We're used to doing Bible studies verse by verse. We even do word studies at some points and go word by word. While the detail work has its uses, we have to remember the price tag: it's really easy to lose the thrust of someone's argument when we slow down to that level. And I'll gladly point out a little of the detail along the way also; not only do Paul's details follow his main points well, but he's also fond of tangents himself so I'm not sure we can do Paul complete justice without going off on a tangent now and then. However, to avoid losing the big picture of his point, I'll use parentheses to mark off the detail-level comments as asides.
To recap the previous: (1:1-14) Paul first lays his foundation as the love of God shown us in Christ, the blessing of God poured out through Christ, and the Holy Spirit as our down-payment on our inheritance, sealing us as God's through our belief in Christ. (And looking ahead) Paul also makes a theme of what kind of down payment the Spirit of the Living God might be, as far as our ultimate inheritance as God's children; he consistently ties the riches of God to his kindness, his patience, his love.
(1:15-2:10) Paul traces a quick trajectory that he will follow all the way to end of this letter. He praises God that they know Him, and desires that they may know Him better, basing their hope on the Lord's power. The power at work in Christ's death and resurrection is the same power at work in us to transform us into children of God. Paul definitely draws parallels on the one hand between Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension, and on the other hand our own leaving behind sin and death, being raised to new life, and being joined to the hope of heaven. But he does more than just draw parallels: he makes the case that we are so bound to Christ that our future is not complete until we are fully and finally reunited with him, who is our life.
(2:11-22) Here is Paul's first major point under the power of God working out in this world: in Christ, there is peace between Jews and Gentiles. (There is no hint of peace between Jews and Gentiles on any other terms; Paul proclaims that this spiritual blessing, too, comes through Christ. Neither can Jews or the Gentile Christians conceive of any peace which treats God as irrelevant, or the Messiah as irrelevant, or the hope of the world to come as irrelevant. Our hope for peace, then, is not secularism which offers unity on the basis of everyone setting aside their past, their identity, and their hope; but on Christ who creates unity through his death and his life, putting to death the hostility, preaching peace to both Jews and Gentiles. Those of us called by Christ and joined to his death have no more place in our hearts for hostility towards anyone, as hostility has been put to death. To bring it back is to do the work of the enemies of God and to work against God.) Again Paul brings home that we are all gathered into Christ's body, filled with God's Spirit -- and that our holiness comes from becoming a place where God dwells, where God's presence is found on earth.
(3:1-13) Paul puts his own life's work into perspective against this picture. (I very much like the casual way he refers to himself as the prisoner of Christ rather than the prisoner of his Roman jailers. He sees God's purpose behind his hardship. He holds no grudge against the jailers.) He sees his letter as a continuing act of proclaiming the good news to them: that in Christ they Gentiles are God's people too -- members of God's chosen people along with him, Jewish though he is. All those who are called by this good news should in turn proclaim God's wisdom and goodness as known in Christ. (And Paul again is gracious about his imprisonment, wanting to spare the consciences of those who fear that not only is he suffering, but that it may be at least in part because of them.)
(3:14-19) Now there is a powerful and beautiful prayer where Paul again says what he has been saying all along: that the power of God (sounds familiar) may strengthen them through his Spirit (not the first time he hit that point either) so that Christ himself dwells in their hearts. Paul seems to mean that Christ dwells in our hearts more than just figuratively, given the image of us being God's temple and Christ's body. I think when people in our culture hear that "Christ dwells in our hearts by faith" we translate "We think about Christ in our hearts"; I think Paul meant something more like "By the power of God, the same Christ that was raised from the dead is with us." After Paul has pleaded time and again for them to grow in understanding, he says exactly what he wishes they could grasp: how long and wide and high and deep is Christ's love. He wants them to know "this love that surpasses knowledge" so that they may be filled to the measure of all the goodness of God.
Here, again, about being filled with God; here again, about his becoming embodied in this world through us. But Paul has now made the connection for us: we are filled to the measure of all the goodness of God when we grasp his love. We start out by love, "rooted and established in love," and it continues until we grasp "this love that surpasses knowledge."
(4:1-16) How, then, can we grasp the love of Christ -- the same Christ who brought together the Jews and Gentiles, who put hostility itself to death, who abolished the dividing wall -- how can we grasp the power of God and the depth of Christ's love and still not have unity amongst ourselves? It's because we're infants in the faith, still weighed down by pride and harshness and a lack of love. The whole foundation of our faith calls out to us that we should be one. All of our individual gifts, used rightly, build us up in unity towards that goal, that as we mature we are filled to the measure of all the goodness of God. Paul makes the connection again: being filled to the measure of all the goodness of God is being built up in love.
(... I'd hoped to finish tonight, but it's late; to be continued again ... By the time we get to the end, we'll see how plainly Paul made his point from beginning to end.)