean that Paul’s advice must be updated? Why or why not?
  14. What is the desired outcome if the Ephesians heed this passage? What does that have to do with our calling in Christ?

Study 9–Ephesians  6:10-24

We come to Paul’s last words in Ephesians, which at first glance seem somewhat detached from the rest of the book. Paul’s most urgent concern has been to portray the new life that God has given the Ephesians. He has rescued them from a godless and/or hopeless existence and placed them in a new family as part of his plan to redeem the whole world. Paul considers at some length how they should live up to that calling, both in their individual lives and in their homes. Only now does he bring in the concept of the Ephesians at war with the powers of darkness.

  1. Who are our enemies?
  2. Why do you think Paul only deals with them at the very end of the book?
  3. From what Paul has been telling the Ephesians about their lives throughout this book, what would be the motives and goals of these enemies? (It may help to review Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians.)
  4. Do you experience such enmity in your own life? How?
  5. Where do we find strength to face these enemies? (Note verse 10.)
  6. What, according to verse 13, can we hope to achieve by fighting them?
  7. Paul says nothing about defeating the enemy. Why is that?
  8. It may be helpful to distinguish between body armor, strapped to us, and armor that we actively wield. What pieces of armor become, as it were, a second skin? How do they function in your life?
  9. What pieces of armor require our active use? How do they function in your life?
  10. What does a Christian look like who uses this spiritual armor?
  11. How are we to pray, and for what?
  12. In verses 19-20, what do we learn about Paul?
  13. What have you learned from our study of Ephesians? What do you want to be sure to remember?

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3 Responses to “Ephesians: A Bible Study”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Thanks for these! We’ll use them for our group. Sarah

  2. Nerissa O'Dell Says:

    Hi, Tim, I hope you get this soon. I was wondering have you ever thought of giving answer keys to these studies? I haven’t used this particular study yet, neither have I looked into it, but we are about to have Sunday School lessons on Normal Christian Living: Ephesians. I could use this as an extension of Sunday School in our Bible study. I’ve asked this question in the feed on the Life of Abraham study and am waiting for a response. Thanks Tim.

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