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Q. Can You Give Me Some Biblical Teaching on Christian Marriage?

Question

I just want to ask you if you have any collections of teachings on biblical marriage dynamics - especially wife’s submitting to the husband and the husband submitting to the LORD.

Answer

Dear Friend,

Let me begin by saying several things about this subject.

First, there have been too many abuses of the teaching of Scripture by those (men/husbands) who would use God’s Word and its teachings wrongly to justify domineering and dictatorial leadership. This is wrong!

Second, our culture is vehemently opposed to what the Scriptures do teach (and they often refer to abuses of this teaching to justify their rejection of God’s Word). Many are “rethinking” their understanding of Scripture on this matter because they will be branded as radical or out of touch for holding to biblical teaching and practice.

Third, I am one of those who has been branded as harsh and out of touch on this matter because I do hold to what the Scriptures clearly teach.

Fourth, those who seek to set aside the teaching of the Bible must go to great efforts in an attempt to prove that what the Bible clearly teaches is not what it clearly means.

Fifth, there are boundaries or limits to what submission requires, as we can see in the story of Abigail, Nabal, and David in 1 Samuel 25: https://bible.org/seriespage/22-dear-abby-1-samuel-251-44

Sixth, I do not believe that a husband’s authority gives him the right to require his wife to violate her legitimate convictions (Romans 14).

Having said this, here are some resources that are found on bible.org for this subject:

  • https://bible.org/series/can-we-serve-church-cafeteria-style (This is a series I have done, and lessons 7-12 are a fairly extensive study on church leadership, which does closely relate to God’s teaching about leadership in the home. Having said this, Ephesians chapter 5 is no doubt the primary text on this specific point, so I will give links to messages on this matter below).

An excellent series on Christian Marriage by Dr. Bill McRae:

Teaching by Steve Cole:

Teaching by Ken Boa:

Teaching I have done on Ephesians 5:

Related Topics: Marriage

Q. What Should The "Tamars" (2 Samuel 13) Do?

Question

Hi,

It was great having someone explain 2 Samuel 13. Thank you.

I was wondering if you could help me. Revenge, betrayal, lust, forgiveness, and sins of our fathers are the themes of this chapter. It is absolute tragedy, and I cringe for Tamar. What do “Tamar’s” of this world do? How are they to forgive? How are they to stop the continued “curse” (for lack of a better word)? We don’t have to be desolate in our day in age, but we are on the inside. How does one overcome this to be all that God intends?

Answer

Dear *******,

First of all, it appears to me that Tamar was a true victim. I don’t see anything she did to encourage or provoke this evil deed, nor did she in any way contribute to this great sin. Indeed, she pled with Amnon not to sin in this way. Having said this, I do see folly and sin on the part of Amnon, his “friend” Jonadab, and even David, who foolishly creates a situation where Amnon could sin as he did. And then, David did not do anything to deal with this sin. Absalom did not deal with it rightly, either. All of this is a way of saying that Tamar was the only innocent person involved.

There is absolutely no way to justify what took place on this occasion. It certainly reveals the sinfulness of man, and it does give us essential background regarding the ultimate rebellion of Absalom in seeking to take the kingdom from his father.

But what we should also keep in mind is that God has a special concern for the oppressed and the abused:

  • Judges 2:18
  • 1 Samuel 1:15ff.
  • Psalm 9:9; 10:17-18; 103:6; 146:5-10
  • Isaiah 10:1-2

Thus, God would have a heart of compassion toward Tamar. While this is not the focus of the text, it is still true. I believe that this woman’s suffering may have been the very thing which caused Tamar to turn her eyes to God. Thus, I believe that she would agree with the psalmist:

Before I was afflicted I used to stray off,
but now I keep your instructions (Psalm 119:67, NET).

I know, LORD, that your regulations are just.
You disciplined me because of your faithful devotion to me (Psalm 119:75).

If I had not found encouragement in your law,
I would have died in my sorrow.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have revived me.
94 I belong to you. Deliver me!
For I seek your precepts.
95 The wicked prepare to kill me,
yet I concentrate on your rules (Psalm 119:92-95).

The spirit of the sovereign LORD is upon me, because the LORD has chosen me. He has commissioned me to encourage the poor, to help the brokenhearted, to decree the release of captives, and the freeing of prisoners (Isaiah 61:1).

As I look at the “counsel” of Job’s friends, and at the assumption of the disciples that someone related to the man born blind (John 9) must have sinned. Jesus says otherwise:

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him (John 9:3).

Beyond this, our Lord Jesus suffered greater abuse than any man or woman on earth, and this in order to bring about the salvation of lost and unworthy sinners. This puts our suffering in perspective:

Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are perverse. 19 For this finds God’s favor, if because of conscience toward God someone endures hardships in suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God. 21 For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:18-25).

Peter, Paul, and the apostles therefore found it possible to rejoice in suffering:

Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, who is the Spirit of God, rests on you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or thief or criminal or as a troublemaker. 16 But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear such a name (1 Peter 4:12-16).

More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things– indeed, I regard them as dung!– that I may gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness– a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. 10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:8-11).

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my physical body– for the sake of his body, the church– what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24).

When they were released, Peter and John went to their fellow believers and reported everything the high priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices to God with one mind and said, “Master of all, you who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them, 25 who said by the Holy Spirit through your servant David our forefather, ‘Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot foolish things? 26 The kings of the earth stood together, and the rulers assembled together, against the Lord and against his Christ.’ 27 “For indeed both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do as much as your power and your plan had decided beforehand would happen. 29 And now, Lord, pay attention to their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your message with great courage, 30 while you extend your hand to heal, and to bring about miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God courageously (Acts 4:23-31).

Finally, we know that God will deal appropriately with those who abuse His saints:

We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith flourishes more and more and the love of each one of you all for one another is ever greater. 4 As a result we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions you are enduring. 5 This is evidence of God’s righteous judgment, to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which in fact you are suffering. 6 For it is right for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to you who are being afflicted to give rest together with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. 8 With flaming fire he will mete out punishment on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength, 10 when he comes to be glorified among his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed– and you did in fact believe our testimony (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10).

Now when the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been violently killed because of the word of God and because of the testimony they had given. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Master, holy and true, before you judge those who live on the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Each of them was given a long white robe and they were told to rest for a little longer, until the full number was reached of both their fellow servants and their brothers who were going to be killed just as they had been (Revelation 6:9-11).

Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and the springs of water, and they turned into blood. 5 Now I heard the angel of the waters saying: “You are just– the one who is and who was, the Holy One– because you have passed these judgments, 6 because they poured out the blood of your saints and prophets, so you have given them blood to drink. They got what they deserved!” (Revelation 16:4-6).

In conclusion, I’m reminded of Abraham’s words in Genesis 18:25:

Far be it from you to do such a thing– to kill the godly with the wicked, treating the godly and the wicked alike! Far be it from you! Will not the judge of the whole earth do what is right?” (Genesis 18:25)

Also, Jacob’s words come to mind, when he wrongly supposed that all his circumstances were somehow against him:

Their father Jacob said to them, “You are making me childless! Joseph is gone. Simeon is gone. And now you want to take Benjamin! Everything is against me” (Genesis 42:36).

After Jesus cured the deaf men, those who witnessed this miracle came to the right conclusion:

“He has done everything well” (Mark 7:37).

My wife and I lost our son Timmy to crib death early in our marriage. I remember well the comfort we had at that time, based on the character of God. The God who is all knowing, all powerful, and who loves to forgive sinners is the God who purposed to use the suffering of Tamar to His glory (and, for her good – Romans 8:28). Like Jacob, it may appear to us at the moment that our circumstances are against us, if we are trusting in Jesus, nothing can separate us from His love and gracious care.

What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39).

Finally, I re-read your email, and I think one important question remains somewhat unanswered. If I understood you correctly you were asking something like this: “How can the Tamar’s of today deal with the injustices and abuses they experience?” I think there are several lines of biblical truth which can and should be pursued here.

First, the Sermon on the Mount, along with Matthew 11:28-30 seems to be addressed to those who are in some way oppressed:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way (Matthew 5:3-12).

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:28-30).

The point of this is not for our Lord to promise those who are suffering and oppressed that their troubles in this life will surely pass (which the “health and wealth gospel” seems to promise), but that heaven awaits those who suffer in this life, and particularly those godly saints who suffer on account of their faith.

Paul says something similar in 2 Corinthians chapter 4:

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are experiencing trouble on every side, but are not crushed; we are perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down, but not destroyed, 10 always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body. 11 For we who are alive are constantly being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our mortal body. 12 As a result, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 13 But since we have the same spirit of faith as that shown in what has been written, “I believed; therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak. 14 We do so because we know that the one who raised up Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 For all these things are for your sake, so that the grace that is including more and more people may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison 18 because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:7-18).

Second, closely related to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4 are his words in chapter 1, in which he states that the comfort which God gives us in our trials and tribulations are the very comforts which we can now share with those who suffer in a similar way:

Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Third, faithfully enduring the abuse of those who falsely accuse and persecute believers will ultimately be the basis for our enemies giving glory to God when He comes to earth again:

Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul, 12 and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears (1 Peter 2:11-12).

Fourth Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel chapter 2 testifies to the fact that God hears the cries of the oppressed (see 2:1-10).

Finally, it is beneficial to reflect on the words of Paul and Peter on the subject of abuse:

Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are perverse. 19 For this finds God’s favor, if because of conscience toward God someone endures hardships in suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God. 21 For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:18-25).

Nevertheless, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each person, so must he live. I give this sort of direction in all the churches. 18 Was anyone called after he had been circumcised? He should not try to undo his circumcision. Was anyone called who is uncircumcised? He should not get circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Instead, keeping God’s commandments is what counts. 20 Let each one remain in that situation in life in which he was called. 21 Were you called as a slave? Do not worry about it. But if indeed you are able to be free, make the most of the opportunity. 22 For the one who was called in the Lord as a slave is the Lord’s freedman. In the same way, the one who was called as a free person is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought with a price. Do not become slaves of men. 24 In whatever situation someone was called, brothers and sisters, let him remain in it with God. (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).

Paul told slaves that if they could change their status, that was fine. But if this was not possible, they were to live out the life of a slave in a manner that would bring glory to God, and would beautify the gospel. Throughout the centuries humble, powerless (humanly speaking) saints have endured their afflictions in a way that glorified God. In some instances God delivered them from their earthly afflictions, but ultimately all who suffer for the sake of Christ have an eternity of eternal bliss awaiting them.

Blessings,

Bob Deffinbaugh

Related Topics: Christian Life, Forgiveness, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

United We Stand: The Mystery of the Church (Eph. 1:1-3:21)

This is a 7 part series in Ephesians 1:1-3:21 on “The Mystery Of The Church.” The epistle to the Ephesians is about unity in the church. In the first half of the epistle, the apostle Paul addresses the theological basis for Christian unity - a unity that has been established in Christ through our common roots, common transformation, and common relationship (ch. 1-3).

In the second half of this epistle, the apostle Paul moves from the doctrinal instruction on church unity to the practical instruction on church unity - a unity that revolves around our personal, family, social, and church lives (ch. 4-6).

So, from the first half of the epistle, we learn what the unity of the church is (or should be), and from the second half of the epistle we learn how we should put that unity into practice.

In 4:1-6, we are exhorted to demonstrate certain Christian virtues - virtues that “keep the unity of the Spirit” (3), virtues that are listed in verse 4-6 and developed throughout the rest of the epistle. We are called to a “Live Together in Unity” through our common calling, our common character, and our common confession.

The second half of this series on Ephesians 4:1-6:20 may be viewed here.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)

1. An Introduction To Ephesians (Ephesians 1:1-3)

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A number of years ago, a madman, called Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait, bringing death and destruction. Knowing it would be next on Saddam’s hit list, Saudi Arabia called Washington and asked for help. On that occasion, President Bush was at his best. He picked up the phone and called England, Canada, Spain, France, Italy, Turkey, and many other countries and built the famed coalition.

Men and women from different backgrounds, races, classes, cultures, and personalities all gathered in the Gulf with one focused agenda – to serve notice on this madman, demanding that he not take more territory and that he relinquish the territory already taken. The coalition was to inform him his days of rule in the Gulf were over.

Another mad person in history is called the Devil, against whom God, too, has built a coalition to wage war – it’s called the church. If we’re going to be a vibrant, successful force for God in the world, and if we’re going to have victory over the prince of the power of the air, then the church is going to have to function as an allied coalition.

When there is a common goal based on a common authority to set forth a common agenda, then we can have a common success. God has created one body made up of different persons, all of whom have received a common call from God in Christ.1

This is what the epistle to the Ephesians is all about - the unity of the church, a coalition of people with different religious, racial, and social backgrounds into one body to live as a powerful force for God in the world.

Paul calls the church a “mystery” (1:9; 3:3, 4, 9; 5:32; 6:19). That’s why we have titled this series, “United We Stand: The Mystery of the Church.” The church was a mystery because it could not be conceived how God, in and through Christ Jesus, could create one body, the church, to form a new people of God in which both Jews and Gentiles stand united.

For Paul, the “mystery” of the church is breathtaking. He is rejoicing as he tries to express the mysterious unity that God has effected in the church through Christ and the spiritual blessings that are ours as a result - Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (1:3).

Notice that our spiritual blessings have their source in God the Father and flow down to us through the Lord Jesus Christ 2 As we study this epistle together, you will see repeatedly its thoroughly trinitarian structure.

Paul is bursting with adoration to God for our spiritual blessings, so much so that he writes the entire first section (1:3-14) in one unstructured sentence which “rolls on like a snowball tumbling down the hill, picking up volume as it descends.” 3 Wave after wave of praise comes crashing onto the shore of his heart. You can hear the crack of gun fire as volley after volley reaches its target.

Christians are prone to talk about their differences. This series in Ephesians will talk about what we have in common. The church is a united community. Together we have:

I. A United Position in Christ (1:3-3:21)

1. Our United Blessings in Christ (1:4-14)

a) The blessing of our election (1:4)

b) The blessing of our predestination (1:5-6)

c) The blessing of our redemption (1:7-10)

d) The blessing of our inheritance (1:11-14)

e) Prayer #1: Prayer for spiritual enlightenment (1:15-23)

2. Our United Transformation in Christ (2:1-10)

a) Before we knew Christ, we were condemned to spiritual death (2:1-3)

b) When we know Christ, we are transformed to spiritual life (2:4-10)

3. Our United Relationship in Christ (2:11-3:21)

a) The mystery of our united relationship has been accomplished (2:11-22)

  • A distant relationship is made near (2:11-13)
  • A hostile relationship is made peaceful (2:14-18)
  • A foreign relationship is made familiar (2:19-22)

b) The mystery of our united relationship has been revealed (3:1-13)

  • The revelation of the mystery of Christ (3:1-6)
  • The declaration of the mystery of Christ (3:7-13)

c) Prayer #2: Prayer for spiritual empowerment (3:14-21)

II. A United Practice in Christ (4:1-6:24)

1. Walking Together In Unity (4:1-6)

a) It’s demanded by our common calling (4:1)

b) It’s displayed in our common character (4:2-3)

c) It’s driven by our common confession (4:4-6)

2. Growing Together In Maturity (4:7-16)

a) Growing together in maturity through Christ’s servants (4:7-11)

b) Growing together in maturity for Christ’s service (4:12)

c) Growing together in maturity in Christ’s likeness (4:13-16)

3. Pursuing Purity Together (4:17-5:21)

a) Contrasting principles of living (4:17-24)

  • Don’t live like the ungodly in corruption that stems from deceit (4:17-19)
  • Live like Jesus in purity that stems from the truth (4:20-24)

b) Contrasting practices of living (4:25-32)

  • Speaking truth not lies (4:25)
  • Exercising self-control not anger (4:26-27)
  • Working not stealing (4:28)
  • Speaking constructively not destructively (4:29-30)
  • Showing kindness not animosity (4:31-32)

c) Contrasting programs for living (5:1-21)

  • Live a God-centred life not a self-centred life (5:1-7)
  • Live as light not darkness (5:8-14)
  • Live carefully not recklessly (5:15-21)

4. Living Together In Harmony (5:22-6:9)

a) Harmony of husbands and wives (5:22-33)

b) Harmony of children and parents (6:1-4)

c) Harmony of servants and masters (6:5-9)

5. Standing Together In Victory (6:10-20)

a) The power and provision for spiritual battles (6:10-13)

b) Preparation for spiritual battles (6:14-17)

c) Perseverance in spiritual battles (6:18-20)

God has effected all of this “in Christ.” In Him, we are chosen (4), redeemed (7), made heirs (11), brought to faith (13a), and sealed (13-14). And all of this flows from God's eternal will (5,11), the riches of his grace (7), and his good pleasure (9). It is God’s will to form a new people in Christ into one body, the church. What once would have been considered impossible (hence, a “mystery”), God has done in Christ. He has united together in one body all the people of faith, both Jew and Gentile.

The epistle begins with this magnificent statement of our blessings:

1. The source of our blessings is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (3a)

2. The scope of our blessings is “every spiritual blessing” (3b)

3. The sphere of our blessings is the “heavenly places in Christ” (3c)

Our spiritual blessings originate in heavenly places (1:3), that place where Christ sits at God’s right hand; that place of eternal relationship between believers and Christ (2:6). And these spiritual blessings come down to us on earth (See 4:8; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:1). They are in Christ (a phrase that Paul’s uses 10 times in this paragraph) in that we receive the benefit of them because of our position in him.

My proposition to you is that “Our only appropriate response to God for his blessings is to praise him with all our hearts for what we have in common in Christ.”


1 Tony Evans, Preaching Today, Tape 189.

2 Cf. William Hendriksen, The Epistle to the Ephesians, New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 73.

3 Hendriksen, 72.

2. Our United Position: Blessed Together in Christ (Eph. 1:4-14)

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Introduction

In this article we are examining the first three foundational blessings that unite us in our common position in Christ:

1. The past blessings of our election and predestination (1:4 and 5-6)

2. The present blessing of our redemption (1:7-10)

3. The future blessing of our inheritance (1:11-14)

These blessings comprise our common spiritual “roots”. An aunt of mine in England traced our family roots. She found that we came from a line of Spanish Jews who came to England during the Spanish Armada. That’s my family’s “roots” according to her research. The family of God has its roots – our blessings in Christ.

The first foundational blessing, then, that we share as believers, and for which we praise God, is…

I. The Blessing Of Our Election (1:4)

He (God) chose (elected) us in Him (Christ) (4a).

When political elections are planned, nobody knows what the outcome will be until all the votes are in. In a past eternity God called an “election” and he knew exactly what the outcome would be. In fact, he guaranteed it because...

1. The Nature Of Election Is… God’s Sovereign Choice

God chose us. He selected us, picked us out for himself. That’s the nature of God’s election – it is his sovereign choice. There were no other voters; God was the only “voter”. It was his election. Nobody forced him to make the choice; he made it freely, sovereignly.

Do you remember when you used to pick sides at school to play a game? It always seemed cruel to me that the best players were picked first and as the choices got fewer and fewer it was obvious and embarrassing that nobody wanted the poor players. But God chose us without reference to our inadequacies and he made no distinction between us - we are all equally precious to him.

So, the nature of election is God’s sovereign choice, and…

2. The Subjects Of Election Are… God’s Special People

God chose us, not anybody or everybody but us, the “saints” (1) - those who have been set apart by God to glorify him; those who have embraced him by faith. Out of all the people of all history, God chose us to be his sanctified people, to live to his glory, to be his special people, his united coalition, his church.

How we should praise God that, of all the people, he chose us! C.H. Spurgeon said that this “ought to make us on our very dullest moments sing for joy.”1

3. The Foundation Of Election Is… God’s Beloved Son

God chose us in him, in Christ. Jesus Christ is the foundation of our election. Just as God has “blessed us” in Christ (3), so “he has elected (chosen) us” in Christ (4a).

Why and how did God choose us in Christ? What does this mean? It means that he didn’t choose us because of anything in us but because of everything we would have and be in our position in Christ. In ourselves, we were enemies of God by wicked works (wandering away from God; separated from him), but in Christ we are brought near to God, made acceptable to him.

Our election in Christ is founded on what God saw in a past eternity. He saw the work of Christ as complete and he saw us as righteous in Him. He saw Christ take our place, fulfilling the righteous claims of God against us. And it was on that basis that he could and did choose us.

To be in Christ means that God sees him as our surety. We are safe in him. Just as we might keep valuable documents in a safety deposit box which is all locked up and kept secure in the vault of a bank, so we are in Christ, our “safety deposit box.” We are inside him, safe and secure.

But there’s more about election in which we can and should rejoice…

4. The Time Of Election Was… God’s Past Eternity

God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (4b). Our election wasn’t an afterthought. It wasn’t something God decided to do when he saw what we were like. Nor is it a question of God foreseeing the spiritual choice we would make. Rather, our election was before the foundation of the world - when the plan of atonement was conceived in the chambers of eternity; when Christ said, “Here am I; send me” (Isa. 6:8; Heb. 10:7), and God declared, “I have found a ransom” (Job 23:34).

As one commentator has said: “If already before the foundation of the world those destined for everlasting life were elected…then all the glory for their salvation belongs to God and to him alone.”2

5. The Purpose Of Election Is… Our Present Holiness

… that we should be holy and without blame before him (4b). God did not simply choose us for salvation but to change us so that we could live in holiness before him. God did not choose us because we were already holy, but in order that we should be and could be holy. Holiness and blamelessness are the fruits of our election to salvation.

The immediate purpose of election is that we should be holy and that we should be blameless. To be holy means to be separated, morally and spiritually, to God; consecrated wholly to God. To be blameless means to be without blemish in character and conduct.

The measure of this holiness is not man’s, but God’s, to be examined by God and be found faultless before him. As Christians, we must give evidence of our spiritual standing before God. Because we have been saved doesn’t mean that we can live any way we want. There are ethical implications to the Gospel, you know.

Let me ask you, how do you measure up to God’s standard? Are you living before God in submission to him, allowing him to conform you to his Son, transforming you “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18)?

So, the first foundational blessing is that of our election. Closely associated with election is…

II. The Blessing Of Our Predestination (1:5-6)

As John Phillips explains it, “Election has to do with the past and predestination has to do with the future.” 3 God chose us for a purpose – that’s predestination.

1. We Were Predestined For A New Relationship (5)

having in love predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ for himself (4b-5a). We were elected (chosen) for salvation and on that basis we were predestined for sonship. In his unfathomable love toward us, God predestined us to a new relationship with him, the relationship of “adopted” children. He chose us for himself, to be in his family because of what Christ has done, a place to which we had no right or title (cf. Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:5).

Some families have both biological and adopted children. Sometimes, someone might ask, “Which one is adopted?” They make a distinction between the biological child and the adopted child. But God makes no such distinction. When God adopts us into his family, he treats us as his very own with no regard for the past.

Though we were born in sin and “were by nature children of wrath” (2:3), yet God takes us into his family and wipes out the past (Jer. 31:34). And further, he does something that no earthly adoptive parent can do - He gives us his own nature and character.

Thus, this new relationship is one which carries the dignity of sons and daughters. It imputes to us a new identification, a new status, a new family, a new appearance (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18), a new nature, a new character, and a new inheritance. That’s what it is to be adopted into God’s family. We have a new relationship with God and God’s people.

So, how does this adoption take place? It’s by Jesus Christ for himself (5a). Through Christ we are reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18, 20; Col. 1:21) and made part of his family, not because of any goodness on our part nor because of any obligation on God’s part, but because God predestined us to this relationship solely according to the good pleasure of his will (5b). It was a matter of God’s will and pleasure. God did what he wanted and delighted to do in us.

So, the question is: Is your behaviour consistent with your new relationship? Do you act like God’s adopted child? All parents want their children to exemplify their values and attitudes. Any child who does not do this misrepresents their parents and brings dishonour on the family. Let me challenge you to examine your lifestyle, your behaviour, your attitudes, your values and priorities in the light of your adoption into God’s family and in the light of your position of dignity as a son or daughter of God.

We were predestined for a new relationship and…

2. We Were Predestined For A New Occupation (6)

… to the praise of his glorious grace (6a). Our election by God coupled with his predestination of us to adoption is a summons to the praise of his glorious grace.

Surely, that should be our spontaneous response to God for his unmerited favour to us who are so undeserving. The final goal to which all of redemptive history points and to which we are predestined is the praise his glorious grace. This is the ultimate goal for which God has chosen us - to praise God for the excellence of his matchless grace by which he made us accepted in the Beloved (6b). Only by the glorious grace of God do we find favour before God and by which we are accepted in the Beloved. Our eternal standing before God is founded in his beloved Son, the one in whom the Father finds all his delight (cf. Matt. 3:17; Jn. 1:29; Matt. 17:5; 2 Pet. 1:17, 18).

III. The Blessing Of Our Redemption (1:7-10)

The first thing we notice is…

1. The Source Of Our Redemption Is… God’s Dear Son

In him (the Beloved) we have redemption (7a). Just as our election is in Christ, so our redemption is in him. He is the source and means of our redemption - it is in him. Because of what he has done and the relationship into which he has called us we have redemption in him. Redemption cannot be found in anyone else, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”(Acts 4:12). Neither charitable deeds nor good living can earn your redemption. It has its sole source in the person and work of Christ - it is in him. And because our redemption is in him, no one can take it away.

We “have” redemption. It’s our present possession. If you have trusted Christ as your Saviour, you have redemption now – the present possession of eternal life. It isn’t future (not something we’re working for or hoping for) but something we now possess.

We didn’t and couldn’t do anything for it. It’s not “by works of righteousness which we have done but according to his mercy he saves us(Tit. 3:5). We couldn’t pay for it nor earn it. God has freely provided it for us in Christ, who gave himself a ransom for many”(Matt. 20:28). Redemption is the freedom obtained by payment of a ransom. It’s a term that was used primarily for the release of slaves. In spiritual terms, redemption refers to our ransom from the curse of sin, from sin’s power and penalty (cf. Jn. 8:34; Rom. 7:14; 1 Cor. 7:23; Gal. 3:13).

The object of our redemption was to buy us back from sin’s slavery, to redeem us from Satan’s control and deception. The result of our redemption is our liberation. We’ve been emancipated - the price has been paid. We’ve been ransomed, and, as a result, set free from the bondage of sin - released from the tyranny of the law.

So, the source of our redemption is God’s dear Son…

2. The Means Of Our Redemption Is… Christ’s Blood

… we have redemption through his blood (7b). Christ has ransomed us from the slave market of sin. He paid the price to set us free by giving his life for us, by dying the death we deserved. And the evidence of the payment of that debt was the shedding of his precious blood. That was the mighty ransom price – his life, his blood. That was the utmost price that could be paid. It wasn’t the blood of a sacrificial animal as in the O. T. sacrifices (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22). It was his blood, “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:19).

Dr. Paul Brand in his book, “God’s Forever Feast,” writes: “I used to think it strange that the Bible keeps talking about the cleansing power of the blood. It seemed to me that blood was messy stuff. I needed to wash my white lab coats if they became stained with blood. Today, I love the analogy; it is so true of the body. The blood is constantly cleansing every cell and washing away all the debris that accumulates all the time.”

No animal’s blood could ever cleanse us from sin. Only Christ’s blood was sufficient to remit our sins. Not by means of the blood of goats and calves, but by means of His own blood, thus securing eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12).

Have you ever thought about what this means, that God’s own Son shed his blood for your redemption, that he was willing to die to cleanse you from sin? “Scarcely for a righteous man will one die…yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates his love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:7-8).

How often do you thank God for your redemption? This will be our wonderful theme in heaven, when we will say: “You are worthy…for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9-10). It is the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses us from all our sins (1 Jn. 1:7).

The means of our redemption is his blood and…

3. The Result Of Our Redemption Is… Our Forgiveness

Redemption would not be complete without forgiveness. The grand object of redemption is our freedom and the key to freedom is forgiveness. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins (7c).

Forgiveness is the complete removal (remission) of our sins (Isa. 44:22; Jer. 3:34; 1 Jn. 1:9). Through faith in Christ, we are forgiven (cf. Col. 1:14). Once we were bound by sin. We were held hostage by it, completely absorbed by it, unable to help ourselves because of it. Such was the power of sin over us that we were its prisoner, incarcerated in trespasses and sins. But through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, we are set free because our sins are forgiven.

We know the source of redemption, the means, and the result, but what was the reason? Why did God redeem us?….

4. The Motivation For Our Redemption Is… God’s Grace

according to the riches of his grace (7d). Forgiveness and grace go together. Forgiveness is only offered to us by God because of his grace. Notice that it does not say that forgiveness was given to us “out of” the riches of his grace, but according to (in the measure of) the riches of his grace. Something can be given “out of” someone’s riches, but it may not be necessarily lavish because they may have limited riches, or because they may hold some back. But God has provided our redemption to the full extent of the riches of his grace - he has held nothing back.

Our forgiveness is according to the riches of God’s grace of which there is no end. The enormity of what he has done is reflected in the fullness of our forgiveness and the inexhaustible supply of his grace.

The motivation for our redemption is God’s grace, which he lavished upon us (8a). His grace is no mere trickle, no puny supply. Rather, he lavished his grace upon us. This is extravagant grace, outrageous grace, exorbitant grace, superabundant grace from God’s inexhaustible riches.

How is this abundance of God’s grace made manifest to us? in all wisdom and insight (8b). In his matchless unbounded grace, God ransoms us from our sin. That in itself would surely be enough, but no, there’s more. He pours into our souls wisdom and insight. Why does he give us wisdom and insight? So that we can understand what he has done for us in Christ and so that we can live in the good of it. He has redeemed us and forgiven our sins, and now he floods our souls with the wisdom and understanding that go along with our new position in Christ.

So, the sequence of thought here is this…

1. The source of our redemption is God’s dear Son.

2. The means of our redemption is Christ’s blood.

3. The result of our redemption is our forgiveness.

4. The motivation for our redemption is God’s grace.

And finally…

5. The Consummation Of Redemption Is… Christ’s Headship

making known to us the mystery of his will (9a). In God’s grace he has revealed the mystery of His will (which we can understand through the wisdom and insight he has given to us), that the consummation of redemption will be the universal and glorious headship of Christ.

What was formerly a mystery he has made known to us and he has given us the ability to understand it and appreciate it. That’s his grace!

God wasn’t forced to unveil this secret. He freely revealed it according to his good pleasure, which he set forth in Christ (9b). Just as it was the Father’s pleasure to predestine us to adoption in Christ (5), so it was his good pleasure to make known to us his eternal purpose (i.e. “the mystery of his will”) concerning the eschatological headship of Christ.

So, what is “the mystery of his will”? … that in the administration of the fullness of the times, he might unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (10). This is the consummation of God’s plan of redemption. The redemption that Christ effected on the cross will culminate in his universal headship over all creation. God’s plan of redemption had in view our salvation and Christ’s ultimate headship over all things.

The fullness of time began “when God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4). That’s when the fullness of time began and it will end with Christ’s return in power and glory and judgment. And God’s purpose in all of this mystery which he has revealed to us is to unite all things in / under Christ (Col. 1:20; Phil. 2:9-11).

Everything centers on Christ so that everything in heaven and earth will ultimately be brought under His headship (See Rev. 20:4-5). This is the consummation of redemption. This is the event to and for which all redemptive history points and waits - the universal headship of Christ, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:10-11).

IV. The Blessing Of Our Inheritance (1:11-14)

Paul continues to be overwhelmed by the wonder of God’s plan to unite both Jews and Gentiles into one people of God through the redemptive work of Christ. He continues to praise God for uniting us in Christ – a united position that is founded on our united blessings in Christ (the blessings of our election, predestination, and redemption), and now he turns to the blessing of our inheritance.

During the 1996 Major League Baseball season, Chad Kruder, a reserve catcher for the Chicago White Sox severely dislocated and fractured his left shoulder at a play at plate. After undergoing surgery, the White Sox placed him on the 60 day disabled list. That’s the kind of thing that makes a back-up player feel even less like part of the team. But quite the opposite happened.

Apparently, Chad’s team mates had a strong liking for him because each player put Chad’s # 12 on his baseball cap to show support for him. Chad was a member of the team whether he played or not. As you can imagine that meant a lot to Chad.

Later in the season, when he was able to suit up again, Chad showed his appreciation by putting the numbers of each of his team mates on his ball cap.

Unity is a beautiful thing on any team, especially the church team. That’s what Ephesians is all about – the unity of the church, that mysterious union that God has brought about, a union that is composed of some very different people.

The difference between “we” (11-12) and “you” (13) is a very important change in pronoun. Up to this point in the epistle, “we” has embraced all Christians. But now the “we” of v.11 are the Jewish Christians – those “who first trusted Christ” (12) – and the “you” of v.13 are the Gentile Christians who “also trusted” Christ.” Finally, v.14 embraces all Christians again, both Jew and Gentile.

This is the prelude to the elaboration in chapter 2, which shows how two entirely different, even adversarial people could be brought together as one body in Christ, into a “United Position in Christ” – one body (2:16), one family of God (2:19), one building of God (2:20). That such people can unite under one banner is nothing less than the work of God – hence the title of this series of articles: “United We Stand: The Mystery of the Church.”

Our “United Position in Christ” is based on “Our United Blessings in Christ”: The blessings of our election (3-4), our predestination (5-6), our redemption (7-10), and now the blessing of our inheritance (1:11-14).

Not only do we have spiritual blessings in Christ in the past (our election and predestination which God decreed in a past eternity), and in the present (our redemption which God effected in the present day of his grace), but also in the future (our inheritance which God has promised).

1. Our Inheritance Is Assigned To Us…By God’s Sovereign Plan (11)

After choosing us, God predestined us to adoption into his family and having been predestined, in him also we have obtained an inheritance according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (11).

In him also we have obtained an inheritance (11a). An inheritance refers to the rights and privileges passed on to heirs. An heir is one who by virtue of his family status stands to inherit the rights and privileges related to that family by being named an heir. We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). In him we have obtained an inheritance. Our position in Christ is the basis of our inheritance, just as it is the basis of our election and our redemption. Based on our predestined position in Christ, God laid up an inheritance for us as members of his family, before we ever existed.

Our inheritance is all part of God’s sovereign, eternal plan, just like our election and redemption. He made the plan and by his sovereign power he also carries it out. What God has planned, he has the power also to carry out and complete. He works out all things according to his own eternal purposes and will, according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. Our inheritance is all of God, not of us. There is nothing that God has ordained that will not come to pass. He is not only the architect, he is also the builder, and nothing will delay, change, or stop his plans because he is all-powerful.

It would be one thing to know that we have all these spiritual blessings, but what good would they be if they don’t come to fruition? Sometimes people invest in schemes that never come to pass such as the scandal of “Greater Ministries Int’l Church”. This organization promised to double its donors’ investments in 17 months from profits in gold and diamond mines in Liberia and international trading in precious metals. The amazing thing is not that they made the promise but that people actually believed them! At least $100 million was reportedly invested in the scheme by over 15,000 Christians.

Sometimes people put deposits on things that they never receive. Either the company went out of business or they were “fly-by-nighters” who had no intention of delivering the goods. Older people are often ripped off by con artists masquerading as legitimate business people. Sometimes people lose money by investing in schemes that are fraudulent to start with. Other times the opportunity was genuine and the intentions were good but the other party just could not deliver on those good intentions.

But God will deliver our inheritance according to his purpose and will. Though my wife and I have taken great care to spell out clearly in our wills what is to happen to our assets, such as they are, in the event of our death, we cannot guarantee that our wishes will be carried out. Things may change between now and then; other people to whom we entrust the settling of our affairs may not act honourably; or, they may misunderstand what we want. But God himself settles his own affairs. He does not assign that responsibility to others.

Do you have implicit trust in God’s sovereign will? Do you believe that what God has promised he is able also to do? If you don’t trust God for the future, can you trust him for the past? Faith in the sovereign will and power of God is mandatory if you want to enter into the good of God’s promises and blessings now.

Our inheritance is assigned to us by God's sovereign plan…and…

2. Our Inheritance Is Secured To Us…With All God’s Chosen People (12-14)

The first persons whom God chose to trust in Christ were Jewish believers, we who first trusted in Christ (12a), that is, before the Gentiles trusted in Christ. “We,” Paul says (including himself) “have obtained an inheritance to which God has predestined us, not because of our national heritage, ancestry, or personal merit but because of his sovereign will.”

He says, “By God’s sovereign choice, he chose us, Jewish believers, as his very own people to live before him in holiness and blamelessness, and, in love, he predestined us to the relationship of adopted sons and daughters. As his children, we are his heirs with a glorious inheritance ahead of us. And the purpose of having been predestined to this inheritance,” he says, is that we might be to the praise of his glory (12b). God’s purpose for our redeemed lives is to be living praises of his glory in our thoughts, words, desires, and actions. Just as predestination to adoption summons the praises of his people (5), so their predestined inheritance calls forth his glorious praise. It is part of God’s all-embracing, eternal, sovereign plan that his people should praise him.

But is this inheritance, then, only for Jewish believers? No! God’s chosen people also includes the Gentile believers. The Jewish believers were the first in order of time to trust in Christ (12a) – to have hope in Christ - and then the Gentiles were brought into the church (Rom. 1:16). In whom you (the Gentile believers in Ephesus) also trusted (13a). The Greek doesn’t finish the sentence here – “you also” what? Some think it is “in him you also obtained an inheritance.” Others think it is “in him you also trusted” (NKJV). Or, it could be “in him you also were sealed by the Holy Spirit” (ESV). Grammatically, any of these options are possible but “in whom you also trusted (or, hoped),” referring back to v. 12, seems to make the most sense.

On what basis were the Gentiles brought into the church? On the same basis as the Jewish believers, who first trusted in Christ. We have the same salvation and inheritance on the same basis as they do. What is that? Trusting Christ by hearing the word of truth, believing it, and being sealed with the Holy Spirit.

These Ephesian believers heard the word of truth (13a) from Paul. He visited them on his second missionary journey (Acts 19:1-10), only to find that they were still O. T. believers, who only knew John the Baptist’s baptism. They didn’t know that the One to whom John pointed had come and in whose name they ought to be baptized. As soon as Paul explained this to them, they were baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5) and became Christians, as evidenced by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This was when they first heard the word of truth.

Like them, we also have “heard the word of truth” which is the gospel of your salvation. There are many false gospels in the world. The true gospel is the word of truth, not the word of error (1 Jn. 4:6). There are many voices in the world (1 Cor.14:10) all clamouring for our attention, all trying to convince us that they are telling the truth. The word of truth is the gospel - the gospel that reveals the truth about the human condition, that proclaims the consequences of rejecting Christ, that promises the only way of escape from judgement, that urges sinners to avail themselves of salvation now. It’s the gospel that Christ died for our sins, rose again the third day, and is coming back again.

The word of truth is the gospel of your salvation, “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). Hearing the word of truth is not enough. They also believed in Him (13b). Hearing the gospel precedes faith in the gospel (Col. 1:5; Rom. 10:14, 17). If, after hearing, you believe the message of the gospel and place your trust for eternity in the person and work of Christ, then you are saved and brought into the church!

Some people hear in faith; others hear in unbelief. It is our responsibility to believe. God doesn’t do that for us. God sovereignly chooses some for salvation because if he did not choose some, no one would be saved, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23. “No one is righteous, no not one”(Rom. 3:10). For that reason, God exercises his sovereignty and chooses some to be saved.

But, there is another side to the equation – human responsibility. God has provided the means by which you may be saved – i.e. the atoning, substitutionary death of Christ. And God has appointed the means by which you can know this salvation in Christ – through the preaching of “the word of truth,” for “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). When you hear the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, you are responsible for how you respond to it. God isn’t responsible for that – you are. So, if you reject the gospel of salvation and, by doing so, reject Christ, you will be held responsible for that on the day of judgment. And Christ, who has been ordained to judge the world (Acts 17:31), will righteously condemn you to hell for your decision.

Some of you today might have become immune to the truth. You’ve heard the Gospel so many times that it’s just an old wives fable to you. Your conscience has been “seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:2). You are totally insensitive to the truth of the Gospel. You have no spiritual feeling.

Jesus said: “He who has ears to hear let him hear” (Matt. 11:15). Jesus’ message of the gospel of salvation is to those who hear in faith and believe: “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (Jn. 5:24).

Have you heard the truth of the Gospel and believed? Is you ear open today to the truth of God’s word? Are you ready to receive Christ? Don’t turn away today without trusting Christ. It is all rooted in him and his finished work at Calvary. It isn’t a matter of head knowledge - that won’t suffice on its own. It’s a matter of faith. Do you have faith in him? Have you trusted Christ? Have you taken what you have heard and made it the object of your faith? Have you recognized that you cannot save yourself and that Jesus Christ is the only One who could pay the debt of sin for you? Have you trusted him by receiving him as your Saviour?

Well, when we hear the word of truth and trust Christ for salvation, God in turn secures us for eternity. We are secured by the sealing of the Spirit: …“having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (13c). Our salvation is based on Christ’s finished work of atonement and secured by the indwelling (sealing) of the Holy Spirit. This is an allusion to the ancient practice of sealing documents to identify them, to secure them, and to authenticate them.

Sealing is similar to branding or engraving today which identifies the owner. Legal documents and ancient letters used to be sealed by impressing a symbol or name into hot wax, usually with a ring. Today, documents are sealed by embossing a corporation’s or individual’s name on the paper with a die-cut seal. Personal possession may be engraved with some sort of identification in case they are stolen or lost.

Sealing declares the document as valid, authorized and original. It ensures that only the person to whom it is addressed opens it. If the seal is broken an unauthorized person has opened it. Today shipments of cargo are sometimes sealed with a special tag. Only the customs inspector is authorized to break the seal. This ensures that the cargo is not tampered with while in transit. Animals sometimes have seals put in their ears or around their legs as a mark of identification.

Sealing, then, is a mark of identification, authority, and security. The Holy Spirit seals Christians. God the Holy Spirit himself indwells us to form a seal that cannot be broken. Sealing takes place when you believe: Having believed you were sealed. At the moment of genuine faith, the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised (cf. Jn. 14:16, 17; 15:26), takes up residence in us and seals us.

The Holy Spirit is the seal that identifies us as God’s people, as genuine believers, authorizes us to speak God’s word, assures us of our salvation through His inner witness (Rom. 8:16), and secures for us our salvation for eternity by indwelling us (1 Jn. 3:24).

The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance (14a). He guarantees (insures) our inheritance in Christ. God has “given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Cor. 1:22). He is the down payment guaranteeing our inheritance. He is the first installment, the security deposit, of what’s to come. A security deposit, or pledge, makes an agreement valid and obligates the purchaser to complete his commitments.

The Holy Spirit is God’s “security deposit,” a sign of his pledge, his surety that he will keep his promise and deliver our inheritance (2 Cor. 5:5). What a God we have that he would give us such a guarantee!

When I worked in business most of the transactions I did, totaling large sums of money, were verbal. We accepted our customers’ word as true and that they would do what they said. Only in some instances did we require a deposit to guarantee that they would complete the transaction. God could have just given us his word and that would have been enough. But the One who cannot lie (Heb. 6:18) not only gave us his word, He also gave us his Spirit as the demonstration of his good and reliable intentions toward us.

Furthermore, God’s guarantee is unconditional. His guarantee is good until our redemption is complete: …until the redemption of God’s purchased possession (14b). Sometimes a down payment is conditional - if the conditions are not met the deposit is returned and the deal is off. Sometimes new products come with a guarantee. But they are usually conditional. For example, a new car guarantee is limited to a certain mileage or a length of time and usually excludes defects related to normal wear and tear. But God’s guarantee is not limited to time or conditions. It’s good until our redemption is complete at the coming of Jesus Christ.

Not only are we a marked people (marked by the Holy Spirit’s seal), but we are a redeemed people (1 Cor. 3:23; Rom. 14:8; 1 Pet. 2:9), redeemed with the precious blood of Christ (1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). But our redemption is not yet complete. We are still waiting for our bodies to be changed, to be glorified, to be redeemed body, soul, and spirit, to be translated into his presence, to be perfectly like Him. While we are waiting the Holy Spirit bridges the gap. He bridges the gap between what we already have in Christ (new life; spiritual blessings) and what we still anticipate (the fulfillment of all these blessings at Christ’s second coming).

So, the sealing of the Holy Spirit points to that future day (Eph. 4:30; Rom. 8:23) when faith will be replaced by sight, when our bodies will be transformed, when we will be freed not only from the power and penalty of sin but also from the presence of sin, and when we will express our gratitude to the praise of his glory (14c).

God’s ultimate purpose is wrapped up in this phrase, the praise of his glory” (or, his glorious praise). We were chosen in Christ “to the praise of his glorious grace” (6). We trusted Christ “to the praise of his glory” (12). And we are sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption to the praise of his glory (14).

Conclusions

Thus, the apex of Paul’s introductory doxology is reached. God has blessed us in the past, the present, and the future. In a past eternity God sovereignly decreed the election of his own special people. Down through the ages, he has been calling them to himself. Now he has chosen and called you and me through faith in Christ. Having chosen us, God also predestined us to adoption as his children.

In the present era of his grace, God put into effect his great plan of redemption through Christ’s work on the cross. And he has made known to us “the mystery of his will”, that at end, the consummation of the age, he will unite all things under Christ’s headship.

Finally, and most importantly, in the future, God will bring us into our eternal inheritance, the realization of all his promises and blessings, having been kept by the Holy Spirit for this very thing, even the eternal praise of God.

And those whom he has chosen and called he has unified into one body, the church. We are a part of his holy coalition that has been called out to worship him and that has been marshalled to serve him.

Let us never lose sight of what God has done for us in Christ. In Christ He has chosen us and predestined us to be his children. In Christ He has redeemed us, forgiven our sins. In Christ He has predestined us to an eternal inheritance. In Christ He has sealed us by the Holy Spirit until the completion of our redemption.

These are our common blessings in Christ which we enjoy together. How appropriate, then, that we should express our gratitude that, of all the people of the world, he chose us to salvation and adoption, to be part of his special people, the church; that in order to make this choice possible his Son had to die; and that all of this marvelous plan was conceived in eternity. May this challenge us to live “holy and blameless lives before him”, living as children of our heavenly Father ought to live, praising him for his glorious grace”.

Don’t you find God’s grace amazing? That God would care about us? That he would plan for our salvation in a past eternity? That he would choose us to be the beneficiaries of his redemption. And that now he has given us the ability to understand the grand scheme of things, the grand finale to which history is headed and for which everything was planned, namely, the pre-eminence of his beloved Son. No wonder Paul started this doxology by blessing the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ.”

What is your response today? Out of a heart that has been touched by his grace, will you respond with a burst of praise for his glorious grace which he has made known to us in the Lord Jesus Christ? Together let us say with Paul: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (3). Together we must respond to the praise of his glory for he is worthy.


1 C. H. Spurgeon, Quoting Spurgeon, ed. Raspantini, 45.

2 William Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians, New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 77.

3 John Phillips, Exploring Ephesians, An Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1995), 33-34.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)

3. Prayer #1: A Prayer for Spiritual Enlightenment (Eph. 1:15-23)

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Introduction

After describing in detail the blessings that are ours in Christ (1:3-14), Paul now goes to prayer on behalf of the Ephesians. This is the first of two prayers in this epistle. The first is a prayer for enlightenment; the second is a prayer for empowerment (3:14-21).

In this first prayer, Paul prays that the spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ may be known and appropriated by us, that we will comprehend and make use of the blessings and resources that are ours. So, the theme of this prayer is that “prayer is the key to spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

This prayer starts with…

I. Thanksgiving To God For Salvation (15-16)

For this reason, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers (15-16a).

Why did Paul give ceaseless thanks to God for them? He gave ceaseless thanks to God for them because he had heard of (1) their faith in the Lord Jesus, and (2) their love for all the saints. When he heard that they had been saved, and that they were demonstrating the reality of their salvation in their love for God’s people, he repeatedly gave thanks for them in prayer. What greater source of joy and thanksgiving could there be than the salvation of souls? Do you rejoice when people are saved? Or does it merely make you yawn? Do you have a passion for souls?

Paul gives thanks for the two marks of genuine salvation…

1. The First Mark Of Genuine Salvation Is… “Faith In The Lord Jesus

They had heard the gospel of salvation. They recognized it by faith to be the word of truth and they believed it (13). In particular, they expressed faith in the Lord Jesus.

They put their faith in the Lord. They submitted to his lordship over them. They acknowledged his deity. They recognized his sovereignty over their lives. This is evidence of genuine salvation – to be marked by saving submission to the sovereign Lord. Scripture is clear: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in you heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Furthermore, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3) and only true believers have the Holy Spirit indwelling them (1:13-14).

Not only that, but they put their faith in Jesus, the one who came to be the Saviour of the world, the one who saved them from their sins. He was the object of their faith and the means of their salvation, for “a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16).

2. The Second Mark Of Genuine Salvation Is… “Love For All The Saints”

Indiscriminate love for all the saints is a mark of a genuine Christian - not loving some and not others, but love for all the saints, loving them as Christ loves them. 1 John 3:14 is clear, “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 Jn. 3:14).

Knowledge of God’s word must be balanced by love for God’s people. You can talk all you like about the truth and about theology, but without love your talk is just like “sounding brass or a clanging symbol” (1 Cor. 13:1).

True salvation is expressed in our oneness with all other Christians, a oneness that is characterized by love – not a love that is only a feeling which can come and go, not a love that is in word only, but a love that is in deed and in truth (1 Jn. 3:18) – i.e. practical, kind, genuine, and generous. Faith and love are inseparable in genuine believers. It’s sad to think that, as time went by, these believers in Ephesus kept their faith but lost their first love (Rev. 2:2-4).

Faith without love is lifeless. Love without faith is permissive. A loveless faith is cause for doubt about that person’s salvation. So, examine your own heart. Do you love all the people of God? Or, do you love some and not others? Do you love those whom you find attractive, nice, but despise those whom you find offensive? If the church is to be united in practice and not just theory, we must love all the saints, embrace them in our prayers and do acts of kindness for them. It’s not enough to merely say you love the people of God. That statement must be supported by action or it is empty.

There are so many ways that you can show your love to the saints. You can visit those who are shut in by virtue of old age or sickness. You can help to financially support the poor. You can encourage the down-hearted. You can serve others in many different ways through the various ministries of the church and personal acts of kindness.

After the thanksgiving for their salvation, this prayer continues with a…

II. A Petition For Spiritual Understanding (17-23)

… that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him (17).

Paul’s prayer is addressed to and invokes the blessing of the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory. This expression takes us back to Ephesians 1:3, where the same description of God is used. In using this expression, Paul distinguishes between God the Father and God the Son and in so doing emphasizes the divine nature of the Son, who is equal to, and one in essence with, the Father and the Holy Spirit. Here, however, Paul adds the descriptive phrase, the Father of glory. He probably adds this to indicate how the glory of the Father is so prominently displayed in the blessings which he has bestowed on us (1:4-14).

The request in this prayer is specifically for a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him (17). The subject of the petition is that the same God who has blessed them with every spiritual blessing in Christ (1:3) will also give them a full and accurate comprehension of who they are in Christ and what they have in him, by giving them a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.

There is much debate among commentators as to whether the word “spirit” refers to the human spirit or the Holy Spirit. There are several arguments that push me towards understanding this phrase as a reference to the human spirit in the sense of “a disposition, influence, attitude”.1

  1. Jesus used the word “spirit” in this way when he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3).
  2. The noun “spirit” is not preceded by a definite article, so it literally reads “a” spirit not “the” Spirit.
  3. It would not make sense that Paul would pray that God would give them the Holy Spirit, when he has just said that they already have him (1:13). F. F. Bruce explains, “As in Col. 1:9 the object of intercessory prayer is that the readers ‘may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will together with all wisdom and spiritual understanding,’ so here prayer is offered that the readers may be given ‘a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.’”2

Nonetheless, we must acknowledge that such a spirit cannot be exercised without the work of the Holy Spirit. As John Phillips puts it, “The spirit of wisdom and revelation that gives us the knowledge of Him must come from the Holy Spirit.”3 This is a request that the wisdom and insight that God has already supplied to us (8) may be continuously communicated to us in ever deeper ways by his Spirit (Col. 1:9). Again F. F. Bruce writes, “A ‘spirit of wisdom and revelation’ can be imparted only through him who is the personal Spirit of wisdom and revelation.”4

Thus, Paul is praying that the Ephesian believers would have a spirit of wisdom and revelation (insight, understanding) in the knowledge of Christ. This is a prayer for practical knowledge and right conduct, which only the Holy Spirit can give. This is a prayer that God will grant the spiritual ability to understand His blessings toward us in Christ and to live in the good of those spiritual resources. This is a prayer that the Holy Spirit who indwells and seals us (1:13) will give us “a spirit of wisdom and revelation, which is a special gift, manifestation, or application of the Holy Spirit.”5

To this end, it is also entirely appropriate to petition God for a spirit of revelation… in the knowledge of him. Revelation goes beyond wisdom. It has more the sense of spiritual understanding through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. “Only as God reveals by his Spirit can his people understand by that same Spirit.” 6 It is solely the work of God by the Holy Spirit (cf. 3:5), who opens up to us not new truth, but the meaning and application of the revealed truth about God that we already have. In this sense, revelation continues to be given by God through the Holy Spirit to all believers to enable us to understand what God has disclosed to us and how to live by it. Through the Holy Spirit, God reveals to us things that the natural mind cannot understand, namely the “deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:6-16).

In Christ, God has given us all that we need to know him fully and to live the Christian life properly. What we need is the right “spirit,” the right disposition, the right desire to comprehend the revelation we already have and to appropriate it for ourselves. So, don’t become distracted, looking for some sort of hidden spiritual treasure, some illusive key to spiritual blessing or power. We have it all in Christ. All we need to do is enter into all that God has given us – his grace, peace, forgiveness, future inheritance etc.

Therefore, the underlying thrust of our petitions should be, not for more blessings, more resources, or more power, but for more understanding in the use of all that he has already given to us at the moment we were saved; for the Spirit to be at work giving insight into and unveiling the purposes of God in Christ; and for growth in the knowledge of him.

This prayer of petition, then, is for the spiritual enlightenment of believers in the knowledge of God, the eyes of your heart (understanding) having been enlightened (18a). The heart in the ancient world was the centre of knowledge, of understanding and wisdom, the seat of the mind and will. The spiritual eyes of their hearts had been enlightened because they had heard the “word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (13). They had believed it and trusted Christ for salvation and they had been sealed with the Holy Spirit. Thus, the eyes of their heart had been enlightened; spiritual light had penetrated their understanding through the gospel, just as it did the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:31-32), to whom Jesus revealed in the Scriptures the things concerning himself such that their “heart” burned within them and their “eyes” were opened so that they could understand the significance of what had just been revealed to them.

Divine enlightenment turns information into truth which is understandable. Once enlightened by the gospel we can receive greater truth, a deeper, fuller understanding of the gospel. If you read the Scriptures and cannot understand them as I often do, pray that the Spirit of God will open your spiritual eyes so that the light of God's Word can pour into you heart, revealing to you its significance.

This petition for spiritual enlightenment in the knowledge of Christ has three specific purposes or objectives…

1. To Know The Hope Of God’s Calling (18b)

That you may know what is the hope of his calling. To know in a deeper, fuller way the truth of God’s call - our election, predestination, adoption as God’s children, our redemption and our inheritance. All that we are and have in Christ is due to God’s call in Christ, something we should never forget and something we should want to understand more and more. We need to go beyond merely knowing that we are saved to a full realization of who we are in Christ, what our position is in Christ, and how we should live for Christ.

God has called us for a purpose: to be holy and without blame before him in love (4); to live to the praise of his glorious grace (6); to know the mystery of his will (9); to look forward to the completion of our redemption (11); to live securely in the seal of the HS (13-14); to walk worthy of his calling (4:1-2). God has called us to a radical new way of life in view of a secure destiny. It is a call to obedience to Christ, fellowship with Christ and each other, and a glorious eternal future.

Notice, it’s not just knowing God’s calling, but the hope of his calling. God’s call gives us a sure and certain hope - the hope that what he did in the past has secured our future; the hope that our redemption will be consummated in glorification; the hope that our life now will soon be eternal life with Christ in glory.

The first objective of this prayer is to know the hope of God’s calling. The second is…

2. To Know The Riches Of Our Inheritance (18c)

That you may know… what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in / among the saints. The interpretive issue here is, whose inheritance is this referring to – God’s or ours? Is this our inheritance that God is going to bestow on us, or is it God’s own inheritance of his people which he will enter into? I think it refers to our inheritance which God will give us, an inheritance which is in / among the saints. Here are some of my reasons for drawing this interpretive conclusion:

  1. Paul has already outlined our blessings from God in Christ in the previous paragraph (1:3-14) – our election, our predestination, our redemption, which will culminate in our inheritance. In fact, he has written twice in the preceding paragraph of our inheritance: “In him also we have obtained an inheritance (11)… In him you also… were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (1:14, ESV). So it makes sense that he is referring here in this prayer (18) to the same inheritance, which God will give us on that day.
  2. In 2:6-7 he speaks again of the fulfillment of our blessings, when God will “show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward is in Christ Jesus.” Again, it is God who bestows this on us, not something that God inherits.
  3. The notion that God is waiting to enter into his inheritance just does not make sense. God has already taken possession of us in Christ - we are his own special people (1 Pet. 2:9) who have an eternal inheritance of which we will acquire possession (1:14) in a coming day.
  4. As John Piper clearly explains, in the three instances where “Paul wants us to see with the eyes of the heart and grasp in a profound way, it turns out that he uses the very same wording when they come from God or go toward God. For example, he wants us to see the hope of his calling, the glory of his inheritance, and third the greatness of his power…I think it would be really strange if the modifier his had a different meaning in regard to the inheritance than it has in regard to the calling and power. It’s his calling in the sense that he gives it. It’s his power in the sense that he has it and gives it. And it’s his inheritance in the sense that he gives it to us…Finally, if you do a word study and look up all the places where Paul uses the word inheritance or inherit or heir, you find that they never refer to God inheriting, God’s receiving and inheritance, or God’s being an heir.” 7

I conclude, therefore, that his glorious inheritance among the saints refers to our inheritance that comes from God and which is bestowed on us as a community of faith, the saints.

Paul prays, then, that we, believers, will know the truth about our inheritance from God. God “has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Col. 1:12), an inheritance that is “incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4), the final possession of which the Holy Spirit is the guarantee (14).

It’s not just knowing our inheritance, but the riches of it, for “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). The riches of this inheritance are beyond our imagination, but through the illumination of the Holy Spirit we can grasp them in a deeper, fuller way. The riches of this glorious inheritance are to see God, to be with and like Christ, to be gathered with all the saints from all time. One day the riches of this glorious inheritance will be ours as “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).

Paul prays for believers to know God’s call in the past, our inheritance from God in the future, and in the present…

3. To Know The Greatness Of God’s Power (19-23)

That you may know…what is the exceeding greatness of his power (19a). God’s power is not only great but exceedingly great. God’s power surpasses all other powers – even those that are great. It is the power on which our calling and inheritance rely. To know that the entirety of our lives - past, present, and future - is controlled by the mighty power of God is very comforting and assuring.

God's exceedingly great power is exercised fully for our benefit: toward us who believe according to the working of his mighty power (19b). His power is exercised solely for the benefit of believers. We alone are saved and kept by his power and will be glorified by his power. His power is exercised to the full for us. His power is made available to us to the full extent of his mighty strength.

Notice it does not say “out of” but “according to his mighty power. He exercises the full measure of his might and power for us. Whatever power he has is available to us - not just a part of it but all of it.

His physical strength (ισχυος) is a mighty, manifested power, all of which he energizes and mobilizes for us. And “if God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). All the strength of the greatest power of the universe, the Creator himself, is available and working for us.

So, how can we know God’s exceedingly great power?

A) We Know The Greatness Of His Power In Christ’s Resurrection From The Dead.

which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead (20a). Only God has power over death. Therefore, the resurrection of Christ is full and final proof of the exceedingly great power of God.

B) We Know The Greatness Of His Power In Christ’s Exaltation Over All Other Powers.

and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above every ruler and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come (20b-21).

Christ has been exalted above all evil, opposing powers. In 1 Cor. 15:24-26 these powers are “enemies who are to be put under Christ’s feet.” Notice the allusion to Ps. 110:1 and 8:6. Eph. 6:12 explains that “the principalities and authorities are evil forces (cf. also 2:2) so that in this letter as a whole the powers are to be conceived as hostile beings,” 8 all of whom will be made subject to him according to the working of (God’s) mighty power.

God not only raised Christ from the dead, but he raised him to the position of universal lordship and dominion to exercise power on God’s behalf, at his right hand in heavenly places.

The scope of God’s power is far above any opposition or competition; far above every ruler, authority, power, and dominion, and (in case there may be any other force) far above every name that is named both now and forever, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

God’s power in Christ is absolute and pre-eminent and eternal. His rule is over every imaginable cosmic power. He is supreme over the whole universe. He alone has the power over death and evil. We cannot avoid death nor can we on our own overcome evil, but God in Christ has overcome them both and reigns supreme.

C) We Know The Greatness Of His Power In Christ’s Headship Over The Church.

And he put all things under his feet and gave him head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (22-23).

Christ rules the entire universe in the interest of the church. Therefore, nothing can prevent our resurrection and the realization of our inheritance. The church is Christ’s body (which he directs and indwells) and the church is his fullness. He fills it just as he fills all things – i.e. the universe.

This petition is not for power but for divine knowledge of that power. We do not pray for the power we already have but for the knowledge of how to appropriate it for ourselves, how to live in the good of it. Through divine wisdom and revelation we enter into the benefit of God’s power, we rejoice in it, we are secure in it. We need to understand God’s power, to rest in it, to avail ourselves of it. It has saved us and secures us for his service and his eternal enjoyment and glory.

The same power that raised Christ from the dead will raise us up to glory (2 Cor. 4:14; Rom. 8:11). This eliminates any doubt as to God’s ability to complete our redemption. Therefore, how can we feel insecure? How can you think that you could be saved and lost again?

The power of God supercedes any other power in the universe, whether good or evil, and it is exercised on our behalf. No matter what opposition we may encounter in spiritual battles, God’s power is greater. He has raised Christ far above all of Satan’s hosts (the demons of darkness), far above the angelic hosts, far above every name in this age or the age to come.

Christ is the sovereign Lord of the universe and of the church. All his power is available in and for the church. So be strong and of good courage. No evil power is greater than God’s exceedingly great power.

Conclusions

I think that the structure of Paul’s prayer is most instructive:

I. Thanksgiving to God (15-16)

… for the testimony of their salvation in:

1. Their faith in the Lord Jesus (15a)

2. Their love for all the saints (15b)

II. Petition to God (17-23)

… for the knowledge of God (17):

1. To know the hope of God’s calling (18b)

2. To know the riches of God’s inheritance (18c)

3. To know the greatness of God’s power (19-23)

From this structure we can draw several practical applications to our prayer lives:

1. Prayer begins with praising God for his blessings (3-14). Do you remember to praise God for his blessings?

2. Praise leads to thanksgiving (15-16) and petition (17-23). When was the last time you thanked God for those who exemplify faith and love? When did you last ask God for a fuller knowledge of his ways with us - for the full knowledge of His past dealings with us; for the full knowledge of His future plans for us; and for the full knowledge of His present power toward us.

3. This prayer is not about feelings or experience but about knowledge - the knowledge of our incomparable hope in Christ, our inheritance with the saints, and God’s power toward us. Do you want more of the knowledge of God in Christ, of his blessings, his work, his resources, his plans and purposes? If you do, study God’s Word, pray for God’s enlightenment through his Spirit and you’ll grow spiritually in the riches of God. No wonder the apostle Paul could say: Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33).

Do you want security, comfort, confidence, hope, and freedom? You can find it in what God has revealed to us by his Spirit in his Word. Pray that God would reveal these truths to you in a practical way.


1 John MacArthur, Ephesians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1986), 44.

2 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Ephesians, The New Testament International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), 269.

3 John Phillips, Exploring Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1993), 49.

4 Bruce Bruce, 269.

5 Arthur G. Patzia, Ephesians, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990), 165.

6 Bruce, 269.

7 (https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/ephesians-1-18-who-will-receive-the-riches-of-heaven). From an audio transcript of an interview with John Piper.

8 Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1990), 64.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)

4. Our United Transformation: Made Alive Together In Christ (Eph. 2:1-10)

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“You were dead…but God…made us alive together…with Christ”

Introduction

Continuing his theme of our “United Position in Christ,” Paul now moves on from “Our United Blessings in Christ” to “Our United Transformation in Christ.” Just as all believers are united together in one body through our united blessings of election, predestination, redemption, and inheritance, so we are also bound together by our united transformation – a transformation from spiritual death to spiritual life.

Transformation involves a complete change. Sometimes the change may be so dramatic that you can’t recognize it. It’s like decorating a house. If you decorate a room in your house the change might be so drastic that you would say: “It’s transformed.” Perhaps the room has changed from a dreary colour to a bright colour, from being painted to being wall-papered, from an old-fashioned look to a contemporary look.

That’s transformation! And that’s what God has done to us. He has completely changed us from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, from the lusts of the flesh to the power of the Spirit. The truth is this: Only by God’s mercy, love, and grace are we transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life.

Spiritual transformation involves radical change - a contrast between being “dead” (3) and being “made alive” (4-10); a change from what we were to what we are; a conversion from our old condition in the flesh (sin and degradation) to our new condition in Christ (a new life with good works).

All Christians experience the same spiritual transformation. We have the same “Position in Christ” not only because we share the same “Blessings in Christ” which bind our faith together, but also because we have experienced the same “Transformation in Christ.” We all had the same old life before we trusted Christ and we all have the same new life in Christ from the time of our conversion.

The flow of thought here moves from the reminder of our past condition of spiritual death (and its causes and effects) to the description of our present condition of spiritual life. Notice that…

I. Before We Knew Christ, We Were Condemned To Spiritual Death (2:1-3)

And you were dead in trespasses and sins (1). To be dead here means to be dead spiritually not physically. It means you have no spiritual life. You are alive physically but without Christ. It means that your life is dominated by trespasses and sins. So, how do you know if you are spiritually dead? What does a spiritually dead person look like? Paul says…

1. To Be Spiritually Dead Means That Your Behaviour Is Worldly (2)

Two activities describe worldly behaviour. First, you lived (walked) according to the course of this world (2a). Your walk refers to your moral conduct, your manner of life. Paul says: “Your lifestyle was characterized as being of this age (i.e. the age of fallen human existence), of this world (i.e. the world of sinful humanity) and, therefore, it is contrary to and apart from God.” It is a life that is entirely focused on self and not focused on God. It is a life that is “this-worldly” not “other-worldly.” The world is that system that is entirely opposed to Christ. It is a system that is under the dominion of “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4). “All that is in the world…is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 Jn. 2:16). There is no compatibility, no point of contact, no similarity whatsoever between what is “of this world” and what is “of the Father.” Indeed, the former (the world) excludes the latter (the Father). The former is temporal; the latter is eternal. The former is physical; the latter is spiritual.

To walk according to the course of this world means that you live in accordance with the world’s standards and objectives; that you have adopted the value system of the world. “And that,” Paul says, “is what your life was like before you knew Christ.”

To be spiritually dead means that your behaviour is worldly. One activity that describes worldly behaviour is living according to the course of this world.

The second activity that describes worldly behaviour is that you lived… according to the prince of the power of the air (2b). Satan is the prince of the power of the air. He commands the principalities and powers - his emissaries, evil powers of the spirit world, powers which have enormous sway over and in the world. The ways of Satan and his emissaries are the ways of the world. He is the “father of lies” (Jn. 8:44) and so the world is characterized by deceit and corruption. He is a “murderer from the beginning” (Jn. 8:44) and so the world is marked by murder and violence. Satan is the ruler of this world (Jn. 16:11; see Eph. 6:11). Those who walk according to this world are in allegiance with the prince of the power (realm) of the air and are under his dominion.

To be under Satan’s dominion means that you are under the influence of his spirit, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience (2c). It means that your life is lived in submission to Satan and disobedience to God. The pre-Christian state (i.e. what you were before you trusted Christ) is one that is under the control of Satan and, therefore, one that is entirely contrary to the will of God (cf. 2 Thess. 2:9; Acts 5:3). And all of us lived under Satan’s control at one time. We were sons of disobedience among whom also we all once conducted ourselves (2c-3a). We all lived as they did in trespasses and sins (1). The nature and conduct of man in the flesh is universally the same - we are rebels against God (regardless of race, color, or ancestry). “There is no difference (distinction) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

To be spiritually dead means that your behaviour is worldly. And…

2. To Be Spiritually Dead Means That Your Nature Is Corrupted (3)

Not only were we sinful externally in our worldly behaviour, but also we were sinful internally in our corrupt nature.

We Lived To Satisfy Our Sinful Appetites.

Just as we were all “sons of disobedience” (2), so we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh (3a). The lusts of the flesh are our sinful appetites and motives, the “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19-21), which are in opposition to God. All of us at one time patterned our lives after our natural desires. We all had this tendency toward evil things that bring our flesh pleasure with no thought of God in them, nothing spiritual only sensual. Our main pursuit was satisfying our own self-interests, fulfilling the desires of the flesh.

Those who live in the lust of the flesh also live to fulfill the desires of the mind (3b). Fulfilling the desires of the flesh is not enough. They seek also to fulfill the desires of the mind, such that their entire being is occupied with their own sinful appetites. They do those things that appeal to the desires of the flesh and they occupy their minds with those things that appeal to their sinful imaginations. Their sinful pursuits are not limited to external behaviours but include also internal thoughts. Sin permeates even the hidden recesses of their minds. The mind by nature is alienated and at enmity with God (Col. 1:21) because it is puffed up with self-importance. By our natural minds we think we know better than God, just as Adam and Eve thought that they knew more than God in the garden. And where does such arrogance come from? It comes from the father of arrogance and lies himself, the devil.

So, to be spiritually dead means that (1) your behaviour was worldly and (2) your nature was corrupted. Because our nature was corrupted we lived to satisfy our sinful appetites. Also, because our nature was corrupted…

We Lived Under The Just Condemnation Of God.

Just as we were all sons of disobedience,” so also we were by nature children of wrath, just as the others (3c).

As natural children bear certain traits inherited from their parents (looks, behaviour, beliefs etc.), so we bear certain spiritual traits, prior to knowing Christ, through an inherited sinful nature (i.e. because of original sin). This sinful nature predisposes us to walk in the lust of our flesh, which incurs the wrath of God (Jn. 3:36). Hence we were by nature children of wrath. By following our natural instincts which are derived from our inherited sin nature (our flesh) we were subject to the wrath of God and doomed to his condemnation. We were under the fearful wrath of almighty God. What is true of all humanity was once true of all believers. “We, believers,” Paul says, “were by nature children of wrath, just as the others, just like the rest of humanity. We were no different.”

Perhaps you’re still living for the flesh like the rest of humanity. Your life is characterized by “the world,” by the “lust of the flesh,” by “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” Perhaps your life is wholly centred on yourself - you have no time for God, no time for eternity, no time for spiritual things. All you care about is the here and now, physical gratification. Your motto is “I will pull down my barns and build greater…eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die (Lk. 12:18-19).

Remember, God holds you accountable. “Don’t be deceived, God is not mocked” (Gal. 6:7). There is a reckoning day coming. One day, God will say, “You fool. This night your soul shall be required of you” (Lk. 12:20). If your life ends up in disobedience to God you’ll be judged for it. He’ll say to you, Depart from me; I do not know you” (Lk. 13:27). That’s the end result of continuing in trespasses and sins, of walking wilfully and openly in disobedience to God.

This, then, is the picture of us before we knew Christ. Because our behaviour was worldly and our nature was corrupted, we were condemned to spiritual death. If the story ended there, we would be cast into despair. But that was then and this is now. Before we knew Christ we were condemned to spiritual death, but…

II. When We Know Christ, We Are Transformed To Spiritual Life (1:4-10)

But God (4a) marks a sharp contrast. We know what we were transformed from. Now we see what we were transformed to. It’s the contrast between our “dead” condition as disobedient sinners and our “alive” condition as saints. When we hear but God, we can breathe a sigh of relief. He is the solution to our desperate plight. God’s intervention is the key to our spiritual transformation that has taken place. When we became Christians, God transformed us to spiritual life such that…

1. Our Spiritual Transformation Is A Marvel Of God’s Mercy And Love (4-6)

The God of wrath is also the God who is rich in mercy (4a). His mercy overflows from his supply of riches - it is abundant. God does not extend mercy begrudgingly, stingily. He lavishes his mercy on us out of his riches.

I read once about an angry tigress which had become trapped in an illegal wild boar trap in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya. She struggled for hours to free herself but could not. All conventional attempts to shoot the tigress out of the trap failed in the thick underbrush. Finally, five barbiturate capsules fired from Malaya’s only “mercy gun” by Game Warden Metcalfe put the beast to sleep and into a coma that lasted four days. That’s mercy!

God’s mercy too releases us from a trap - the trap of sin, from which we could not by our own efforts extricate ourselves. His mercy is not in the form of a gun but in the form of love - love that offered his own Son to be our Saviour, to take our place, to bear the consequences of our sin so that we could go free. That’s mercy! 1

The God whose mercy is rich is also the God whose love is great. His rich mercy flows from his great love with which he loved us (4b). He held out his mercy to us because he loved us even when we were dead in trespasses (5a); even when we hated him without a cause; even when we were wholly abhorrent to him; even when we couldn’t so much as cry out for mercy; even when we were devoid of spiritual life! That was when God made known to us the marvel of his mercy and love. God’s mercy and love are a marvel in two ways…

First, God’s Mercy And Love Are A Marvel Because Of Our Transformed Condition.

He transformed our condition by making us alive. God has made us alive together with Christ (5b). It isn’t that God reformed our deadness. You can’t revive or reform a dead person. No. He made us alive! While we were still dead in sins he injected new life into us, a life that is from God and responds to God; a life that forms the basis of the intimate union of believers with each other and with Christ. He transformed our condition entirely by his grace, for by grace you have been saved (5c).

To be made alive is to be saved, saved from our old condition and transformed into the new. And to be saved is to be the recipient of God’s grace. God saw us in our pitiful condition, in rebellion against him, and yet showed to us his mercy and love. That’s grace!

So, first, our transformation to spiritual life is a marvel of God’s mercy and love because of our transformed condition. And…

Second, God’s Mercy And Love Are A Marvel Because Of Our Transformed Position.

He made us alive together and he raised us up together (6a) to a transformed position. For someone to be made alive after death necessitates resurrection. What good would it do to give a dead person life (if you could) without raising him from the dead? The one necessitates the other. 2 We have been raised from the grave, loosed from our grave clothes, and set free. No longer are we confined to the tomb of spiritual deadness by the cords of sin. We have been raised from that old position, just as God raised Christ from the dead (1:20).

So, not only has God raised us up from our dead condition but he has also raised us up to a new position. He has enthroned us with Christ, made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (6b). He has given us the place of honour and power that he has given to his Son. We have been raised with Christ to the place where he reigns supreme, seated alongside him in his exaltation and power, sharing with him in his resurrection and victory. That’s the new position to which we have been raised together.

This is not referring to a future event only.3 This enthronement has already taken place in our union with Christ. What will take place physically at the end of time has already taken place spiritually through our union with him.

Our spiritual transformation, then, is a marvel of God's mercy. And…

2. Our Spiritual Transformation Is A Monument To God’s Grace And Kindness (7-10)

A monument is something visible and tangible that reminds us of a person or event – who they were or what they did. Our spiritual transformation is a monument to God’s grace.

It’s A Monument To God’s Grace In Our Future Resurrection (7).

The great purpose of our spiritual transformation is that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (7). Our resurrection with Christ will serve throughout the ages as a permanent monument, a permanent show piece, a permanent testimony, a permanent tribute, a permanent display of God’s grace and kindness, its vastness and its wonder.

Our spiritual transformation is a monument to God’s grace in our future resurrection and…

It’s A Monument To God’s Grace In Our Past Salvation (8).

For by grace you have been saved through faith (8a). Grace is the source of our salvation. By nature we were under the wrath of God but by grace we are saved by God. God's grace cannot be fathomed; it is beyond comprehension. The essence of saving grace is that it comes only from God and it is free. It is God extending his favour to undeserving humanity.

Imagine you have a six year old son whom you love dearly. Tragically, one day you discover that your son has been horribly murdered. After a lengthy search the investigators find the killer. Now you have some choices. If you used every means in your power to kill the murderer for his crime, that would be vengeance. If, however, you were content to sit back and let the legal authorities take over and execute on him what is proper (i.e. a fair trial, a plea of guilty, capital punishment), that would be justice. But if you should plead for the pardon of the murderer, forgive him completely, invite him into your home, and adopt him as your son, that would be grace. 4

Do you want to see the grace of God? Look at someone who has been born again, given new life in Christ. Look at someone whose life has been radically transformed by Christ. They are the eternal trophy of God’s exceedingly rich grace.

If, then, grace is the source of salvation, then faith is the means of salvation. By grace you have been saved through faith. Faith is the means by which God’s grace is appropriated. By faith, we not only passively surrender to God - submit to his lordship - but also by faith, we actively respond to his grace - trust him, receive his offer of salvation, repent before God and confess faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).

In no sense is salvation something that we can earn or merit, it’s a gift - not of yourselves; it is the gift of God (8b). God has extended to us a gift. What is that gift? What does “it” refer to – it is the gift of God? “It” is not limited specifically to faith as the gift of God (as you may think), since it is neuter and faith is feminine. Rather, it refers to the whole work of salvation, the entire previous clause – you have been saved by God’s grace through faith.

Since salvation is a gift from God there is no room for human pride. It is not of works lest anyone should boast (9). Both the work of salvation and the results of salvation are God’s work alone, not ours.

Our transformation to spiritual life is a monument to God’s grace in our future resurrection, in our past salvation, and thirdly…

It’s A Monument To God’s Grace In Our Present Condition.

We are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (10). We are God’s re-creative workmanship in Christ Jesus. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away, all things are made new (2 Cor 5:17). Just as our persons are God’s work, so also are our good works - not works for salvation but because of salvation. We are saved for good works and not by or because them. Good works are the fruit of salvation, not the root.

So, the result of salvation is that those who once lived for self (1-3) now live for God. Those who once walked according to this world now walk in good works (10b). There is more to salvation than just the forgiveness of sins. Once you’re saved, you’re called to a life of faith shown in good works. 5 In the end result, it isn’t only what we confess that proves the reality of our Christianity, it’s what we do. We have been transformed in thought, word and deed.

Is that what characterizes your life? Has your life changed? Is there a difference in how you think, speak, and act? The Bible tells us that unless there is a change, you have no right to think that you’re a Christian.

Conclusions

Christians are those who have been spiritually transformed, those who have been transformed from spiritual deadness to spiritual life, those to whom God shows his grace by offering them mercy, those who by faith receive God’s gracious offer through the work of Christ alone.

Christians are those whom God has made alive in Christ, raised and seated in heavenly places to participate in Christ’s victory over Satan, death, and hell.

Christians are new creations of God’s workmanship, those who display the work of God in their lives through good works which glorify God.

This is our united transformation in Christ. We have all been brought into the same spiritual blessings in Christ (ch. 1) and we have all experienced the same spiritual transformation in Christ (ch. 2). All because God, solely by his grace, intervened in our lives. This is cause for worship both here and in eternity. This is why we must prostrate ourselves at his feet.

When was the last time you thanked God for his mercy to you? How often does it touch your heart what God has done for you? Has your life been transformed by the power of God in Christ? Have you been raised from spiritual deadness to spiritual life? Do you know the grace of God in your life as expressed in his mercy toward you? If not, will you respond now?

John Newton was trained by his father for a life in the Royal Navy. But Newton mocked authority and ran with the wrong crowd. He went to Africa in his early twenties and made his living on the “Greyhound,” a slave ship that crossed the Atlantic. Newton poked fun at religion and made jokes about it. One day the “Greyhound” ran into a huge storm. Newton awoke to find his cabin filled with water. After working the pumps all night, he finally threw himself on the deck and pleaded: “If this will not do, then Lord have mercy on us all.”

Newton received mercy, together with the Greyhound and its crew. Later, he wrote “Amazing Grace” and other hymns. At the end of his life he said: “My memory is almost gone but I remember two things: I am a great sinner, and Jesus is a great Saviour. That’s the language of one who has been transformed by the grace of God.


1 Tom Olson, Now, quoted in “The Speakers Sourcebook II,” ed. Eleanor Doan (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), 256.

2 Ephesians expresses our dead condition as a result of sin, not, as in Romans, as a result of our identification with Christ in baptism. Nevertheless our experience of being dead in sins, being made alive in Christ, and being raised from that spiritual death parallels Romans 6:1-11, Col. 2:11-13, Col. 3:1-4.

3 Contrast with Matt. 19:28; Lk. 22:30; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:17; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 3:21; 20:4; 22:5.

4 Source unknown

5 See James 1:22; 2:14-26; 1 Tim. 6:18; Tit. 2:7; 1 Pet. 2:12

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)

5. Our United Relationship In Christ, Pt. 1: “The Mystery Of The One Body Accomplished” (Eph. 2:11-22)

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“You who were once aliens…are now fellow-citizens…”

Introduction

Believers share not only united blessings in Christ (1:3-14), and a united transformation in Christ (2:1-10), but also a united relationship in Christ (2:11-22). Our united blessings in Christ have the same roots – the same root of election and the same root of redemption – and we all anticipate the same inheritance based on the same confidence in Christ ensured by the same Holy Spirit, all for the glory of God alone. In Christ also we have experienced a united transformation. God in his mercy and grace has transformed our condition, making us alive in Christ, and he has transformed our position, raising us up with Christ.

But how can such people who were so different, even alienated, live together in harmony? How can our national and religious differences be set aside? How can we be united as one body? That’s the subject of this passage – how people who were formerly enemies of each other (Jews and Gentiles) and of God are brought together in one body to form the church, God's dwelling place on earth. This passage makes clear that through God’s workmanship in Christ Jesus, he has taken very different people and formed us into one new entity, one household, the church. All distinctions between us have been broken down such that…

…a distant relationship is made near (2:11-13)

…a hostile relationship is made peaceful (2:14-18)

…a foreign relationship is made familial (2:19-22)

What was formerly the exclusive relationship of the Jews to God as his elect people is now the common relationship of all believers.

Adopted children sometimes want to find their birth parents. I suppose this is because there is within all of us this inherent desire to be in relationship with others and there is no relationship so dear as the family.

When she turned 21, Tammy Harris from Roanoke, Virginia, began searching for her biological mother. After a year, she had not succeeded. What she didn’t know was that her mother, Joyce Schultz, had been trying to locate her for twenty years. According to an Associated Press story, there was one more thing Tammy didn’t know: Her mother was one of her co-workers at the convenience store where she worked!

One day Joyce overheard Tammy talking with another co-worker about trying to find her mother. Soon they were comparing birth certificates. When Tammy realized that the co-worker she had known was, in fact, her mother, she fell into her arms. “We held on for the longest time,” Tammy said. “It was the best day of my life.” 1

One of the best experiences in the Christian life is to enter into the most intimate and vital family relationship in the world – namely, the family of God. As we study this passage together, notice firstly that…

I. A Distant Relationship Is Made Near (11-13)

Again, the pronoun changes from “we” back to “you”. The focus is again on the Gentiles and their relationship to the Jewish believers and to God.

1. Their Former Relationship Was One Of Complete Distance

They were considered inferior by the so-called “circumcision”. Therefore remember that you were once Gentiles in the flesh called “the uncircumcision by what is called “the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands (11).

They were mere Gentiles in the flesh. They lacked the sign of God’s covenant people. That’s why they were called the uncircumcision (11a). The Jews had what they lacked – circumcision (11b), the mark of covenant relationship with God (Gen. 17:11). Even though circumcision was only a mark that was made in the flesh by human hands (11c), and even though it was only outward and physical (not inward and spiritual), nonetheless it was a mark of distinction for the Jews, a source of pride. That’s why they looked down on the Gentiles, held them in an inferior position, rendered them distant, hostile, and foreign. Listen to how the apostle Paul described the Gentiles before they became Christians:

1. They were Christless: 2 At that time, you were without Christ (12a). They had no relationship with him. They were living in the world under the influence of the ruler of this world. They were sons of disobedience, children of wrath and, thus, they were separate from Christ.

2. They were stateless: aliens from the commonwealth of Israel (12b). They didn’t belong to Israel’s community. They were outlawed. Therefore, they didn’t have the rights of citizenship nor could they participate in the national or religious life of Israel. 3

3. They were friendless: strangers from the covenants of promise (12c). They couldn’t claim or experience the covenantal faithfulness and promises of Jehovah.

4. They were hopeless: having no hope (12d). They had no hope of salvation through the coming Messiah whom God had promised would deliver his people. They had no hope in God because they had turned their back on God and chosen, instead, to “walk according to the way of this world” (2). Without a relationship with God, this “world” certainly couldn’t give them hope or comfort. 4

5. They were Godless: without God in the world (12e). If they didn’t have a relationship with God, either through national heritage or covenantal promise, they had nothing.

So, their former relationship was one of complete distance, but…

2. Their Present Relationship Was One Of Complete Nearness

But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (13). How is complete distance changed into such nearness? How were those who were once without Christ (12) now in Christ Jesus (13a)? How were those who were once far off now brought near (13b)? A distant relationship is made near through the blood of Christ (13c).

The blood of Christ was and is the only means of approach to God. Just like the Gentile Ephesians we were alienated from God by sin. The only way for that alienation to be bridged was through the reconciling work of Christ (2 Cor. 5:19; Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21), who gave himself as a ransom for all (1 Tim 2:6), a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (1 Tim. 1:15; 1 Jn. 2:2; Jn. 3:16).

What is your relationship to God - distant or near? When you reflect on who you are and what life is all about, would you have to conclude that you are without hope, far off?

There is a general sense of hopelessness in the world, a universal despair and emptiness which nothing in this world can fill. It affects rich and poor, old and young, famous and unknown.

Michael Jackson, after returning from a $70 million tour in the East,               went on record as saying, “I believe I am one of the loneliest people in the world. 5 Paul Getty Sr., the wealthiest man in his generation, lived in a house protected by dogs, terrified of solitude and equally terrified of people, and completely bankrupt inside. 6

Speaking of the desperate confusion and void in the human spirit, Ravi Zacharias wrote: “Surrounded by vociferous and confident secular theories on life’s purpose and destiny, and becoming increasingly aware of radically different world-views from its own, there is a restlessness within and a frenetic search for some new idea that will assuage its impoverished spirit.” 7

If you feel distant from God and without hope, it’s because you are also without Christ. When you don’t have Christ in your life, you have no reason to live and no security for the future. Noel Coward, in one of his plays, put it this way: “The past depresses me, the present bores me, and the future scares me to death.” 8

That’s how life is if it is lived far off from God. You don’t know where you came from, why you’re here, or where you’re going. That’s the recipe for hopelessness and estrangement. But the good news is that you can be brought near because God has come near to us in Christ.

In Christ a distant relationship is made near and in Christ…

II. A Hostile Relationship Is Made Peaceful (14-18)

1. A Hostile Relationship Is Made Peaceful Through The Person Of Christ

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one (14a). The pronoun switches again – now from you / your to we / our. He is our peace, Paul says, “peace for the Jews as well as you Gentiles. We Jews also needed reconciliation with God, just like you Gentiles. We were alienated from God by sin, just as you were. We were enemies of God by wicked works just as you were. We needed to be brought near just as you did – despite our special relationship with God as a nation.”

But now, through the person of Christ all distinctions are broken down, whether racial, social, or religious, so that they could live together in a new community of faith in peace.

He himself is our peace. He is the Prince of peace (Isa. 9:6. See also Isa. 53:5; Mic. 5:5; Hag. 2:9; Zech. 9:10), the One who came to bring peace (Lk. 2:14), peace with God and peace with each other.

A hostile relationship is made peaceful through the person of Christ and…

2. A Hostile Relationship Is Made Peaceful Through The Work Of Christ

He broke down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances (14b-15a).

The law was a spiritual dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. What the wall of the temple was physically, the law was spiritually. The wall of the temple had kept the two races apart physically and it separated them socially and religiously.

Similarly, the law had acted as a dividing wall spiritually. The Jews claimed the law as their exclusive means of approach to God. It was the spiritual barrier between them. But Christ annulled the power of the law (see Col. 2:14). He abolished the enmity that the law had made. Legal ceremonies were no longer the means of approach to God. Therefore, the law was no longer a source of distinction between Jew and Gentile, no longer a means of enmity or separation. Through the work of Christ, a formerly hostile relationship is made peaceful.

Christ annulled the power of the law to effect a new creation, to create in himself one new man from the two, thus making peace (15b). Now, “instead of enmity between two races there is peace; in place of two separate entities there is one new man (people).” 9 This isn’t the combining of two peoples but the new creation of a new entity, the church (cf. Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11).

Christ annulled the power of the law to effect a new creation, and he annulled the power of the law to effect a reconciliation: …that he might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity (16).

Reconciliation abolishes the hostility between the parties. It effects peace between former enemies. Through the cross, Christ accomplished two reconciliations. He reconciled both Jew and Gentile into one body (the church) and He reconciled the one body to God. The enmity between these two people was put to death and the enmity between us and God was put to death. Reconciliation was made and the peace treaty was announced. He came and preached peace to you who were far off and to those who were near (17).

Through the cross, Christ bridged the gap between us. He achieved reconciliation and he announced that peace was made (cf. Isa. 57:19; 52:7; Jn. 14:27; Rom. 5:1; 10:15). The ground and the sign of this peace is that both (Jews and Gentiles) have access by one Spirit to the Father (18). 10 Through the death of Christ access to God was opened up, the veil of the temple was torn in two (Matt. 27:51) granting us “boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19). Now through Christ “the door” (Jn. 10:7), all believers can approach God with confidence in / by one Spirit who indwells us and unites us together in the church.

People today long for a sense of belonging and unity. People desperately want nearness and peace, and the unity of the family. Instead, they experience distance, estrangement, divorce, and fights. Peace can only be truly known in all relationships through Christ. Christians are the only ones who can say that they are at peace with each other, with their families, with their co-workers etc. Christ is the only basis for peace with God and with man. Christ is the only one who can make opposing people at peace, united in thought, purpose, and action. And the church is the place where peace is to be modeled and proclaimed.

Through the work of Christ, a distant relationship is made near, a hostile relationship is made peaceful, and…

III. A Foreign Relationship Is Made Familial (19-22)

1. Through Christ, We Are All Citizens Of The Same Country

Now therefore, you (Gentiles) are no longer strangers and foreigners but fellow-citizens with the saints (19a). Now those who were once strangers are family. Now those who were once foreigners (Gentiles) are fellow-citizens with the saints (Jewish believers). Now those who were once aliens are now permanent residents. We all belong to, and are citizens of, the same country.

2. Through Christ, We Are All Members Of The Same Household

Now, those who were strangers are family members, …members of the household of God (19b). It’s one thing to be fellow-citizens of the same country – that binds us together in a “national” kind of way – but our united relationship in Christ is far more than that. Now we are all members of the same family. We all have the same Father. We have a common bloodline, with a common nature. We have common family characteristics with a common heritage. We have a common inheritance. It doesn’t get any closer than that!

Now, those who were distant and hostile live in the same household. Those who were social and religious outcasts are now outstanding members of the body of Christ. Those who were considered inferior people are now family equals. Now those who were stateless belong to the community of faith. Now Christless people are “in Christ”. Now those who were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel (12) are fully accredited members of God’s family. Those who were strangers from God’s covenant of promise are now joint-heirs with all God’s family. Now those who had no kinfolk have a family of saints. Now those who were without friends have friends from every tribe and nation. Now the hopeless have an assured future. Now the godless are members of God’s household, God’s chosen people.

Now we have all been brought into the household of God. Not just citizens of the same country in good standing. Not just members of the same family in blood relationship. But now, in Christ, we belong to the same household – we live in the same home, the same building, the church.

NATO and the United Nations are organizations that have for years tried to make foreign, hostile nations at peace with one another. Not long ago, NATO desperately tried to stop the hostility of the Serbs against the Albanians in Yugoslavia, trying to work out an agreement whereby they could live as peaceful neighbours. Millions of dollars are spent each year in attempts to achieve world peace, but no matter how hard they try or how successful they might be, they can never make foreigners part of the same family. But in Christ, foreigners and strangers are made one household of God.

This household is a living building …having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone (20). It is a living, spiritual building made of living building blocks (i.e. all believers), established on a living foundation - the apostles and prophets - and secured by a living cornerstone - Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone (cf. 1 Pet. 2:4-8; Ps. 118:22). He has the position of honour and headship. He is the stone from which all other stones find their proper function and relationship in the building (Cf. Col.2:7; Pet. 2:4-5). He is the One who binds the entire building together, giving it strength, alignment and unity. 11 He is the stone into whom the whole building (is) fitted together (21a).

This household is a dynamic buildingthe whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (21b-22). If you watch large office towers being built, they gradually rise up out of the ground, appearing to literally to grow until one day they are complete and fully occupied. That is what is happening to the construction of the church.

It is a dynamic building because it is comprised of all kinds of different people - from different races, nationalities, languages, and societies, who are being fitted together. They are being fitted together because they did not previously fit together. They were at odds with one another. They were hostile, distant, and foreign. But now, each one is being perfectly fitted together in this building of God in a new relationship, the family of God.

It’s a dynamic building because it is growing. It is a growing building because the church is not yet completed. All the pieces are not yet in place. It’s still in process and will continue growing and being built until the end of the church age when it will be complete. Those who are being saved are still being added to it daily. As people are added to the church, so it grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

It’s a dynamic building because it is a holy dwelling place. This new, united entity, the people of God, are not only a growing building but they are a holy temple. The qualification for being part of this dynamic place of worship is not national heritage or family descent or religious tradition, but to be in the Lord. Those who are in the Lord are holy people, set apart exclusively for the worship and service of God. They are a holy temple in the Lord.

This temple is no longer the exclusive territory of the Jewish people, but now the Gentile believers are also included: … in whom you also (you Gentiles) are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (22). It’s not just Jewish believers who are being fitted together into this new building but Gentile believers as well. The building materials are diverse but the dwelling place is one.

God’s people are the dwelling place of a holy God, who no longer dwells in temples made with hands (Acts 17:24) but in his church, among his people. His people are his holy dwelling place.

It’s a dynamic building because God’s Spirit is there. God dwells among his people by his Spirit. Only those who are in the Lord and indwelled by the Spirit are those who comprise the habitation / dwelling place of God.

Concluding Remarks

It’s good when a distant relationship is made near. It’s better when a hostile relationship is made peaceful. It’s best when a foreign relationship is made familial, because the closest of all relationships is to be family, to be familial.

Ethnic hostility was a barrier in the N.T. church. Christ overcame that barrier at the cross and the church had to adjust to a new relationship and put that relationship into practice. This raises the question as to what are some of the barriers that have to be overcome in our churches today – e.g. relational, ethnic, theological, traditions, minority groups, generations (old vs young), music etc.

The church is the place where God dwells, where peace reigns. It is the household of God, his family dwelling place - not an empty, cold, distant place but a warm, friendly, inviting place. The family of God is the church. It’s the place where we enjoy nearness and unity through Christ. It’s the place where we have been reconciled to God through Christ. It’s the place where we have peace with God and each other through Christ. It’s the place where we are united together in Christ. It’s the place where God dwells by his Spirit.

A lady tells the story of attending a Bible study at church. Before attending the Bible study she would tell her 3-year old son, Chad, that they were going to God’s house. Each time they walked through the quiet sanctuary on their way to the nursery, Chad looked around in awe. One particular day, he stopped abruptly and asked, “Mommy, if this is God’s house, how come he’s never home?” 12

That’s what some churches feel like – empty, nobody home. May our churches never feel empty as though no one’s home. May our churches always be places of refuge, comfort, unity, solace, friendship, fellowship, support, care, love, and laughter because it’s home! When we meet together it is to meet with God in his house, to enjoy the nearness of relationship that we have with him.

The church is a place of unity that testifies to the world. That was Jesus’ prayer to the Father, that the church would be united so that “the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me” (Jn. 17:23).

Is this true of us? Is our unity such that those around us come to the conclusion that God is in our midst and that the gospel is true, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world, and that he loved us as he loved his Son? Does the world see the love of God in us, binding us together and reaching out to others?

There is no other organization in the world like the church. There is no other organism where God dwells by his Spirit in his people. There is no other organization that is authorized and commanded to carry the good news of the gospel to the world. There is no other structure in which God is present and active in the world.

Let us resolve to be in practice what God has created us to be - his church, his body, his bride, his people, living in nearness, peace, unity, as his family.


1 Cited in B. Paul Greene, San Pedro, California, Finding Our Dearest Relative in “Leadership”, Vol. 15, no. 4. Copyright 1999, Christianity Today, Inc.

2 These categories are from William Hendricksen, Exposition of Ephesians, New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1967), 129-131.

3 Arthur G. Patzia, Ephesians, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers Inc, 1990), 191.

4 William Hendriksen, 129.

5 Quoted in Michael Green, Follow in His Footprints (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 29.

6 Green, 89.

7 Ravi Zacharias, Deliver us from Evil (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996), 4.

8 Green, 96.

9 Patzia, 196.

10 This verse provides a wonderful confession of the Trinity.

11 This metaphor does not contradict 1 Cor. 3:11. It is merely a shift in the metaphor. Here the apostle is not speaking of “builders” (as in 1 Cor. 3) but of a “building.”

12 Karen Ketzler, Anybody Home? In “Today’s Christian Woman (Christianity Today, 1999).

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)

6. Our United Relationship in Christ, Pt. 2: “The Mystery of the One Body Revealed” (Eph. 3:1-13)

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Introduction

What would you say to someone who claimed that Paul’s writings were fiction? Someone once told me that Paul fabricated the whole story of Christianity about the death and resurrection of Christ and that Christ is the Messiah. It’s just a fictional story by Paul, they said. Have you ever wondered where Paul got his teaching? Have you ever wondered about the significance of Paul’s ministry? Isn’t it good that Scripture gives us the answer?

We don’t need to be in any doubt about what he taught, where he got it from, or what its significance is. As the passage we are studying in this article shows, Paul’s ministry was unique in two ways:

1. Because to him God revealed the truth of the mystery of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

2. Because by him the truth of the mystery of the gospel of Jesus Christ was declared to us.

That makes his ministry unique - none other like it. This man who said he was “one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8) was converted and commissioned into God’s service for a particular purpose. So don’t let anyone try to dupe you about the value and authenticity of Paul’s writings.

We find out about Paul’s unique ministry by way of a digression in Eph. 3:1-13. Sometimes digressions are confusing. Often the person forgets what they started out to say: “Now what was I saying?” But Paul’s digression here is full of significance. He begins a prayer, For this reason… (1), then digresses until verse 14 where he picks up his prayer again: For this reason I bow my knees (14). For what reasons did Paul pray?

1. Because of “Our United Transformation in Christ” by which we have been transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life (2:1-10).

2. Because of “Our United Relationship in Christ” by which a distant relationship has been made near (2:11-13), a hostile relationship made peaceful (2:14-18), and a foreign relationship made familial (2:19-22).

For those reasons, Paul breaks into a doxology of prayer. But before doing so he digresses into this explanation of the mystery of Christ as declared in the gospel, the stewardship of which was given to him. Paul’s unique ministry was the revelation to him and the declaration by him of the mystery of Christ. The first aspect of Paul’s unique ministry was…

I. The Revelation Of The Mystery Of Christ (2-6)

This is the vertical unveiling of the mystery, the revelation of God to Paul. For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles – since indeed you have heard of the stewardship of the grace of God which was given to me for you (1-2).

Paul was a prisoner, both literally and spiritually. He was literally a prisoner of the political and religious authorities, and he was spiritually a prisoner of Jesus Christ. The Jews had opposed Paul’s mission to the Gentiles and as a result he was now in prison (cf. Acts 21:17ff), but his imprisonment had a divine purpose – it was for them, on behalf of you Gentiles. Paul was a steward of Gods grace on their behalf and for their blessing.

A steward is someone who takes care of someone else’s affairs or assets. Paul was the steward of this revealed mystery, this revelation that was given to him by God specifically for them. He had been commissioned by God to deliver to them the gospel of the grace of God. This was his unique ministry.

We are all charged with a stewardship – stewardship of our gifts, calling, opportunities, resources, time, and truth. Adam and Eve were given the stewardship over God’s creation. And, like them, we are all held responsible by God for how we discharge that responsibility both spiritually and physically.

Bernard of Clairvaux once wrote:

“Go out into the field of your Lord and consider how even today it abounds in thorns and thistles in fulfillment of the ancient curse. Go out, I say, into the world, for the field is the world and it is entrusted to you. Go out into it not as a lord, but as a steward, to oversee and to manage that for which you must render an account. Go out, I should have said, with careful responsibility and responsible care.” 1

This responsibility reminds us of the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:12-30). Two servants used their talents responsibly but the other buried it in the ground. The master called him wicked and lazy. Are you exercising stewardship over what God has entrusted to you – your spiritual gifts, your assets, your time, your health, your relationships etc.?

Notice that the revelation of the mystery was unique to Paul for 3 reasons. Firstly, because…

1. The Channel Of This Revelation Was Through Paul’s Ministry (1-4)

…how that by revelation he made known to me the mystery (as I have already written briefly, concerning which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) (3-4).

Paul was the channel to whom God revealed the mystery, the truth that all believers, Jews and Gentiles, have been united together in Christ. God chose to make this mystery known to Paul uniquely and it was about this mystery that Paul has written briefly to the Ephesians (presumably referring to chapters 1 and 2), which when they read it, they would understand that his insight into the mystery of Christ was from God.

The second reason that the revelation of the mystery was unique to Paul was because…

2. The Time For This Revelation Was During Paul’s Ministry (5)

…which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets (5)

It was a mystery because, before it was revealed to Paul, no one knew it. The saints of previous ages did not know the full meaning and nature of God’s promise to Abraham that in him all the nations shall be blessed (Gen. 18:18; 22:18), or how God would make Israel a light to the Gentiles that you should be My salvation to the ends of the earth (Isa. 49:6). None of the O.T. saints had any concept of the church in which Jew and Gentile would be united in Christ. In fact it was incomprehensible to them even though their O.T. Scriptures teach it. 2

But now God had revealed this mystery to Paul uniquely and more generally by the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets – i.e. the men who wrote the N.T. Scriptures through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21).

The third reason that the revelation of this mystery was unique to Paul was because…

3. The Substance Of This Revelation Was In Paul’s Ministry (6)

…that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, fellow members of the same body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ (6).

The substance of the mystery that was revealed by God to Paul has to do with the entire theme of this epistle, namely, the reconciliation and union of Jews and Gentiles into one body in Christ. The substance of this mystery is this:

1. That the Gentiles have the same legal status as the Jews: fellow heirs…in Christ (6a). Those who were once excluded from Israel as aliens, strangers, and foreigner (2:12, 19) are now equal in legal standing before God, will enter into the same inheritance (Gal. 3:29), and enjoy the same blessings and the same relationship to God in Christ.

2. That the Gentiles have the same family status as the Jews: fellow members of the same body…in Christ (6b). They are equal members not second class citizens, not visitors, not landed immigrants, not distant relatives but members of the household of God (2:19), for by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free (1 Cor. 12:13).

3. That the Gentiles have the same spiritual status as the Jews: fellow partakers of the same promise…in Christ (6c). They shared equally in all the promises of God in Christ, of present security in Christ, of eternal life in Christ, of future glory in Christ.

All these privileges are shared equally and fully by Jewish and Gentile believers…

1. By being in Christ – i.e. by being in union with Christ, formed into one community through “Our United Position”.

2. By the gospel – the message by which this mystery is proclaimed to us and by which we enter into its significance.

So, the first aspect of Paul’s unique ministry was the revelation of the mystery of Christ that was given to him. The second aspect of Paul’s unique ministry was…

II. The Declaration Of The Mystery Of Christ (7-13)

The first gift of God’s grace (2, 7) was the revelation of the mystery to Paul (2-3). The second gift of God’s grace was the declaration of the gospel by him to us. If the revelation to Paul by God was the vertical unveiling of the mystery, then Paul’s declaration to us is the horizontal unveiling of the mystery: of which I became a servant according to the gift of Gods grace given to me by the effective working of his power. To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given (7-8a).

No wonder Paul is overawed with the grace and power of God that was effective in him (8a; cf. 1 Cor. 15:9-10). He seems to say: To me of all people (can you imagine?) this grace was given. By the gift of Gods grace (7a) he had been commissioned as a servant of the gospel, no longer a persecutor of the church. By Gods power (7b) he declared a message despite being imprisoned for it.

He was fully conscious of the task which he had been given and his own unworthiness of it. It was all of God’s grace and he was deeply grateful for it. Just so, we should all be grateful for the privilege of serving God. We do not deserve it. It is all of God’s grace.

Notice three characteristics of Paul’s unique ministry of declaration. Firstly…

1. To Proclaim To The Gentiles Christ’s Riches (8b)

…that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (8b).

The riches of Christ are those described in chapters 1 and 2 - what he has done for us and who we are in him (1:3-14; 2:1-22): our spiritual blessings of election, predestination, adoption, redemption, our inheritance, our spiritual transformation, our unity in the one body, our access to God by the Spirit, our citizenship with the saints, our membership in God’s household.

Such riches are unsearchable, beyond understanding, too vast to fathom, infinite. That was what he preached among the Gentiles by God’s grace and through God’s power.

Second, Paul’s unique ministry of declaration was…

2. To Clarify To Everyone God’s Plan (9)

…to make all people see what is the plan of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ (9).

The purpose of Paul’s declaration of the gospel was to make all people see the truth – to enlighten everyone, to reveal, to clarify, to bring to light the mystery of this united relationship in Christ. What had long been hidden in the mind of the Creator God was now made known. Paul’s purpose was to open people’s eyes (Acts 26:17-18), just as his own eyes had been opened to the truth, and just as God himself has enlightened us by shining in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). Like Paul, we too have a responsibility to enlighten all people through the gospel, to bring the light of God’s truth to those who are in darkness (cf. Isa. 9:2).

The purpose of Paul’s declaration of the gospel was to clarify God’s plan, a plan to reconcile the Gentiles to himself and to Israel through their salvation and unity, a plan that had been hidden in God from the beginning of the ages, a plan of how the God who created all things through Jesus Christ would re-create a new humanity, making us new creations in Christ and forming us into one community of faith, one new society, one new humanity.

Third, Paul’s unique ministry of declaration was…

3. To Display To The Evil Powers God’s Wisdom (10-11) 3

… so that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places through the church, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (10- 11)

The ultimate intent of Paul’s declaration was cosmic:

1. That the hostile spiritual powers (the rulers and authorities in the heavenlies) would see in the redemption and unity of the church Gods many-sided wisdom.

2. That these hostile spiritual powers would see in the church the accomplishment of Gods eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, namely, that the death and resurrection of Christ is God’s means of reconciling people to himself and to one another in the church.

The church is God’s witness to the truth of this “mystery”. God has revealed the mystery to Paul, Paul has declared it to the church, and the church manifests it to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. These hostile spiritual powers, who now seek to frustrate God’s purposes by attacking the church and to denigrate God’s wisdom by puffing up their own human wisdom, are witnesses of what God is doing in and through the church. They are seeing the plan of God taking effect even now. Ultimately, the power of God which is currently displayed through the church will one day over throw them. And the praise of God which is currently rendered to God through the church will one say be rendered by them when every knee will bow.

The great purpose of the church is to glorify God by manifesting God’s wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places so that the entire universe will ultimately give glory to God for his unfathomable plan of redemption accomplished in Christ, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him (12). Evil powers do not have boldness to come into God’s presence but believers do because of our standing in Christ.

Conclusions

Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory (13). “Don’t be discouraged that I have been imprisoned for you” Paul says, “but rejoice that, despite my tribulations, God has used me to declare this glorious truth, the mystery of Christ.”

Now you know the truth about Paul’s unique ministry, a ministry that was unique because of God’s revelation to him, a ministry that was unique because of God’s declaration by him. Now we are called to declare that truth to others…

1. To those who walk in darkness and do not obey the truth that they may be brought into the glorious light of Christ and trust him.

2. To those whose eyes are blinded to the truth of Christ, so that their eyes may be opened and turned from darkness to light.

3. To the evil powers of the darkness of this world, who see our lives and who hear our message, so that they would cower in fear at the manifold wisdom of God and the eternal purposes of God in the church which he has accomplished in Christ.

Does your life and your message bear testimony to this? Does Paul’s unique ministry form the basis of your confidence and faith in Christ? Are you eager that others should know the mystery of Christ that Paul has made known to you?

We are stewards of this great mystery, stewards to make known to the watching universe that Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth and that we, in the church, have bowed the knee to his lordship.


1 Citation: Bernard of Clairvaux from Book 2 of On Consideration. Christian History, no. 24.

2 Cf. Gen 12:3; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14 (Gentiles will be blessed by God); Ps. 72 (Gentiles will bless God); Isa. 11:10; 49:6; 54:1-3; 60:1-3 (Messiah will come to Gentiles); Hos. 1:10; Amos 9:11ff (Gentiles will be saved by the Messiah); Joel 2:28-29 (Gentiles will receive the Holy Spirit).

3 In Ephesians, the spiritual powers are evil forces who need to be subjected (cf. 2:2; 6;12)

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)

7. Prayer #2: A Prayer for Spiritual Empowerment (Eph. 3:14-21)

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Introduction

Someone once said: “Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger people! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.” 1

In the epistle written to the Ephesians, there are two prayers. The first prayer is “A Prayer for Spiritual Enlightenment” (1:15-23) - to know the hope of God’s calling, his rich inheritance in the saints, his great power toward us etc. This second prayer, which we are studying in this article, is “A Prayer for Spiritual Empowerment” (3:14-21).

It’s one thing to know who we are in Christ; its another thing to live like it. You can know a lot about something but never put it into practice. You can know a lot about the Bible but never put its truths into effect. You can know the truths of Eph. 1-3 but not live in the good of them. Head knowledge isn’t good enough. We must put what we know into effect in order to be fully functional Christians.

This is a prayer based on the knowledge of God’s will. That’s why Paul begins with For this reason… (14a) – i.e. for the reasons just mentioned in chapters 1 and 2. The only way we can know God’s will, God’s purposes, and God’s plans is by reading his Word. That’s why Bible reading and prayer go together because in the Scriptures God has revealed to us his will and in prayer we ask him to carry it out.

It’s a prayer uttered in dependence on God. The Jewish practice was to stand while praying (e.g. Lk. 18:10-14), but Paul kneels: I bow my knees (14b). Kneeling displays earnestness, total concentration, submission, reverence, the lesser before the greater. You see this when Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (Lk. 22:41) and Stephen at his martyrdom (Acts 7:60).

It’s a prayer addressed to the Head of the family: …to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named (14c-15). Jesus’ Father is the Father of the whole redeemed family (some in heaven and some still on earth). We derive our identity from his name and he, as the Father, meets our family’s needs. 2

It is a prayer whose answer is rooted in God’s resources: …that he would grant you according to the riches of his glory (16a). God’s riches are limitless and that’s the resource that we draw on in prayer.

The theme of this prayer is: When you pray, pray boldly – pray boldly for progress in spirituality, for deepened understanding, and for growth in godliness. How bold are your prayers? Are you bold enough to ask God to answer your prayers in accordance with his glorious riches?

In 1540, Luther’s good friend and assistant, Friedrich Myconius, became sick and was expected to die very soon. From his death bed he wrote Luther a farewell letter. When Luther received the letter, he immediately sent back this reply: “I command thee in the name of God to live because I still have need of thee in the work of reforming the church…The Lord will never let me hear that thou art dead, but will permit thee to survive me. For this I am praying, this is my will, and may my will be done, because I seek only to glorify the name of God.” That seems bold to our ears, but God apparently honoured the prayer. Although Myconius had already lost the ability to speak when Luther’s reply came, he soon recovered and lived six more years and died two months after Luther himself. 3

Don’t be brash in prayer but be bold, conscious of God’s will and God’s glorious riches. Perhaps you lack boldness because you lack comprehension of God’s riches, you don’t trust his resources, or you’re more focused on your own resources than his spiritual riches. Let’s learn to live as heirs of God’s unfathomable riches.

The story is told of a certain rich English eccentric named Julian Elis Morris liked to dress like a tramp and sell razor blades, soap, and shampoo door-to-door. After a day’s work he would return to his beautiful mansion, put on formal attire and have his chauffeur drive him to an exclusive restaurant in his limousine. Sometimes he would catch a flight to Paris and spend the evening there. Many Christians live something like Mr. Morris, spending their day-to-day lives in apparent spiritual poverty and only occasionally enjoying God’s vast riches. It’s tragic to go around in the tattered rags of our own inadequacy when we could be living sumptuously in the superabundance of God’s unspeakable riches.4 Pray that God would enable you to live according to the spiritual wealth that he dispenses on your behalf in Christ.

So, when you pray…

I. Ask For Progress In Spirituality (16b-17a)

Spirituality has been defined as “one’s connectedness with God.” We’re talking about the need for a deep, abiding, personal, day-by-day relationship with God - walking in step with the Spirit, manifesting the fruit of the Spirit, living in an attitude of prayer, conscious of God’s presence.

So, when you pray, ask for…

1. Progress In Experiencing The Spirit’s Power (16b)

…to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man (16b)

This is not the sealing of the Spirit at conversion but the experiential dimension of the Spirit’s indwelling. Many Christians never experience the strengthening of the inner man through the Spirit’s power. The inner man is the opposite of the “outer man”. The outer man is perishing, temporary, but our inner man is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). The outer man is our physical life but the inner man is our spiritual life. Just like our physical life, our spiritual life must grow and be strengthened. We do this by letting the Holy Spirit control us (Gal. 5:25), fill us (5:18), and empower us (cf. Rom. 8:5-6, 8-9; Gal. 5:16).

Paul is praying that we may know “the strengthening of the Spirit’s inner reinforcement” (JBP translation) that we may lay hold more firmly by faith on this divine strength in our inner being.

How can you obtain and exercise this spiritual power? By feeding on the Word of God, by prayer to God, by submission to the Spirit, by spiritual discipline and exercise. There is no quick way to spiritual fitness. It requires steady discipline. You can exercise this spiritual power by letting God take control, by being ruled less by your emotions and circumstances and more by God.

So, when you pray, ask for progress in experiencing the Spirit’s power. And pray for…

2. Progress In Experiencing Christ’s Indwelling (17a)

…that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith (17a)

The strengthening by the Spirit is a parallel thought to Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9, 10; 1 Cor. 6:19) and when Christ indwells us by the Spirit (Jn. 14:16-18) he strengthens us. This is not Christ’s indwelling at salvation but in sanctification. Paul is not praying for something we already have but for the indwelling of Christ through the empowering of the Spirit that we experience by degrees throughout our Christian lives.

To dwell has the sense of being at home, settled, resident. For Christ to dwell in our hearts we must submit to the Spirit’s power. So, when you pray, ask God that Christ by his Spirit may be at home in your heart, control you, and strengthen you. For our hearts to be his home they must be cleaned up to suit him, the trash of our lives has to be put out to the garbage, our spiritual food must be pure and wholesome, our activities must meet with his approval, worldly activities must stop, and hidden sins in the closet cleaned out.

Don’t expect Jesus to be at home in your heart if it is dirty, or if it is cluttered with other guests and occupied with other things. He only settles down in a home that is cleansed from sin, filled with his Spirit, and nourished by his Word. Only there does he dwell in our hearts by faith, faith that trusts him as Saviour and submits to him as Lord. That’s where he reigns.

So, when you pray, ask for progress in spirituality. And when you pray…

II. Ask For Deeper Understanding (17b)

The only way our “connectedness with God” can be strengthened is by the Spirit’s power and through Christ’s indwelling as we have just seen (16-17). And it’s only through our connectedness with God that our understanding is deepened about the spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ, the wonders of the mystery that has been revealed to us concerning the unity of the church and the love of God in Christ.

The ultimate purpose of these bold prayer requests is to deepen one’s understanding of, appreciation for, and response to Christ’s love. This, surely, must be the goal for every Christian – to obtain a deeper and deeper intellectual and experiential understanding of Christ’s love.

So, when you pray, ask for…

1. Deeper Understanding Of The Immensity Of Christ’s Love (18)

… so that you, having been rooted and grounded in love… (17b). The basis of an abiding connectedness with God is an interpersonal relationship with him and with each other, a relationship that is rooted and grounded in love. When the Spirit strengthens us and Christ indwells us, then his love anchors us. Love that is rooted and grounded does not change. It has deep roots (botanical imagery) and a firm foundation (architectural imagery). It is like a well-rooted tree and a well-built house – firmly established and enduring. Love is the deep root that gives stability and nourishment to our lives and relationships and spirituality. Love is the foundation on which our Christian lives are built. Our love must be a reflection of Christ’s love – strong, abiding, unwavering. Love is, after all, the essence of Christianity (Jn. 13:34; 1 Pet. 1:22) and the basis of our unity. We are all sealed by his Spirit, bound together in the same family, living for the same purpose, headed to the same eternal destination.

Do you have a deep, abiding love for God and for his people? Is the love you display rooted and grounded in the power of the Spirit and the indwelling presence of Christ in your heart. Are you firmly established in love? Is it the foundation of your life? Or, is it a fickle, transient, self-indulgent love that wavers depending on how others treat you?

God’s love for us in Christ generates in us a love for one another and it drives us to, and gives us a hunger for, a deeper understanding of Christ’s love. Only those who themselves are rooted and grounded in love can possibly have any sense or knowledge of Christ’s love. That’s why the assumption is here that we are first rooted and grounded in love before we can progress to a deeper understanding of Christ’s love (19a).

…so that you (having been rooted and grounded in love) may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height - to know the love of Christ (18).

A deeper experience and understanding of Christ’s love is one that we begin to grasp along with all the saints (black and white, Jew and Gentile, men and women, slaves and free). This is not something that is limited to an esoteric, spiritually elite group of people. Rather, Christ’s love permeates all the saints so that with them we experience and extend to others the love of Christ. It is a common bond between all the saints. As a community of faith, we begin to understand something of the scope of Christ’s love, its dimensional immensity. It is wide enough to encompass the whole world, Jew and Gentile (2:11-18), regardless of race, colour, or religious background. It is long enough to choose us before the foundation of the world and to last for eternity (1:4-5). It is deep enough to meet the need of the worst sinner (2:1-3). It is high enough to encompass every spiritual blessing in heavenly places (1:3; 2:6).

The immensity and strength and eternality of Christ’s love undergirds our love. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” No! Nothing can separate is from Christ’s love. For “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39).

When you pray, ask for a deeper understanding – a deeper understanding of the immensity of Christ’s love and a…

2. Deeper Understanding Of The Incomprehensibility Of Christ’s Love (19a)

so that you may be able… to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge (19a). This sounds like an oxymoron - to know the unknowable. We may comprehend it intellectually and theologically and enjoy it experientially and personally but nonetheless we cannot exhaust it because it surpasses knowledge. Just as God’s grace is exceedingly rich (2:7) and his power is exceedingly great (1:19) and his riches are unsearchable (2:8), so his love is immeasurable and incomprehensible.

Christ’s love surpasses knowledge. We can never plumb the depths or embrace the scope of Christ’s love. Eternity will not be enough for us to fathom it. Perhaps you’re reading Scripture and the love of Christ floods your soul – but there is still more to enter into because his love surpasses knowledge. Perhaps you’re struggling with sin and the love of Christ floods your soul – but there’s still more because his love surpasses knowledge. Perhaps someone gets saved and the love of Christ floods your soul – but there’s still more because his love surpasses knowledge. Perhaps you’re grieving the death of a loved one and the love of Christ floods your soul – but there’s still more because his love surpasses knowledge. That’s what it is to know the incomprehensibility of Christ’s love.

William Hendriksen expresses it this way: “The apostle prays that the addressed may concentrate so intensely and exhaustively on the immensity and glory of Christ’s love that they will come to understand that this love ever surpasses.” 5

Thirdly, when you pray…

III. Ask For Growth In Godliness (19b)

This is the ultimate result that we are striving for: …that you may be filled to all the fullness of God (19b). Do you see the progression here? The Spirit strengthens us, Christ indwells us, his love embraces us, God’s fullness grows in us. The Christian life is one of continuous progress in spirituality and growth in understanding. Just as we are growing to the “fullness of Christ” (4:13) and “being filled with the Spirit” (5:18), so we are to be filled with God himself.

This fullness (πληρωμα) signifies total dominance. Just as you may be filled with rage or happiness so that it dominates you, so you may be filled with the fullness of God - nothing left of self, no room for anything else, all of God.

We are to aspire to be filled to all the fullness of God, to be totally overtaken by his power and presence, his life and rule. God wants us to be fully like him. This will only be fully and finally achieved at our glorification when we will awake in his likeness (Ps. 17:15), when we will be filled with God to the full, when we will be fully like Christ who is the fullness of God. But that should be our desire even now, to grow in Christ-likeness toward that final state of perfection as we are being “transformed from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).

So, when you pray, pray boldly for progress in spirituality, deeper understanding of Christ’s love, and growth in godliness. But prayer is not all about asking. It’s also about praising. So, when you pray, be sure to always…

IV. Give Praise To God (20-21)

We have noticed some of the superlatives that Paul uses in this epistle. What a wonderful way to conclude this prayer with more superlatives. So, when you pray…

1. Give Praise To God For His Inexhaustible Power

The God whose Spirit empowers us, whose Christ indwells us, whose love anchors us, and whose fullness dominates us, is the God who is able, because he is all-powerful, his power is inexhaustible.

This leads to a wonderful, concluding doxology. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us (20).

Our God can grant these bold requests because he is able, he has the power (20a). He is able to do – he is alive and working. Our God is able to do what we ask – he hears us and answers us. Our God is able to do what we think – he knows our thoughts, our minds, even what we imagine and dream but do not ask for. Our God is able to do all that we ask or think – he knows it all and is all-powerful to carry it out. Our God is able to do beyond all that we ask or think – he grants us more than we imagine. Our God is able to do what we ask or think abundantly, according to his riches, his abundant grace. Our God is able to do far more abundantly – there are no limits to what he can do; he is a super-abundant God.

Our God grants these bold requests according to the power that works in us, the power of his Spirit who strengthens us.

2. Give Praise To God For His Inestimable Glory

The power is from God and the glory is due to him: to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (21).

Telling forth the inestimable glory of God is the universal privilege of the church. This surely should be the primary focus of our prayers – to adore God for who he is. Such praise should redound to God in the church by Christ Jesus. It is entirely because of what Jesus Christ has done for us in bestowing upon us “every spiritual blessing in heavenly places” (1:3) and in showing “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (2:7) that the church can and must render continuous praise to God to all generations forever and ever. We will never come to an end of praising him. That is our inestimable privilege now and will be throughout the ages of eternity.

Concluding Remarks

This, then, is the pattern for bold prayers. When you pray ask for progress in spirituality through the Spirit’s power in our inner being and for the indwelling of Christ in our hearts by faith. Ask for deepened understanding of Christ’s immeasurable and incomprehensible love. Ask for growth in godliness, to grow to God’s fullness and perfection. How can we possibly expect to achieve such spiritual heights? Because God works powerfully in us and for us.

This prayer is a picture of all that God wants each individual and the church as a whole to be. And what does God want the church to be? A united people who are strengthened by the Spirit, indwelled by Christ by faith, rooted and grounded in love, understanding the immeasurable love of Christ, and glorifying God for his limitless power.

The obvious challenge is this: Are we the church God wants us to be? We can only be the church he wants us to be if we pray boldly for progress in spirituality, for deepened understanding, and for growth in godliness. When you pray…pray boldly, that’s the theme of this passage. If you’re prayer life isn’t bold, why not start now by asking for these things and watch God work as he empowers your inner being with his Holy Spirit, as he opens up your understanding of the fathomless love of Christ and as he fills you with himself.

To this God all praise is due! The power is from him and the glory is due to him.


1 Phillips Brooks, Leadership, Vol. 6, no. 3.

2 Play on words: the family (πατρια) descended from the same father (πατερ).

3 Cited in John MacArthur, Ephesians, 103-104.

4 Ibid., 104.

5 William Hendriksen, Ephesians in “New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 173.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)

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