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Bible Commentaries

Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Ephesians 1


Ephesians 1

AFTER THE OPENING words of salutation the Apostle goes straight to the heart of his theme in the spirit of a worshipper. We have been blessed in such rich fashion by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that He blesses God in return and carries our hearts with him in doing so. The blessings that are ours are characterized by three things. They are spiritual, not material as were Israel’s blessings under the old covenant, in such matters as ample food and health and peace under divine rule. They are heavenly and not earthly, since the sphere where they are to be fully realized and consummated is heaven, and their present administration to us is from heaven. They are in Christ. He, as the risen One, and not Adam, the fallen one, is the Fountain-head of them all. If we are in Christ they all are ours.

But in blessing us after this wonderful fashion God has wrought in keeping with an act of His mind in a bygone eternity. Before the foundation of the world He chose us in Christ. Let those two words, “in Him,” be noted, for again and again they, or their equivalents, occur in this chapter. As a matter of history we each were in Adam before we were in Christ, but before Adam was created, God saw us as in Christ, and on that basis we were chosen. What was in view in His choice was that we might be holy and blameless before Himself in love.

Such is the efficacy of the work of Christ that each believer today stands before God as holy and without blame, and is in the embrace of that divine love from which nothing can separate him. This we have seen in Romans 8.0 . The full and ultimate application of these words in verse Eph_1:4 must

however, be carried on into a future eternity. It has been remarked that very little is said in the Bible in the way of a description of heaven; yet these words are practically just that. When the Spirit’s work in us has reached its completion, including the quickening of our mortal bodies at the first resurrection, we shall be landed in heaven. We shall then be marked by perfect holiness of nature, and perfect freedom from all blame as to conduct. We shall be for ever in the presence of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in an atmosphere of perfect love. That will be heaven indeed. Thus verse Eph_1:4 begins in a past eternity and ends in a future eternity.

Verse Eph_1:5 carries matters a step further. God had in His mind a certain relationship for us and He destined us to that relationship when He chose us, even the state and place of sons. Now this was not a need or necessity on our side. We should still have been very happy if, rescued from our sin, we had been appointed to a place amongst His servants. The relationship is not according to our need but “according to the good pleasure of His will.” How thankful we should be that the pleasure of His will is as good as this! We are sons of God now but we are going to stand forth in the full dignity and glory of sonship when heaven is reached. Then indeed the real glory of His grace will be manifested, and result in eternal praise.

In working out this glorious purpose, certain steps have been taken and these are now detailed for us acceptance, redemption, forgiveness. We are working downwards to that which is simplest and most fundamental. In our understanding of things we usually begin with the forgiveness of sins. Then perhaps we apprehend the meaning of the redemption which we have in the blood of Christ, and begin to experience the freedom which that redemption has bought. Then on top of this comes the discovery of the fact that not only are we set free from slavery but that we stand in a positive acceptance before God, even in the acceptance of Christ, who is the Beloved One. His acceptance gives character to, and is the measure of, ours. In Col_3:12 the saints are spoken of as beloved of God, and that of course flows out of the fact that they are accepted in the Beloved.

All this, whether it be redemption or forgiveness, is ours “according to the riches of His grace.” We were in the poverty of our sin, and this has become the occasion for the display of the wealth of His grace. If we read 1Kings 10.0 we may see how Solomon gave to the Queen of Sheba all she desired, and then capped it by that which he gave her “of his royal

bounty.” He satisfied her large desires and then went beyond them in the superlative greatness of his kingly munificence. In this he acts as a type. God has acted according to His exceeding riches of grace. The very forgiveness of sins which He has accorded us has been granted in a style and with a fulness worthy of the great and gracious God He is.

But there is more. Not only has He thus abounded to us in connection with His grace, but also in connection with His wisdom. Verse Eph_1:8 speaks of “wisdom and prudence [or, intelligence].” The secrets of His wisdom He has made known in order that we may intelligently enter into and enjoy them. God has always acted according to His own will, though in the presence of sin and its ravages He chose for long ages to keep the main purpose of His will as a secret or mystery; and the pleasure of His will and purpose has always been good, for He is good. This is a great fact that we do well to lay hold of firmly. The “pleasure of His will” is good (ver. 5). The “pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself” is good (ver. 9). God’s pleasure and purpose is not connected with judgment, though that work, which He calls His “strange work,” is necessary, and to be fulfilled in due season.

Verse Eph_1:10 tells us what the real secret of His will and purpose is. In the coming age, spoken of here as “the fulness of times,” He is going to gather together in one all things in Christ, both things earthly and things heavenly. No mention is made here of things infernal, for this predicted gathering together is in connection with a world of blessing, and consequently things infernal lie outside it. By establishing Christ as the exalted and glorified Head of all things there will be established on earth as well as in heaven a divine system of unity and blessing. Sin is lawlessness: it makes of every man in effect a little unit on his own, finding his only centre in himself. Hence during all these ages in which sin has been reigning, no matter how skilfully men try to engineer their unities, disintegration has been the order of the day. God has His unity. He is working towards it. When Christ is publicly established in glory as Head, God’s purpose as to unity will be reached, as far as His government of heavenly and earthly things is concerned.

The coming age is going to witness at last the fullest possible harmony between the heavens and the earth, and Christ Head in both spheres, producing the unity. All is in Him. But then through grace we are already in Him, and thus have obtained an inheritance in all this wealth of blessing.

That to which we are destined has been settled beforehand, not according to our need, nor even according to our thoughts or wishes, but according to the purpose of God, who effects all things as He pleases. We may be sure, as a consequence of this, that no possible slip can come between us and the inheritance to which we are destined.

The Apostle does not stop at this point to instruct us as to the particular character of this inheritance, but he does tell us that when all is consummated we shall be to the praise of God’s glory. Angels and men will gaze at that which God has accomplished in regard to us, and they will see in it some fresh display of His glory and utter to Him their praise. We need not wait until that day. These things are made known to us so that instructed in them we may gain fresh glimpses of His glory and be filled with His praises now. We may enjoy communion with God about these purposes of His grace, and realizing that all centres in Christ and is for His glory, we find subject matter and material for our praise and worship.

As we pass from verse Eph_1:12 to verse Eph_1:13 we notice a change in the pronouns, from “we” to “ye.” In writing, “we . . . who first trusted in Christ,” the Apostle’s mind was dwelling on saints gathered out of Israel including himself, whereas the “ye” referred to saints gathered out from the Gentiles. The Jewish believers were a kind of firstfruits of their nation. By and by a redeemed and restored Israel will be for Jehovah’s praise on earth. But those who trusted in Christ beforehand during this gospel age will have part in the heavenly calling and be to His praise in the heavenly places.

In all this however, the Gentile believers fully shared. They too, had heard the Gospel which brought them salvation, and having believed it they had been sealed with the Spirit, who is the earnest of the inheritance. In His character as the seal, the Spirit marked them out as belonging to God. As the earnest He is the pledge of the inheritance which lies before us, and also He gives the foretaste of the blessings attached to it.

Let us carefully note the order set before us in this verse. First, the hearing of the Gospel. Second, the believing of it. Third, the receiving of the Spirit. This order is quite invariable. We never believe before we hear. We never receive before we believe. If any enquire, Have I received the Spirit? we have to propound to them the previous question, Have you heard and believed the Gospel of your salvation? The one proceeds out of and flows from the other.

Again we shall do well to notice the fact that not only did we trust in Christ but we were sealed with the holy Spirit of promise in Christ. “In whom . . . ye were sealed.” All is found to be in Christ. The Holy Spirit is a divine Person in the Godhead and to be distinguished from Christ, yet we must not totally separate Him from Christ in our minds. This is the case with all the three sacred Persons. They are to be distinguished but not separated. The Spirit has been sent by Christ from the Father, and in Christ He has sealed us sealed us, you see until the whole possession purchased by the death of the cross is redeemed from the last adverse power that tends to hold it in bondage; that is, until the coming of the Lord. The Spirit is given to abide with us for ever. We may grieve Him but we cannot grieve Him away.

Having thus given an unfolding of the characteristic blessings of the individual Christian, Paul proceeds to tell the Ephesians of his thanks-givings and prayers on their behalf. He gave thanks for them as he thought of the wealth of spiritual blessing into which they had been introduced, and his prayer was that they might have an intelligent and spiritual understanding of all connected with the calling and inheritance which was theirs. We may be very certain that what he desired for the Ephesians is just what is highly desirable for us today.

In these prayers the Apostle addressed himself to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory.” God is indeed the Originator and Source of all glory, and to Him our Lord Jesus, when here as the subject Man, looked up as His God, as we see prophetically expressed in Psalms 16.0 . Our thoughts are thus fittingly directed to the place which the Lord Jesus took as Man, inasmuch as it is as Man that He takes His place as the exalted Head in the wide creation of blessing. Further it is in Him as Man that we see the Pattern and Fulness of all that which is ours in Him. Everything is expressed in Christ, and we have nothing apart from Christ. The thing so greatly to be desired is that we may have the full knowledge of all that is purposed in connection with Him.

We come to know the wonders of God’s purposes and work in connection with the knowledge of Himself. As we know Him we know that which springs forth from Him. Hence the first request of the Apostle concerns “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.” We can only know Him by revelation, since by no amount of searching can we

discover Him; and again on our side wisdom is needed, that spirit of wisdom which comes from the Spirit of God.

The word, “understanding,” in verse Eph_1:18 should really be, “heart.” It is not a matter of cold intellectual understanding but rather the understanding of warm affection. Can anything be cold which centres in Christ? And it does centre in Christ; for though the “Him” which closes verse Eph_1:17 grammatically refers to God the Father, it cannot but also point to Christ, for He alone is the Revealer of the Father. To have the full knowledge of the Father we must know Christ, the Son.

In the first place, the prayer of the Apostle concerned itself with the spiritual state of his readers. The things of God can only be discerned by those who have the eyes of their heart enlightened. Many things there are, both in the world around us and the flesh within, which if permitted by us, inevitably form a kind of cataract film upon our spiritual eyes and hinder our understanding. This helps us to understand why in writing to Timothy Paul said, “Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine.” Except he began by taking heed to himself he was not likely to obtain much good from the doctrine. Nor are we.

After that, the prayer divides itself into three parts, concerning respectively the calling, the inheritance and the power by which God brings to pass His purposes concerning us. The calling has been indicated in verses Eph_1:3 to 7, and the inheritance in verses Eph_1:10 to 14, whereas the power had not previously been mentioned, but is opened up to us in the closing verses of our chapter and in Ephesians 2.0 .

We might perhaps sum up “His calling,” as expounded to us in those earlier verses, in the one word, sonship. The prayer however is not merely that we may know the calling, but rather what is the hope of His calling. Well, what is this hope? If He who calls is GOD; if the place to which we are called is that of SONS; if that place is ours “by Jesus Christ,” and as “IN CHRIST;” what are we to expect? What but heavenly glory?

This indeed was no small prayer. Are we disposed to regard it lightly and say, Oh, but we all know that: we all expect to go to heaven when we die we only thereby show that we do not really know as yet what the hope involves and signifies. Were the eyes of our hearts so enlightened that we really knew it, we should be thoroughly delivered from the ensnaring attractions of the world-system that surrounds us. We should be wholly

lifted above its unhallowed influences, and thus fitted to go through it in a way that glorifies God.

Nor are we only to know what is the inheritance. That knowledge might easily be arrived at in an intellectual way by reading the few verses that speak of it. But what are the riches of the glory of that inheritance? It is His inheritance, you notice, not ours: and it is “in the saints,” which means, we understand, not so much that the saints form the inheritance though they form part of it, no doubt as that it is by and in the saints that He will take up His inheritance.

When God took Israel across the Jordan to conquer the land of Canaan, He took the initiative Himself by means of the ark. It was said, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you into Jordan” ( Jos_3:11 ). The position was that God took possession of the land in His people Israel; that is, by putting them into possession. Presently He will make good His claim to the whole earth in Israel, and the glory of the millennial age will commence. It will be very great glory on earth. Now what will be the riches of that heavenly glory when Satan and his hosts are cast out of heaven, and the saints established in the heavens, and, as verse Eph_1:10 has told us, Christ is the supreme and unifying centre in those realms of blessedness? It will be riches beyond all our conceptions. Only the Father of glory can give us the spiritual eyesight to take it in.

Thirdly, we are to know the greatness of the power of God, which acts on behalf of us who have believed. That power has fully expressed itself in the raising of Christ from the dead and in His exaltation, and is now actively working towards us. We have only to think of the resurrection and exaltation of Christ to realize how appropriate is the adjective, “exceeding,” or, “surpassing.” His power is characterized not merely by greatness but by surpassing greatness.

We do well to bear in mind that when the Lord Jesus went into death He put Himself, if we may so say, beneath all the weight of antagonistic human power, and also all the power of darkness wielded by Satan, and further beneath all the weight of the divine judgment due to sin. Out of all this and into resurrection He was lifted by the power of God. This emphasizes very clearly the greatness of the power of God.

But further, we have to consider all that into which He has been lifted, as detailed in the closing verses of chapter 1. Here we see a greatness which

is surpassing indeed. He is gone into the heavenly places and is seated at the right hand of God; that is, in the place of supreme administration. In that position He is above every other name and every other power, whether in this age or the age to come. And not merely above, but “far above.” No comparison can be instituted between any other and Him. All things are put beneath His feet, and He is given to be Head over all things. All these things are facts, though as yet we do not see all things subjected to Him.

There is in all this something which very intimately concerns ourselves. In that place of extreme exaltation where He is Head over all things, He is Head to the church which is His body. To that church every true believer belongs. There is a great difference between the significance of these two prepositions, which may be illustrated by the case of Adam, who is “the figure of Him that was to come.” Adam was created to be head over all other created things that filled the garden, but he was head to Eve, who was his body as well as his wife. The second headship is far more intimate and wonderful than the first.

Christ is not only Head over all things but He is to fill all things, so that all things are ultimately to take their character from Him. The church is His body and consequently His fulness the body in which He is adequately expressed. This passage evidently contemplates the church in its largest and widest aspect, as the sum total of the saints of this dispensation; that is, the saints called out between the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost and the coming again of the Lord Jesus.

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Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Ephesians 1". "Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.