“My faith is a private relationship between me, Jesus, and a few friends. Why do I need the church?” Such is the mindset of many professing believers, no doubt. But is it the mindset of God’s Word? The folks at The Good Book Company have done us a great service in publishing Thabiti Anyabwile’s Ephesians: God’s Big Plan for Christ’s New People. Another installment in their series of Good Book Guides, edited by Tim Chester, Ephesians is a 10-session Bible study through Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus.
Following a brief introduction to the purpose and layout of the Good Book Guides, as well as a reply to the question, “Why study Ephesians?” the book is divided into two halves. The first consists of the ten sessions, and the second is a Leader’s Guide. The sessions, each corresponding to a particular passage, are organized as follows: “Blessed in Christ” (1:1–14), “Saved by God” (1:3–14), “Eyes Opened by the Spirit” (1:15–23), “Raised with Christ” (2:1–10), “United in Christ” (2:11–22), “Given God’s Message” (3), “Growing in Christ” (4:1–16), “Clothed with New Life” (4:17–5:17), “Filled with the Spirit” (5:18-6:9), and “Ready for Battle” (6:10–24).
Each session follows a question-and-answer format and is broken up into a variety of sections. Talkabout provides an introductory question designed to foster discussion around the topic covered in the study. Investigate consists of reading and interpreting portions of the passage. Explore more is an optional section devoted to considering other related texts across the canon. Apply questions, rather than being relegated to the end, are scattered throughout the study. Finally, each session concludes with a time to Pray in light of the issues considered in the passage.
Anyabwile has provided a great introduction to Christian thinking and living as set forth in Ephesians. In accordance with Paul’s emphases on the nature, unity, and calling of God’s church, Anyabwile accents these glorious realities throughout. Indeed, one of the main themes of his faithful study of Ephesians is that Christianity is not an individual voyage. According to the introduction, the aim of each session is “to uncover the meaning of a passage, and see how it fits into the “big picture” of the Bible. But that can never be the end. We also need to appropriately apply what we have discovered to our lives” (4). In other words, our goal is to observe what’s there, interpret what it means, and apply it to our lives. Pretty simple, huh? But one of the things that sets this study apart is its commitment to heed context—that is, how each passage in Ephesians is situated within the larger storyline of Scripture (hence the mention of the ““big picture”” above).
At frequent junctures throughout the sessions, Anyabwile draws attention to other passages that shed light on the one under consideration. This approach lends itself to appreciating and reading the Bible in accordance with what it is—namely, a unified whole. To be sure, sensitivity to context is not always easy to maintain in a verse-by-verse study, but Anyabwile does a commendable job in this respect.
As alluded to above, a distinctive feature of the study is the recurring opportunities to both interpret and apply. Chester explains, “[Apply sections] are mixed in with the investigative sections of the study. We hope that people will realise that application is not just an optional extra, but rather, the whole purpose of studying the Bible. . . . If you skip the application, the Bible study hasn’t achieved its purpose” (51). In short, application is integrated, not simply appended. A typical session, then, might proceed as follows: Talkabout, Investigate, Apply, Explore More, Investigate, Apply, Pray.
Perhaps one could say that, in Anyabwile’s arrangement, interpretation and application relate more like friends throughout rather than strangers who meet awkwardly at the end. Another useful aspect of this study lies in its flexibility and adaptability. Designed for individuals or small groups, it can be easily and effectively used in groups of nonbelievers, young believers, mature believers, or any combination thereof. In addition, one of the finest features of the study is its simplicity. Anyabwile’s ability to make things simple without being simplistic is precisely what makes this so useful a tool for a wide array of settings.
Furthermore, the Leader’s Guide, which occupies the second half of the book, is excellent. Leaders are provided basic answers, background information, and illustrations corresponding to the questions asked in each session. Far more than a concise commentary, the Leader’s Guide is thorough enough to be helpful yet brief enough to be manageable.
In sum, whether you are a pastor, a campus minister, or just a faithful Christian, Anyabwile’s Ephesians would be a tremendous resource to use in small-group Bible studies, discipleship relationships, or even evangelistic studies. God-centered, application-oriented, and driven by the text throughout, this resource is a gift to God’s church.