Thoughts about Ephesians
For millions of people, this past year has been very tough. Many people have suffered physically and economically. In many countries, we could add the toll of suffering taken because of persecution. Our cry to God is for deliverance from this suffering. During our times of suffering, as well as in times without suffering, we often find it helpful to focus on the blessings that are ours.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul emphasizes the blessings that we have as saints of God. In my coming posts on 1:3-14, we will review what some of these blessings are. When we focus on the blessings that are ours in Christ, we can live with peace in our hearts. Today, we will discuss 1:1-2 in which Paul identifies himself and the recipients of his letter.
The apostle Paul states: “I Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:1-2).
Paul says that he is an apostle of Christ Jesus. The word apostle means messenger or one who is sent. Here, it has the connotation of a messenger being a representative with authority, not just someone who delivers a message. Paul was a representative chosen by God. He was an apostle in the highest sense of the term.
Paul indicates that he was sent to the saints at Ephesus. Although he was sent to the saints at Ephesus, we accept the fact that his message is for people worldwide. The saints at Ephesus were “faithful in Christ.” According to some translators, Paul means “believers” in Christ. However, the more likely reference is to those who are faithful in their Christian life. They, of course, began their Christian life through faith in Jesus.
Paul includes his bestowal of blessing to conclude his salutation. He says, “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace is the unmerited favor that God bestows upon us. We can do nothing to earn our salvation. We simply believe in Jesus Christ and receive what God has for us. A part of what we receive is the peace of God. Our peace with God produces peace within our hearts.
In my next post, we will begin our study of Ephesians 1:3-14, which in Greek is one long sentence. We will study this passage in three paragraphs. It is an incredible passage that delineates so many of God’s great blessings that are ours.
More Thoughts about Ephesians
In the Greek text, 1:3-14 is one long sentence. Scholars commonly acknowledge that these verses are Trinitarian in nature. The roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our salvation are respectively emphasized in verses 3-6, 7-12, and 13-14.
However, some verses refer to more than one person of the Godhead. R. G. Bratcher and E. A. Nida say: “God the Father is the one who saves (verses 3, 4, 5); Jesus Christ is the one through whom he saves (verses 3, 4, 5, 6, 7); the Holy Spirit is the effective proof that the salvation is accomplished (verse 13) and the guarantee that it will be brought to its consummation (verse 14).”
In verses 3-6 Paul writes: “3 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, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
The adjective “Blessed” in Greek can be translated as “God is blessed” or “God is to be blessed.” Either way, He is worthy of all praise. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we are in Christ, God blesses us with “every spiritual blessing” in the heavenly world.
Now, Paul begins his lengthy list of our spiritual blessings. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him. Going further, Paul says God predestined us to adoption as sons. God made us to be full-fledged sons in His family. All of this was to the praise of the glory of His grace.
In this great passage, the issue of predestination versus free will arises. Many scholars hold that God chose us as sons without regard for any initiative on our part. Others believe that God chose those whom he foreknew; God foresees those who will have faith in Christ. Still, another view is that God chose the corporate body of believers to be His sons, and people become a part of that body.
Whatever view we hold about this issue, the great truth that stands out is that we are blessed to be the sons of God. All this is in accordance with His will. Let’s pause a moment and silently lift our thoughts in praise to God.
More Thoughts about Ephesians 1:7-12
In Ephesians 1:3-6 Paul stresses what God has done to bless us in Christ. God through Christ has predestined us to adoption as sons. Then, in 1:7-12 Paul turns our attention to what Christ has done to bring about our redemption. In verse 7 Paul states: “In Him [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, 8 which He lavished upon us.”
In just one long sentence Paul lists many aspects of salvation. Many volumes have been written on the themes of this sentence. For today, I want to focus on just one word, which is redemption. The word redemption suggests that a price has been paid. We call this price a ransom. Jesus said that He came “to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28).
Concerning the ransom, an often asked question is: “To whom was the ransom paid?” One answer is that a ransom was not paid to anyone. Some of the church fathers held that the ransom was paid to Satan. Not many hold that view today. Another view, which I favor, is that the ransom was paid to God. The New Testament does not explicitly say, but this seems to be in harmony with the fact that Christ was a substitute for us. In any case, Christ paid a huge price in terms of His suffering.
Our hearts overflow with gratitude that “In Him [Christ] we have redemption.” All of the great blessings of salvation flow from this fact. He paid the price with His blood. Moreover, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Our task is to proclaim these incredible truths.
More Thoughts about Ephesians 1:7-12
Keep in mind that Ephesians 1:3-14 is one sentence in the Greek language. Today, I will continue our review of verses 7-12. In this passage, the pronouns He, Him, and His sometimes refer to God and at other times to Christ. In the following quotation, I have put my suggested thoughts about this in brackets. Paul states:
“7 In Him [Christ] we have redemption through His [Christ’s] blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His [God’s] grace, 8 which He [God] lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He [God] made known to us the mystery of His [God] will, according to His [God] kind intention which He purposed in Him God or Christ]10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth. In Him [Christ] 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His [God] purpose who works all things after the counsel of His [God] will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His [God’s] glory.”
In my last post, we noted that God lavished His grace upon us by providing for our redemption in Christ. Now, I will call your attention to the phrase “the mystery of His will.” In the New Testament, a mystery is generally regarded as something that was unknown or hidden but is now revealed.
According to one view, the mystery that Paul mentions here is God’s will. Another view is that the mystery is the gospel. The preaching of the gospel worldwide is in harmony with His will. His will is that in the fullness of the times all things would be summed up in Christ. Still, another view is that the mystery is Christ Himself. These elements are all aspects of the big picture. We will learn more about the “mystery” as we walk through Ephesians.
What a privilege it is for us to live in a time when “the mystery” has been so brightly revealed. We know, of course, that there is much more to learn and to know. In His time and in His way, God will reveal all that to us.
More Thoughts about Ephesians
We have been studying several keywords in the opening sentence of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Today, we will give some thought to the word “inheritance” in 1:11-12. The apostle Paul says:
“In Him [Christ] 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His [God’s] purpose who works all things after the counsel of His [God’s] will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His [God’s] glory.”
In this portion of his sentence, Paul continues to emphasize what God has done in Christ. This includes, of course, what Christ Himself has done. The phrase “have obtained an inheritance” is the NAS translation of a passive Greek verb. Given that the verb is passive, it could mean that believers have been made to be God’s chosen people, His inheritance. Both points are elsewhere supported in the New Testament. The context, however, favors the inheritance that we have in Christ. When we believe in Christ, we begin to receive our inheritance in Him. We will fully receive it when we are with Christ in heaven.
Paul continues His emphasis on God doing all things “after the counsel of His will.” The purpose of all that God does in Christ is that our salvation should result in praises to His name, that His name is glorified.
Although Paul does not stress our free will in this opening sentence, he does in other passages that he wrote. For example, he writes: “12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
More Thoughts about Ephesians 1:5-6
My posts for several days have concentrated on Paul’s opening sentence in 1:3-14. Paul speaks right away about how blessed we are in Christ. To highlight these blessings, we have studied several keywords that Paul used, including predestined, redemption, mystery, and inheritance.
Today, we will consider the word adoption. Paul said: “5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”
Adoption has to do with being placed as sons of God (Rom. 8:15, 23; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5). The apostle Paul regarded Old Testament believers as children but also as minors. New Testament believers are “children” but also “adult sons.” All believers, whether Jews or Gentiles are adopted.
Through Christ, we are adopted in the sense of being adult sons of God. An advantage of being a son is deliverance from the law (Gal. 4:3–5). The believer’s adoption, when he or she comes to faith, is judicial, but the standing of being a son has an impact on all of our experiences. When the bodies of believers are redeemed (Rom. 8:23), adoption has an experiential aspect.
Adoption, however, is not entirely a past event. As one scholar says, “The legal declaration may have been made, and the Spirit may have been given as a down payment, but the consummation of the adoption awaits the future, for the adoption of sons includes ‘the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:23). Thus, adoption is something hoped for as well as something already possessed.”
God has graciously bestowed this standing of sons to us in the Beloved. We could not have achieved this standing in our own strength and work. We are adopted because we are “in Christ.” In my next post, we will consider Ephesians 1:13-14 and the work of the Holy Spirit.
More Thoughts about Ephesians 1:13-14
Paul wrote an incredible sentence about the spiritual blessings that are ours. Verses 3-6 highlight what God has done; verses 7-12 what God has done through Christ and what Christ has done; and verses 13-14 what the Holy Spirit has done.
My posts have centered on keywords, including predestined, redemption, mystery, inheritance, and adoption. Today, we will study verses 13-14. The keyword in these verses is “sealed.” Paul writes:
“13 In Him [Christ], you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation– having also believed, you were sealed in Him [Christ] with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.”
In a sense, these verses explain how we as believers know, and how others know, that we are sons of God. There are four questions that we might ask concerning our being sealed.
First, who is the sealer? According to one view, The Holy Spirit is the One who does the sealing. The other view is that God is the sealer. These two views are reflected in the NAS and NIV translations of Ephesians 4:30 and the Greek preposition en. The NAS says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by [en] whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30 NAS). The NIV translation says: “with [en] whom you were sealed.” The words “by whom” suggest that the Holy Spirit is the One who does the sealing, whereas “with whom” favors the view that God does the sealing.
Given the Triune nature of God, it does not make much difference whether we say “by” or “with.” However, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 favors the view that God is the sealer and that He seals with the Holy Spirit. Paul states: “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge” (Compare 2 Corinthians 5:5).
My next posts will deal with who or what the seal is, the purpose of the seal, and when the sealing occurs. Meanwhile, let us rejoice in the presence and work of the Spirit in our lives.
More Thoughts about Ephesians
Our first question concerning the spiritual blessing of being sealed is “who sealed us?” As many scholars say, I believe the One who seals us is God. This is supported by what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22.
Our second question is “Who or what is the seal?” In Ephesians 1:13 we read “you were sealed in Him [Christ] with the Holy Spirit of promise.” The seal is the Holy Spirit Himself. The Holy Spirit has been given to us, and He is the “pledge of our inheritance” (2 Corinthians 5:5). The presence and work of the Spirit in our lives is a down payment on our future inheritance. This does not mean that our inheritance is something apart from the Spirit. The Holy Spirit has a role in bringing all spiritual blessings to us.
Our third question is, “What is the purpose of the seal?” Various answers have been given. The seal is said to represent ownership, holiness, certification, assurance, preservation, or empowerment. Some of the features overlap. Many scholars say that the purpose is to mark believers as sons of God. All these other features are ways that the Holy Spirit marks us as sons of God. For example, when the Spirit empowers or assures us of our salvation, He marks us as sons of God.
The fourth question we have is “When does the sealing occur?” According to Paul, we listen to the gospel, then we believe in Jesus, and then God seals us with the Spirit. The Spirit has done His work in salvation and now dwells within us as a seal. So, we can say that when we believe we are sealed.
However, because the Holy Spirit is the seal, we can say that the seal is a living seal. The Holy Spirit constantly manifests His presence and power in and through us. All of this marks us as sons of God. So, in a constant way, as well as in special moments, we are sealed.
All of this is “with a view to redemption.” When we believe, we are redeemed. We are marked as sons of God. However, the completion of the redemption awaits the moment when we are in the presence of Christ.
More Thoughts about Ephesians
In 1:15-23 Paul writes another long sentence. This time, his sentence is about his prayers for the Ephesians. Paul writes, “15, For this reason, I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers.”
Paul prays for the Ephesians because they are in Christ and are sealed with the Holy Spirit. He has heard of the faith in Christ that exists among them and of their love for all the saints. Although Paul recognizes their faith, he also prays for their further maturity in Christ. Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians are quite specific. He prays “17that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.”
The word “spirit” could refer to the human spirit, to the human spirit inspired by the Holy Spirit, or to the Holy Spirit. In my view, Paul was referring to the Holy Spirit who would give them the gifts of wisdom and revelation. These are different dimensions of the Spirit’s presence and work. When they believed in Christ, they received the Spirit, but now Paul prays that they would receive Him in new dimensions, the dimensions of wisdom and revelation.
Paul further says: “18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what the hope of His calling is, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” More about this in my next post.
More Thoughts about Ephesians
Today, we will concentrate again on Paul and his prayers for the Ephesians. He says: “18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what the hope of His calling is, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.”
When we follow Christ, we live an enlightened life. Paul prays for the Ephesians that the “eyes of their heart” will be enlightened. The Holy Spirit does great work in our lives when He reveals to us who Jesus is and what He has done for us. His work includes preparing our hearts for the wisdom and revelation that we will receive.
As an example, when Peter identified Jesus as the Son of God and professed his faith in Him, Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). Human ingenuity and effort will not save us, but God’s revelation of Himself to us will. At the beginning of Christian life, the Spirit works. As we live for Jesus, we gain wisdom and revelation in other aspects of our faith.
Paul prays that the Ephesians will gain knowledge in three areas of their Christian life: their hope, their riches, and God’s power. First, Paul prays that they will know “what is the hope of His calling.” They have hope because God has called them. Their hope is based on God’s promises. Second, Paul prays that the Ephesians will know “what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” This can be a reference to the saints being God’s inheritance. However, the more likely meaning is that as saints we have a spiritual inheritance.
Third, Paul prays that they will know the “surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” God exercises His great power on our behalf. Although at times sit may seem that God is not answering our prayers, He is doing what He knows is best. We can trust Him fully. We benefit greatly from the power of God.
More Thoughts about Ephesians
Ephesians 1:19-23. Paul prayed that God would give the Ephesians the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. He prayed that “the eyes of their hearts” would be enlightened with the result that they would know the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance, and the surpassing greatness of His power.
Then, Paul elaborates on how his prayers harmonize with the power of Christ. With the phrase “the working of the strength of His might” Paul describes the awesome power of God which He brought about in Christ. God did this when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places. There could be no greater demonstration of God’s power than the resurrection. Christ was seated at the right hand of the Father, and from that position, He intercedes for us.
Christ was seated “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” The great power of Christ spans the ages. God gave Jesus Christ, who experienced the incarnation, life on earth, and the painful sacrifice of His life, the greatest power in the universe.
The authority and power of Christ include His role as “head over all things to the church, which is His body.” All that Christ has done is for the sake of His body. All of us, as believers, are the body of Christ. Our role now is to live in accordance with His teachings. Moreover, Paul says: “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29). When we are in Christ, we are in an incredible position.
Although we as believers are in a very strong position, we should live our lives in gratitude, humility, and service. Christ has led the way. We are to have the mind of Christ in all that we do.
George M. Flattery, Ph.D., is the founder of Global University and Network211.