Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).
The Apostle Paul felt compelled on many occasions to set forth various doctrinal truths about God in Christ to his fellow Christians to warn against false teaching. The time had come to provide a full, coherent picture of his understanding into the mystery of the Gospel; we find such a portrayal in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
While Paul’s letter to the Ephesians features the same doctrinal positions seen in other letters, it seems very impersonal. Ephesians does not contain the same kind of personal details about Paul or the Christians to whom he wrote as can be found in all of his other correspondence; “in Ephesus” in Ephesians 1:1 is not found in all copies of the manuscripts. For these reasons Ephesians is often considered an “encyclical” letter, intended to be distributed among many local churches. Regardless, it is hard to assume much about the condition of the church in Ephesus on the basis of what is written in Ephesians.
After his standard greeting (Ephesians 1:1-2), Paul began his letter with a broad, sweeping, and majestic sentence glorifying God for all the spiritual blessings with which He blessed us in Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-14). Ephesians 1:3-14 is the longest sentence in the New Testament: while English translations generally wisely break it down into many sentences for clarity, we must remember they all represent the spiritual blessings with which God has blessed the Ephesian Christians, and by extension all Christians, in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).
God has chosen Christians in Jesus before the foundation of the world to be holy before Him; God predestined Christians to adoption to the praise of His grace freely bestowed on us in Christ (Ephesians 1:4-6). Paul had no desire to deny human freedom or volition; Augustinian Calvinist notions of God predetermining who would be saved and condemned arbitrarily must be imposed on the text. Paul instead sought to encourage Christians: their standing in Christ is no accident. Jesus’ death, resurrection, and inauguration of His Kingdom were not a hastily concocted “plan B” when everything else failed. Instead, from before the beginning, God had determined to create the universe, redeem mankind through His Son, and provide a way of holiness in Him. Paul would also speak of adoption as sons of God in Romans 8:11-15; a man or woman submits to adoption in order to gain the inheritance of the father, and in this way Christians gain standing in order to inherit the eternal promises God has made in Jesus.
God secured redemption for Christians in Jesus according to the riches of His grace; God’s grace abounds for Christians, who have learned of the mystery of God’s will now manifest in Jesus and His Kingdom (Ephesians 1:7-10). Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins represents the ultimate gift God has given mankind (cf. 1 John 4:7-11); God continues to bestow gifts of grace upon His people in Jesus and yearns for Christians to consider His presence and life as the greatest gift of all (cf. Revelation 21:1-22:6). We think of “mystery” as something unknown, a problem to be solved; in the New Testament it is an “unveiling,” something manifest only through the revelation of God. Later in Ephesians Paul would elaborate more upon the mystery (cf. Ephesians 3:1-11); here he centered the story on God’s good purpose in Jesus whom He made the sum of all things.
Whereas Christians inherit the blessings of life and salvation in Christ, God obtains Christians as His heritage, having predetermined them as His praise in His glory, and who has given them the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of their inheritance until the final day of redemption (Ephesians 1:11-14). Paul began to make a contrast between “we who had hoped in Christ” and “you” his Ephesian audience, perhaps as between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. We would again be remiss to impose Augustinian Calvinist views on the text; in Ephesians 3:1-11 Paul will explain how God manifested His wisdom and eternal purpose by bringing Jews and Gentiles into one body in Christ in the church. Paul instead stepped back to appreciate the beauty of what God has accomplished in Jesus. God is praised in the redemption of Jewish Christians in Christ who had hoped in the coming Messiah and proved willing to recognize him in Jesus; God is praised in the redemption of Gentile Christians who are welcomed in Jesus. The Holy Spirit was given to Christians both as a seal of their redemption and as a down payment on their salvation; throughout Ephesians Paul will speak of how God worked through His Spirit to build up and strengthen Christians.
Having set forth the spiritual blessings with which God has blessed Christians in Jesus, Paul gave thanks and prayed for the Ephesian Christians in another lengthy sentence (Ephesians 1:15-23). Paul gave thanks for the Ephesian Christians, having heard of their faith in Jesus and love for their fellow Christians whom he calls “saints” (Ephesians 1:15-16). Christians do well to be encouraged by Paul’s example: we should never take the faith of others for granted, but ought to thank God for them.
Paul prayed for God to give the Ephesian Christians a spirit of wisdom and revelation of knowledge to enlighten their hearts to know the hope of God’s calling in Jesus, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the great power of God working on behalf of Christians (Ephesians 1:17-19). Paul did not pray for God to give the Ephesian Christians head knowledge; he already recognized their faith in Christ, and expected them to have intellectual recognition of the truth of these things. Instead Paul prayed for God to give them heart knowledge, confidence in the hope of salvation in the resurrection, the majesty of the glorification of the Kingdom by God on the final day, and the great power which God presently would work for, in, and through them. It has been said that the greatest distance in the universe is between the head and the heart; we Christians intellectually recognize the truths of God in Christ, but have they been imprinted on our hearts so that we trust deeply and are strengthened to overcome any trial by keeping our faith fixed on the glory awaiting us?
God’s power is manifest in Jesus, raised from the dead, ascended to the right hand of God, ruling over everything, made head over all things to the church, the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:20-23). God has great power and He has given it over to Jesus. Jesus’ authority over heaven and earth is the foundation of the Gospel call to obedience to His purposes and empowers the Christian’s resistance against the idolatrous claims of the forces of darkness and the nation-states empowered by them (cf. Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 28:18, Ephesians 6:12, Revelation 13:1-15:4). Yet all of this power has been given to Jesus for the sake of His body, the church, the people who assemble to praise and glorify His name and encourage each other (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, 14:26, Ephesians 4:11-16). How many great and powerful things could God do through us if we would only trust extravagantly in Him and pray for Him to accomplish His glorious and majestic purposes in us?
Adoption, redemption, an inheritance, the Holy Spirit, access to God, participation in God’s work in Christ: all these blessings, and many more, Christians receive through Jesus Christ. May God give all of us in Jesus Christ a spirit of knowledge and wisdom to enlighten our hearts so we may know the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe!
Ethan R. Longhenry