The Calling and Design of the Church: (Ephesians 1-3)Related Media
The Epistle to the Ephesians, along with those letters to the Philippians, the Colossians, and Philemon, is a Christological Epistle. Careful examination unfolds the grandeur and the glory of the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. While it is true that this book of six chapters is a treatment of the design and destiny of the Church, we must be careful to observe that the Church has her calling and consummation “in Christ.” All of her blessings are in Him. All of the purposes of God toward the Church are related to the Lord Jesus Christ, so that the Church, in its calling as an organism and in its conduct as an organization, is seen from the Christocentric standpoint. The most significant phrase in the epistle is made up of the two words, “in Christ.” If one is not “in Christ” he can know nothing experientially of these “spiritual blessings.” R. W. Dale has said: “The doctrinal teaching of this epistle is very little more than a development of the single expression, ‘in Christ.’” Except a man be “in Christ,” he can claim none of the blessings of God as his redemption rights. We cannot by-pass Jesus Christ to get to God.
The first three chapters of the epistle deal with doctrine; the last three chapters, with duty. In the first half Paul explains the riches of God’s grace; in the last half he exhorts the recipients of God’s grace.
Two verses give Paul’s usual method of opening a letter. In this, the salutation, the writer designates the author and the addressee: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1).
There are no serious doubts among commentators concerning the Pauline authorship of this epistle. Confined in a prison in Rome, well stricken in years, Paul writes a letter different from his other epistles. Controversy is absent. Warning against any particular error of doctrine is missing. Yet this particular difference causes no concern, for both the external and internal evidence are convincingly strong.
Paul designates himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” He was alike Christ’s possession and His representative. The risen Lord having both saved and sent him, Paul became God’s minister to the Gentiles. Having completely surrendered his life to the Lord Jesus Christ, his learning, zeal, and teaching ability were all consecrated to the service of his Master. He was truly an apostle “by the will of God.”
“By the will of God” gives additional authority to Paul’s position as an apostle. When a man is sent by the will of God, then his hearers will do well to heed his message. Right here we might notice that the will of God is mentioned four times in this first chapter (verses 1, 5, 9, 11). The will of God reaches far back into eternity past, long before the foundations of the earth were laid. What a blessed privilege every servant of God has when he is called to make this known to others! Let us exercise the greatest care lest we interpose anything between the will of God and ourselves while we are here on earth. The human will has no place or function in redemption or in active service apart from the divine will. Every exercise of the spirit, mind and body reaches its loftiest position only when it is motivated by God’s will.
The letter is addressed “to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” The word for “saint” is hagios, and it means a holy one. Paul usually applied this term to the true child of God. The primary meaning of the word is separated or set apart.
The Roman Catholic Church has tainted the word “saint” with so much superstition that it is almost impossible to restore it to its original and intended use. Today its application is to any who exhibit an exceptional, artificial type of piousness, or to those whose own works merit the Pope’s canonization. According to the Bible, all Christians are saints (Heb. 10:10, 14). The temple was at one time holy, not because of its materials and magnitude, but because it was a set-apart place for the service of Jehovah. The altars were holy, the vessels were holy, the sacrifices were holy, the priests were holy, all because they were divinely chosen to discharge the function of holy service to the Lord. People in their ignorance call theirs the “All Saints Church,” and refer to the apostles as “Saint Peter” and “Saint Paul,” but God calls all who have been washed in the blood of the Lord Jesus and born again by the Holy Spirit “saints” (I Cor. 1:2).
It is God who sanctifies us. He sets us apart; we do not consecrate ourselves. “Saint” suggests no personal merit on man’s part, but a condescending act of Almighty God in setting apart those who believe in His Son. H. A. Ironside has said: “We do not become saints by saintliness, but we should be characterized by saintliness because we are saints.”
The letter, moreover, is intended for “the faithful in Christ Jesus.” The “faithful” are not mere professors but those who demonstrate their sainthood by their saintliness. Faithfulness to Him whose name is held, bears witness to others of God’s calling. Faith in Christ is much more than intellectual assent; it includes a surrender of the intellect, the heart, and the will to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. The name and fame of a church and its testimony will remain only so long as its members are “faithful in Christ Jesus.” When a man truly has faith in Christ he will keep faith with Christ. If one is not true to Christ, then he has exercised no faith in Christ.
The typical Pauline salutation continues with the words: “Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). Paul combined the two forms of salutation used by the Greeks and the Hebrews to send his Christian greeting. Here is a twofold blessing from two persons. The Father sends His grace and peace; the Son says: “Give them Mine, also.” It could not be otherwise, since the Son shares the exalted position with the Father “in the heavenlies.” God and Christ are One, thus they are the one source of “grace and peace.” The gospel that Paul preached is always known as the gospel of grace, the gospel of the unmerited favor of God.
Notice that God will not offer peace apart from grace. Nor can any man have peace before he accepts God’s grace. These two words form no mere conventional courtesy, as the Greeks and Hebrews might use them, but rather are they a rich Christian blessing.
Are we saints? Then let us receive and appropriate what is ours, for what is sent to us we have a right to possess. All through the pages of the New Testament the grace and peace of God in Christ shine gloriously forth. To accept His grace is to know His peace--peace not only with Him but with others also. Ephesians will unfold for us “the riches of His grace” (1:7). Twelve times in this one epistle Paul uses the word “grace.” May each of us lay claim to our possessions.
All of the following blessings are ours because of grace:
- salvation (Eph. 2:8)
- justification (Rom. 3:24)
- victory over sin (Rom. 5:20)
- power to testify (Rom. 12:3, 15:15; Col. 4:6)
- strength for service (II Tim. 2:1; Heb. 12:28)
- a spirit of generosity (II Cor. 8:7)
- sweetness in singing (Col. 3:16)
- ability to stand (I Pet. 5:12)
- strength in suffering (II Cor. 12:9)
There are doubtless many more, but these will suffice to show us the greatness of our need in appropriating God’s grace.
1. Paul’s Praise to God for What We Received (1:3-14)
The next verse is the key verse in the first half of the epistle, since it introduces us to the source of our wealth in Christ. It is definitely a word of praise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (1:3).
The adjective translated “blessed” means to celebrate with praises. At the very outset Paul magnifies the grace of God toward the Ephesians so that they, too, might be filled to overflowing with praise. God is said to bless us when He bestows upon us every provision for our spiritual peace and prosperity. We are said to bless God when we offer praise and thanksgiving for His provision.
More than twenty-five years had passed since Paul met the Lord Jesus Christ near Damascus. Still he was counting his blessings and praising God for them. Paul is not praising God because God desires to bless him, nor because God has determined to bless him at some future time, but because God “hath” blessed him. Yes, and “us”! God is the Blesser, and the blessed are those, and those only, who have received His Son as “our Lord Jesus Christ.” The “us” here are the “saints,” and as God’s set-apart ones we are eligible for the blessings.
The nature of the blessings is said to be “spiritual.” There is possibly more than one explanation of this. First, Paul might have intended to distinguish the blessings from those mercies of God that are material, physical, and temporal, that are intended particularly for the body. Second, Paul possibly meant by “spiritual blessings” those blessings pertaining to the Holy Spirit and intended to minister to the human spirit. The saint’s citizenship is in heaven, hence he no longer sets his affection on things in the earth. Moreover, his principal needs are spiritual so that he must be “strengthened with might by His [God’s] Spirit in the inner man” (3:16).
Too many of us place the emphasis upon those things that are temporal and transient while we neglect the values that are spiritual and eternal. The Father designed every spiritual blessing for the Church. They are ours “in Christ,” and are delivered to us by the Holy Spirit. The lasting joy that God bestows upon us is not in the things of this world, but rather in “heavenly places” or, better still, “in the heavenlies.” Ours are heavenly experiences and heavenly privileges conferred upon us by God in Christ. They originate among the eternal and unseen things.
The first of the believer’s possessions for which Paul praises God follows: “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (1:4). We must see at the outset that all that God had done for us in Christ is “according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (3:11). In eternity past, God had certain settled purposes which He accomplished at various times during the dispensations of human history, and here we are carried back into the remotest ages of past eternity where, says Paul, God was loving us and planning that all who are “in Christ . . . should be holy and without blame before Him.” God’s eternal choice, then, was that all who are in Christ should be a holy people.
The phrase “chosen us in Him” could be rendered “chose us for Himself.” Chose us for what? Not to everlasting life, but that we should be spotless for Himself! The election in the divine Mind was that all those in Christ should be “holy ones,” free from every defilement of sin.
It is not difficult to see how God should purpose in His heart, before the world came into existence, that He was going to have a holy people who would be to the praise of His glory and grace. To that end God created Adam, and in spite of the fall of man, God is still going to carry out His purpose in Christ. The divine choice will find its consummation when Christ returns for His bride “to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24). Temporarily we are in this world, but not of it. We were chosen to be holy before its foundations were laid; we are merely passing through it to another world. We might fail to practice holiness here, but the eternal purpose of God will be fulfilled when our Lord Returns and “we shall be like Him” (I John 3:2).
God has selected a people to be His holy habitation. Are you in that company, my friend? You are, if you are “in Christ.” If you are not, you may this very day join that holy band by trusting Him as your Saviour. Then you, too, will be a part of the true Church of God’s creation and design which, on the great presentation day, will be presented a glorious Church, “holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
The ultimate purpose of God’s choice is not salvation but sanctification. John Calvin stated that it is wrong to say that any of us may attain perfection in this life; nevertheless, this is the goal to which the whole course of our lives must be directed, even though we cannot reach it till we have finished our course. Let us grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, saying with Paul: “. . . neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy” (Acts 20:24). And let us praise God that we have been chosen to be a part of the completed structure, a perfect Church throughout all eternity.
When God designed His Church in eternity past He “predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (1:5). The American Standard Version makes it clear that the verb translated “predestinated” is “foreordained.” It means to appoint, or to determine beforehand.
To what have we been predestinated? Neither this verse nor any other verse in the Bible teaches that God decrees that some men are foreordained to everlasting life while others are foreordained to everlasting death. Christ “gave Himself a ransom for all” (I Tim. 2:6), and “this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:3, 4).
Notice, please, that we have been foreordained unto adoption as sons. The word “adoption” is used only by Paul. To understand its meaning, you must lay aside the idea of the word as used today when, by a legal act, an adult person takes a minor, not his own, into the relation as his child. The adoption of the believer is still future, being a divine act whereby God sets a goal for the believer. Paul states clearly that our adoption is something for which the believer is “waiting” (Rom. 8:23), having been foreordained “unto” adoption. Although we do have here and now the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15), His Presence in us is merely the seal, or guarantee of a future act of son-placing. Adoption does not mean son-making, for in eternity we shall be sons no more than we are now but, rather, at that time, we shall be properly placed in God’s show-case and displayed as sons. God has predestinated us unto the adoption--it is future. Therefore, His sovereign act of adoption can have nothing whatever to do with His choice of us.
In the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul explains how Jesus Christ secured our adoption for us by His death at Calvary in order that “we might receive” it (Gal. 4:5). Our present standing is that of sons; for, “beloved, now are we the sons of God.” And how wonderful this is! But, adds the Apostle John: “It doth not yet appear what we shall be” (I John 3:2). The fact of our present son-making and our future son-placing were all “according to the good pleasure of His will.” Our future position, which was God’s choice, was not only His will but His enjoyment. The mightiest angel in heaven will not share in the glory of the believer’s future position.
If you, dear reader, are not a son of God, your future is dark indeed. But even now there is time. If you trust Jesus Christ as your Saviour, God will make you His son now and place you in an exalted position as His son in eternity. Then you, too, will join in praise to God for His goodness.
Verse six teaches us that every true believer has been foreordained to be such a trophy of the grace of God as to cause men to praise the glory of His grace. Paul writes: “To the Praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved” (1:6). These words, not to be considered by themselves, are just a link in a golden chain of thoughts beginning with verse 3.
God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing because He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him, one day to place us on display as His glorified sons. Then His holy and unblemished Church will cause men and angels to acknowledge the wonders of His infinite love and grace toward sinners.
God has foreordained that men shall extol and praise His grace in all its eternal glory. This is the terminus of His kindness toward sinners. Today this is demonstrated only meagerly in the lives of His true followers, but in the end of the age “He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe” (II Thess. 1:10).
The Lord of heaven and earth will be wondered at by all when the Church Age has run its course and the last member has been added to the Church. With mingled surprise and admiration, the spectators of earth and hell will marvel at the monument of divine grace. All who have put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are certain to be present and a part of that magnificent exhibition, for, adds the apostle: “He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.” We are already accepted in the Father’s presence because we are in Christ. What condescending love and grace! We are accepted, but only because the Father has “made us” so. Let us continue to praise God, not only for what we have been saved from, but for what we are saved to.
These verses (1:3-14) are referred to by Charles R. Erdman as a hymn of praise consisting of three stanzas. He says that the first relates to the past: God the Father is the subject, and the refrain closes with the words, “To the praise of the glory of His grace” (1:6). The second stanza relates to the present: God the Son is the subject, and it concludes “to the praise of His glory” (1:12). The third stanza relates to the future: God the Holy Spirit is the subject, and it concludes “unto the praise of His glory” (1:14). And then Dr. Erdman shows that the three stanzas are bound into a harmonious unity by recurring references to Christ: “In the Beloved,” “In Christ,” “In Whom.”
We have come now to the second stanza of Paul’s wonderful hymn of praise (1:7-12). The first stanza makes clear the work of God in grace in eternity past. The second shows God’s grace manifested toward us now in Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. Paul continues: “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (1:7). Before the sinner becomes saved he is a captive in the slave-market of sin. He is sold out to the world, the flesh, and the devil. As a slave in bondage he needs to be freed. Someone must purchase him and take him out of the market of sin. Christians, once bondmen, now have redemption.
The word “redemption” appears three times in Ephesians, and it means to set free by the payment of a ransom. The ransom price of the slave is the blood of Jesus Christ, and if any man is to be released from the power and penalty of sin it must be “through His blood.” The penalty for sin is death (Gen. 2:17). Death is sin’s wages (Rom. 6:23). Only a substitute life will satisfy the righteous demands of God. Since the life of the flesh is in the blood (Lev. 17:11), and the Son of man gave His life a “ransom” (Matt. 20:28), all who trust in Him are assured of release from sin’s power and penalty, but only “through His blood.” In the first stanza, the Father plans our redemption (1:4-6); in the second, the Son provides it. We shall never be able to overestimate the worth and power of the death of Jesus Christ. God displayed His wisdom and power in creation, but only in the death of His Son do we see a manifestation of divine compassion for sinners, and the only responsibility imposed upon sinners is that of believing. Redemption is a present fact: “we have redemption.”
Paul includes in the same sentence, “the forgiveness of sins.” To “forgive” is to release from guilt. God holds resentment against the unbeliever, the resentment being justly provoked by a violation of His holiness; but when the sinner comes to Christ, guilt is removed and resentment ceases. A man may forgive a friend who has wronged him, but the forgiveness cannot cancel the guilt. But when God forgives a sinner He actually remits the sin and removes the guilt. Forgiveness for the believing sinner is an act of God whereby He sets aside absolutely and eternally, by judicial decree, all condemnation and guilt. Judicial forgiveness, in contradistinction to the Father’s forgiveness of His sinning child (I John 1:9), covers all sin, and by it the believing sinner is pardoned forever. It forever absolves and acquits the sinner. But forgiveness was dear to the Forgiver. It cost the life of God’s Son.
Observe the measureless abundance of divine forgiveness--“according to the riches of His Grace” (1:7). No adequate explanation of divine forgiveness can be made apart from those beautiful and precious words. Only the view of the depth and degradation of our sin will cause us to appreciate in any degree the limitless ill-merited favor of God. The word “according” shows the measure of God’s grace in forgiveness. “Riches” suggests the inexhaustible springs of liberality. Have you ever tried to estimate how rich God is in grace? He has grace enough for every sinner and riches to spare. And to think He gives liberally to all in proportion to His riches!
That we might know the eternal purpose of God provided for us in His Son, “He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence” (1:8). God makes His purpose known and then gives His children the capacity to understand and appreciate it. The truths of God are deep truths, but “God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit” (I Cor. 2:10). The desire in the Father’s heart is that His Church should know the secret things of His divine plan. The Word of God is the revelation of His counsels, and all who search the Word may have an intelligent understanding of His wonderful plan. We, as the redeemed saints of God, “have the mind of Christ” and can foresee the ultimate destiny of the whole creation.
How does God abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence? The answer comes to us in the next verses: “Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in Him” (1:9-10). This is the manner in which He made His grace to abound toward us in all wisdom and intelligent understanding. He made known unto us the mystery.
A mystery is a truth once hidden but now revealed. A mystery is not mysterious in the present connotative meaning of the word but a secret now revealed by God. There are a number of mysteries in the New Testament, the true meaning of which God disclosed to Paul. In confidence God has much to tell His own concerning His plan for Israel, the Church, and the world. All of the purposes of God find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. This present dispensation began with the revelation of God in the virgin birth and virtuous life of His Son. The revelation reached its climax at Calvary. And He continued to reveal Himself in His bodily resurrection and ascension into heaven.
At this moment the authority of Jesus Christ is not fully acknowledged in the earth, but in the end of the age all things in heaven and in earth will find their headship in Christ. In Colossians, Christ is seen as “the Head of the body, the Church,” but when He comes again, by Him God will reconcile all things unto Himself, whether they be things in the earth or things in heaven. God will head up all things in Christ. Many military leaders have dreamed of world empires, but God has “highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
The “times,” or seasons, suggest that God is developing His plan through a series of definite and successive stages, the fullness of which has not yet come. However, it is God’s intention in the final important season to send His Son to earth again to sum up all things in Him. This divine intention was at one time unknown, even to the prophets, but according to God’s good pleasure He has made it known to us now. Our Lord’s first coming was in the fullness of time. However, in that day He will not merely offer Himself but will establish His throne and rule with a rod of iron.
When speaking of the future glory of Christ, the apostle is reminded again of the believer’s position, for in Christ “we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (1:11). The real meaning of this verse is missed entirely if we hold to the King James Version. Let us see it in the American Standard Version--“In whom also we were made a heritage . . .” (1:11, A.S.V.). We just saw in verse 10 how that everything in heaven and earth will be unified in Christ. Now Paul adds that, in Christ, the believer is God’s chosen portion or private possession. The saints are predestinated to be His inheritance. Of Israel it was said: “Yet they are Thy people and Thine inheritance”; “For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance” (Deut. 9:29; 32:9). When Christ returns in glory to establish His kingdom, all history and creation will be combined in a glorious and harmonious consummation as His inheritance, but the apex of His inheritance will be those whom He has redeemed with His own blood along with regathered Israel. This is God’s eternal purpose and He works all things after the counsel of His own will. What majestic beauty and simplicity in the purpose of God! It is not merely that Christ shall receive the earth and all that is in it, but that we have been made His heritage.
Only as we are “in Christ” are we God’s inheritance, and the reason He made us His inheritance is “That we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in Christ” (1:12). Though now we are the objects of His love and mercy, eventually we shall be the subjects of His glory.
Speaking through the Prophet Malachi, God said: “And they shall be Mine . . . in that day when I make up My jewels” (Mal. 3:17). Here the word “jewels” means special treasure, and it is used first of David who, upon setting his affection on the house of the Lord, stored away his treasure of gold and silver for the building of the temple. Even so God is storing away His special treasure, building a holy temple, “In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:21). As God looks down upon this sinful earth He sees a company of despised followers of His Son, and He says: “They shall be Mine when I make up My special treasure.”
We are of greater worth to God than angels. We are His costly treasure! Someone has said: “When God found me, I was no better than a cobblestone--not worth picking up. But He took me into His laboratory of grace, and by the chemistry of atoning blood He processed me, and I came out as His jewel--a bit rough, I’ll admit, but after a few years of cutting, buffing, and polishing, He will present me at last before His throne absolutely flawless.” How wonderful it all is! Thus the second stanza of this wonderful hymn of praise concludes “to the praise of His [Christ’s] glory.”
We come now to the third and last stanza of Paul’s hymn of praise (1:13-14). In the first stanza (1:3-6), we saw the plan of the Father wherein we were chosen, predestinated, and adopted that we might be to the praise of His glory. In the second stanza (1:7-12), we saw the provision of the Son wherein we were redeemed and forgiven that we might be to the praise of His glory. Now we are to look at the last stanza (1:13-14), wherein we see the pledge of the Spirit unto the praise of His glory. The Father finished His plan. The Son finished the work which the Father gave Him to do. Now the Holy Spirit is in the world fulfilling His pledge.
Verse 13 contains three prominent words, each essential to the other. They are “heard,” “believed,” and “sealed.” Here we shall see the work of the Holy Spirit in the divine plan. All three Persons in the Godhead have had a pertinent part in man’s redemption.
What is the Spirit’s work? All men being spiritually dead in trespasses and sins, man needs new life. Since the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of life” (Rom. 8:2), He quickens us from spiritual death.
How does the Spirit accomplish this quickening? The instrument He uses is the Word of God. In Ephesians it is called “the Word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Elsewhere we are reminded that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Paul says: “Ye heard,” and “ye believed.” It is through the Word that men are born again, “For the Word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12, A.S.V.). Only when we hear the gospel are we born again by the power of the Spirit (John 3:5), “not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (I Pet. 1:23). The written Word of God is the living, active, sharp, penetrating, discerning sword of the Spirit by which men are brought face to face with God’s plan of salvation. The duty of the sword of the Spirit is to bring life, but all who refuse it are slain by it. We cannot adequately explain our salvation apart from the Spirit’s ministry through the Word.
Upon “hearing” and “believing” the Word, immediately “ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise” (1:13). When we hear the gospel our part is to believe; it is God’s part to seal. We are not sealed by the Spirit but, rather, with the Spirit. Better still, the Spirit is the seal. It is “God who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (I Cor. 1:21-22).
A seal is a mark of authenticity or genuineness. “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (II Cor. 3:3). True believers are the credentials of Christ, His letters of recommendation to a lost world. A letter is the written expression of the writer; hence the children of God are not those whose names are written in ink or engraved in stone, but those upon whose hearts the Holy Spirit has written the evidence of the power of God’s Word. The distinguishing mark between the false professor and the true Christian is the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, a seal is the mark of ownership. God knows us by His seal. Jesus said: “I am the good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine” (John 10:14). As livestock are distinguished by the owner’s brand, even so God has His own special brand whereby we are marked out as His possession, and “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9). The stamp of validity is God’s seal, the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the sign that we are His people and members of the true Church of Jesus Christ.
Then, too, the seal is the mark of security, for the Spirit “is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (1:14). Here is the answer to the problem some men have regarding the preservation of the believer. Wherein does our security lie? The word “earnest” denotes a down payment, or a pledge that an agreement will be kept. Now God has offered us eternal life upon belief on His Son. But can we be certain that we shall enter into that life after we die? Yes, indeed! The earnest bound the bargain, and the deposit will not be returned until the remainder of our redemption, which is the redemption of our body (Rom. 8:23) is fully realized. The Holy Spirit is in the earth as God’s deposit, or guarantee, until Jesus Christ comes again to receive His own unto Himself. The indwelling Holy Spirit is our guarantee of a finished transaction and a safe delivery of spirit, soul, and body to heaven. Our future inheritance of glory is assured, for the sealing with the Spirit is designed to give us certainty that the future will bring a completed redemption, and that “unto the praise of His glory.”
2. Paul’s Prayer to God for What We Require (1:15-23)
The epistles of Paul are noted for their prayers offered to God in the interest of the saints. W. H. Griffith Thomas has said that there are few more precious subjects for meditation and imitation than the prayers and intercessions of the great apostle. The greatness of the man and his ministry can be attributed in a large part to his prayer life.
There are two prayers of Paul recorded in Ephesians. The first prayer is before us; the second is to be found in 3:14-19. If prayer for others is a test of one’s own spiritual life, then Paul ranks high among the godly leaders in the history of the Church. Most of our prayers are taken up with ourselves or with those nearest and dearest to us. Needs of others occupy a small place in our prayer life. Paul’s prayers are included by the Holy Spirit as a corporate part of the epistle.
First, consider the occasion of the prayer. It commences with the word “wherefore,” which literally means on account of this. In the preceding verses Paul has issued, by the Holy Spirit, some profound teaching on the work of the triune God in making plans for the completed redemption of all believers. Now, because of this, he desires that they should possess an experiential knowledge, having the doctrine transmitted into actual experience. He would have them enjoy the full scope of their inheritance in Christ.
Paul’s heart is filled with thanksgiving for the saints at Ephesus, for, says he: “I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints” (1:15). Two things about the Ephesian Christians were controversial pieces: (1) their faith in the Lord Jesus, and (2) their love to all the saints.
The object of their faith was the Lord Jesus Christ. They were not ashamed of Him, for obviously others were hearing of their faith. Paul says: “I heard.” Where people are soundly saved they will not hide their light under a bushel, but will proclaim the joys of salvation found in Christ. Then, too, where faith is genuine, love will be in evidence. One of the unmistakable signs of the new birth is one’s conduct toward “all the saints.” True Christian love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). Where He is in control, there must be love to all the saints. Love is the fruit of faith in Jesus Christ, for “We know that we have passed from death into life, because we love the brethren” (I John 3:14). While true love embraces all men, it reaches out in a particular way to those who belong to our Lord Jesus Christ (see Galatians 6:10). Faith begets love.
Let us consider further the objectives of the prayer. Paul’s earnestness made his prayers intelligent and specific. He knew that general prayers could expect general answers, so why pray if there was nothing to pray about? But he did pray, and the Holy Spirit has preserved for us one of the most profound petitions in all of the apostle’s writings.
The prayer is addressed to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory” (1:17). This suggests to us that the Christian’s God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the Father to whom glory belongs, for He is “the God of glory” (Acts 7:2). And to think that the Father to whom glory belongs, who is the “Father of mercies” (II Cor. 1:3), the “Father of [our] Spirits” (Heb. 12:9), and the “Father of lights” (Jas. 1:17), is our Father! O Christian, rejoice! How can a Christian ever think of calling any man his holy father, as Romanists do, when he has God as his Father? Our heavenly Father is the source of every blessing. To Him be all glory! The first request in the prayer is for “wisdom and revelation” (1:17). When Paul requests for the saints “the spirit of wisdom and revelation,” he is not praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit’s Presence. They have already received the Holy Spirit as the divine seal (1:13). Paul desires for them that heavenly wisdom and revelation which is imparted by the Holy Spirit.
“Revelation” is the important word here, for revelation is the key to all knowledge. The ministry and office work of the Holy Spirit is to reveal to the Christian the meaning of all truth, whether historical or prophetical (John 14:26; 16:12-15). The Christian has no excuse for ignorance, since the Holy Spirit was given to reveal even “the deep things of God” (I Cor. 2:10). Some men are wise in Hebrew and Greek grammar and the mechanics of Bible interpretation, but Paul is not praying for the tools of knowledge. He covets for them a wise and understanding spirit that none can impart but the Holy Spirit Himself.
Why do Christians not have a wise and understanding spirit in things pertaining to God’s Word? The answer lies, in part, in the last phrase of verse 17, namely, “in the knowledge of Him.” Christ is true wisdom and true knowledge. Three other translations of this verse make the deeper meaning clear:
That the God of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, the Father glory-clad, may, in bestowing the full knowledge of Himself, bestow on you the Spirit which is manifested in divine illumination and insight into the mysteries of God (Way).
For I always beseech the God of our Lord Jesus Christ--the Father most glorious--to give you the spirit of wisdom and penetration through an intimate knowledge of Him (Weymouth).
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may grant you the Spirit to give wisdom and revelation which come through a growing knowledge of Him (Williams).
Surely you have caught the force of Paul’s statement. Wisdom and revelation come to us only by intimate associations with our Lord. A growing knowledge of the Author of the Bible guarantees a wise and understanding spirit in discernment of His Word. Paul would have us seek to know God, for then we shall have a Spirit-given knowledge which is accurate and thorough (Phil. 1:9; Col. 1:9), not merely an intellectual knowledge. Human philosophy says: “Know thyself.” Our Lord said: “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou has sent” (John 17:3). Ordinary knowledge may be acquired; spiritual insight into the deep things of God is a gift (Jas. 1:5).
The prayer continues: “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened” (1:18). The American Standard Version reads: “the eyes of your heart,” not mind. The “heart” is the inner man, including the emotion and will; it is the whole self, man’s inward being. This marvelous faculty of spiritual sight is lacking in the unregenerated man. He is powerless to apprehend spiritual things. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). Now the eyes of the believer’s heart must be continually taken up with his Lord in order that his knowledge of spiritual truth might increase.
Paul requests for the saints the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ that they might know three things:
(1) “The hope of His calling.” God has called us, but to what purpose? He has called us to perfection in the likeness of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; I John 3:1-2). He has called us to a completed righteousness and to the completed redemption of our bodies. He does not call a believer to hope for the forgiveness of his sins: they are gone. The hope of His calling is to see Him and be one with Him. One day our Lord will come again, and we shall all be changed to see Him as He is and to be like Him. Such a glorious hope inspires to holy living and to a hatred of all that is of this world. “Every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (I John 3:3). All Christians have the same hope. It is Christ’s coming to take His own to be with Himself.
(2) “The riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” Here Paul prays that we might have a full appreciation of our worth to God. Already we have noted that God made us His heritage that we should be to the praise of His glory (1:11-12). God has an inheritance. His inheritance is in His saints. The gold and the silver and all the universes are His. He has riches untold. But His riches are not in the universes that He possesses, nor in the substance of the earth that is His, but in the saints that He purchased at infinite cost, namely, the precious blood of His only begotten Son (I Pet. 1:19). Beloved Christian, think not of what you can get from God but, rather, think of what you mean to God. The Christian Church is precious to God. He purchased it and paid for it with the blood of His Son. Paul would have us appreciate our dignity. I cannot understand how this can be, but I know that God has an inheritance even in me.
(3) “And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe” (1:19). What an objective in prayer! That men might know the measure of God’s power. The Christian needs supernatural power, and God would have us see how great is His power to accomplish His purposes in us. How much spiritual strength is available for me in my daily life? How much divine energy is at my disposal? The power that God has made available to the believer is “according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (1:19-21). Here is the inexhaustible strength of God in taking His crucified Son who was dead and buried, and raising Him from among the dead to His present majestic position in heaven. What power! The same continuous current of His mighty power stands available to the faithful, to all who will believe.
Can you conceive this? The power which raised Christ from the grave, lifted Him to heaven, put all things under His feet and made Him the Head over all to the Church, is to us-ward who believe. How can we fail with Him as our Head and with such power at our disposal?
Now consider the last phrase. God “gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (1:22-23). Jesus Christ has been exalted to absolute authority over His Church, hence through His sovereign Person and exalted position the Church takes her orders. He is the exalted Head over all. The order of the Church must be His will and every activity must exalt Him, since it is in the capacity of Head over all that God gave Him to the Church. When the members of the Church recognize this, then there will be no lack, for the Church will receive its fullness from Him. As the recognized Head He imparts the needed strength to accomplish every task. When the visible body of Christ on earth recognizes the invisible Head in heaven, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. Popes, cardinals, and bishops are merely men; and when any man sets himself up as the head of Christ’s Church, it is sacrilege of the basest sort. Beloved, let us take our position in subjection to our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may enjoy victory all along the way, for we cannot be complete without Him (Col. 2:9-10).
The theme of Ephesians is Christ and His Church. In chapter one, the Church is likened to a body of which Christ is the Head. The Head is in heaven, and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the world, the Body, which is Christ’s purchased possession, is being formed. The Head without the Body is incomplete. When the Body is complete, the Head will come to unite the Body to Himself, never to be separated.
The symbolism is beautiful. In chapter two, the Church is likened to a building. Paul speaks of its foundation as being “the apostles and prophets,” its chief Corner-Stone is “Jesus Christ Himself,” and believers fitly framed together form “an holy temple in the Lord . . . for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (2:19-22). Such is the creation and design of the Church.
Ephesians is the thrilling story of how God creates anew the man that He created originally in His own image and likeness, but who, through disobedience, fell from his lofty position. The plan involved a perfect Head for the Body and a perfect Head-Stone for the Building. So in the fullness of time God sent His Son in a human body, and through His virgin birth, virtuous life, vicarious death, victorious resurrection, and visible return, He is restoring to the Father His fallen creature.
In our present chapter Paul shows the need for being made a new creation by reviewing the believer’s past history before he became saved. He shows the unregenerated man to be separated from God both by death and distance. It is a portrait of what every unsaved man is, and what every saved person was before trusting in Christ.
1. Separated by Death (2:1-10)
These verses are marked by a series of triplets. The three’s of the Bible make for interesting and instructive teaching. Bible triads represent strength and completeness. The Scripture says that “a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:12). The verses before us contain a triad of evil and a triad of good: (a) the three ravaging forces are the world, the flesh, and the devil (verses 1-3); (b) the three redeeming facts are mercy, love, and grace (verses 4-6); and (c) the three resulting features are that the saints are made alive together with Christ, raised up together with Christ, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ.
(a) Three Ravaging Forces (2:1-3)
The believer’s past position in the world was that of every unsaved man, “dead in trespasses and sins” (2:1). The clearer the picture of our destitute condition before we were saved, the greater is our appreciation of what God has undertaken to do for us. The natural man is dead, a state into which he has come through trespasses and sins. “Man is separated from God because the life-cord has been severed.”
God had warned Adam: “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Our first parents ignored the warning, and “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Sin and death came through Adam. In Adam’s sin all sinned; therefore in Adam’s sin all die. Because of the solidarity of the human race, no man has escaped sin. Therefore, death is universal.
Never in Scripture does death mean annihilation. H. S. Miller defines death as the separation of a person from the purpose or use for which he was intended. There are three kinds of death: (1) physical, the separation of the soul, or life, from the body (I Cor. 15:21-22; Heb. 9:27); (2) spiritual, the separation of the spirit from God (2:1; 4:18; I John 5:12); and (3) eternal, the everlasting banishment from the Presence of God (I Cor. 6:9, 10; II Thess. 1:9).
In Ephesians Paul speaks of spiritual death. The unsaved man may be physically and mentally alive to all of the pleasures of this world but dead spiritually (I Tim. 5:6). How foolish for someone who is spiritually dead to try to live the Christian life! It cannot be done. Suppose a person allows himself every indulgence and says to himself: “Ah, this is the life.” Then he comes to church occasionally to imitate the Christian life. Such effort is futile. You see, we are all born as dead men, and we live as dead men until we are made partakers of the life of God. Someone has said: “You cannot live a life for God until you receive life from God.” In physical death, the function of the body ceases; in spiritual death, there is no function of man’s spirit toward God. As far as the relation of the nations of the earth toward God is concerned, we live in a world of dead men. There is a state of intense physical activity, but until a man passes from death unto life (John 5:24), he remains alienated from the life of God (Eph. 4:18).
Three opposing forces of evil are responsible for holding man in the state of spiritual death. The first of these is the world: “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world . . .” (2:2). Here the word “world” should be translated “age.” The course of this age Paul describes in Galatians as “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). The nature of the unregenerate man responds to the direction of the age, and the god of this age is Satan (II Cor. 4:4). This vile world is no friend to grace to help us on to God. Be not conformed to this age (Rom. 12:2) nor court its friendship (Jas. 4:4). Certainly “love not the world” (I John 2:15). The unsaved will follow the course and traditions of this world, but the Christian never! The world may answer the requirements of the unregenerate heart, but God’s true children seek those things which are above.
The second of the opposing forces responsible for holding man in the state of spiritual death is the devi1. Paul said that in times past we walked “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (2:2). It has been pointed out already that a personal devil is the god of this age. The saints who have been born again were born into God’s kingdom (John 3:3), having been rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s Son (Col. 1:13). The unsaved man is still in Satan’s kingdom and therefore is Satan’s slave. Satan separates men from God by blinding their minds, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them (II Cor. 4:4). Of course their blindness is self-chosen. They refused to believe. By rejecting their Deliverer, they fell into the clutches of Satan.
The great spiritual struggle in the world is the control of the soul of man--the God of light and life versus the god of darkness and death. If you are a rebel against God, then you are ruled by Satan, and he will continue his evil work in you to keep you separated from God. I shrink from the horror of my past, but I praise God for His remarkable delivering power.
The spiritually dead are held in separation from God, not only by the world and the devil but also by the flesh: “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (2:3). With our sin-controlled nature we formerly behaved ourselves according to our sensual appetites. Beloved Christian, this was our past. When I look at the pleasure-mad, lust-craving throngs today, I see myself as I was before God saved me by His power. And all Christians, Jews and Gentiles alike, yielded to the desires of the flesh and the cravings after those things that were not good for them. I was a corpse in the cesspool of corruption when the Lord Jesus found me, but, praise God, He has given me His life and now my desires are toward Him. I was worthy to be judged, but now I am justified in Christ.
(b) Three Redeeming Facts (2:4-5)
After Paul shows how three ravaging forces of evil separated us from God, he lists three redeeming facts: the fact of God’s mercy, the fact of His love, and the fact of His grace. The transition is marked with the words, “but God” (2:4). These words mark the turning point of man’s destiny. We were separated from God by the world, the devil, and the flesh, “but God!” God intervened and, were it not for His divine intervention, we would still be dead in our sins and separated from Him. Against the dark picture of human ruin we see divine redemption. Doomed to wrath, but God!
There is the fact of His mercy: “But God, who is rich in mercy . . .” (2:4). Praise God for His mercy, for it was mercy we needed. What is mercy? It is God’s exercise of pity and compassion upon the sinner with a forbearance he does not deserve. The whole of our salvation is ascribed to the mercy of God, and He is “rich in mercy.” Indeed, the Lord is merciful, full of mercy (Psalm 103:8). When the holy and eternal God who hates sin, loves and saves the sinner, that is mercy. He is the “Father of mercies” (II Cor. 1:3), and we need only come to His throne of grace to obtain mercy (Heb. 4:16). In chapter one we saw “the riches of His grace” (1:7) and “the riches of His glory” (1:18), and here we read that He is rich in mercy. Let us say with the Apostle Peter: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Pet. 1:3).
Then, too, there is the fact of His love: “. . . for His great love wherewith He loved us” (2:4). Abundant mercy and great love! Oh, the love of God! Who can fathom it? Who can explain it? We can do nothing better than ponder His own Word: “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16); “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8); “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (I John 4:9).
Could I with ink the ocean fill,
Were the whole sky of parchment made,
Were every blade of grass a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though spread from sky to sky.
Finally, there is the fact of His grace: “By grace ye are saved” (2:5, 8). Grace is everything for nothing. It is helping the helpless, going to those who cannot come in their own strength. Grace sets aside my unrighteousness and demerit and gives me a righteousness I do not merit. God owes me nothing but He offers me complete salvation. That is grace. Man could do nothing whatever to plan his own salvation. It was planned by God before the foundation of the world. The world, the devil, and the flesh separated me from God; but by His mercy, love, and grace, He saved me.
(c) Three Resulting Features (2:5-10)
We are to see now, in part, what God’s mercy, love, and grace accomplished for us. First, with Christ we were made alive--“quickened together” (2:5). We were spiritually dead; now we have been made spiritually alive. The believer passes through the same experience spiritually that the Lord Jesus did physically. We were crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20). We died with Christ (Rom. 6:8); we were buried with Christ (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12); we have been made alive with Christ. Since He died our death, we died with Him. When you were saved, a dead man became alive, and to you was given a life you never possessed before. The same life-giving power that was demonstrated when our Lord gave life to the dead, when He Himself came forth from the dead, and when He will yet call forth from the graves all who have died, is the power at work in giving new life to the sinner who is spiritually dead. Our Lord Jesus said: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live” (John 5:25). That is the power at work when one is born again. The voice of God is the voice of power, and when a man hears and believes the Word of God, he “is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).
Men do not get life through baptism, or the Lord’s supper, or church membership, but through hearing and believing the Word of God. And if the Word of life goes unheeded, the same God who offers new life to the sinner will one day banish the unbeliever from His presence forever. “Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isa. 55:3). Spiritual life, if it comes at all, must come from God. God wants to put new life in man, His own life, and this He will do only by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit. The receiving of this life is instantaneous the moment we, by the Spirit, believe the Word. Christ died and came forth from the grave alive; thus the believing sinner receives the life of the Son of God which is both spiritual and eternal.
The second miracle of God’s mercy, love, and grace is that He “hath raised us up together . . . in Christ Jesus” (2:6). Dr. A. C. Gaebelein has pointed out that quickening and resurrection are not one and the same thing. Quickening means the giving of life. Resurrection, however, is the placing of that given life into the proper sphere. Having been quickened, or made alive, God has given to us a new position in the world.
When our Lord called Lazarus from death and the grave, “he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go” (John 11:43-44). In contrast to the condition of Lazarus when he received life, John and Peter, upon looking into Christ’s tomb, found both the linen clothes and the napkin that was about his head still lying in the tomb (John 20:4-7).
Too many professing Christians are like Lazarus who, while testifying to the fact of having received new life, know nothing of the blessed liberty that accompanies the new life. Many professing Christians are still bound by the grave-clothes of tradition and law and unbelief. You see, the unloosing of the grave-clothes was the condition of exercising the life in its proper sphere. Moreover, if the grave-clothes had not been removed, Lazarus would have sunk back into the tomb. When our Lord imparts new life, He delivers the sinner from the grave-clothes, which speak of the bondage of the law and sin. How sad to find so many in our churches cumbered with the death wrappings of those who are spiritually dead in trespasses and sins! “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). The believer’s resurrection with Christ is an escape from the bondage of sin, for he is “dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:11). Our spiritual resurrection is to effect a walk “in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).
Romans 6 explains how God deals with sin in the believer’s nature. The believer’s old nature, with its sinful possibilities, is never eradicated in this present life. Instead of the false teaching of eradication of sin, the Scriptures affirm the truth of the believer’s identification with Christ. Our Lord not only died for our sins (I Cor. 15:3), but “He died unto sin” (Rom. 6:10), and in the divine reckoning we died with Christ to sin. However, Christ did not remain in the grave; He was raised from the dead henceforth to walk in a new kind of life. Now “if we [believers] have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:5). No one can share Christ’s resurrection life who has not died with Him and who has not been made alive with Him. Judicially, Christ did not die His own death but ours. Likewise, when He was raised from the dead, we were raised with Him.
It is an essential fact that the saved man has been made alive with Christ. By an amazing and mighty act of God He reached down through human history and made His Holy Son one with the entire human race, thereby bringing into a perfect and mysterious union and oneness the life of the perfect Son of God and that of the sin-scarred posterity of Adam. The persons, then, who stand fused in this remarkable coalescence are Jesus Christ and the believing sinner. While some professing believers do not break completely from the fetters of the old life, there is a glorious future awaiting the redeemed. Paul wrote: “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:3-4).
Dear reader, do you say that you are a Christian? “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1, 2).
The third miracle of God’s mercy, love, and grace is that He “made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:6). Not only was our Lord made alive and raised from the dead, but He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:10-11), even “on high” (Eph. 4:8) where God has highly exalted Him (Phil. 2:9). So it is with the Christian. He has been delivered from hell to heaven itself. This experience is not perfected in this present life, but it is very definitely so in a spiritual sense. As resurrection and quickening are not one and the same, even so ascension. In Old Testament times none but the high priest could enter into the holy place and, when he did, he represented all Israel; for he had their names upon the breast and shoulders of his garments. Christ is our “merciful and faithful High Priest” (Heb. 2:17), even Jesus the Son of God who is passed into the heavens. He is both understanding and compassionate (Heb. 4:14-15) as He intercedes in our behalf.
Now the wonder and glory of it all is that, when the eternal Son left heaven’s heights and descended to man’s lowest depths (Phil. 2:5-8), He paid our debt, delivering us from death and hell, and took us back with Himself. Here is the amazing outreach of God’s grace and the height of Christian position. Not only did Christ love us and wash us from our sins, but He “hath made us kings and priests unto God” (Rev. 1:6; 5:10). We are as royalty in the presence of Royalty, since we are both a “holy priesthood” and a “royal priesthood” (I Pet. 2:5, 9). Each member of Christ’s true Church is a holy and royal priest called to the ministry of intercession and of offering up spiritual sacrifices to God. The saints not only comprise a spiritual house but the priesthood of that house. Priests were those who carried on the worship; thus any vested priesthood ordained of men is contrary to the plain teaching of God’s Word, since the saints comprise the only true priesthood.
Are we truly serving as priests, drawing near to God to offer up sacrifices of praise and intercession? Under the old covenant no individual ever held the offices of priest and king simultaneously. Such an honor was reserved for our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom Zechariah prophesied: “He shall be a Priest upon His throne” (Zech. 6:13). Now, as priests, we enter into the Holiest where our great High Priest has gone, and when He comes again to reign we, too, shall reign with Him. And while we wait for that day, let us exercise our priestly privilege. “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually” (Heb. 13:15).
We come now to an important question, namely: “Why has God bestowed upon us the fruits of His mercy, love and grace?” Paul answers: “That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (2:7). Through all the millenniums to come in eternity, God will exhibit His glory and grace in those whom He has redeemed. The great purpose of God in redemption is not merely the safety and happiness of the redeemed, but His own glory. What a monument it will be! Angels and demons will see and know that God has triumphed through His Son. We look into eternity past and see the divine plan of the Church before the foundation of the world; we look into eternity future and see the perfected Church on exhibition as a trophy of the mercy, love, and grace of God, and that to the praise of His glory. Indeed, the remembrance of such kindness must be hallowed throughout eternity.
And oh, the certainty of it here and now! Not that we hope to be saved eventually, but “by grace are ye saved” (2:8). The entire transaction has been signed, sealed, and delivered, for “by grace have ye been saved.” The only appropriating agency in salvation is “faith,” and even that is not of ourselves: “it is the gift of God.” No works of man could put him in right standing with God, for then would he have whereof to boast. But God has justified us by His grace in order that not any one should glory. From start to finish salvation is the gift of God. Faith is the instrument by which we receive the gift, but even faith is a gift which comes to man by the hearing of God’s Word (Rom. 10:17). God’s plan of salvation for the soul of man is finished, and redemption is free. Therefore you have only to believe, and God will save you for eternity. Praise Him for salvation.
Good works, nevertheless, have an important place in the life of every Christian: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (2:10). The “good works” spoken of here constitute one of the purposes of God in saving us, and these can be performed only by those who have been saved by grace. The word rendered “ordained” may be translated “prepared,” suggesting that God has cut out for each of us a special work of his own preparation. There must be an exhibition of the fruits of grace in this life as well as in the ages to come.
Notice, please, that the “good works” assigned to us are not our good works but His. These gifts our ascended Lord distributes to His own, and through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit we are able to use them. We are His workmanship doing His works. We may gaze upon the sun, the moon, the stars, the snow-capped mountains, or the beautiful flowers of every season, but these are not the best workmanship of God. The Church is God’s masterpiece, and it is the loftiest conception of beauty, unity, and usefulness--above everything else in the earth. God takes rough, crude sinners, dead in trespasses and sins, and produces vessels meet for the Master’s use. Sin-marred, defective material is transformed by God into useful instruments of righteousness. Now that we know this, life should be sacred to each of us.
2. Separated by Distance (2:11-22)
The general theme in the verses before us differs little, if at all, from that contained in the preceding verses of this chapter. Here are listed more characteristics of the natural man, proving the need of regeneration. However, the message here seems to be directed in a peculiar way to the Gentiles alone. Before the day of Pentecost, which day was the birthday of the Church, the Gentiles included all people in the earth who were not Jews. Since Pentecost God sees a threefold division of the human race: the Jew, the Gentile, and the Church of God (I Cor. 10:32), the last being made up of Jew and Gentile who have been saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s usage of the pronouns “we” and “ye” shows that he had in mind the condition of man in general in verses 1-3, and the condition of the Gentile in particular in verses 11-13.
(a) The Condition of the Past.
The key phrase in this portion of our study is “far off” (2:13), suggesting separation by distance. Before the Gentile was saved he was separated from God by a great gulf. We were “Gentiles in the flesh . . . called uncircumcision” (2:11). Circumcision was originally a rite enjoined by God upon Abraham as a sign of the covenant God made with him. Later it took on a definite religious and moral significance. Hence the Jews became known as “the circumcision” and looked with reproach upon the Gentiles to whom they referred as “the uncircumcised” (I Sam. 17:26, 36; II Sam. 1:20).
Actually the Gentiles were inferior to the Jews in that they were separated from the sacrifices and religious privileges that united Jewish believers to God. Of course there were those who were Jews in name only; and while they proudly called themselves “the circumcision,” they were Jews outwardly and not inwardly, for they lacked that real circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:25-29). The Gentile at that time stood condemned before God. After the flood God’s covenants were all made to Israel, giving Israel hope which the Gentiles lacked.
Then, too, the Gentiles were “without Christ” (2:12). While every unsaved man, both Jew and Gentile, is without Christ, the Gentiles were separated by a greater distance, since the Jew had the types, symbols, and prophecies that pointed to the coming Person and work of the Messiah. When Paul referred to God’s dealings with Israel, he said: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples [or types]” (I Cor. 10:11). In the Old Testament every hope of the Jew centered in the Messiah, for in Him their every expectation was to be fulfilled. All of the pre-incarnate appearances of Christ were to the Jews and, as we shall see later, it was not until His death at Calvary that He became the world’s Saviour.
Now when one is “without Christ” he has “no hope.” Even as the Gentiles were without hope before Christ came, so is every man today who has not trusted in Christ. There is no hope for the world or for the individual apart from Christ, but in Him God has given “everlasting consolation and good hope” (II Thess. 2:16). The “blessed hope” of the believer is the appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). He is Israel’s hope and the only hope of the world.
Paul pictures the Gentiles finally as being “without God in the world” (2:12). While they had “gods many, and lords many” (I Cor. 8:5), they were in a true sense of the word atheists, since they were alienated from any contact with God. No sadder plight can befall a man than that of being in the world without God.
(b) The Contrasts with the Present.
Again divine intervention marks a transition. When Paul pointed out the sad past of both Jew and Gentile, he contrasted the bright side of the picture by using the conjunction “but”-- “But God . . .” (2:4). Here the contrast between the unsaved Gentile and the saved Gentile is marked with the connecting words, “But now . . .” (2:13). From the distressing scene of what the Gentiles had been, Paul turns in vivid phrases to show what had been accomplished for them in Christ. They were “far off . . . but now . . . made nigh.” Once distance had separated them from Christ; now they are enjoying blessed union with Christ.
In antithesis to the Gentile being an alien from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger from the covenants of promise, he is created a new unity with the believing Jew. Christ became peace, having made both Jew and Gentile one by breaking down the middle wall of partition (2:14). The outer court in the temple for Gentiles was separated from the inner court for Jews, but when Christ came He broke down the partition. At the same time He abolished the enmity, which was the ordinances of the law, the rites, and ceremonies. These unobserved laws had caused the Jews to despise them (2:15). But now “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:4), by which (faith) He has created a union of Jew and Gentile. This new creation does not make a Jew into a Gentile, nor a Gentile into a Jew. Rather did our Lord “make in Himself of twain one new man” (2:15). Here is the true Church, a new organism in which the believing Jew and Gentile are reconciled to God in “one body” (2:16). Thus the whole world is blessed in Abraham according to promise, “that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ” (Gal. 3:14). Now the believing Gentile has received every spiritual privilege that Israel has, including spiritual circumcision (Col. 2:11).
Sin separated man not only from God but also from man. Man needed to be reconciled to God, but there had to be a conciliation between man and man also. Our Lord Jesus Christ is that Conciliator to abolish enmity and make peace, and we know of no other meeting-place where man can be at peace with man. You see, both Jew and Gentile had to be at peace with God before they could be at peace with each other, and only in Christ can the Jew forget that he is a Jew and the Gentile that he is a Gentile. Thank God that neither Jew nor Gentile can boast of one having had a better patch-up job than the other. This new man is not the result of any mere outward putting on, but is a “new creation” (II Cor. 5:17) in Christ Jesus.
Now “through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (2:18). There can be no boast as to which man’s religion or church gives him access to God. There are no advantages in being a Jew or a Gentile now. Christ is the Mediator of the new covenant and only “through Him” can there be access to the Father. The Lord Jesus said: “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me” (John 14:6), and that through the present ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The believing Jew and Gentile constitute one household: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (2:19). We are both in one family, hence we are no longer strangers, no longer unknown to one another. There is now the intimate association of family life; we are brothers in Christ. We possess the same citizenship, not living as neighbors but as the saints and sons of God in the same house with God.
The believing Jew and Gentile constitute one holy temple: “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (2:20-21). Paul adds that the Church is a building, a holy temple, the New Testament prophets and apostles forming the foundation and Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. It is Christ Himself who holds together the foundation and the superstructure. Think of it, dear Christian, we are the habitation of God (2:22), His dwelling place on earth. Does your heart enter into this blessed truth? God has taken up His residence in the Church, in each believer. The true Church is of perfect and harmonious design, its beauty and holiness surpassing any shrine or building made with human hands. The most sacred spot on earth is no towering cathedral with stained glass windows, but the believer’s heart where God has come to dwell. While the building is not now complete, it will be one day, and then all creation will view its splendor and give praise and glory to its Creator and Designer.
(c) The Cross as the Power.
Before we conclude our meditation on these verses we would do well to ponder the method whereby our awful past has been blotted out and our present position made possible. In Christ alone we find the basis of reconciliation to God and man. “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the Blood of Christ” (2:13). Reconciliation could be accomplished only by the finished work of God’s Son on the cross. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God . . .” (I Peter 3:18). Aaron made an atonement once a year with blood which he offered to God for the people. Even so Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, entered into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us (Heb. 9:11-12). “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus . . . Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:19, 22).
“In His flesh” He made peace, “having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20). Christ Himself is our peace, and he who has the Son of God enjoys peace with God and with all them that are in Christ. Let us thank God for accomplishing redemption and making our peace through the blood of His cross, for apart from His substitutionary death we would still be at enmity with God and man. It was at the cross where Jew and Gentile were condemned as sinners and united to God through faith in the blood of His Son. At the cross every enmity was slain and every provision made for redemption and reconciliation. The shedding of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is the plea of the sinner and the praise of the saint. In heaven we shall sing: “Thou west slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
If you are reading these lines and you are yet in your sins, Christ has removed the enmity between God and you by His propitiatory sacrifice at Calvary. You have only to acknowledge that your sin nailed Him there, and then receive Him as your Substitute and Saviour. You need not remain afar off, for even “now” you can be made nigh, as near to God as Christ Himself, by trusting in His blood.
In our approach to a new chapter of any book in the Bible we need to take care lest we lose the thought in the preceding chapter. There is sometimes the danger of missing the continuity of some particular idea or even a doctrine when we break up our reading and study-periods by chapters. If we keep in mind that the first three chapters in Ephesians have to do with the creation and design of the Church, we can look for the progress of thought in that connection as we begin our study of chapter three.
1. Paul’s Part in the Mystery (3:1-13)
Chapter one describes the Church under the imagery of “His body” (1:23). In chapter two, the Church is seen as “the building” (2:21). The body is possessed of His life; the building is inhabited by His very Presence. Under the Old Covenant, God met with man in a temporary temple specially designed for such a meeting; under the New Covenant the body of the believer is that temple (I Cor. 6:19).
Chapter two depicts the mystical body of Christ, the building, as made up of both believing Jew and Gentile. The position of Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ is here referred to as a “mystery.” The divine plan and purpose are revealed in the magnificent scope of uniting Jew and Gentile to Christ in the Church. Now the building is in process, and for the completed project God has a definite purpose. It is our prospective place in God’s future plan that is before us.
(a) The Meaning of the Mystery Explained (3:1-6)
Paul, the converted Hebrew, informs his readers that for their sakes he is the Lord’s prisoner: “For this cause I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles” (3:1). The reference to his imprisonment leads to a subject which, to Paul, was of greatest import. He went as God’s witness to the uncircumcised knowing what would befall him (Act 9:15-16). Later he testified of this as his experience (Acts 22:21-22). Paul was “the prisoner of Jesus Christ.” He had been imprisoned at least three times before; therefore this was not new to him. Yet he knew the blessing and comfort of his Lord’s fellowship. If Christ wants a man in prison with Himself, that lends dignity to the occasion. A point not to be overlooked, however, is that the great apostle had been imprisoned because he preached the gospel to the Gentiles. His countrymen hated him because he affirmed that the Gentile had equal privileges in Christ with the Jew. Every Gentile believer should pause to give thanks to God for this fearless missionary to the Gentiles.
To Paul were entrusted in a special way hitherto unrevealed truths of this “mystery.” He speaks of it as “the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward” (3:2). Here the word “dispensation” means the management, or stewardship of a household. The grace of God had now reached out beyond the limit of the Jew to the Gentile, and this trusteeship had been given to Paul in order that he might dispense it to the Gentiles. The household of God must be managed according to a particular plan; therefore it was a high honor bestowed upon Paul when God entrusted His plan to him. The apostle was a steward, holding something in trust for another. In this case he held in trust the divine bestowal of saving grace to the Gentiles. The prime requisite of a steward is “that a man be found faithful” (I Cor. 4:1-2), hence the Apostle Peter writes: “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (I Pet. 4:10). Every gift is a trust from God and must be exercised according to divine plan. Thus Paul recognized the source and character of his mission as well as the responsibility to faithfulness.
Under what circumstances did the apostle receive this truth? Paul himself says: “. . . by revelation He made known unto me the mystery” (3:3). A special dispensation had been arranged by God which included Paul. It was planned in past eternity, and Paul writes: “It pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me . . .” (Gal. 1:15-16).
A “mystery” (hitherto unrevealed truth) cannot be found out by the searching of men. God alone must reveal it. Human wisdom never stumbled on such a plan. A veil of secrecy had covered the truth of the dispensation of grace to the Gentiles until God revealed it in Paul’s day. The apostle reminds them that he mentioned the mystery “afore in few words,” referring, I take it, to his words in 1:9. The subject received only a passing notice in the early part of the epistle but, because of its source (revelation from God) and Paul’s stewardship, he will now plead its cause the more earnestly. He felt that God had highly honored him in the divine appointment and special commission to preach His grace to the heathen.
This revelation was not vouchsafed to Paul that he might merely ponder it in His own heart but, he continues: “Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (3:4). What earnest watchfulness Paul displayed over the saints of God! The body of truth in his possession must be passed on to others; the world must know. There was no time to be lost. Others must not read it merely but understand it as well. May God give unto the ministers and teachers of His Word such earnestness and fervency of spirit that none will rest until every eager listener has a clear understanding of the divine message. The message is “the mystery of Christ,” which means that it all centers in the Person and work of the risen and ascended Lord. It is Christ Himself who composes the body of believing Jews and Gentiles. To prepare Paul for this ministry God had given to him a supernatural revelation, and now he must not rest until men hear and understand its meaning. When we will not allow anything to overshadow the blessed work of God, then are we His servants indeed. The writer of these lines has been guilty of repeating truth when he himself did not understand, much less was able to make it plain to others; but when Paul preached and wrote, he did it as a divinely-inspired man who comprehended the subject under discussion and had a right to be heard.
This mystery “in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (3:5). Here the word “ages” suggests the idea of generations, so that Paul is emphasizing the fact that the mystery was given to him by revelation and was not the subject of any of God’s previous servants. One searches in vain in the early Scriptures to find this distinctive truth “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel” (3:6). From Moses to Malachi there is nothing to be found on the subject. It was “hid in God,” to be passed on through the New Testament apostles and prophets, Paul having himself received it “by the Spirit.”
In this mystery there are no vagaries which savor of the mysterious, but the glorious revelation that in Christ both Jew and Gentile “should be fellow heirs.” God had said to Abraham: “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). Before Christ came, the Gentile depended on the Jew for his spiritual blessing. Now that Christ has come, who is Abraham’s Seed (Gal. 3:16), the believing Gentile becomes a fellow-heir with the Jew.
It probably would have astounded any Old Testament prophet were he told that there would be one day a special dispensation of grace in which the Jew and Gentile would be fellow-heirs, and of the same body and partakers of the promises of God. And yet this is the mystery. Certainly Abraham, who believed God, knew that in his Seed all families of the earth would receive the blessing of the promise; but what he and the rest of the Old Testament saints did not know was that God purposed and planned to create this “new man” out of Jew and Gentile, thus constituting them one body, the Gentile being co-equal with the Jew in every respect. Certainly God must despite with holy hatred not only the anti-Semitism among Gentile-Christians but also the Hebrew-Christian cliques which shut out the Gentile believer. The distinctive feature of the gospel in this dispensation is found in the words of the angel of the Lord, who announced: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10). Gentiles as well as Jews are to receive this good news. Remember, the mystery is not that the Gentiles should be saved. Rather it is that a thorough and entire change wrought by the creating of a new entity would make the believing Gentiles co-heirs and co-sharers with the Jews. Such is the power of “the Gospel.”
(b) The Minister of the Mystery as an Example (3:7-13)
Of this gospel, Paul continues: “Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power” (3:7). The greatness of his task and the sublimity of the trust must have humbled Paul. His divinely given ministry he calls “the gift of the grace of God.” He marveled that God would choose him and make him a messenger of so deep a mystery. There was no other way of explaining it; it was given to him by the unmerited kindness of God. That such a persecutor and blasphemer as Paul was entrusted with so lofty a mission is a clear demonstration of divine grace.
Some men in the ministry speak of having “earned” certain degrees and diplomas which qualify them for the ministry. God save us from such pride! As famous as Paul became as an able and honored servant of God, he never forgot for a moment that the ministry was a gracious gift from God. It is not unusual for us to comment on the sacrifice of money, energy, and time that we spend in preparation for some work for God. Yet this humble messenger of the mystery looked upon it all as a gift of grace. Paul made no claims for himself.
Add to this the fact that the discharge of his ministry was “by the effectual working of His [God’s] power.” To make a saint out of a sinner shows the effectual working of His power. To make a divine messenger out of a deliberate murderer shows the effectual working of His power. The arrogant Pharisee had become a witness of the Gospel to the Gentiles. The secret of his success lay in the effectual working of the power of God in him. He could testify: “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (I Cor. 2:4). When will some of us learn this lesson?