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The Glory of the Church
By Homer A. Kent Jr.
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1971 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
All rights reserved.
The Writer (1:1a)
The discovery of numerous papyrus letters dating from the same period as the New Testament reveals that the writers of the New Testament epistles followed the same general literary form as their contemporaries, with certain distinctively Christian additions. Letters usually began with the naming of the author and the addressee, followed by a greeting. The epistle to the Ephesians is no exception.
The writer names himself as Paul, the Roman name which he always used in the Gentile world. Because he was the son of a Jew who was also a Roman citizen, and grew up in a Greek-speaking city, he undoubtedly had two names from birth (i.e., Paul and Saul).
Paul claims the position of apostle of Christ Jesus. This statement indicates the official character of the letter. Furthermore, the title reveals that the term apostle is used here in the restricted sense of one who was directly chosen by Christ, as distinct from others called "apostles" in the more general sense (e.g., Epaphroditus, who was called "your apostle" because he was chosen by the Philippian church, Phil 2:25, Gk.). The restricted use seems limited to the Twelve and Paul. It should be understood, as in the sense of Ephesians 4:11, as referring to the apostles who were directly chosen by Christ and granted as gifts to the church for its establishment (cf. also Eph 2:20).
Although he wrote while confined as a prisoner in Rome, Paul had no doubt that his ministry was the will of God for him. This conviction sustained him through his trials. Its mention conveys the sense of authority which he felt and may also suggest his own sense of humility. His ministry was not the product of his own choosing, but was God's doing from beginning to end.
The Readers (1:1b)
The addressees are called saints and believers in Christ Jesus. The original grammar indicates that this forms one grammatical unit. "In Christ Jesus" belongs with the whole phrase. Paul looks at them as in vital union with Christ. As such they are "set-apart ones" (lit. meaning of "saints") by the action of God who saved them. Viewed from the human side, they are believers, ones who have trusted Christ. Thus the description refers to all true believers.
They are residing at Ephesus. (See Introduction for discussion of textual problem.) This city was the scene of Paul's longest ministry recorded in Acts. He first preached in the city on the return portion of his second missionary journey (Ac 18:19-21). On the third missionary journey, he stayed three years (19:1—20:1, 31). Ephesus was the chief city of the Roman province of Asia. It was the site of the great temple of Artemis, which housed the image of the goddess supposedly fallen from heaven. The city's open-air theater could seat twenty-five thousand people. In later years Timothy and the apostle John would have extended ministries in this important city.
The Salutation (1:2)
The classical greeting in Greek letters used an infinitive form (see Ja 1:1; Ac 23:26) which we usually translate simply as "Greetings." In Paul's letters, however, he changes the form slightly to the cognate word grace and couples with it the common Jewish greeting "peace." This joining of grace and peace (always in this order in Paul's opening greetings) thus adapts the well-known formulas of the Greek and Hebrew worlds into a most meaningful Christian expression. It indicates Paul's desire that his readers enjoy the favor of God which will produce the inner satisfaction that stabilizes the heart (Phil 4:7).
These blessings find their source in God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. The joining of these two persons indicates that both are of equal rank in the mind of the writer.CHAPTER 2
AN ASCRIPTION OF PRAISE TO GOD
This section contains one of the most glorious and most symmetrical doxologies to be found in Scripture. It consists of three stanzas, each concluded by the repetition of a phrase (vv. 6, 12, 14), and each emphasizing a different Person of the Trinity. In scope it covers the entire sweep of redemption, from its beginning in the election of God to its consummation in the receiving of our inheritance.
The Father Who Chose Us (1:3-6)
The blessings which believing men have received from God prompt their blessing of Him through worship. Paul is thinking specifically of the spiritual blessings from God—those blessings relating to the believer's new nature and position.
These blessings are "in heavenly places." In the original text the phrase is literally "in the heavenlies." Although this adjective is used elsewhere with nouns, only in Ephesians do we find it standing alone, and it occurs this way five times (1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12). Comparison of all these passages indicates its meaning to be the sphere of spiritual blessing in which believers even now participate (1:3; 2:6). In this realm Christ is supreme (1:20). Angelic beings also reside "in the heavenlies" and are observers of God's wisdom as displayed in the church (3:10). Presently, however, even evil spiritual forces exist "in the heavenlies" and confront believers on earth (6:12). Hence Paul means that believers today have a new existence in that realm of spiritual reality where God is the source of life. Spiritual warfare is being waged in this realm today, but when Christ returns to establish His kingdom He will accomplish His will completely, "on earth as it is in heaven."
A more specific statement of the Father's action is given in verse 4. It was He who initiated the plan of redemption by choosing believers in connection with Christ before the foundation of the world. This sovereign act of God chose some to experience the blessings of salvation. The reasons or criteria for His choice have not been told to us, except that it was according to His own good pleasure (1:9). The fact of a chosen group was well known to Jews, from the Old Testament (Deu 4:37; 7:6-8; Is 41:8), but now it is revealed that God's election in the church includes Gentiles also.
This election by God was "in him" (i.e., Christ). God found in Christ the all-sufficient merits for redeeming men without violating His righteousness. His purpose was to secure persons whose lives would demonstrate God's power in overcoming sin. His election was done in love and it engenders love in believers. It is questioned whether justification or sanctification is in view in the latter part of verse 4. Because Paul uses the same Greek words regarding sanctification in 5:27 (trans, "holy and without blemish"), it does not seem advisable to leave out the ethical aspect. Paul views both the judicial and the experiential as being God's purpose in election. (It is possible that the phrase "in love" belongs with verse 5, "in love having predestinated us." However, Paul's usual practice is to place such a phrase after the words it qualifies rather than before.)
The method of God's election is stated in verse 5. The words "having predestinated" are probably modal rather than temporal. Paul is explaining the manner in which election was effected. It was accomplished by God's marking out some for salvation even before their personal existence. This predestination was God's selection of some to receive adoption as His sons.
Roman custom seems to be in the background of the illustration, since there was no comparable Jewish custom. By this practice, boys of other families might be legally adopted and granted full rights and responsibilities. This is precisely what God did when He chose men who because of sin had no spiritual life. By God's choice He made them His sons. Of course, the spiritual truth far outstrips the human illustration, for by regeneration God actually makes such persons His sons by nature through new birth. (See Gal 4:1-7 for a similar illustration by Paul.)
No room is left for human pride, for Gods' election was in no sense dependent on man. It was accomplished "through Jesus Christ," and is to be explained only by "the good pleasure of his will." God's choice was not governed by anything good or attractive in man, nor anything outside of God Himself. It was an act of His own goodness, and beyond this we cannot go.
One should beware of drawing false conclusions from this sublime truth. Paul is not stating a harsh and fatalistic doctrine in which God arbitrarily selects some for heaven, no matter how evil their lives, and consigns others to hell, regardless of how sincerely they may wish to do God's will. On the contrary, the Bible teaches that all men are dead in sin, and none at all would be saved if God did not intervene. Furthermore, Scripture never speaks of men being predestinated for hell. Predestination in the Bible always is in reference to believers. God's matchless plan also provided the means as well as the end. It is still true that "whosoever will may come." And it is due to God's sovereign grace that some do respond in faith and come to God through Christ.
The refrain in verse 6 ends each stanza of this doxology. It shows how each phase of our redemption moves toward the praise and glory of God. In Paul's view, redemption originated solely with God and was made effective by His unchanging decrees. It is the greatest display of grace conceivable, for it bestows the most glorious privileges on completely depraved and fallen men, and this bestowal is all one-sided. Man merely accepts or rejects; he brings no merits.
A more literal rendering of verse 6b would be, "which He freely gave us in the Beloved." This is the only New Testament occurrence of this title for Christ. Yet we are prepared for it by the Father's own words at the baptism and transfiguration, "This is my beloved Son." Paul refers to Christ in Colossians 1:13 as the "Son of his love" (ASV). It is as we are "in" Him, that is, in vital spiritual union with Christ, that our adoption as sons of God becomes the reality which God's gracious election has planned.
Christ Who Redeemed Us (1:7-12)
The second stanza of this incomparable doxology puts emphasis on the function of Christ the Son. Paul mentions two great provisions which Christ supplies: redemption (vv. 7-10) and a heritage (vv. 11-12).
Redemption is first described as to its nature (v. 7). It consists in release from servitude by the payment of a ransom. While it may be true that sometimes the word is used more generally of deliverance, here the inclusion of "through his blood" clearly names the ransom price. Sinners who were enslaved to sin and in hopeless debt to the righteousness of God were redeemed by the blood of Christ. It was not merely His death but the sacrificial nature of that death, as the mention of "blood" signifies.
Redemption accomplished the forgiveness of our transgressions. (See Col 1:14 for a parallel statement.) Redemption was secured at Calvary when the price was paid. Forgiveness becomes experienced when individual men respond in faith to the gospel. The basic idea in forgiveness is remission—the removal of guilt. The apostles were instructed to "remit" sins by proclaiming the gospel (Jn 20:23; Ac 10:42-43). The higher one's conception of God's holiness and the deeper his sense of human sin, the greater is his discernment of the riches of grace that were necessary to provide such a redemption.
The scope of redemption is set forth in verses 8-10. It has been revealed to believers as of stupendous sweep. In Christ, God caused His grace to abound to us in the sphere of all wisdom and intelligence. Although some refer the terms wisdom and prudence to God, it seems better to understand them as referring to human characteristics which God by His abounding grace has provided to the sinner whereby he can understand and accept what God has done. (Cf. Col 1:9.) The wisdom of which Paul speaks is the general term for intellectual insight which comprehends spiritual truth. Such wisdom comes from above (Ja 1:5; 3:15, 17). Prudence or intelligence is the practical use of wisdom. It is God's abounding grace which enables man to perceive intellectually and to accept and put into practice the provisions of God's redemptive plan.
God multiplied His grace to believing men in revealing to them the mystery of His will—certain aspects of which had not formerly been declared. ("Mystery" in the New Testament does not mean something mysterious, but truth previously concealed and now made known.) What was revealed was His will to provide in Christ the focal point of redemption so that all things might be brought into a grand unity (cf. Col 1:16-20).
The word dispensation actually means administration or management. "The fulness of times" is an expression similar to one used to describe the period which began with Christ's first coming (Gal 4:4). It will reach its consummation when Christ comes again. It is called the fullness of the times because it is the period long prophesied in the Old Testament as bringing about the consummation of God's plan through Messiah. Thus we find the New Testament referring to the present age as "the ends of the world" (lit. "ends of the ages," 1 Co 10:11), "last time" (lit. "last hour," 1 Jn 2:18), and "these last days" (Heb 1:2).
Paul, therefore, is stating that now God has revealed to us His plan for the management of the universe. It consists in bringing together all things in Christ. This includes "all things," both in heaven and on earth. Some relate this summation in Christ only to personal salvation or to the church, and thus avoid any sort of universalism. The "all-things" are explained in the light of the election stated in 1:4. The neuter "things," however, seems to imply more than just persons. Also the similar passage in Colossians 1:20 would suggest that Paul has a much wider concept at this point, including angels as well. This does not mean that he is teaching universal salvation either here or in Colossians 1:20, but that he is presenting Christ as the grand unifying factor of all things which we can conceive. God has a plan for the universe and it will be fully accomplished through Christ. By the redemption which He made, sin was defeated and righteousness for man provided. Even the physical universe will eventually be cleansed from the disastrous effects which sin has caused, and all is due to the divine management which God put into operation through Christ.
The second provision by Christ was the believers' constitution as a heritage of God (vv. 11-12). The translation in the American Standard Version—"were made a heritage" (similarly in TEV)—is closer to the original text than "obtained an inheritance" (KJV). The point is that in Christ, God has made believers His own heritage. We are His own people. This is terminology similar to many Old Testament passages in which God's people were called His "inheritance" (Deu 4:20; 9:29; 32:9; etc.).
Now all of this is a part of God's plan. Just as the first stanza grounded salvation in God's sovereign choice, so the second stanza reemphasizes the fact that the redeeming work of Christ is likewise a part of that great plan. Redemption made us a heritage of God, and this was because we have been "predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will." The words counsel and will are similar in meaning in the Greek language. It is generally agreed, however, that the former connotes deliberation and the latter conveys the more general idea of volition with perhaps the thought of inclination. If so, Paul is saying that predestination is carried out in perfect harmony with the reasons God had regarding His will for men. What these reasons were is not revealed to us. But it is incorrect to say that predestination has no reasons. God has them; we don't happen to know them.
In verse 12 appears the recurring phrase which concludes each stanza of this glorious statement of praise. The redemptive work of Christ made possible the accomplishment of God's elective plan, and was intended ultimately to result in praise of God's glory as lost men are transformed into beings who can fellowship with God for eternity.
"Who first trusted in Christ" is variously explained. Some interpret it of Christians generally, and understand "first" from the future standpoint of verse 14. Christians trust first, and will later experience the consummation of redemption. However, the "ye also" of verse 13 is in contrast to those of verse 12, and thus verse 12 must be naming a restricted group. Others identify those who first trusted as Old Testament Jews whose hope in Messiah (the word trusted is better rendered "hoped") began before Christ's arrival. The best explanation, however, is that which refers it to Jewish Christians who were as a group evangelized before the Gentiles. In fact, Gentile evangelization at first had to overcome serious opposition from many Jewish Christians. Here Paul in tracing the plan of redemption from eternity past identifies himself with the chosen nation ("us"), but then goes on in verse 13 to show how God's plan also includes Gentiles on no inferior basis. This view gives proper emphasis to "ye also" of verse 13, and uses the concept of hoping in Christ in the full regenerative sense that this context calls for.
The Holy Spirit Who Sealed Us (1:13-14)
The final stanza of the doxology mentions the function of the Holy Spirit, who also has a vital part in making the Father's plan effective. The Father devised the plan and chose us. Christ set the plan in operation by shedding His blood for our redemption. The Holy Spirit causes men to be united to Christ and thus to become participants in the plan of redemption.
Paul first names two actions of the believers which were a preparation for the Spirit's sealing ministry. They first heard the word of truth. This was the gospel—God's message of good news which revealed to man that Christ died for sin, and He offers complete forgiveness and eternal life to those who will believe. Then they had believed the message and had come to experience salvation. (KJV supplies the verb "trusted" after "ye also" in v. 13. It is better, however, to supply nothing, but to understand "ye also" as the subject of "were sealed," with the intervening words being a not uncommon explanatory digression by Paul.)
Excerpted from Ephesians by Homer A. Kent Jr.. Copyright © 1971 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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