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God's Work in Carrying Out His Purpose
( Ephesians 2 )
In Ephesians 1 there are revealed to us the counsels of God for Christ and the church, closing with the prayer of the apostle that we may know the power to us-ward by which these counsels of love will be fulfilled.
In Ephesians 2 we are permitted to learn, firstly, how the power of God works in us (Vv. 1-10), and, secondly, God's ways with us (Vv. 11-22), for the formation of the assembly in time in order to fulfil His counsels for us.
(1) The work of God in the believer (Vv. 1-10)
(Vv. 1-3). The chapter opens by presenting a solemn picture of the condition and position into which man had fallen under the old creation. The first two verses present the condition of the Gentile world, while verse 3 brings the Jew into this solemn picture. “We” Jews, says the apostle, “were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”
Jew and Gentile are seen to be dead to God in trespasses and sins, but alive to the course of an evil world under the power of the devil - the prince of the power of the air. Thus man is disobedient to God, fulfilling the lusts of the flesh and the mind, and by nature under the judgment of God.
The Jew, though in a place of external privilege, proved by his lusts that he had a fallen nature and was on common ground with the Gentile. Both Jew and Gentile are dead to God. In the Epistle to the Romans we are viewed as under the sentence of death as the result of what we have done - our sins. Here we are viewed as already dead to God as the result of what we are - as having a fallen nature. This condition of death is not, however, a condition of irresponsibility, for the apostle describes man as “walking”, having “conversation” and fulfilling his lusts. It is to God that man is dead. To the influences of the world, the flesh and the devil, he is actively alive. Moreover, the devil has obtained mastery over man through his disobedience to God, and the fallen nature we have is the result of that disobedience - we are children of disobedience.
(V. 4). If all the world is dead to God, there is no possibility of man extricating himself from such a condition. A dead man can do nothing in regard to the one to whom he is dead. Any blessing for a dead man must wholly depend upon God. This prepares the way for the activities of the love of God. The truth presented is not so much our entering into these things experimentally, but rather the way God works, according to His own love to satisfy Himself.
In the first three verses we see man acting according to his fallen nature, bringing himself under judgment. In the verses that follow we have, in direct contrast, God presented as acting according to His nature, bringing man into blessing. When man acts according to his nature, he acts without reference to God from motives of lust in his own heart. When God acts according to His nature, He acts without reference to man, and from motives of love in His heart. God's love works in us when “dead in sins”, not when we began to awaken to a sense of our need, nor when we responded to that love.
Four qualities of God come before us - love, mercy, kindness and grace (verses 4 and 7). Love is the nature of God, the spring of all His actions, and the source of all our blessings. If God acts according to the love of His heart, the blessing that results can only be measured by His love. The question, then, is not what measure of blessing will meet our needs, but what is the height of blessing that will satisfy the love of God. Grace is love in activity towards unworthy objects, and goes out towards all. Mercy is shown to the individual sinner. Kindness is the bestowal of blessings upon the believer. God acts, then, “because of His great love”, not because of anything that we are. who can measure His “great love”, and who can measure the blessing that is according to that love?
(V. 5). This love is first expressed to us in the activities of grace that quicken us, as individuals, with Christ. If we are dead there can be no movement on our side towards God. The first movement must come from God. A new life has been imparted to us, but it is a life in association with Christ. It is a life which, in fact, is the life of Him with whom we are quickened. Thus our condition by grace is the exact opposite of our condition by nature. We were dead to God with the world by nature, we are now alive to God with Christ by grace.
(V. 6). But not only is our condition changed, our position is also changed. Quickening is the communication of life; resurrection brings the one who is quickened into the place of the living. This place is set forth in Christ. Jewish and Gentiles believers are raised up together and made to sit together in the heavenlies in Christ. Quickening is “with Him”, but risen and seated is “in Him”. Actually we are not yet raised and seated in the heavenlies. Nevertheless, we are before God in this new position in the Person of our representative. We are represented “in Christ”.
(V. 7). Having reached the height of the Christian position, we are now told the glorious purpose that God has in view in thus acting towards us in love. It is that “He might display in the coming ages the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” God, as it were, says, “In the coming ages I am going to show what is the fruit of Christ's work, and what is the purpose of My heart.” It is obvious that nothing but the highest condition and position in which a man can be found is adequate for such great ends. When angels and principalities “see a poor sinner, and the whole church, in the same glory as the Son of God, they will understand the exceeding riches of the grace that has set them there.”
(Vv. 8, 9). All is brought to pass by the grace of God, and every blessing we enjoy is the gift of God. The very faith by which salvation is received is the gift of God. The works of man have no place in securing this blessedness; all is of God, and hence there is no room for man to boast.
(V. 10). This leads to a further truth. Not only are our works shut out - for God has done all the work - but we also are His workmanship, and, as such, we form part of a new creation in Christ Jesus. If, however, the works of the law are excluded as a means of salvation, we are not to infer that works have no place in the Christian life. There are indeed works suited to the place of blessing into which we are brought, which God has before prepared that we should walk in them. These works will come before us in the later part of the Epistle, in which we are exhorted to walk worthy of the vocation, and to walk in love, to walk as children of light, and to walk carefully ( Eph_4:1 ; Eph_5:2 ; Eph_5:8 ; Eph_5:15 ).
The “good works”, of which this verse speaks, are more than doing a good work, which it would be possible for a natural man, whose walk is anything but good, to do. Here believers are viewed as not only doing good works, but as walking in them. Moreover, the good works are prepared of God and lead to a godly walk.
(2) The work of God with believers (Vv. 11-22)
The great theme of chapter 2 is the formation of the church in time in view of God's counsels for eternity. The early part of the chapter unfolds to us the work of God in us individually, whether Jew or Gentile; the latter part presents the work of God with Jewish and Gentile believers, in order to unite them together in “one body” and one house for the dwelling place of God.
(Vv. 11, 12). Before setting forth the present position of believers in Christ, the apostle contrasts the former position of Gentiles in the flesh with their new place. So far from the church being the aggregate of all believers from the beginning of the world, there existed in times past (the times before the cross) a God-appointed distinction between Jew and Gentile which, as long as it existed, made the existence of the church impossible.
The apostle reminds the Gentile believers that, at that time, there existed very sharp distinctions between Jew and Gentile. In the ways of God on earth the Jew enjoyed nationally a place of outward privilege to which the Gentiles were entire strangers. Israel formed an earthly commonwealth, with earthly promises and earthly hopes, and were in outward relationship with God. Their religious worship, their political organisation, their social relations, from the highest act of worship to the smallest detail of life, were regulated by the ordinances of God. This was an immense privilege in which the Gentiles, as such, had no part. It was not that the Jews were any better than the Gentiles, for, in the sight of God, the great mass of the Jews were as bad as the Gentiles, and some even worse. On the other hand, there were individual Gentiles, such as Job, who were truly converted men. In the ways of God on earth, however, He separated Israel from the Gentiles, and gave them a special place of privilege, for, even if unconverted, (as was the case with the mass), it was an immense privilege to have all their affairs regulated according to the perfect wisdom of God. The Gentiles had no such position in the world, not enjoying public recognition of God, nor having their affairs regulated by divine ordinances. Indeed, the very ordinances that regulated the life of the Jew sternly kept Jew and Gentile apart. The Jew, therefore, had a place of outward nearness to God, while the Gentile was outwardly afar off.
Israel, however, entirely failed to answer to their privileges, turning from Jehovah to idols. The commandments and ordinances of God, which gave them their unique position, they wholly disregarded. The prophets, through whom God sought to appeal to their conscience, they stoned. Their own Messiah, who came into their midst in lowly grace, they crucified; and they resisted the Holy Spirit who bore witness to a risen and glorified Christ. As a result, they have lost, for the time being, their special place of privilege on earth, and have been scattered among the nations.
(V. 13). The setting aside of Israel prepares the way for the great change in the ways of God on earth. The vivid glimpse into the past, given by the Spirit of God in verses 11 and 12, makes by contrast the position of believers in the present the more striking. Following upon the rejection of Israel, God, in the pursuit of His ways, has brought to light the church, and has thus established an entirely new circle of blessing wholly outside the Jewish and Gentile circles.
This new position of believers no longer views them as in the flesh, but in Christ. Therefore the apostle commences to speak of this new position with the words, “But now in Christ ... ”, and proceeds to draw a contrast with the former position in the flesh. In connection with the flesh, the Gentile was outwardly far off from God, and the Jew, though outwardly near, was morally as far off as the Gentile. Speaking to the Jews, the Lord has to say, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth ... but their heart is far from Me” ( Mat_15:8 ).
The apostle then proceeds to show how God has wrought to form the church. Firstly, believers are “made nigh by the blood of Christ”, the Gentiles being brought from the place of distance, in which sin had put them, into the place of nearness set forth in Christ. This is not a mere outward nearness by means of ordinances and ceremonies, but a vital nearness that is seen in Christ Himself, risen from the dead and appearing before the face of God for us. Thus it is said, “In Christ Jesus ye '85 are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” Our sins put us far off; the precious blood of Christ washes away our sins and makes us nigh. The blood of Christ declares the enormity of the sin which demanded such a price to take it away; it proclaims the holiness of God that could be satisfied with no less a price, and reveals the love that could pay the price. It is not only that the believer can draw nigh to God, but that in Christ he is “made nigh”.
(V. 14). Secondly, Jewish and Gentile believers are “made both one”. None can overestimate the importance of being made nigh by the blood; but, for the formation of the church, more is needed. The church is not simply a number of believers “made nigh”, for this will be true of every blood-bought saint from every age: it is formed of believers from among Jews and Gentiles “made both one”. This Christ has accomplished by His death. In a double sense “He is our peace.” He is our peace between God and the believer; and He is our peace between Jewish and Gentile believers.
(V. 15). In His death Christ removed “the law of commandments” which was the cause of distance between God and man, and between Jew and Gentile. The law, while promising life for those who kept it, condemned those who broke it. Seeing that all have broken the law, it inevitably brought condemnation to those under it, and thus put men at a distance from God. Moreover, it raised a sharp barrier - a middle wall - between Jew and Gentile. Until this barrier was removed there could be neither peace between God and men nor between Jew and Gentile. In the cross the condemnation of the broken law has been borne, and thus the enmity between men and God, and Jew and Gentile, has been removed. The peace that is the result is set forth in Christ; He is our peace. We look back to the cross and see that everything between God and our souls - sin, sins, the curse of a broken law and judgment - was there between God and Christ, our Substitute; we look up and see Christ in the glory with nothing between God and Christ but the everlasting peace He has made, and therefore nothing between God and the believer. Our peace is set forth in Christ, who is “our peace”.
Moreover, Christ represents both Jewish and Gentile believers; therefore He is our peace as between ourselves: we are made one. In the cross Christ has entirely abolished the law of ordinances as a means of approach to God, and made a new way of approach by His blood. The Jew who approaches God on the ground of the blood has done with Jewish ordinances. The Gentile is brought from his place of distance from God, the Jew away from his dispensational nearness, and both are made one in the enjoyment of a common blessing before God never before possessed by either. The Gentile believers are not raised to the level of Jewish privileges, nor are the Jews degraded to the Gentile level; both are brought on to entirely new ground on an immeasurably higher plane.
Thirdly, believers from Jews and Gentiles are made into “one new man”. We have already seen that they are “made both one”, but this does not express the full truth of the church. Had the apostle stopped here, we should indeed have seen that believers are made nigh by the blood, and made one as having all enmity removed, but we might have been left with the thought that we are made one company in happy unity. This indeed is blessedly true, but it is far short of the full truth as to the church. So the apostle proceeds further and tells us not only that we are “made nigh”, and “made both one”, but that we are made “one new man”. The expression “new man” tells of a new order of man, marked by the beauty and heavenly graces of Christ. No one Christian is adequate to set forth the graces of Christ; it requires the whole church to set forth the new man.
(V. 16). Fourthly, there is the further truth that believers are formed into “one body”. Believers, from Jews and Gentiles, are not only united to set forth the graces of the new man, Christ characteristically in all His moral excellencies, but they are also formed into one body. This is more than a company of people in unity: it is a company of people in union. They are united to one another by the Spirit in order that they may be a corporate body on earth to set forth the new man. Thus, not only have Jewish and Gentile believers been reconciled to each other, but, as formed into one body, they are reconciled to God. It would not suit the heart of God for the Gentile to be far off, nor for the Jew to be outwardly near; but God can rest with delight as having formed Jewish and Gentile believers into one body by the cross, which has not only removed all that caused enmity between Jewish and Gentile believers, but also enmity towards God.
(V. 17). All this blessed truth has been brought to us by the Gospel of peace preached to the Gentiles who were far off, and to the Jews who were dispensationally near. We can understand why the preaching is introduced at this point in a passage that speaks of the formation of the church. The apostle has just spoken of the cross, for without the cross there could be no preaching, and without the preaching there could be no church. Christ is looked at as the Preacher, though the Gospel He preaches is proclaimed instrumentally through others.
(V. 18). There is the further truth of great blessedness that by one Spirit we both (Jew and Gentile) have access to the Father. The distance is not only removed on God's side; it is also removed on our side. By the work of Christ on the cross God can draw near to us preaching peace; and by the work of the Spirit in us we can draw near to the Father. The cross gives us our title to draw nigh; the Spirit enables us to use our title and practically draw near to the Father. If access is by the Spirit, then, clearly, there is no room for the flesh. The Spirit excludes the flesh in every form. It is not by buildings, or ritual, or organs, or choirs, or through a special class of men, that we gain access to the Father. It is by the Spirit, and further it is by “one Spirit”, and therefore in the Father's presence all is of one accord.
We see, then, in this great passage, firstly, the two classes of which the church is composed, those who were once outwardly near and those who were once far off. Secondly, we see that God has made them one new man, and He has made them into one body. Thirdly, we learn the way in which God has accomplished this great work - by the blood of Christ, “by the cross”, by the preaching, and by the Spirit.
(Vv. 19-22). Thus far we have viewed the church as the body of Christ, but in the ways of God on earth the church is viewed in other aspects, two of which are brought before us in the closing verses of the chapter. Firstly, the church is viewed as growing unto “an holy temple in the Lord”; secondly, as “an habitation of God”.
In the first aspect the church is likened to a progressive building, growing unto an holy temple in the Lord. The apostles and prophets form the foundations, Christ Himself being the chief Cornerstone. Throughout the Christian dispensation, believers are being added stone by stone until the last believer is built in, and the completed building displayed in glory. This is the building of which the Lord says in Matthew 16 , “I will build My assembly, and hades' gates shall not prevail against it.” Christ is the Builder, not man, hence all is perfect, and none but living stones form part of this holy structure. Peter gives us the spiritual significance of this building when he tells us that the living stones are built up a spiritual house to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God, and to shew forth the excellencies of God ( 1Pe_2:5 ; 1Pe_2:9 ). In Revelation 21 John sees a vision of the completed building descending out of heaven from God, radiant with the glory of God. Then, indeed, from that glorious building unceasing sacrifices of praise will rise up to God, and a perfect testimony to the excellencies of God will go forth to man.
Then the apostle, still using the figure of a building, presents another aspect of the church (verse 22). After having viewed the saints as being built into a growing temple, he then views them as forming a house, already complete, for a habitation of God through the Spirit. All believers on earth, at any given moment, are looked at as forming the habitation of God. Jewish and Gentile believers are “builded together” to form this habitation. The dwelling place of God is marked by light and love. Therefore, when the apostle comes to the practical part of the Epistle, he exhorts us to “walk in love” and to “walk as children of light” ( Eph_5:2 ; Eph_5:8 ). The house of God is thus a place of blessing and testimony, a place where saints are blessed with the favour and love of God, and, as so blessed, they become a testimony to the world around. In Ephesians the habitation of God is presented according to the mind of God, and therefore only what is real is contemplated. Other Scriptures will show, alas, how, in the hands of men, the habitation has been corrupted, until at last we read that “judgment must begin at the house of God” ( 1Pe_4:17 ).
We have, therefore, in the chapter a threefold presentation of the church:
Firstly, the church is viewed as the body of Christ, composed of Jewish and Gentile believers united to Christ in glory, thus forming one new man for the display of all that Christ is as the risen Man, the Head over all things. Let us remember that the church is not only “one body”, but it is “His body”, even as we read, “the church, which is His body”. As His body, the church is His fulness, filled with all that He is in order to express all that He is. The church, His body, is to be the expression of His mind, just as our bodies give expression to what is in our minds.
Secondly, the church is presented as growing unto a temple composed of all the saints of the whole Christian period, wherein sacrifices of praise ascend to God, and the excellencies of God are displayed to men.
Thirdly, the church is viewed as a complete building on earth, composed of all saints at any given moment, forming the habitation of God for blessing to His people and testimony to the world.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Ephesians 2". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent