1:1-14 This is a letter from Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, through the will of God, to God's consecrated people who live in Ephesus and who are faithful in Jesus Christ. Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings which are only to be found in heaven, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we might be holy and blameless before him. He determined in his love before time began to adopt us to himself through Jesus Christ, in the good purpose of his will, so that all might praise the glory of the generous gift which he freely gave us in the Beloved. For it is in him that we have a deliverance which cost his life; in him we have received the forgiveness of sins, which only the wealth of his grace could give, a grace which he gave us in abundant supply, and which conferred on us all wisdom and all sound sense. This happened because he made known to us the once hidden, but now revealed, secret of his will, for so it was his good pleasure to do. This secret was a purpose which he formed in his own mind before time began, so that the periods of time should be controlled and administered until they reached their full development, a development in which all things, in heaven and upon earth, are gathered into one in Jesus Christ. It was in Christ, in whom our portion in this scheme was also assigned to us, that it was determined, by the decision of him who controls everything according to the purpose of his will, that we, who were the first to set our hopes upon the coming of the Anointed One of God, should become the means whereby his glory should be praised. And it was in Christ that it was determined that you, too, should become the means whereby God's glory is praised, after you had heard the word which brings the truth, the good news of your salvation that good news, in which, after you had come to believe, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit, who had been promised to you, the Spirit who is the foretaste and guarantee of all that one day we will inherit, until we enter into that complete redemption which brings complete possession.
Greetings To God's People ( Ephesians 1:1-2 )
1:1-2 This is a letter from Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, through the will of God, to God's consecrated people who live in Ephesus and who are faithful in Jesus Christ. Grace be to you, and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul begins his letter with the only two claim's to fame which he possessed. (i) He is an apostle of Christ. When Paul said that there were three things in his mind. (a) He meant that he belonged to Christ. His life was not his own to do with as he liked; he was the possession of Jesus Christ, and he must always live as Jesus Christ wanted him to live. (b) He meant that he was sent out by Jesus Christ. The word apostolos ( Greek #652 ) comes from the verb apostellein ( Greek #649 ), which means to send out. It can be used, for instance, of a naval squadron sent out on an expedition; it can be used of an ambassador sent out by his native country. It describes a man who is sent out with some special task to do. The Christian all through life sees himself as a member of the task force of Christ. He is a man with a mission, the mission of serving Christ within this world. (c) He meant that any power he possessed as a delegated power. The Sanhedrin was the supreme court of the Jews. In matters of religion the Sanhedrin had authority over every Jew throughout the world. When the Sanhedrin came to a decision, that decision was given to an apostolos ( Greek #652 ) to convey it to the persons whom it concerned and to see that it was carried out. When such an apostolos ( Greek #652 ) went out, behind him and in him lay the authority of the Sanhedrin, whose representative he was. The Christian is the representative of Christ within the world, but he is not left to carry out that task in his own strength and power; the strength and power of Jesus Christ are with him.
(ii) Paul goes on to say that he is an apostle through the will of God. The accent in his voice here is not that of pride but of sheer amazement. To the end of the day Paul was amazed that God could have chosen a man like him to do his work.
"How Thou canst think so well of us,
And be the God Thou art,
Is darkness to my intellect,
But sunshine to my heart."
A Christian must never be filled with pride in any task that God gives him to do; he must be filled with wonder that God thought him worthy of a share in his work.
Paul goes on to address his letter to the people who live in Ephesus and who are faithful in Jesus Christ. The Christian is a man who always lives a double life. Paul's friends were people who lived in Ephesus and in Christ. Every Christian has a human address and a divine address; and that is precisely the secret of the Christian life. Alister MacLean tells of a lady in the West Highlands who lived a hard life, yet one of perpetual serenity. When asked the secret of it, she answered: "My secret is to sail the seas, and always to keep my heart in port." Wherever the Christian is, he is still in Christ.
Paul begins with his usual greeting. "Grace to you," he says, "and peace." Here are the two great words of the Christian faith.
Grace has always two main ideas in it. The Greek word is charis ( Greek #5485 ) which could mean charm. There must be a certain loveliness in the Christian life. A Christianity which is unattractive is no real Christianity. Grace always describes a gift; and a gift which it would have been impossible for a man to procure for himself, and which he never earned and in no way deserved. Whenever we mention the word grace, we must think of the sheer loveliness of the Christian life and the sheer undeserved generosity of the heart of God.
When we think of the word peace In connection with the Christian life we must be careful. In Greek the word is eirene ( Greek #1515 ), but it translates the Hebrew word shalowm ( Hebrew #7965 ). In the Bible peace is never a purely negative word; it never describes simply the absence of trouble. Shalowm ( Hebrew #7965 ) means everything which makes for a man's highest good. Christian peace is something quite independent of outward circumstances. A man might live in ease and luxury and on the fat of the land, he might have the finest of houses and the biggest of bank accounts, and yet not have peace; on the other hand, a man might be starving in prison, or dying at the stake, or living a life from which all comfort had fled, and be at perfect peace. The explanation is that there is only one source of peace in all the world, and that is doing the will of God. When we are doing something which we know we ought not to do or are evading something that we know we ought to do, there is always a haunting dispeace at the back of our minds; but if we are doing something very difficult, even something we do not want to do, so long as we know that it is the right thing there is a certain contentment in our hearts. "In his will is our peace."
The Chosen Of God ( Ephesians 1:3-4 )
1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings which are only to be found in heaven, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we might be holy and blameless before him.
In the Greek the long passage from Ephesians 1:3-14 is one sentence. It is so long and complicated because it represents not so much a reasoned statement as a lyrical song of praise. Paul's mind goes on and on, not because he is thinking in logical stages, but because gift after gift and wonder after wonder from God pass before his eyes. To understand it we must break it up and take it in short sections.
In this section Paul is thinking of the Christians as the chosen people of God, and his mind runs along three lines.
(i) He thinks of the fact of God's choice. Paul never thought of himself as having chosen to do God's work. He always thought of God as having chosen him. Jesus said to his disciples: "You did not choose me, but I chose you" ( John 15:16 ). Here precisely lies the wonder. It would not be so wonderful that man should choose God; the wonder is that God should choose man.
(ii) Paul thinks of the bounty of God's choice. God chose us to bless us with the blessings which are to be found only in heaven. There are certain things which a man can discover for himself; but there are others which are beyond his obtaining. A man by himself can acquire a certain skill, can achieve a certain position, can amass a certain amount of this world's goods; but by himself he can never attain to goodness or to peace of mind. God chose us to give us those things which he alone can give.
(iii) Paul thinks of the purpose of God's choice. God chose us that we should be holy and blameless. Here are two great words. Holy is the Greek word hagios ( Greek #40 ), which always has in it the idea of difference and of separation. A temple is holy because it is different from other buildings; a priest is holy because he is different from ordinary men; a victim is holy because it is different from other animals; God is supremely holy because he is different from men; the Sabbath is holy because it is different from other days. So, then, God chose the Christian that he should be different from other men.
Here is the challenge that the modern Church has been very slow to face. In the early Church the Christian never had any doubt that he must be different from the world; he, in fact, knew that he must be so different that the probability was that the world would kill him and the certainty was that the world would hate him. But the tendency in the modern Church has been to play down the difference between the Church and the world. We have, in effect, often said to people: "So long as you live a decent, respectable life, it is quite all right to become a Church member and to call yourself a Christian. You don't need to be so very different from other people." In fact a Christian should be identifiable in the world.
It must always be remembered that this difference on which Christ insists is not one which takes a man out of the world; it makes him different within the world. It should be possible to identify the Christian in the school, the shop, the factory, the office, the hospital ward, everywhere. And the difference is that the Christian behaves not as any human laws compel him to do but as the law of Christ compels him to do. A Christian teacher is out to satisfy the regulations not of an education authority or a headmaster but of Christ; and that will almost certainly mean a very different attitude to the pupils under his charge. A Christian workman is out to satisfy the regulations not of a Trades Union but of Jesus Christ; and that will certainly make him a very different kind of workman, which may well end in him being so different that he is expelled from his union. A Christian doctor will never regard a sick person as a case, but always as a person. A Christian employer will be concerned with far more than the payment of minimum wages or the creation of minimum working conditions. It is the simple fact of the matter that if enough Christians became hagios ( Greek #40 ), different, they would revolutionize society.
Blameless is the Greek word amomos ( Greek #299 ). Its interest lies in the fact that it is a sacrificial word. Under Jewish law before an animal could be offered as a sacrifice it must be inspected, and if any blemish was found it must be rejected as unfit for an offering to God. Only the best was fit to offer to God. Amomos ( Greek #299 ) thinks of the whole man as an offering to God. It thinks of taking every part of our life, work, pleasure, sport, home life, personal relationships, and making them all such that they can be offered to God. This word does not mean that the Christian must be respectable; it means that he must be perfect. To say that the Christian must be amomos ( Greek #299 ) is to banish contentment with second bests; it means that the Christian standard is nothing less than perfection.
The Plan Of God ( Ephesians 1:5-6 )
1:5-6 He determined in his love before time began to adopt us to himself through Jesus Christ, in the good purpose of his will, so that all might praise the glory of the generous gift which he freely gave us in the Beloved.
In this passage Paul speaks to us of the plan of God. One of the pictures that he more than once uses of what God does for men is that of adoption (compare Romans 8:23 ; Galatians 4:5 ). God adopted us as sons into his family.
In the ancient world, where Roman law prevailed, this would be an even more meaningful picture than it is to us. For there the family was based on what was called the patria potestas, the father's power. A father had absolute power over his children so long as he and they lived. He could sell his child as a slave or even kill him. Dion Cassius tells us that "the law of the Romans gives a father absolute authority over his son, and that for the son's whole life. It gives him authority, if he so chooses, to imprison him, to scourge him, to make him work on his estate as a slave in fetters, even to kill him. That right still continues to exist even if the son is old enough to play an active part in political affairs, even if he has been judged worthy to occupy the magistrate's office, and even if he is held in honour by all men." It is quite true that, when a father was judging his son, he was supposed to call the adult male members of the family into consultation, but it was not necessary that he should do so.
There are actual instances of a father condemning his son to death. Sallust (The Catiline Conspiracy, 39) tells how Aulus Fulvius joined the rebel Catiline. He was arrested on the journey and brought back. And his father ordered that he should be put to death. The father did this on his own private authority, giving as his reason that "he had begotten him, not for Catiline against his country, but for his country against Catiline."
Under Roman law a child could not possess anything; and any inheritance willed to him, or any gift given to him, became the property of his father. It did not matter how old the son was, or to what honours and responsibility he had risen, he was absolutely in his father's power.
In circumstances like that it is obvious that adoption was a very serious step. It was, however, not uncommon, for children were often adopted to ensure that some family should not become extinct. The ritual of adoption must have been very impressive. It was carried out by a symbolic sale in which copper and scales were used. Twice the real father sold his son, and twice he symbolically bought him back; finally he sold him a third time, and at the third sale he did not buy him back. After this the adopting father had to go to the praetor, one of the principal Roman magistrates, and plead the case for the adoption. Only after all this had been gone through was the adoption complete.
When the adoption was complete it was complete indeed. The person who had been adopted had all the rights of a legitimate son in his new family and completely lost all rights in his old family. In the eyes of the law he was a new person. So new was he that even all debts and obligations connected with his previous family were abolished as if they had never existed.
That is what Paul says that God has done for us. We were absolutely in the power of sin and of the world; God, through Jesus, took us out of that power into his; and that adoption wipes out the past and makes us new.
The Gifts Of God ( Ephesians 1:7-8 )
1:7-8 For it is in him that we have a deliverance which cost his life; in him we have received the forgiveness of sins, which only the wealth of his grace could give, a grace which he gave us in abundant supply, and which conferred on us all wisdom and all sound sense.
In this short section we come face to face with three of the great conceptions of the Christian faith.
(i) There is deliverance. The word used is apolutrosis ( Greek #629 ). It comes from the verb lutroun ( Greek #3083 ), which means to ransom. It is the word used for ransoming a man who is a prisoner of war or a slave; for freeing a man from the penalty of death; for God's deliverance of the children of Israel from their slavery in Egypt; for God's continual rescuing of his people in the time of their trouble. In every case the conception is the delivering of a man from a situation from which he was powerless to liberate himself or from a penalty which he himself could never have paid.
So, then, first of all Paul says that God delivered men from a situation from which they could never have delivered themselves. That is precisely what Christianity did do for men. When Christianity came into this world men were haunted by the sense of their own powerlessness. They knew the wrongness of the life which they were living; and also that they were powerless to do anything about it.
Seneca is full of this kind of feeling of helpless frustration. Men, he said, were overwhelmingly conscious of their inefficiency in necessary things. He said of himself that he was a homo non tolerabilis, a man not to be tolerated. Men, he said with a kind of despair, love their vices and hate them at the same time. What men need, he cried, is a hand let down to lift them up. The highest thinkers in the pagan world knew that they were in the grip of something from which they were helpless to deliver themselves. They needed liberation.
It was just that liberation which Jesus Christ brought. It is still true that he can liberate men from helpless slavery to the things which attract and disgust them at one and the same time. To put it at its simplest, Jesus can still make bad men good.
(ii) There is forgiveness. The ancient world was haunted by the sense of sin. It might well be said that the whole Old Testament is an expansion of the saying, "The soul that sins shall die" ( Ezekiel 18:4 ). Men were conscious of their own guilt and stood in terror of their god or gods. It is sometimes said that the Greeks had no sense of sin. Nothing could be further from the truth. "Men," said Hesiod, "delight their souls in cherishing that which is their bane." All the plays of Aeschylus are founded on one text--"The doer shall suffer." Once a man had done an evil thing Nemesis was on his heels; and punishment followed sin as certainly as night followed day. As Shakespeare had it in Richard the Third,
"My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain."
If there was one thing which men knew it was the sense of sin and the dread of God. Jesus changed all that. He taught men, not of the hate, but of the love of God. Because Jesus came into the world, men, even in their sin, discovered God's love.
(iii) There is wisdom and sound sense. The two words in Greek are sophia ( Greek #4678 ) and phronesis ( Greek #5428 ), and Christ brought both of them to us. This is very interesting. The Greeks wrote much about these two words; if a man had both, he was perfectly equipped for life.
Aristotle defined sophia ( Greek #4678 ) as knowledge of the most precious things. Cicero defined it as knowledge of things both human and divine. Sophia ( Greek #4678 ) was a thing of the searching intellect. Sophia ( Greek #4678 ) was the answer to the eternal problems of life and death, and God and man, and time and eternity.
Aristotle defined phronesis ( Greek #5428 ) as the knowledge of human affairs and of the things in which planning is necessary. Plutarch defined it as practical knowledge of the things which concern us. Cicero defined it as knowledge of the things which are to be sought and the things which are to be avoided. Plato defined it as the disposition of mind which enables us to judge what things are to be done and what things are not to be done. In other words, phronesis ( Greek #5428 ) is the sound sense which enables men to meet and to solve the practical problems of everyday life and living.
It is Paul's claim that Jesus brought us sophia ( Greek #4678 ), the intellectual knowledge which satisfies the mind, and phronesis ( Greek #5428 ), the practical knowledge which enables us to handle the day to day problems of practical life and living. There is a certain completeness in the Christian character. There is a type of person who is at home in the study, who moves familiarly amidst the theological and philosophical problems, and who is yet helpless and impractical in the ordinary everyday affairs of life. There is another kind of person who claims that he is a practical man, so engaged with the business of living that he has no time to concern himself with the ultimate things. In the light of the gifts of God through Christ, both of these characters are imperfect. Christ brings to us the solution of the problems both of eternity and time.
The Goal Of History ( Ephesians 1:9-10 )
1:9-10 This happened because he made known to us the once hidden but now revealed secret of his will, for so it was his good pleasure to do. The secret was a purpose which he formed in his own mind before time began, so that the periods of time should be controlled and administered until they reached their full development, a development in which all things, in heaven and upon earth, are gathered into one in Jesus Christ.
It is now that Paul is really getting to grips with his subject. He says, as the King James Version has it, that God has made known to us "the mystery of his will." The New Testament uses the word mystery in a special sense. It is not something mysterious in the sense that it is hard to understand. It is something which has long been kept secret and has now been revealed, but is still incomprehensible to the person who has not been initiated into its meaning.
Let us take an example. Suppose someone who knew nothing whatever about Christianity was brought into a Communion service. To him it would be a complete mystery; he would not understand in the least what was going on. But to a man who knows the story and the meaning of the Last Supper, the whole service has a meaning which is quite clear. So in the New Testament sense a mystery is something which is hidden to the heathen but clear to the Christian.
What for Paul was the mystery of the will of God? It was that the gospel was open to the Gentiles too. In Jesus God has revealed that his love and care, his grace and mercy, are meant, not only for the Jews, but for all the world.
Now Paul, in one sentence, drops his great thought. Up till now men had been living in a divided world. There was division between the beasts and men. There was division between the Jew and the Gentile, the Greek and the barbarian. All over the world there was strife and tension. Jesus came into the world to wipe out the divisions. That for Paul was the secret of God. It was God's purpose that all the many different strands and all the warring elements in this world should be gathered into one in Jesus Christ.
Here we have another tremendous thought. Paul says that all history has been a working out of this process. He says that through all the ages there has been an arranging and an administering of things that this day of unity should come. The word which Paul uses for this preparation is intensely interesting. It is oikonomia ( Greek #3622 ), which literally means household management. The oikonomos ( Greek #3623 ) was the steward who saw to it that the family affairs ran smoothly.
It is the Christian conviction that history is the working out of the will of God. That is by no means what every historian or thinker has been able to see. Oscar Wilde in one of his epigrams said: "You give the criminal calendar of Europe to your children under the name of history." G. N. Clark, in his inaugural lecture at Cambridge, said: "There is no secret and no plan in history to be discovered. I do not believe that any future consummation could make sense of all the irrationalities of preceding ages. If it could not explain them, still less could it justify them." In the introduction to A History of Europe, H. A. L. Fisher writes: "One intellectual excitement, however, has been denied to me. Men wiser and more learned than I have discovered in history a plot, a rhythm, a predetermined pattern. These harmonies are concealed from me. I can see only one emergency following another, as wave follows upon wave, only one great fact with respect to which, since it is unique, there can be no generalizations, only one safe rule for the historian: that he should recognize in the development of human destinies the play of the contingent and the unforeseen." Andre Maurois says: "The universe is indifferent. Who created it? Why are we here on this puny mud-heap spinning in infinite space? I have not the slightest idea, and I am quite convinced that no one has the least idea."
It so happens that we are living in an age in which men have lost their faith in any purpose for this world. But it is the faith of the Christian that in this world God's purpose is being worked out; and it is the conviction of Paul that that purpose is that one day all things and all men should be one family in Christ. As Paul sees it, that mystery was not even grasped until Jesus came and now it is the great task of the Church to work out God's purpose of unity, revealed in Jesus Christ.
Jew And Gentile ( Ephesians 1:11-14 )
1:11-14 It was in Christ, in whom our portion in this scheme was also assigned to us, that it was determined, by the decision of him who controls everything according to the purpose of his good will, that we, who were the first to set our hopes upon the coming of the Anointed One of God, should become the means whereby his glory should be praised. And it was in Christ that it was determined that you too should become the means whereby God's glory is praised, after you had heard the word which brings the truth, the good news of your salvation--that good news in which after you had believed you were sealed with the Holy Spirit, who had been promised to you, the Spirit who is the foretaste and guarantee of all that one day we will inherit, until we enter into that complete redemption which brings complete possession.
Here is Paul's first example of the new unity which Christ brings. When he speaks of us he means his own nation, the Jews; when he speaks of you he means the Gentiles to whom he is writing; and when in the very last sentence he uses we, it is of Jews and Gentiles together that he is thinking.
First of all, Paul speaks of the Jews. They, too, had their portion assigned to them in the plan of God. They were the first to believe in the coming of the Anointed One of God. All through their history they had dreamed of and expected the Messiah. Their part in the scheme of things was to be the nation from whom God's chosen one should come.
Adam Smith, the great economist, argued that the whole pattern of life was founded on what he called the division of labour. He meant that life can only go on when each man has a job and does that job, and when the results of all the jobs are pooled and become the common stock. The shoemaker makes shoes; the baker makes bread; the tailor makes clothes; each has his own job, and each sticks to his own job; and when each efficiently carries out his job the total good of the whole community follows.
What is true of individuals is true also of nations. Each nation has its part in God's scheme of things. The Greeks taught men what beauty of thought and form is. The Romans taught men law and the science of government and administration. The Jews taught men religion. The Jews were the people who were so prepared that from them God's Messiah should come.
That is not to say that God did not prepare other people too. All over the world God had been preparing men and nations so that their mind would be ready to receive the message of Christianity when it came. But the great privilege of the Jewish nation was that they were the first to expect the coming of the Anointed One of God into the world.
Then Paul turns to the Gentiles. In their development he sees two stages.
(i) They received the word; to them the Christian preachers brought the Christian message. That word was two things. First, it was the word of truth; it brought them the truth about God and about the world in which they lived and about themselves. Second, it was good news; it was the message of the love and of the grace of God.
(ii) They were sealed with the Holy Spirit. In the ancient world--it is a custom still followed--when a sack, or a crate, or a package was despatched, it was sealed with a seal, in order to indicate from where it had come and to whom it belonged. The possession of the Holy Spirit is the seal which shows that a man belongs to God. The Holy Spirit both shows us God's will and enables us to do it.
Here Paul says a great thing about the Holy Spirit. He calls the Holy Spirit, as the King James Version has it, the earnest of our redemption. The Greek word is arrabon ( Greek #728 ). The arrabon was a regular feature of the Greek business world. It was a part of the purchase price of anything, paid in advance as a guarantee that the rest would in due time be paid. There are many Greek commercial documents still extant in which the word occurs. A woman sells a cow and receives so many drachmae as arrabon ( Greek #728 ). Some dancing girls are engaged for a public entertainment and are paid so much in advance. What Paul is saying is that the experience of the Holy Spirit which we have in this world is a foretaste of the blessedness of heaven; and it is the guarantee that some day we will enter into full possession of the blessedness of God.
The highest experiences of Christian peace and joy which this world can afford are only faint foretastes of the joy into which we will one day enter. It is as if God had given us enough to whet our appetites for more and enough to make us certain that some day he will give us all.