A. Introduction to Paul's letter to the Ephesians.
1. The character and themes of Paul's letter to the Ephesians.
a. Paul's letter to the Ephesians has been called "the Queen of the Epistles," "the quintessence of Paulinism," "the divinest composition of man" and even "the Waterloo of commentators." Some say that Ephesians reads "like a commentary on the Pauline letters" and probably it has been best termed "the crown of Paulinism."
i. "It sums up in large measure the leading themes of the Pauline writings . . . But it does more than that; it carries the thought of the earlier letters forward to a new stage." (Bruce)
ii. "Among the Epistles bearing the name of St. Paul there is none greater than this, nor any with a character more entirely its own . . . There is a peculiar and sustained loftiness in its teaching which has deeply impressed the greatest minds and has earned for it the title of the 'Epistle of the Ascension." (Salmond)
iii. "If Romans is the purest expression of the gospel (as Luther said), then Ephesians is the most sublime and majestic expression of the gospel." (Lloyd-Jones)
iv. Lloyd-Jones also said of Ephesians: "It is difficult to speak of it in a controlled manner because of its greatness and because of its sublimity."
b. Karl Marx wrote about a new man, and a new society, but he saw man and society both in almost purely economic terms, and offered only economic solutions. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul also sees the new man and a new society, but it is all accomplished by the work of Jesus.
c. Ephesians has many similarities with Paul's letter to the Colossians. Since Paul wrote both of them from his Roman imprisonment, his mind may have been working on the same themes when he wrote each letter.
i. "He wrote to the Colossians to meet a particular situation and danger in the church at Colossae. Then with his mind still working over the theme of the greatness and glory of Christ, but moving on to consider the place of the Church in the purpose of God, he wrote Ephesians, this time without the limitation of any polemical aims." (Foulkes)
ii. When we look at the great, majesting themes of Ephesians, it is important remember that Paul wrote this from imprisonment!
d. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10: But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him." But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. Ephesians is the fulfillment of this. It really is the revelation of the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
2. (1-2) Paul's greeting to the Ephesians.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
a. The opening of the letter is brief, without the more detailed greetings from Paul often found in his other letters.
b. To the saints who are in Ephesus: In a few ancient manuscripts, there is a blank space instead of the words in Ephesus. Some believe that this letter was actually a circular letter written, not to any one congregation, but with the intent that it would be passed around to many different congregations in different cities.
c. The greeting of grace to you and peace from God our Father is typical of Paul. The apostle knows the essential place of grace and peace from God in our lives, and He knows that receiving God's grace comes before we can really walk in peace with Him.
B. The work of the Triune God on behalf of the believer.
1. (3-6) The work of God the Father.
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, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.
a. In ancient Greek (the language Paul originally wrote in), Ephesians 1:3 through 1:14 are one long sentence. As an opera has an overture, which sets the tone for all the melodies that will follow, so Ephesians 1:3-14 set the tone for the rest of Ephesians.
b. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Paul calls for a blessing upon the Father (in the sense of recognizing His glory and honor and goodness), because the Father has already blessed the believer with every spiritual blessing (who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing).
c. Who has blessed us: This blessing is ours; God's resources are there for us in our time of need. But these blessings are ours in the heavenly places in Christ.
i. This is where Ephesians wants to take us - into the heavenly places in Christ; to show us the treasure of riches and blessings that are for us there.
d. Just as He chose us in Him: Our possession of every spiritual blessing is as certain as our being chosen by Him, and chosen before the foundation of the world.
i. We dare not diminish what Paul writes here. Believers are chosen by God, and they are chosen before they have done anything or have been anything for God.
ii. The reasons for God's choosing are not capricious, nor are they random. Though they are past our finding out, we know that they are altogether wise and good, but the reasons are all in Him, not in us. His choosing is according to the good pleasure of His will (Ephesians 1:5).
iii. We are chosen in Him. "For if we are chosen in Christ, it is outside ourselves. It is not from the sight of our deserving, but because our heavenly Father has engrafted us, through the blessing of adoption, into the Body of Christ. In short, the name of Christ excludes all merit, and everything which men have of themselves." (Calvin)
e. That we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: We are chosen not only for salvation, but for holiness. Any understanding of God's sovereign choosing that diminishes our personal responsibility for personal holiness and sanctification falls far short of the whole counsel of God.
f. Having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself: Paul elaborates more on what the Father has destined for His chosen: that they would enjoy adoption as sons. God's unfolding plan for us not only includes salvation and personal transformation, but also a warm, secure, relationship with the Father.
i. In Roman law, "When the adoption was complete it was complete indeed. The person who had been adopted had all the rights of a legitimate son in his new family and completely lost all rights in his old family. In the eyes of the law he was a new person. So new was he that even all debts and obligations connected with his previous family were abolished as if they had never existed." (Barclay)
ii. "When people ask us the speculative question why God went ahead with the creation when he knew that it would be followed by the fall, one answer we can tentatively give is that he destined us for a higher dignity than even creation would bestow on us." (Stott)
g. To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved: The relational aspect is emphasized again as Paul speaks about the status of accepted (charito, "highly favored"; "full of grace" as in Luke 1:28) that is granted to every believer because of God's grace.
i. When we see and appreciate God's sovereign choosing, and the good pleasure of His will, we are compelled to praise the glory of His grace. That is, His love and goodness extended to us completely apart from our own merits.
ii. Bruce on accepted: "God's grace has extended to his people and enfolded them: he has 'be-graced' them, says Paul (using a verb derived from the Greek word for 'grace')."
iii. Chrysostom, speaking of the work by which God makes us accepted in the Beloved: "It is as if one were to take a leper and change him into a lovely youth."
h. All the riches that are ours from the Father are only ours in Jesus. We are accepted, yes, but only accepted in the Beloved.
i. To the praise of . . . His glory: This is like a repeated refrain, repeated in Ephesians 1:6, 1:12, and 1:14.
2. (7-8) The work of God the Son.
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence,
a. In Him we have redemption through His blood: The Him is the Beloved of Epheisans 1:6; and in Him we have redemption, and nowhere else. There is no possible redemption outside of Jesus and His redeeming blood.
i. Redemption always implies a price being paid for the freedom that is purchased; here the price is His blood.
ii. Jesus does not redeem us by His sinless life or His moral example, but only by His death in our place - by His blood.
iii. We should not take a superstitious or mystical view of "the blood." It was not Jesus' physical blood that saved anyone, but His real and total payment for the sins of man in His whole person on the cross. This is what the New Testament means when it talks about "the blood."
b. The redemption and forgiveness that is given to us comes according to the measure of the riches of His grace. It is not a "small" redemption or forgiveness won by Jesus on the cross.
c. Which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence: Many think it is unwise of God to lavish such redemption and forgiveness on guilty sinners; but it is in all wisdom and prudence that He has given this to us.
3. (9-12) The mystery of His will.
Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth; in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.
a. Having made known to us the mystery of His will: Part of what belongs to us under the riches of His grace is the knowledge of the mystery of His will, God's great plan and purpose which was once hidden but is now revealed to us in Jesus.
i. "In the New Testament sense a mystery is something which is hidden to the heathen but clear to the Christian." (Barclay)
ii. Here, Paul really is in the heavenlies, calling us to come with him and to consider the greatness of God's great plan for the ages and our place in that plan.
b. That . . . He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth; in Him: God's ultimate plan is to bring together - to ultimately resolve - all things in Christ, either through Jesus as a Savior or Jesus as a Judge; this will happen in the fullness of the times.
i. The word for gather together has the idea of "to unite" or "to sum up"; it was used for the process of adding up a column of figures and putting the sum up at the top. Paul's idea is that God will make all things "add up" at the end, and right now He is in the process of coming to that final sum.
ii. This shows that God wants to unify all things in our lives under Him. "It is a heresy of our times to divide life into sacred and secular." (Foulkes)
iii. This is the great resolution and deliverance that even the creation groans for (Romans 8:18-22), the day when every wrong will be righted and every matter resolved according to God's holy love and justice.
iv. Bruce on the fullness of the times: "When the time is ripe for the consummation of his purpose, in his providential overruling of the course of the world, that consummation will be realized."
c. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance: For believers, Jesus is not a judge, but the One in whom we have an inheritance. Believers are predestined for this according to the counsel of His will - again, the reasons for His choosing reside in Him, not in us.
d. That we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory: God's purpose in all this is so that those who have trusted Christ will exist to the praise of His glory. The goal of God's ultimate plan is to glorify Him.
e. We who first trusted in Christ speaks of Jewish believers; the you also of Ephesians 1:13 speaks of Gentile believers. God's great plan has a place for both Jew and Gentile, and brings them both together in Jesus.
4. (13-14) The work of the Holy Spirit.
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
a. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth: God's sovereign choice works, but it does not exclude human cooperation. These ones who were so sovereignly chosen were also the ones who trusted, heard the word of truth, and believed.
b. You were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise: Also essential in God's work is the sealing work of the Holy Spirit. His presence in our lives acts as a seal which indicates ownership, and which is a guarantee of our inheritance.
i. The word guarantee ("down payment") is used only in the New Testament of the Holy Spirit. He is our only down payment of coming glory; nothing else is provided - or needed.
c. Until the redemption of the purchased possession: We have this guarantee until we are "completely purchased" by God through resurrection and glorification - again, all to the praise of His glory.
C. Paul prays in light of God's ultimate plan and the work of the Triune God.
1. (15-16) Paul's statement of prayer and declaration of thanksgiving.
Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers:
a. After I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints: When Paul hears of the faith and love of the Ephesians, he can nothing else but to give thanks for them, because their faith and love is evidence of their participation in this great work of God.
b. Significantly, Paul gives thanks not for their love for God, but for their love for all the saints. The real evidence of God's work in us is not our claimed love for Him, but our observable love for His people (1 John 4:20, John 13:14 and John 13:34-35).
c. Making mention of you in my prayers: Paul did not only give thanks for God's work among the Ephesians; he also prayed that it would continue with greater strength, as the prayer in Ephesians 1:17-23 makes clear.
2. (17) Paul prays that they would know God.
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him,
a. Paul prays that the Father would grant the Ephesians the spirit of wisdom and that He would give them revelation. But these are not so they may see into the lives of others, have the ability to predict events, or do what we commonly think of as "prophet stuff." He wanted them to have the spirit of wisdom and revelation simply so that they may have a better knowledge of Him (God).
b. In the knowledge of Him: Our Christian life must be centered around this purpose - to know God as He is in truth, as revealed by His Word; and to correct our false, idolatrous conceptions of who God is.
c. It is important for us to have an accurate knowledge and understanding of ourselves; but it is far more important (and beneficial) for us to know and understand who God is.
i. A famous writer named Alexander Pope wrote, "Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; the proper study of mankind is man." Charles Spurgeon responded to this famous statement: "It has been said by someone that 'the proper study of mankind is man.' I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God's elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father."
3. (18-19a) Paul prays that they would understand all that God has given them in Jesus Christ.
The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe,
a. If the Ephesians will know all God has given them in Jesus, it is will take a supernatural work; it will require that the eyes of your understanding be enlightened by God.
i. Paul uses a great expression when he speaks of the eyes of your heart (heart is more literal than understanding). Too many Christian hearts have no eyes (places where they gain real knowledge and understanding), and too many Christian eyes have no heart - God wants both to be combined in us.
b. Paul wants them to know the hope of His calling. Few things give us a more secure, enduring hope in life than simply knowing that God has called us and has a specific calling for us to fulfill.
c. Paul wants them to know the riches of the glory of His [God's] inheritance in the saints. We usually think only of our inheritance in God, but Paul wants the Ephesians to understand that they are so precious to God that He considers them His own inheritance.
i. Several commentators believe that Paul also spoke of God's inheritance in His people back in Ephesians 1:11. But that is certainly his idea here, with Paul probably drawing his idea from Deuteronomy 32:8-9: When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, When He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord's portion is His people; Jacob is the place of His inheritance.
d. Paul wants them to know how great the power of God is towards us who believe. Christians should know they serve and love a God of living power who shows His strength on behalf of His people.
4. (19b-21) A description of the great power of God that Paul wants the Ephesians to know.
According to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His 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 age but also in that which is to come.
a. According to the working of His mighty power: The power that works in us is the mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead. There never needs to be a "power shortage" in the Christian life.
i. "If the death of Christ is the supreme demonstration of the love of God . . . the resurrection of Christ is the supreme demonstration of his power." (Bruce)
b. And seated Him at His right hand: It is the mighty power that raised Jesus to heaven after His resurrection, raising Him above all demonic foes and every potential enemy of all time - this same power is at work in Christians.
5. (22-23) Where this great power has placed Jesus.
And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
a. He put all things under His feet: This great resurrection power has placed Jesus above all things. Now all things are under His feet. It has placed Jesus as the head over all things, including the church.
i. "He says that Christ in his exaltation over the universe is God's gift to the church." (Wood)
b. The church, which is His body: If Jesus is the head, then the community of Christians make up His body. The idea of the fullness of Him here is probably connected to the manner in which Jesus fills His church with His presence and blessings.
c. Apparently, Paul's prayer for the Ephesians in regard to these matters was important - it was good and important that he pray for them about these things.
i. The prayer of Ephesians 1:17-19 is essentially a request that the promises of Ephesians 1:3-14 be found as real in the lives of the Ephesian Christians.
ii. In the same way, your prayers for the spiritual growth and enlightenment of others are important. If Paul believed it was important to pray these things for the Ephesian Christians, it is important for us to pray them for others - and ourselves.