The nature and design of Paul's commission, — his prayer for the Ephesians, Ephesians 3:14-21.
The office which Paul had received was that of an apostle to the Gentiles, . For this office he was qualified by direct revelation from Jesus Christ, concerning the purpose of redemption, of his knowledge of which the preceding portions of his epistle, were sufficient evidence, Ephesians 3:3, Ephesians 3:4. The special truth, now more plainly revealed than ever before, was the union of the Gentiles with the Jews as joint partakers of the promise of redemption, by means of the gospel, Ephesians 3:5, Ephesians 3:6. As the gospel is the means of bringing the Gentiles to this fellowship with the saints, Paul was, by the special grace and almighty power of God, converted and made a minister of the gospel, Ephesians 3:7, Ephesians 3:8. The object of his ministry was to make known the unsearchable riches of Christ, and enlighten men as to the purpose of redemption which had from eternity been hid in the divine mind, Ephesians 3:9. And the object or design of redemption itself is the manifestation of the wisdom of God to principalities and powers in heaven, Ephesians 3:10. This glorious purpose has been executed in Christ, in whom we as redeemed have free access to God. Afflictions endured in such a cause were no ground of depression, but rather of glory, Ephesians 3:11-13.
For this cause, i.e. because you Gentiles are fellow citizens of the saints, and specially because you Ephesians are included in the temple of God.
As there is no verb of which the words, ἐγὼ παῦλος, I Paul, are the nominative, there is great diversity of opinion as to the proper construction of the passage. The most common view is that the sentence here begun is recommenced and finished in Ephesians 3:14, where the words, "For this cause" are repeated. The apostle intended saying at the beginning of the chapter what he says in Ephesians 3:14, "For this cause, I Paul, bow my knees," i.e. ‘because you Ephesians have been brought to God, I pray for your confirmation and growth in grace.'
Others supply simply the substantive verb ( εἰμὶ). ‘For this cause I am the prisoner of Jesus Christ.' But in this case to say the least, the article ( ὁ δέσμιος) before the predicate is unnecessary. Others make the clause, the prisoner of Christ, to be in apposition to I Paul, and supply the predicate I am a prisoner. The sense would then be, ‘I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ, am a prisoner, and in bonds for you Gentiles.' This is better than any of the various modes of explanation which have been proposed, except the one first mentioned, which gives a far better sense. It is far more elevated and more in keeping with Paul's character, for him to say, ‘Because you are now part of God's spiritual temple, I pray for your confirmation and growth;' than, ‘Because you are introduced into the communion of saints, I am a prisoner of Jesus Christ.'
The expression, ὁ δέσμιος τοῦ χριστοῦ, the prisoner of Christ, does not mean prisoner on account of Christ. Those for whom he suffered bonds are immediately afterwards said to be the Gentiles. It means Christ's prisoner. As he was Christ's servant, apostle, and minister, so he was Christ's prisoner. In all his relations he belonged to Christ. He was a prisoner, ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν τῶν ἐθνῶν, for you Gentiles. It was preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles which brought down upon him the hatred of his countrymen, and led them to accuse him before the Roman magistrates, and to his being sent a prisoner to Rome.
This verse is connected with the immediately preceding words. — ‘My apostolic mission is to the Gentiles; I am a prisoner for your sake, since ye have heard of the office which God has given me for your benefit.' The word εἴγε rendered in our version by if, does not necessarily express doubt. Paul knew that the Ephesians were aware that he was an apostle to the Gentiles. The word is often used where the thing spoken of is taken for granted. Ephesians 4:21; 2 Corinthians 5:3. In such cases, it may properly be rendered, since, inasmuch as. It is only a more refined or delicate form of assertion. It is unnecessary, therefore, to assume either that this epistle was not addressed to the Ephesians particularly; or that ἀκούειν is to be taken in the sense of bene intelligere (if so be ye have well understood); or that Paul, when preaching at Ephesus, had preserved silence on his apostleship. He speaks of himself as a prisoner for their sake, inasmuch as they had heard he was the apostle to the Gentiles.
The expression, dispensation of the grace given unto me, is the designation of his office. It was an οἰκονομία, a stewardship. A stewardship of the grace given, τῆς χάριτος τῆς δοθείσης, means either a stewardship which is a grace, or favor, or which flows from grace, i.e. was graciously conferred. Compare Ephesians 3:8, in which he says, "To me was this grace given." Not infrequently the office itself is called χάρις, a grace or favor. Romans 12:3, Romans 15:15; 1 Corinthians 3:10; Galatians 2:9. Paul esteemed the office of a messenger of Christ as a manifestation of the undeserved kindness of God towards him, and he always speaks of it with gratitude and humility. It was not its honors, nor its authority, much less any emolument connected with it, which gave it value in his eyes; but the privilege which it involved of preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Instead of understanding οἰκονομία in the sense above given, of office, it may refer to the act of God, and be rendered, dispensation. ‘If, or since, ye have heard how God dispensed the grace given unto me,' i.e. if ye understand the nature of the gift I have received. In Colossians 1:25, Paul speaks of the οἰκονομία as given; here it is χάρις which is said to be given. In both cases the general idea is the same, the form alone is different. His office and the grace therewith connected, including all the gifts ordinary and extraordinary, which went to make him an apostle, were both an οἰκονομία and a χάρις. The apostleship was not a mere office like that of a prelate or prince, conferring certain rights and powers; it was an inward grace, including plenary and infallible knowledge. You could no more appoint a man an apostle, than you could appoint him a saint. Neither inspiration nor holiness come by appointment. An apostle without inspiration is as much a solecism as a saint without holiness. Rome, here as every where, retains the semblance without the reality; the form without the power. She has apostles without inspiration, the office without the grace of which the office was but the expression. Thus she feeds herself and her children upon ashes.
To you-ward. Paul's mission was to the Gentiles. It was in special reference to them that he had received his commission and the gifts therewith connected. When Christ appeared to him on his journey to Damascus, he said to him, "I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me." . Here we have an authentic account of Paul's mission. He was appointed a witness of what had been and of what should be made known to him by revelation. He was sent to the Gentiles, to turn them from Satan to God in order that they might be saved.
How that by revelation was made known unto me, etc. This clause is connected with what precedes and explains it. — ‘Ye have heard of the grace which I have received, i.e. ye have heard how that by revelation was made known to me.' κατὰ ἀποκάλυψιν, after the manner of revelation, i.e. δι ̓ ἀποκαλύψεως, Galatians 1:12. He was not indebted for his knowledge of the Gospel to the instructions of others as he proves in his epistle to the Galatians by a long induction of acts in his history. This was one of the indispensable qualifications for the apostleship. As the apostles were witnesses, their knowledge must be direct and not founded on hearsay. The thing made known was a "mystery"; i.e. a secret, something undiscoverable by human reason, the knowledge of which could only be attained by revelation. This revelation was a grace or favor conferred on the apostle himself.
The mystery of which he here speaks is that of which the preceding chapters treat, viz. the union of the Gentiles with the Jews. Of that subject he had just written briefly; ἐν ὀλίγῳ, with little, i.e. few words.
By reading what he had written, they could judge of his knowledge of the mystery of Christ. πρὸς ὅ, according to which. What he had written might be taken as the standard or evidence of his knowledge. Mystery of Christ, may mean the mystery or revelation concerning Christ; or of which he is the author (i.e. of the secret purpose of redemption), or which is Christ. Christ himself is the great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh. He is the revelation of the μυστήριον or secret purpose of God, which had been hid for ages. Thus the apostle in writing to the Colossians says: "God would make known the riches of the glory of the mystery among the Gentiles; which (i.e. the mystery) is Christ in you, the hope of glory." Colossians 1:27.
What Paul had written respecting the calling of the Gentiles in the preceding chapter, was an indication of his knowledge of the whole plan of salvation — here designated as "the mystery of Christ," which includes far more than the truth that the Gentiles were fellow citizens of the saints. It has the same extensive meaning in Colossians 4:3, where Paul prays that God would open a door of utterance for him "to speak the mystery of Christ." This verse is, therefore, virtually a parenthesis, in so far as the relative ὅ at the beginning of the next verse refers to the word μυστήριον in Ephesians 3:3; or if referred to that word as used in Ephesians 3:4, it is to it as including the more limited idea expressed in Ephesians 3:3.
God by revelation had made known to Paul a mystery, or purpose, which was not revealed as it now was to the apostles. That the Gentiles were to partake of the blessings of the Messiah's reign, and to be united as one body with the Jews in his kingdom, is not only frequently predicted by the ancient prophets, but Paul himself repeatedly and at length quotes their declarations on this point to prove that what he taught was in accordance with the Old Testament; see . The emphasis must, therefore, be laid on the word as. This doctrine was not formerly revealed as, i.e. not so fully or so clearly as under the Gospel.
The common text reads ἐν ἑτέρἀς γενεαῖς, in other generations. But most editors, on the authority of the older MSS., omit the preposition. Still the great majority of commentators interpret the above phrase as determining the time, and render it, during other ages. To this, however, it is objected that γενεά never means, an age in the sense of period of time, but always a generation, the men of any age, those living in any one period. If this objection is valid γενεαῖς must be taken as the simple dative, and υἱοῖς τῶν ἀνθρώπων be regarded as explanatory. The passage would then read, "Which was not made known to other generations, i.e. to the sons of men," etc. But in Acts 14:16, Acts 15:21, and especially in Colossians 1:26 ( ἀπὸ τῶν αἰώνων καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν γἐνῶν), γενεά is most naturally taken in the sense of age, or period of duration. In the same sense it is used in the Septuagint, Psalms 72:5, Psalms 102:25; Isaiah 51, 8.
As it is now revealed to his holy apostles and to the prophets by the Spirit, ὡς νῦν ἀπεκαλύφθη … ἐν πνεύματι. The apostles and prophets of the new dispensation were the only classes of inspired men; the former being the permanent, the latter the occasional organs of the Spirit. They therefore were the only recipients of direct revelations. They are here called holy in the sense of sacred, consecrated. They were men set apart for the peculiar service of God. In the same sense the prophets of the old economy are called holy. Luke 1:70; 2 Peter 1:21. The pronoun his in connection with apostles may refer to God as the author of the revelation spoken of, or to Christ whose messengers the apostles were. ‘My knowledge of the mystery of Christ, which, in former ages, was not made known, as it is now revealed to his apostles,' etc. By the Spirit, i.e. revealed by the Spirit. πνεύματι, though without the article, refers to the Holy Spirit, the immediate author of these divine communications. It follows from the scriptural doctrine of the Trinity, which teaches the identity as to substance of the Father, Son, and Spirit, that the act of the one is the act of. the others. Paul, therefore, refers the revelations which he received sometimes to God, as in Ephesians 3:3; sometimes to Christ as in Galatians 1:12; sometimes to the Spirit.
The mystery made known to the apostles and prophets of the new dispensation, was εἶναι τὰ ἔνη συγκληρονόμα, κτλ., i.e. that the Gentiles are, in point of right and fact, fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of this promise. The form in which the calling of the Gentiles was predicted in the Old Testament led to the general impression that they were to partake of the blessings of the Messiah's reign by becoming Jews, by being as proselytes merged into the old theocracy, which was to remain in all its peculiarities. It seems never to have entered into any human mind until the day of Pentecost, that the theocracy itself was to be abolished, and a new form of religion was to be introduced, designed and adapted equally for all mankind, under which the distinction between Jew and Gentile was to be done away. It was this catholicity of the Gospel which was the expanding and elevating revelation made to the apostles, and which raised them from sectarians to Christians.
The Gentiles are fellow heirs. They have the same right to the inheritance as the Jews. The inheritance is all the benefits of the covenant of grace; the knowledge of the truth, all church privileges, justification, adoption, and sanctification; the indwelling of the Spirit, and life everlasting; an inheritance so great that simply to comprehend it requires divine assistance, and elevates the soul to the confines of heaven. Hence Paul prays (Ephesians 1:17, Ephesians 1:18), that God would give the Ephesians the Spirit of revelation that they might know what is the riches of the glory of the inheritance to which they had been called.
They are σύσσωμα; i.e. they are constituent portions of the body of Christ; as nearly related to him, and as much partakers of his life as their Jewish brethren. The hand is not in the body by permission of the eye, nor the eye by permission of the hand. Neither is the Gentile in the church by courtesy of the Jews, nor the Jew by courtesy of the Gentiles. They are one body.
What in the preceding terms is presented figuratively is expressed literally, when it is added, they are partakers of his (God's) promise. The promise is the promise of redemption; the promise made to our first parents, repeated to Abraham, and which forms the burden of all the Old Testament predictions. Genesis 3:14, Genesis 19:22, Genesis 19:29.
The only essential and indispensable condition of participation in the benefits of redemption is union with Christ. The Gentiles are fellow heirs, and of the same body and partakers of the promise, says the apostle, in Christ, i.e. in virtue of their union with him. And this union is effected or brought about, by the Gospel. It is not by birth nor by any outward rite, nor by union with any external body, but by the Gospel, received and appropriated by faith, that we are united to Christ, and thus made heirs of God. This verse teaches therefore —
1. The nature of the blessings of which the Gentiles are partakers, viz. the inheritance promised to the people of God.
2. The condition on which that participation is suspended, viz. union with Christ; and
3. The means by which that union is effected, viz. the Gospel. Hence the apostle enlarges on the dignity and importance of preaching the Gospel. This is the subject of the verses which follow.
Of which (Gospel) I was made a minister; a διάκονος, a runner, servant, minister. Minister of the Gospel, means one whose business it is to preach the Gospel. This is his service; the work for which he is engaged, and to which he is bound to devote himself. There are two things which Paul here and in the verse following says in reference to his introduction into the ministry; first, it was a great favor; and secondly, it involved the exercise of divine power.
He was made a minister, κατὰ τὴν δωρεὰν τῆς χάριτος τοῦ θεοῦ, according to the gift of the grace of God given to him. According to the common text ( δωρεὰν — δουεῖσαν), the gift was given. "The gift of the grace of God," may mean the gracious gift, i.e. the gift due to the grace of God; or, the gift which is the grace of God; so that the χάρις, grace, as Paul often calls his apostleship, is the thing given. In either way the gift referred to was his vocation to be an apostle. That he who was a persecutor and blasphemer should be called to be an apostle, was in his view a wonderful display of the grace of God.
The gift in question was given, κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ, by the effectual working of his (God's) power. Paul's vocation as an apostle involved his conversion, and his conversion was the effect of the power of God. This refers to the nature of the work, and not to its mere circumstances. It was not the blinding light, not the fearful voice, which he refers to the power of God, but the inward change, by which he, a malignant opposer of Christ, was instantly converted into an obedient servant. The regeneration of the soul is classed among the mighty works of God, due to the exceeding greatness of his power. See Ephesians 1:19.
To me, adds the apostle, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ.
By the word saints is to be understood not the apostles, but the people of God, who are "called to be saints," 1 Corinthians 1:7; Romans 1:7. Less than the least, ἐλαχιστοτέρος, a comparative formed from a superlative. It was not merely the sense of his sinfullness in general, which weighed so heavily on the apostle's conscience. It was the sin of persecuting Christ, which he could never forgive himself. As soon as God revealed his Son in him, and he apprehended the infinite excellence and love of Christ, the sin of rejecting and blaspheming such a Savior appeared so great that all other sins seemed as comparatively nothing. Paul's experience in this matter is the type of the experience of other Christians. It is the sin of unbelief; the sin of rejecting Christ, of which, agreeably to our Savior's own declaration, the Holy Spirit is sent to convince the world. John 16:9.
To one thus guilty it was a great favor to be allowed to preach Christ. The expression τὸ ἀνεξιχνίαστον πλοῦτος τοῦ χριστοῦ, unsearchable riches of Christ; riches which cannot be traced; past finding out, may mean either the riches or blessings which Christ bestows, or the riches which he possesses. Both ideas may be included, though the latter is doubtless the more prominent. The unsearchable riches of Christ, are the futileness of the Godhead, the plenitude of all divine glories and perfections which dwell in him; the fullness of grace to pardon, to sanctify and save; everything in short, which renders him the satisfying portion of the soul.
It was Paul's first duty to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ among the Gentiles, for he was especially the "apostle of the Gentiles." But his duty was not confined to them. He was commissioned both to preach to the Gentiles, and to make all see, etc. This is the common interpretation of the passage. Others, however, insist that the all is here limited by the context to the Gentiles. But the force of and, which marks the accession of a new idea, is thus in a great measure lost. And the following verse favors the widest latitude that can be given to the words in question.
The word φωτίζειν properly means, to shine, as any luminous body does, and then to illuminate, to impart light to, as a candle does to those on whom it shines, and as God does to the minds of men, and as the Gospel does, which is as a light shining in a dark place, and hence the apostle, 2 Corinthians 4:4, speaks of the φωτισμὸς τοῦ ευαγγελίου. Utitur apta similitudine, says Calvin, quum dicit, φωτίσαι πάντας, quasi plena luce effulgeat Dei gratia in suo apostolatu. The Church is compared to a candlestick, and ministers to stars. Their office is to dispense light. The light imparted by the Gospel was knowledge, and hence to illuminate is, in fact, to teach; which is the idea the word is intended here to express.
The thing taught was, ἡ οἰκονομία τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ ἀποκεκρυμμένου, the economy of the mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God. The common text in this clause reads κοινωνία, fellowship, but all the corrected editions of the New Testament, on the authority of the ancient MSS., read οἰκονομία, plan, or, economy. The mystery or secret, is not the simple purpose to call the Gentiles into the church, but the mystery of redemption. This mystery, ἀπὸ τῶν αἰώνων, from ages, from the beginning of time, had been hid in God. Compare Romans 16:25, "The mystery which was kept secret since the world began;" 1 Corinthians 2:7, "The wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world;" Colossians 1:26, "The mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations." In all these places the mystery spoken of is God's purpose of redemption, formed in the counsels of eternity, impenetrably hidden from the view of men until revealed in his own time. It was this plan of redemption thus formed, thus long concealed, but now made known through the Gospel, that Paul was sent to bear as a guiding and saving light to all men.
Who created all things by Jesus Christ. The words διὰ ἰησοῦ χριστοὺ, (by Jesus Christ), being wanting in the great majority of oldest MSS., are generally regarded as spurious. The all things here referred to are by some restricted to everything pertaining to the Gospel dispensation. For this interpretation there is no necessity in the context; and it is contrary to the common usage and force of the terms. There must be some stringent necessity to justify making "creator of all things," mean "author of the new dispensation." Others restrict the terms to all men: "He who created all men now calls all."‹9› This however is arbitrary and uncalled for. The words are to be taken in their natural sense, as referring to the universe. It was in the bosom of the Creator of all things that this purpose of redemption so long lay hid. The reference to God as creator in this connection, may be accounted for as merely an expression of reverence. We often call God the Infinite, the Almighty, the Creator, etc., without intending any special reference of the titles to the subject about which we may be speaking. So Paul often calls God, blessed, without any special reason for the appellation. Some however think that in the present case the apostle uses this expression in confirmation of his declaration that the plan of redemption was from ages hid in God — for he who created all things must be supposed to have included redemption in his original purpose. Others suppose the association of the ideas is — he who created, redeems — the same God who made the universe has formed the plan of redemption. None but the creator can be a redeemer.
To the intent that now might be made known, ἵνα γνωρισθῇ νῦν. If this clause depend on the immediately preceding, then the apostle teaches that creation is in order to redemption. God created all things in order that by the church might be made known his manifold wisdom. This is the supralapsarian view of the order of the divine purposes, and as it is the only passage in Scripture which is adduced as directly asserting that theory, its proper interpretation is of special interest. It is objected to the construction just mentioned —
1. That the passage would then teach a doctrine foreign to the New Testament, viz. that God created the universe in order to display his glory in the salvation and perdition of men; which supposes the decree to save to precede the decree to create, and the decree to permit the fall of men.
2. Apart from the doctrinal objections to this theory, this connection of the clauses is unnatural, because the words ‘who created all things,' is entirely subordinate and unessential, and therefore not the proper point of connection for the main idea in the whole context. That clause might be omitted without materially affecting the sense of the passage.
3. The apostle is speaking of his conversion and call to the apostleship. To him was the grace given to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ, and teach all men the economy of redemption, in order that through the church might be made known the manifold wisdom of God. It is only thus that the connection of this verse with the main idea of the context is preserved. It is not the design of creation, but the design of the revelation of the mystery of redemption of which he is here speaking.
4. This interpretation is further sustained by the force of the particle now as here used. Now stands opposed to ‘hid from ages.' God sent Paul to preach the Gospel, in order that what had been so long hid might now be made known. It was the design of preaching the Gospel, and not the design of creation of which the apostle had occasion to speak. The natural connection of ἵνα, therefore, is with the verbs εὐαγγελίσασυαι and φωτίσαι, which express the main idea in the context. "Paul," says Olshausen, "contrasts the greatness of his vocation with his personal nothingness, and he therefore traces the design of his mission through different steps. First, he says, he had to preach to the heathen; then, to enlighten all men concerning the mystery of redemption, and both, in order to manifest even to angels the infinite wisdom of God."
The Bible clearly teaches not only that the angels take a deep interest in the work of redemption, but that their knowledge and blessedness are increased by the exhibition of the glory of God in the salvation of men.
The expression, ἡ πολυποίκιλος σοφία, "manifold wisdom," refers to the various aspects under which the wisdom of God is displayed in redemption; in reconciling justice and mercy; in exalting the unworthy while it effectually humbles them; in the person of the Redeemer, in his work; in the operations of the Holy Spirit; in the varied dispensations of the old and new economy, and in the whole conduct of the work of mercy and in its glorious consummation. It is by the church redeemed by the blood of Christ and sanctified by his Spirit, that to all orders of intelligent beings is to be made, through all coming ages, the brightest display of the divine perfections. It is ταῖς ἀρχαῖς καὶ ταῖς ἐχουσίαις ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις that this exhibition of the manifold wisdom of God is to be made διὰ τῆς ἐκκλησίας. This gives us our highest conception of the dignity of the church. The works of God manifest his glory by being what they are. It is because the universe is so vast, the heavens so glorious, the earth so beautiful and teeming, that they reveal the boundless affluence of their maker. If then it is through the church God designs speedily to manifest to the highest order of intelligence, his infinite power, grace and wisdom, the church in her consummation must be the most glorious of his works. Hence preaching the Gospel, the appointed means to this consummate end, was regarded by Paul as so great a favor. To me, less than the least, was this grace given.
This exhibition of the manifold wisdom of God was contemplated in the original conception of the plan of redemption; for the apostle adds, it was according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord. πρόθεσιν τῶν αἰώνων, purpose formed in eternity — which existed through all past ages — not, purpose concerning the ages, or different periods of the world. Compare 2 Timothy 1:9, πρόθεσιν — πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων. The words ἣν ἐποίησε may be rendered either, as by our translators, which he purposed, or, which he executed. The latter method is preferred by the majority of commentators, as better suited to the context, and especially to the words in Christ Jesus our Lord, as the title Christ Jesus always refers to the historical Christ, the incarnate Son of God. The purpose of God to make provision for the redemption of men has been fulfilled in the incarnation and death of his Son.
Hence, as the consequence of this accomplished work, we have, in him comen τὴν παῤῥησίαν καὶ τὴν προσαγωγὴν ἐν πεποιθήσει, boldness and access with confidence, i.e. free and unrestricted access to God, as children to a father. We come with the assurance of being accepted, because our confidence does not rest on our own merit, but on the infinite merit of an infinite Savior. It is in Him we have this liberty. We have this free access to God; we believers; not any particular class, a priesthood among Christians to whom alone access is permitted, but all believers without any priestly intervention, other than that of one great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God. παῤῥησία as used in Scripture, is not merely freespokenness, nor yet simple frankness, but fearlessness, freedom from apprehension of rejection or of evil. It is this Christ has procured for us. Even the vilest may, in Christ, approach the infinitely holy, who is a consuming fire, with fearlessness. Nothing short of an infinite Savior could effect such a redemption. The accumulation of substantives in this sentence, boldness, access, confidence, shows that there was no word which could express what Paul felt in view of the complete reconciliation of men to God through Jesus Christ.
We have this free access to God with full confidence of acceptance through faith of Him, i.e. by faith in Christ. This is explanatory of the first clause of the verse, ἐν ᾧ — διὰ τῆς πίστεως αὐτοῦ, in whom, i.e. by faith of Him; faith of which he is the object. Compare Ephesians 2:13. It is the discovery of the dignity of his person, confidence in the mercy of his blood, and assurance of his love, all of which are included, more or less consciously, in faiths that enables us joyfully to draw near to God. This is the great question which every sinner needs to have answered. — How may I come to God with the assurance of acceptance? The answer given by the apostle and confirmed by the experience of the saints of all ages is, ‘By faith in Jesus Christ.' It is because men rely on some other means of access, either bringing some worthless bribe in their hands, or trusting to some other mediator, priestly or saintly, that so many fail who seek to enter God's presence.
Wherefore, i.e. because we have this access to God, the sum of all good, we ought to be superior to all the afflictions of this life, and maintain habitually a joyful spirit. Being the subjects of such a redemption and having this liberty of access to God, believers ought not to be discouraged by all the apparently adverse circumstances attending the propagation of the Gospel. As neither the object of the verb αἰτοῦμαι, nor the subject of the verb ἐκκακεῖν is expressed, this verse admits of different explanations. It may mean, ‘I pray you that you faint not;' or, ‘I pray God that I faint not;' or, ‘I pray God that ye faint not.' Whether the object of the verb be "God" or "you," it is hard to decide; as it would be alike appropriate and agreeable to usage to say, ‘I pray God,' or, ‘I pray you,' i.e. I beseech you not to be discouraged. The latter is on the whole to be preferred, as there is nothing in the context to suggest God as the object of address, and as the verb αἰτεῖν, though properly signifying simply to ask, whether of God or man, is often used in a stronger sense, to require, or demand, Luke 23:23; Acts 25:3, Acts 25:15. Paul might well require of the Ephesians, in view of the glories of the redemption of which they had become partakers, not to be discouraged. As to the second point, viz. the subject of the verb ἐκκακεῖν, there is less room to doubt. It is far more in keeping with the whole tone of the passage, that Paul should refer to their fainting than to his own. There was far more danger of the former than of the latter. And what follows ("which is your glory"), is a motive by which his exhortation to them is enforced.
The relative ἥτις in the next clause, admits of a twofold reference. It may relate to θλίψεσίν, afflictions; or to μὴ ἐκκακεῖν, not fainting. In the one case the sense would be: ‘The afflictions which I suffer for you instead of being a ground of discouragement are a glory to you.' In the other: ‘Not fainting is an honor to you.' The latter is flat, it amounts to nothing in such a context. It is perfectly in keeping with the heroic character of the apostle, who himself gloried in his afflictions, and with the elevated tone of feeling pervading the context, that he should represent the afflictions which he endured for the Gentiles as an honor and not as a disgrace and a cause of despondency.
The prayer of the apostle is addressed to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is also in him our Father. He offers but one petition, viz. that his readers might be strengthened by the Holy Ghost in the inner man; or that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith. The consequence of this would be, that they would be confirmed in love, and thus enabled in some measure to comprehend the infinite love of Christ, which would enlarge their capacity unto the fullness of God; that is, ultimately render them, in their measure, as full of holiness and blessedness, as God is in his.
This verse resumes the connection interrupted in Ephesians 3:1.
1. The prayer which the apostle there commenced, he here begins anew. For this cause, τούτου χάριν, repeated from Ephesians 3:1, and therefore the connection is the same here as there, i.e. because you Ephesians are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ. I bow my knees. The posture of prayer, for prayer itself. Unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.‹10›
2. The peculiar Christian designation of God, as expressing the covenant relation in which he stands to believers. It is because he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our incarnate God and Savior, that he is our Father, and accessible to us in prayer. We can approach him acceptably in no other character than as the God who sent the Lord Jesus to be our propitiation and mediator. It is therefore by faith in him as reconciled, that we address him as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named. The word πατριά is a collective term for the descendants of the same father, immediate or remote. In Luke 2:4, we read of the house and family of David, and in Acts 3:25, of all the families of the earth. The most important question here is, whether πᾶσα πατριά is to be rendered every family, or, the whole family. In favor of the latter are the considerations that the omission of the article, which usage doubtless demands, is not infrequent where either the substantive has acquired the character of a proper name, or where the context is so clear as to prevent mistake. (See Winer's Gram. p. 131.) And secondly, the sense is better suited to the whole context. If Paul intended to refer to the various orders of angels, and the various classes of men, as must be his meaning if πᾶσα πατριά is rendered every family, then he contemplates God as the universal Father, and all rational creatures as his children. But the whole drift of the passage shows that it is not God in his relation as creator, but God in his relation as a spiritual father who is here contemplated. He is addressed as the "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," and therefore our Father. It is plain therefore that those who are here contemplated as children, are those who are by Jesus Christ brought into this relation to God. Consequently the word πατριά cannot include any but the subjects of redemption. The whole family in heaven therefore cannot mean the angels, but the redeemed already saved, and the family on earth, the company of believers still living.
As children derive their name from their father and their relation to him is thereby determined, so the apostle says, the whole family of God derive their name from him and are known and recognized as his children.
This verse contains the apostle's prayer in behalf of the Ephesians. He prays that God, according to the riches of his glory, would strengthen them with might by his Spirit in the inner man.
The riches of his glory, πλοῦτος τῆς δόξης, means the plenitude of divine perfection. It is not his power to the exclusion of his mercy, nor his mercy to the exclusion of his power, but it is everything in God that renders him glorious, the proper object of adoration. The apostle prays that God would deal with his people according to that plenitude of grace and power, which constitutes his glory and makes him to his creatures the source of all good.
δυνάμει κραταιωθῆναι. δυνάμει may be rendered adverbially, "powerfully strengthened," or it may be rendered as to power, indicating the principle which was to be confirmed or strengthened; or, "with power," as expressing the gift to be communicated. They were to receive power communicated through the Holy Spirit. This is to be preferred, because the subject of this invigorating influence is not any one principle, but the whole "inner man."
There are two interpretations of the phrase κραταιωθῆναι εἰς τὸν ἔσω ἄνθρωπον, to be strengthened as to the inner man, the choice between which must depend on the analogy of Scripture. According to one theory of human nature, the higher powers of the soul, the reason, the mind, the spirit, the inner man, retain their integrity since the fall, but in themselves are too weak to gain the victory over the animal or lower principles of our nature, designated as the flesh, or outward man. There is a perpetual struggle, even before regeneration, between the good and evil principles in man, between the reason, or πνεῦμα, and the flesh, or σάρξ. The former being the weaker needs to be strengthened by the divine Spirit. "The inner man," says Meyer, "is the νοῦς, the rational moral Ego, the rational soul of man which harmonizes with the divine will, but needs to be strengthened by the Spirit of God ( δυνάμει κραταιωθῆναι διὰ τοῦ πνεύματος), in order not to be overcome by the sinful lusts of the σάρξ, whose animating or life principle is the ψυχή, the animal soul." This is the theory of semi-Pelagianism, embodied and developed in the theology of the church of Rome. The opposite, or Augustinian theory, adopted by the Lutheran and Reformed churches, is that of total depravity, i.e. that the whole soul, the higher, as well as lower powers of our nature, are the seat and subject of original sin, and that the natural man is thereby disabled and made opposite to all spiritual good. Consequently the conflict of which the Scriptures speak is not between the higher and lower powers of our nature, but between nature and what is not nature, between the old and new man. The new principle is something supernatural communicated by the Spirit of God. The classical passages of Scripture relating to this subject, are ; 1 Corinthians 2:14, 1 Corinthians 2:15; Galatians 5:17-26. In none of these passages does πνεῦμα designate the reason as opposed to the sensual principle, but the Spirit of God as dwelling in the renewed soul and giving it its own character, and therefore also its own name. It is the soul as the subject of divine influence, or as the dwelling place of the Holy Ghost, that is called Spirit. By the "inner man," therefore, in this passage is not to be understood that the soul as opposed to the body, or the rational, as distinguished from sensual principle; but the interior principle of spiritual life, the product of the almighty power of the Spirit of God — as is clearly taught in Ephesians 1:19. Even in 2 Corinthians 4:16, where the apostle says: "Though our outward man perish, our inward man is renewed day by day," the meaning is the same. That language could not be used of an unrenewed man. It does not mean simply that though the body was wasted, the mind was constantly refreshed. The inner man that was renewed day by day was the renewed or spiritual man; the soul as the organ and temple of the Spirit of God.
That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, κατοικῆσαι τὸν χριστὸν διὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐν ταῖς καρδίἀς ὑμῶν. Christ dwells in his people — he dwells in their hearts; he dwells in them through faith. These are the truths contained in this passage.
As to the first, viz. the indwelling of Christ, it does not differ from what is expressed in the preceding verse, further than as indicating the source or nature of that spiritual strength of which that verse speaks. When Paul prayed that his readers might be strengthened in the inner man, he prayed that Christ might dwell in them. The omnipresent and infinite God is said to dwell wherever he specially and permanently manifests his presence. Thus he is said to dwell in heaven, Psalms 123:1; to dwell among the children of Israel, Numbers 35:34; in Zion, Psalms 9:11; with him that is of an humble and contrite spirit, Isaiah 57:11; and in his people, 2 Corinthians 6:16. Sometimes it is God who is said to dwell in the hearts of his people, sometimes the Spirit of God, sometimes, as in Romans 8:9, it is the Spirit of Christ; and sometimes, as Romans 8:10, and in the passage before us, it is Christ himself. These varying modes of expression find their solution in the doctrine of the Trinity. In virtue of the unity of the divine substance, he that had seen the Son, hath seen the Father also; he that hath the Son hath the Father; where the Spirit of God is, there God is; and where the Spirit of Christ is, there Christ is. The passage in Romans 8:9, Romans 8:10 is specially instructive. The apostle there says, "The Spirit of God dwelleth in you. Now, if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his; and if Christ be in you, etc." From this it is plain that Christ's being in us, means that we have his Spirit; and to have his Spirit means that the Spirit of God dwells in us. When, therefore, the apostle speaks of Christ dwelling in our hearts, he refers to the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, for Christ dwells in his people by his Spirit. They thus become partakers of his life, so that it is Christ that liveth in them, Galatians 2:20. This is the true and abiding source of spiritual strength and of all other manifestations of the divine life.
Christ is said to dwell in ἐν ταῖς καρδίἀς, the hearts of his people. The two common figurative senses of the word heart in Scripture, are, the feelings as distinguished from the understanding, and the whole soul, including the intellect and affections. It is in this latter sense the Scriptures speak of an understanding heart, 1 Kings 3:9, 1 Kings 3:12; Proverbs 8:5; and of the thoughts, devices and counsels of the heart, Judges 5:15; Proverbs 19:21; Proverbs 20:5. According to the Bible religion is not a form of feeling to the exclusion of the intellect, nor a form of knowledge to the exclusion of the feelings. Christ dwells in the heart, in the comprehensive sense of the word. He is the source of spiritual life to the whole soul; of spiritual knowledge as well as of spiritual affections.
By faith, διὰ τῆς πίστεως, by means of faith. There are two essential conditions of this indwelling of Christ; a rational nature, and, so far as adults are concerned, faith. The former is necessarily presupposed in all communion with God. But it is not with every rational nature that God enters into fellowship. The indwelling of Christ includes more than the communion of spirit with spirit. It implies congeniality. This faith produces or involves; because it includes spiritual apprehension — the perception of truth and excellence of "the things of the Spirit;" and because it works by love; it manifests itself in the exercise of complacency, desire and delight. The most beautiful object might be in the apartment of a blind man, and he not be sensible of its presence; or if by any means made aware of its nearness, he could have no delight in its beauty. Christ dwells in us by faith, because it is by faith we perceive his presence, his excellence, and his glory, and because it is by faith we appropriate and reciprocate the manifestations of his love. Faith is to this spiritual communion, what esteem and affection are to the fellowships of domestic life.
The construction of the clause, ἐν ἀγάπῃ ἐῤῥιζωμένοι καὶ τεθεμελιωμένοι, ἵνα, κτλ, is a matter of doubt. By many of the older and later commentators, it is connected with the preceding clause. The sense would then be: ‘That thus Christ may dwell in the hearts of you,' ἐν ταῖς καρδίἀς ὑμῶν, ἐῤῥιζωμένοι, rooted and grounded in love.' This supposes the grammatical construction to be irregular, as ἐῤῥιζωμένοι does not agree with ὑμῶν. The only reason urged for this interpretation is, that as Paul contemplates his readers as regenerated, he could not pray that Christ should dwell in their hearts, for such indwelling is inseparable from the new birth which they already enjoyed. To pray for the indwelling of Christ would be to pray for their regeneration. The inward sense, therefore, despite the grammatical form of the words, requires such a construction as shall harmonize with that idea. Paul prays, not that Christ may dwell in their hearts, but that he may dwell in their hearts as confirmed in love. It is not, therefore, for the indwelling of Christ, but for their confirmation in love, for which he prays. There does not seem to be much force in this reasoning. The indwelling of Christ, is a thing of degrees. God manifests himself more fully and uniformly in the hearts of his people at one time than at another. Any Christian may pray for the presence of God, and what is his indwelling but the manifestation of his presence? The majority of commentators, therefore, assuming merely a tra)ection of the particle ἵνα (compare Acts 19:4; Galatians 2:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:7), connect the clause in question with what follows; in order that, being rooted and grounded in love, ye may understand, etc. The effect of the inward strengthening by the Spirit, or of the indwelling of Christ, is this confirmation of love; and the effect of the confirmation of love, is ability to comprehend (in our measure) the love of Christ.
The love in which we are to be rooted is not the love of God or of Christ toward us, but either brotherly love or love as a Christian grace without determining its object. It is that love which flows from faith, and of which both God and the brethren are the objects. It is for the increase and ascendancy of this grace through the indwelling of Christ, till it sustains and strengthens the whole inner man, so that the believer may stand as a well rooted tree or as a well founded building, that the apostle here prays.
ἐξισχύσητε καταλαβέσυαι, may be fully able (as the ἐκ is intensive) to comprehend. Without being strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man, without the indwelling of Christ, without being rooted and grounded in love, it is impossible to have any adequate apprehension of the gospel or of the love of Christ therein revealed. The apostle therefore prays that his readers may be thus strengthened, in order that, with all the saints, they may be able to comprehend the truth of which he speaks. The knowledge in question is peculiar to the holy, i.e. the saints. It is a spiritual knowledge, both because of its origin and of its nature. It is derived from the Spirit, and it consists in those views which none but the spiritual can experience. The object of this knowledge is infinite. "It is high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea." Job 11:8, Job 11:9. This language is used to express the infinitude of God. The apostle employs a similar mode of representation to indicate the boundless nature of the object of the believer's knowledge. To know what is infinite, and which therefore passes knowledge, can only mean to have some due appreciation of its nature, and of the fact that it is infinite. It is only thus that we can know space, immensity, eternity or God. Paul therefore would have us understand that the subject of which he speaks has a length and breadth, a depth and height, which pass all understanding. But what is this immeasurable theme? The answers given to this question are too numerous to be detailed. The main point is, whether the additional particular indicated by τέ, in the phrase γνῶναί τε, is to be sought in the difference between καταλαβέσθαι and γνῶναί (between comprehending and knowing), or in the difference of the objects. In the former case, the sense of the passage would be: ‘That ye may comprehend and know the length and breadth, the depth and height of the love of Christ which passes knowledge.' Just as we would say, ‘That ye may know and feel.' In knowing, according to Scriptural usage, the idea of experimental knowledge, or knowledge united with appropriate feeling, may well be included. This is the simpler explanation and gives a very good sense. According to the other view, the meaning is: ‘That ye may comprehend the length and breadth, the depth and height of — and also know the love of Christ;' something different from the love of Christ, being the object intended in the first clause. The great body of commentators, who adopt this view, suppose the reference is to the economy of redemption spoken of in Ephesians 3:9. Paul prays that his hearers may comprehend the immensity of that plan of mercy, and know the love of Christ. Others refer to the manifold wisdom displayed in the salvation of men. Others to the unsearchable riches of Christ. All these subjects are indeed spoken of in the preceding context; but not in the prayer. At Ephesians 3:14, there is such a change of the subject and in the progress of the discourse, as to make it harsh to go back of that verse to seek for an object. It is more natural to look for it in the following clause, where one is found which makes further search unnecessary. It is the love of Christ, i.e. his love to us which passes knowledge. It is infinite; not only because it inheres in an infinite subject but because the condescension and sufferings to which it led, and the blessings which it secures for its objects, are beyond our comprehension. This love of Christ, though it surpasses the power of our understanding to comprehend, is still a subject of experimental knowledge. We may know how excellent, how wonderful, how free, how disinterested, how long-suffering, how manifold and constant, it is, and that it is infinite. And this is the highest and most sanctifying of all knowledge. Those who thus know the love of Christ towards them, purify themselves even as he is pure.
That ye might be filled with all the fullness of God. The words, εἰς πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ θεοῦ, are not properly translated, with all the fullness of God; but unto the complete fullness of God. That is the standard which is to be reached. πλήρωμα may have its ordinary signification, "that by which anything is filled,' — or its secondary meaning, abundance, as we would say, ‘the fullness of a stream.' If the latter sense of the word be retained, θεοῦ is the genitive of the object, — and ‘the fullness of God' is that fullness, or plenitude which flows from him, and which he communicates. If the former and ordinary sense be adhered to, then θεοῦ is the genitive of the subject, and the ‘fullness of God' is that fullness of which God is full. It is the plenitude of the divine perfection, as in Colossians 2:9, where the fullness of the Godhead is said to dwell in Christ bodily. The majority of commentators take the phrase here in the same general sense. The fullness of God is that excellence, says Chrysostom, of which God himself is full. The expression is then parallel to that in Matthew 5:48, "Be ye perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." And the truth presented is the same substantially as that in Ephesians 4:13, "Until we all come — unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ"; and 1 Corinthians 13:12, "Then shall I know even as also I am known." Absolute perfection is the standard to which the believer is to attain. He is predestinated to be conformed to the image of the Son of God, Romans 8:29. He is to be perfect as man, as God is perfect as God; and the perfection of man consists in his being full of God; God dwelling in him so as absolutely to control all his cognitions, feelings, and outward actions. This is expressed in Theodoret's interpretation of the phrase in question: ἵνα τελείως αὐτὸν ἔνοικον δέξησθε.
If, however, the other view be adopted the result is nearly the same. "The fullness of God," is then the abundance of gifts and grace which flows from God; and the meaning of the whole clause is: ‘That ye may be filled until the whole plenitude of the divine beneficence has passed over to you.' The end contemplated is the reception of the donorum plenitudo, or the donorum Dei perfectio. "He who has Christ," says Calvin, "has everything that is required to our perfection in God, for this is what is meant by the fullness of God."
In favor, however, of the former view is the ordinary meaning of the word πλήρωμα, the meaning of the phrase fullness of God, in other passages, the analogy of Scripture as exhibited in the parallel passages above quoted, and the simplicity of the interpretation, no paraphrase being necessary to bring out the sense. We are to grow to the stature of Christ; to be perfect as our Father is perfect; to be filled unto the measure of the fullness of God. When we are thus filled the distance between us and God will still be infinite. This is the culminating point of the apostle's prayer. He prays that they may be strengthened in order to comprehend the infinite love of Christ; and that they might comprehend the love of Christ, in order that they might be filled unto the measure of God's fullness.
Paul's prayer had apparently reached a height beyond which neither faith, nor hope, nor even imagination could go, and yet he is not satisfied. An immensity still lay beyond. God was able to do not only what he had asked, but infinitely more than he knew how either to ask or think. Having exhausted all the forms of prayer, he casts himself on the infinitude of God, in full confidence that he can and will do all that omnipotence itself can effect. His power, not our prayers nor our highest conceptions, is the measure of the apostle's anticipations and desires. This idea he weaves into a doxology, which has in it more of heaven than of earth.
There are two forms of expression here united; Paul says, τῷ ὑπὲρ πάντα ποιῆσαι δύναμένῳ, to him who is able to do more than all things; and as though this were not enough, he adds, ὑπερ ἐκπερισσοῦ ὧν αἰτούμεθα ἤ νοοῦμεν, exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think. God is not only unlimited in himself, but is unrestricted by our prayers or knowledge. No definite bounds, therefore, can be set to what they may expect in whom Christ dwells, and who are the objects of his infinite love.
κατὰ τὴν δύναμιν τὴν ἐνεργουμένην ἐν ἡμῖν, according to the power that worketh in us. The infinite power of God from which so much may be expected, is the same of which we are now the subjects. It is that power which wrought in Christ when it raised him from the dead, and set him at the right hand of God, , and which has wrought an analogous change in the believer in raising him from the death of sin, and making him to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; and which still sustains and carries on the work of salvation in the soul. The past is a foretaste and pledge of the future. Those who have been raised from the dead, who have been transformed by the renewing of their minds, translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son, and in whom God himself dwells by his Spirit, having already experienced a change which nothing but omnipotence could effect, may well join in the doxology to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think.
The glory; ἡ δόξα is either the glory that is due, or the glory which God has. To give glory to God, is either to praise him, or to reveal his glory, i.e. cause it to be seen and acknowledged. Thus the doxology, To Him be glory — may mean either, ‘Let Him be praised;' or, ‘Let His glory be acknowledged.'
In the church by Christ Jesus.‹11› The original is, ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ καὶ ἐν χριστῷ ἰησοῦ, which Luther renders, in the church which is in Christ, i.e. the Christian church. This interpretation is adopted by several modern commentators. But in that case the article τῇ before ἐν χριστῷ ought not to be omitted. Besides, as the Christian church is the only church which could be thought of, the addition of the words in Christ would be unnecessary. The ordinary interpretation, therefore, is to be preferred. Glory is to be rendered to God in the church, and in and through Christ Jesus, as her head and representative. The church is the company of the redeemed here and in heaven; which constitutes one body through which God is to manifest his manifold wisdom, and which is through all ages to ascribe unto him glory, honor, and dominion.
The idea of eternity or of endless duration is variously expressed in Scripture. Sometimes eternity is conceived of as one, and the singular αἴων is used; sometimes as an endless succession of periods or ages, and then the plural αἰῶνες is used. Thus εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, to eternity, and εἰς τούς αἰῶνας, or εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰῶνων, to the ages indefinitely, i.e. endless ages, alike mean, forever. So, βασιλεὺς τοῦ αἰῶνος, king of eternity, and βασιλευς τῶν αἰῶνων, king of endless ages, both mean the king eternal. The peculiarity of the case before us is, that the apostle combines these two forms: εἰς πάσας τὰς γενεὰς τοῦ αἰῶνος τῶν αἰώνων, to all the generations of an eternity of ages. There is in keeping with the cumulative character of the whole context. Finding no ordinary forms of expression suited to his demands, the apostle heaps together terms of the largest import to give some vent to thoughts and aspirations which he felt to be unutterable. These things belong to the στεναγμοὶ ἀλαλήτοι of which he speaks in Romans 8:26.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Hodge, Charles. "Commentary on Ephesians 3". Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter