Tips for Teachers—New Testament lesson 39: “For the Perfecting of the Saints”

ntmanualLesson 39 covers Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians—although it may not have been written by Paul, might not have been an epistle, and likely wasn’t originally for the Ephesians! One of this book’s overall themes, however, reflects something that comes up in many of Paul’s writings: the desire to unite a diverse group of people into a body of Christians. Truths don’t seem to hinge on authorship here. It also has a rousing section on grace which segued nicely with one of President Uchtdorf’s recent conference addresses.

Much of my lesson focused on that perennial Pauline problem of promoting unity in diversity (you can see my entire lesson outline here). This post focuses on lesson 39 but really serves to provide three tips to help teachers hone their craft for youth and adult Sunday school classes. (More of my tips for teachers are linked here.)

1. Select the verses you want to focus on during your lesson prep.

Maybe this one seems obvious, but like most of the lessons in the NT manual, 39 covers way more scripture than could possibly be accounted for in a single lesson. I’ve come to appreciate this because there’s plenty of material to choose from as I adapt lessons to my particular class. It also requires more prep time, though. I begin my lesson prep by reading all the scriptures listed at the top of the lesson and highlighting parts I particularly like, identify some themes for the lesson, and then build from there by coming up with good questions to ask. (For some reason, the printed manual includes the lesson’s scriptures under the lesson title but the online version doesn’t. This lesson is supposed to cover all of Ephesians.) Don’t wing it. (If you have to wing it because a teacher fell through, you might ask class members to initiate the discussion by looking at verses they’ve already highlighted.)

2. Use an alternate translation alongside the KJV to generate interesting discussion.

Especially now that we’re covering Pauline epistles I’ve found class members are especially thankful to hear excerpts from the NRSV. I only know of two class members who’ve gone to the lengths of getting their own NRSV, but a lot of class members have told me they really like to hear the comparisons. I usually read from my NRSV, keep a KJV open in front of me, and ask them to look for big differences as they follow along in their KJV’s. I ask: What’s different and what do we make of the differences? Comparisons almost always generate engaged comments. A few examples from this lesson:

Ephesians 1.5
KJV=”predestinated,” NRSV=”destined,” LDS footnote=”GR foreordained.” [See below for how I expanded on this comparison.]

Ephesians 1.8
KJV=Christ’s grace “abounded toward us,” NRSV=Christ’s grace “lavished on us.” [Beautiful phrasing really intensifies the point here.]

Ephesians 2.10
KJV=created in Christ “unto good works,” NRSV=created in Christ “for good works.” [Ties well into the discussion on grace and works later in the lesson.]

Ephesians 2.15
KJV=Speaking of Gentiles and Jews, Jesus makes “in himself of twain one new man,” NRSV=Jesus creates “in himself one new humanity in place of the two.” [More clear in NRSV, humanity is more representative of the class of women and men.]

Ephesians 4.14
KJV=Christ gave gifts to his people “for the perfecting of the saints,” NRSV=”to equip the saints.” [Being equipped suggests that “perfection” is an ongoing project and process rather than a perfected completion.]

Notice these usually don’t contradict each other. Some intensify the excerpt, some add nuance, others seem like a wash. In that last example we also talked about how the verses talk about more than apostles and prophets, but other figures and spiritual gifts which are given to all members.

Such comparisons never fail to get people to pay closer attention to words that otherwise seem almost too familiar. (Product placement: Though I didn’t get these particular examples from him, James E. Faulconer calls attention to this type of thing in his “Made Harder” books.)

3. Integrate the Gospel Topics essays where appropriate. 

Ephesians 1 has an interesting discussion about being “predestinated,” “destined,” or “foreordained.” I explained that throughout history, various Christians have interpreted this passage in a variety of ways (for instance, respectfully compare LDS beliefs with Calvinism, etc.). The idea of being foreordained has been employed in different ways throughout church history, as well. I asked the class how many had heard of the Gospel Topics essays. About a third raised their hands. Only about a tenth raised their hands when I asked who had read the essay on “Race and the Priesthood.” I briefly described what they were and asked a class member to read an excerpt from the essay on race, the priesthood and temple, which I discussed in the context of the idea of being foreordained:

According to some past church leaders, “blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings…. Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.” (From, “Race and the Priesthood.“)

This actually generated more discussion than I’d planned for so I had to cut a few sections from the lesson plan. But that’s usually a good sign of a good lesson because it means the class was really engaged.

Later in Ephesians 5 we get some interesting stuff on the relationship between husbands and wives, parents and children, slaves and masters (they are presented in parallel fashion!). The new Gospel Topics essays on women, the priesthood, and Heavenly Mother came out after my lesson was prepared or I would’ve otherwise considered including some of that.

Since the Gospel Topics essays haven’t received a lot of attention in General Conference or other church settings I think Sunday school is an opportune time to make people aware of them if they align well with your assigned lesson.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I appreciate this. I’m doing this lesson this coming Sunday, and I had read over Ephesians but wasn’t particularly inspired as to how I might approach the material. I think I can use some of this.

  2. Nice.
    Ardis had a great example of integrating another translation with Lesson 38.

    I’m rolling Race and the Priesthood into my lesson 40, all about Philemon.

  3. Ha, thanks for the comments from two of the Sunday school teachers whose blog posts I’ve cribbed from in other lessons!

  4. Doug Clifford says:

    We should look for more opportunities to bring in the General Topics essays where appropriate into all gospel discussions. The Church is under whole sale attack from seemingly well intended people who have a particular bone to pick with the doctrines and beliefs of the church.

  5. It’s not Sunday School, and it doesn’t reach everyone, but the topic of the first-Sunday Relief Society lesson (and I presume Priesthood classes as well) is up to the presidency/quorum leader’s discretion. If you’re not in a presidency, you should approach someone who is and talk to them about these essays. My counselors didn’t know that they exist but agreed the topics are important. We (I) will be teaching a lesson on part of the latest essay on Joseph Smith’s teachings about women and priesthood this Sunday. I invited the Young Women to join us, but after some discussion with the YW President, we decided it was better for them to have their own lesson on the new essays. The YW President was very enthusiastic because several of the girls have been wanting to talk about Church history and why we do things the way we do.

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