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God's Purpose in Christ
( Ephesians 1 )
In the first chapter of the Epistle there is unfolded to us the revelation of the purpose of God for Christ and His church. In the chapters that follow we shall learn the gracious ways of God in the formation of the church; but there is first disclosed to us the purpose of God in view of eternity, in order that we may intelligently enter into His ways while in time.
After the introductory verses there is first presented to us the calling of God that discloses God's purpose for those who compose the church of God (verses 3 to 7). Secondly, we have the revelation of the will of God for the glory of Christ as the Head of the whole creation, and the blessing of the church in association with Christ (verses 8 to 14). Thirdly, we have the prayer of the apostle that we may realise the greatness of the calling of God, the blessedness of the inheritance, and the mighty power that is fulfilling the purpose of God and bringing believers into the inheritance.
(1) The purpose of God for believers (Vv. 1-7)
(Vv. 1, 2). The apostle is about to unfold the great secrets of the will and purpose of God, and he is therefore careful to remind the saints that he is “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” He is not sent by man, as the servant of man, to unfold the will of man. He is divinely equipped, and sent by Jesus Christ, according to the will of God in order to unfold His will.
Moreover, he addresses the Ephesian believers as “the saints ... and faithful in Christ Jesus”, implying that in the assembly at Ephesus there was a spiritual condition, characterised by faithfulness to the Lord, which prepared them to receive these profound communications. It is possible for a company of saints to be marked by much zeal and activity, and yet to be lacking in faithfulness to the Lord. Indeed, this was the condition into which this very same assembly fell in after years, so that the Lord has to say to them, in spite of all their zeal and toil, “I have against thee, that thou hast left thy first love '85 thou art fallen.” At the time the apostle wrote they were still, as a company, marked by faithfulness to the Lord. Moreover, beside a right condition of soul, if we are to profit by the Epistle, we shall need “grace” and “peace” from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, which the apostle desired for these saints.
(V. 3). After the introductory verses the apostle at once unfolds the blessing of believers according to the purpose of God, and therefore their highest blessings. In this great passage we learn the source of all our blessings, their character, the beginning of our blessings, and the end God has in view in so richly blessing us, and above all that the purposes of God are accomplished through Christ.
The source of all our blessing is found in the heart of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has been perfectly revealed in Christ. In His pathway through this world as Man, He manifested the infinite holiness and power of God and the perfect grace and love of the Father. It is to the heart of God the Father thus revealed that we are privileged to trace all our blessings.
Then we are instructed as to the character of our blessings. The Father has “blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ.” The little word “all” tells us of the fulness of our blessings. Not a single blessing that Christ, as a Man, enjoyed has been kept back. We are blessed with “all” spiritual blessings. However much the profession of Christianity may confer outward benefits upon men, it ever remains true that Christian blessings are spiritual and not material, as with the nation of Israel. Our blessings are none the less real because they have a spiritual character. Sonship, acceptance, forgiveness - some of the blessings brought before us in this Scripture - are spiritual blessings beyond the reach of this world's wealth, but secured through Christ to the simplest believer in Him.
Further, the proper sphere of our blessings is not earth but heaven. We are blessed “in heavenly places”. On earth we may have little; in heaven we are richly blessed. All these spiritual and heavenly blessings are in connection with Christ, not in any wise because of our connection with Adam. They are “in Christ”. The blessings of the Jew were temporal, on earth, and in the line of Abraham: Christian blessings are spiritual, heavenly, and in Christ. Unlike earthly blessings they do not depend upon health, or riches, or position, or education, or nationality. They are outside the whole range of things earthly, and will remain in all their fulness when the life in time is finished and our path on earth is closed.
(V. 4). Then we learn not only the source and character of our blessings as coming from the heart of our God and Father, but we find that they had their beginning “before the foundation of the world”. Then it was in the far distant eternity, that we were chosen in Christ. This involves a sovereign choice entirely independent of all that we are in connection with Adam and his world, and which nothing that transpires in time can alter.
Moreover, we are permitted to see not only the beginning of our blessings before the foundation of the world, but also the great end that God has in view when the world shall have passed away. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world that in the ages to come we may be “before Him” for the satisfaction of His heart - “that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” If it is God's purpose to have a people before Him for all eternity, they must be in a condition that is absolutely suited to Him; and to be suited to Him they must be like Him. Only that which is like God can suit God. Hence God will have us “holy and without blame” and “in love”. This is really what God is, and what was perfectly expressed in Christ as Man. He was holy in character, irreproachable in conduct, and in nature love. God, too, will have us before Him in a character that is perfectly holy, in conduct to which no blame can be attached, and with a nature that is love and can respond to love - the love of God. God is love, and love cannot be content without a response in the objects of love. God will surround Himself with those who, like Christ as Man, perfectly respond to His love, so that He can delight in us and we can delight in Him.
As faith receives these great truths, and looks on to the glorious end, it delights in all that has been revealed of the heart of God and of the efficacy of the work of Christ. Such is the Father's love, and such the virtue of Christ's work, that for all eternity we shall be before the Father's face holy and blameless, and therefore in the full unhindered enjoyment of divine love.
As we are thus permitted to look into eternity and see the vast vista of blessing that lies before us, this passing world, which so often appears to us so great and important, becomes very insignificant, while Christianity, seen in its true character according to God, becomes exceedingly great and blessed.
(V. 5). There are, moreover, special blessings to which believers are predestinated. Predestination always seems to have in view these special blessings. According to sovereign choice believers, in common with angels, will be before God holy and without blame. But, in addition to these blessings, believers have been predestinated to the special place of sonship. We are set in the same place of relationship with the Father as Christ is as Man, so that He can say, “My Father, and your Father”. Angels are servants before Him; we are sons “to Himself”.
This special place of relationship is “according to the good pleasure of His will”. Thus the blessing of verse 5 surpasses the blessing of verse 4. There it was sovereign choice that by grace makes us suited to Himself: here it is God's good pleasure that predestinates believers to the relationship of sons.
(V. 6). The way God has acted in predestinating us to this great place of blessing will resound “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” The riches of God's grace set us before Himself in suitability to Himself; the glory of His grace brings us into relationship with Himself, having taken us into favour in the Beloved. If we are accepted in the Beloved, we are accepted as the Beloved, with all the delight with which He has been received into glory.
(V. 7). The preceding verses have presented the purpose of God for believers; in this verse we are reminded of the way God has taken in order that we may partake of these blessings. We have been redeemed through Christ's blood, and our sins forgiven according to the riches of His grace. The riches of His grace meets all our need as sinners; the glory of His grace meets the good pleasure of God to bless us as saints. A rich man could bless a beggar out of the abundance of his riches, and this would be great grace, but if the rich man went further, and brought the poor man into his house and gave him the place of a son, it would not only be grace to the poor man, but to the honour and glory of the rich man. The riches of grace met the prodigal's need and clothed him with a robe from the father's house: the glory of grace gave him the place of a son in the house. The glory of God's grace has made believers sons, not servants.
(2) The revelation of the will of God for the glory of Christ and the blessing of the church (Vv. 8-14)
(Vv. 8, 9). Not only has God purposed us for blessing into which we shall be brought hereafter, and not only do we already possess the redemption of our souls and the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace, but this same grace has abounded towards us in order that we may have at the present time the knowledge of His purpose. God has made known to us the mystery of His will so that we may know the good pleasure that He has purposed in Himself.
It is God's will that the church, while here below, should be the depository of His counsels. God would have us to be wise and intelligent as to all that He is doing, and will yet do, for His good pleasure, for the glory of Christ, and for the blessing of the church. Having the mind of God would keep us calm in the presence of the world's unrest, and lift us above the sorrow and sin, as those who know the outcome of it all.
In Scripture a “mystery” is not necessarily that which is mysterious, but rather a secret that is made known to believers before it is publicly declared to the world. In the world we see man doing his own will according to his own pleasure, and hence all the sorrow and confusion. But it is the privilege of the believer to know the secrets of God, and therefore know that God is going to work all things according to His good pleasure, and that in the end His purposes will prevail.
(Vv. 10-12). The verses that follow unfold to us this mystery of God. We learn that there are two parts to this mystery. Firstly, there is God's purpose for Christ; secondly, there is that which God has purposed for the church in association with Christ.
It is God's pleasure, in the dispensation of the fulness of times, to gather together in one all things in Christ. The “fulness of times” would hardly refer to the eternal state, for then God will be all in all. It would seem to have in view the world to come - the Millennial day - when the full result of the ways of God in government will be seen in perfection. All the principles of government that have been committed to men at different times, and in which men have so completely failed, will be seen in perfection under the administration of Christ. The ruin of the times has been seen under the government of man; the “fulness”, or perfection, of the times, will be seen when Christ reigns. Then every created thing or being, in heaven and earth, will move under His control and at His direction. As a result, unity, harmony and peace will prevail. Such is the secret, or mystery, of the will of God for the glory of Christ.
Further, we are permitted to see that it is God's good pleasure that the church, in association with Christ, shall have part in this vast inheritance over which Christ will be the Head. In the eleventh verse the apostle says, “we have obtained an inheritance”, referring doubtless to believers from among the Jews. The Jewish nation had lost their earthly inheritance through rejecting Christ and pursuing their own will. The remnant of the Jews, who believed in Christ, obtained a more glorious inheritance in the world to come, according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will. Associated with Christ in His reign, believers will display His glory. In that day He will be “glorified” and “admired” in all that believe ( 2Th_1:10 ). The world and the whole creation will be blessed under Him.: the church will have her portion with Him. These believers from amongst the Jews had “pre-trusted” in Christ. They had trusted in Christ in the day of His rejection: the restored nation will trust Him in the day of His glory.
(V. 13). The “ye” of verse 13 brings in the Gentile believers to have part in the blessing of this glorious inheritance. They had believed the Gospel of their salvation, and had been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.
(V. 14). The “our” of verse 14 links believers together, from Jews and Gentiles. Such share in common this glorious inheritance. By the Spirit we enjoy a foretaste of the blessedness of the inheritance. This inheritance is a purchased possession - the price, the precious blood of Christ. All creation is His, for He is the Creator; and all is His by the right of purchase. Though all has been purchased, all has not yet been redeemed. He has purchased the inheritance by blood; He will redeem the inheritance by power. When He shall have delivered the whole creation from the enemy by His power, it will be to the praise of God's glory.
(3) The prayer that believers may know the hope of the calling and the glory of the inheritance (Vv. 15-23)
(V. 15). The prayer is introduced by setting before us the spiritual condition of the Ephesian saints - a condition which encouraged the apostle to give thanks, and pray without ceasing, on their behalf. Very blessedly, they were marked by “faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints.” Christ being the object of their faith, the saints became the object of their love. There can be no greater proof of living faith in Christ than practical love to the saints. Faith puts the soul in touch with Christ, and, being in touch with Him, the heart goes out to all whom He loves. The nearer we get to Christ, the more our affections go out to those that are His.
(V. 16). Hearing of their faith and love, the apostle is constrained to give thanks and pray without ceasing for these saints. If only occupied with the defects and failures of one another, we shall be overwhelmed and constantly complaining about the saints. If we look for, and are occupied with, what the grace of God has wrought in the saints, we shall have cause for thanksgiving, while, at the same time, we shall not be indifferent to what may need correction. The apostle never overlooked what was of Christ in the saints, though never indifferent to what was of the flesh. Even as to the Corinthians saints, in whom there was so much that called for correction, he can give thanks for what he saw of God in them. We, in our weakness, are apt to fall into one extreme or the other. In our anxiety to show love we may treat very lightly what is wrong; or, in our opposition to what is wrong, we may overlook what is of God.
The apostle had been unfolding the counsels of God to these saints, and the fact that he is constrained to pray is, in itself, a witness to the immensity of these counsels. They are beyond the power of mere human words to express, and beyond the power of the human mind to apprehend. The apostle realises that if these great truths are to affect us, the mere assertion of them is not sufficient. In writing to Timothy he says, “Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding.” So in this Epistle, Paul, led by the Spirit, can unfold to us the counsels of God, but he realises that only God can give understanding. Hence he turns to Him in prayer.
(V. 17). The apostle addresses “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ”, for, in this prayer, the Lord Jesus is viewed as Man. The prayer of Ephesians 3 is addressed to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for there the Lord is viewed as the Son. A further reason for the use of different Names in the two prayers may be that the apostle desires, in the first prayer, that we may know the power which carries out the counsels of God, for the Name of God is rightly connected with power; and the second prayer, being concerned with love, is very appropriately addressed to the Father.
In this prayer God is also addressed as “the Father of glory”, presenting the thought that the scene of glory to which we are going takes its character from the Father from whom it springs. His love and holiness will pervade that world of glory in which God will be perfectly displayed. While the Father is the spring and source of glory, the Lord Jesus, as Man, is the centre and object of glory. In Him all the power of God is displayed, His Name is above every name, and He is Head over all things to the church.
To enter into the truths which form the subject of the apostle's prayer, we need the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of Christ. All the wisdom of God and all the revelation of God's will are made known in Christ. Hence we need the full knowledge of Christ to enter into the wisdom of God, the revelation that God has made known of Himself, and of His counsels.
(v. 18). Further, the knowledge of Christ for which the apostle prays, is no mere intellectual knowledge, but a heart acquaintance with a Person, for he says (as the text should read), “being enlightened in the eyes of your heart”. Again and again we see in Scripture, and learn by experience, that God teaches through the affections. It was so in the case of the poor, sinful woman of Luke 7 , who “loved much” and quickly learned. It was so in the case of a devoted saint, Mary Magdalene, in John 20 . Her affection for Christ was apparently more in activity on the resurrection day than that of Peter and John, and to this loving heart the Lord revealed Himself, and gave the wonderful revelation of the new position of His brethren in relationship with the Father.
With these introductory desires, the apostle makes the three great requests of the prayer:
Firstly, that we may know the hope of God's calling.
Secondly, that we may know the riches of the glory of God's inheritance in the saints.
Thirdly, that we may know the power that will bring to pass the purpose of the calling and bring the saints into the inheritance.
The calling is above in relation to divine Persons in heaven: the inheritance is below in relation to created things on earth. As we learn from Php_3:14 , the calling is on high, of God, and in Christ. The source of the call is God; therefore it is referred to here as “His calling”. It is unfolded to us in verses 3 to 6 of this chapter. According to the divine call, we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, we are chosen in Christ by the Father to be before God, suited to Him, “holy and without blame before Him in love”, for the joy and satisfaction of His heart. Moreover, the calling tells us that we shall be before God, not as servants - like the angels - but as sons before His face. Further, the calling tells us that we shall be in God's everlasting favour, accepted in the Beloved. Lastly, we learn in the calling that we are going to be for the eternal praise of the glory of God's grace.
To sum up the calling as presented in these wonderful verses, it means that we are chosen and called on high to heavenly blessing, to be like Christ and with Christ before the Father, in relationship with the Father, in the everlasting favour of the Father, and for the eternal praise of the glory of His grace.
This is the calling about which the apostle prays, and as to which we may well pray that we may enter into its blessedness, and know what is “the hope of His calling”. Here the hope has no reference to the coming of the Lord. As the saints are viewed in this Epistle as seated in the heavenlies, there is no allusion to the coming of the Lord. The “hope” is, as one has said, “the full revelation in the eternal glory of all that God has called us into in Christ, as the fruit of His counsels of a past eternity.”
Secondly, the apostle prays that we may know “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” It has been said, “In His calling we look above; the inheritance, as it were, stretches out beneath our feet.” The inheritance is presented in verses 10 and 11 of this chapter. There we learn that the inheritance embraces every created thing in heaven and earth over which Christ will be the glorious Head. In Him the church will obtain an inheritance, for we shall reign with Him. In the prayer the inheritance is referred to as “His inheritance in the saints”. A kingdom does not consist merely of a king and territory, but of a king and his subjects. Moreover, “the riches of the glory of His inheritance” will be set forth in the saints. In that day He will be “glorified in His saints”, and “admired in all them that believe” ( 2Th_1:10 ).
(V. 19). Thirdly, the apostle prays that we may know the power that is toward us by which these great things will be brought to pass. This power is spoken of as a “mighty power”, and as “working”, and therefore active towards us at the present time. It is an “exceeding” or “surpassing” power (N.T.). There are other and great powers in the universe, but the power that is “working” towards us surpasses every other power, whether it be the power of the flesh in us, or the power of the devil against us. What a comfort to know that in all our weakness there is a surpassing power toward us and working for us.
(Vv. 20, 21). Moreover, it is a power that has not only been revealed to us in a statement, but has been put forth in the resurrection of Christ. The world and Satan were permitted to put forth their greatest display of power - the power of death - when they nailed Christ to the cross. Then, when the devil and the world had expressed their power to the utmost degree, God set forth His surpassing power by raising Christ from the dead, and setting Him as Man in the highest place in the universe, even at His own right hand. In this exalted position, Christ has been set above every other power, whether spiritual principalities and powers, or temporal might and dominion. There are names named for the government of this world, and the world to come, but Christ has a Name above every name - He is King of kings, and Lord of lords.
(V. 22). Furthermore, Christ is not only over every power, but all evil will be put under His feet. Such is the mighty expression of the power that will not only bring us to share with Christ this exalted place of glory, but which is toward us on our way to glory.
Then we learn another great truth: the One in whom all power has been set forth, who is set in a position above every power, who has power to put down all evil, is the One who is Head over all things to the church.
In relation to all the powers of the universe He is set “far above” every power. In reference to evil, all is subdued under His feet. In relation to the church, His body, He is Head, and Head to direct in all things. Thus it is the privilege of the church to look to Christ for guidance and direction in relation to all things. In the presence of every opposing power, and all evil, we have a resource in Christ our Head. He may indeed use gifts, and leaders, to instruct and guide, but it is to the Head we should look and not simply to the poor weak vessels that in His grace He may see fit to use.
(V. 23). In verse 22 we learn what Christ is to the church - what the Head is to the body. In verse 23 we learn what the church is to Christ - what the body is to the Head. The church is the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. The church, as His body, is for the display of all the fulness of the Head. Christ is to be set forth in the church. Nothing could be more wonderful than the place the church has in relation to Christ. One has said, it is His body “filled with His love, energised with His mind, working out His thoughts, as our bodies work out our thoughts and the purposes of our minds.” Alas! having failed to give Christ His place as Head over all things to the church, we have, as a necessary result, failed to set forth the fulness of Christ.
In all this great prayer the apostle is looking for a present effect upon the lives of the saints. The calling and the inheritance are secured to us, so the apostle does not pray that we may have the hope and the inheritance, but that we may know what they are. Thus the knowledge of what is coming is to have a present effect upon our lives and ways, delivering us, in the power of resurrection life, from the flesh and every opposing power, and separating us in spirit from this present world.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Ephesians 1". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent