The Foundations, by Ray Stedman – Ephesians 1:3-14

… Listen

In the epistle to the Ephesians we are still working together today with the great statement in Chapter 1 in which Paul is setting forth for us the great, fundamental facts of our faith in Jesus Christ. This letter to the Ephesians is really nothing more than a description of the riches that we have in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul emphasized these riches a great deal. As he traveled about the Roman empire he came to colonies and to cities where people were spiritually and materially impoverished — they were poverty-stricken people. Many of them were slaves. They had nothing of this world’s goods. They were depressed, discouraged, beset with fears and anxieties, jealousies and hostilities. They were under the grip of superstition and filled with the dread of the future. They had no hope of life beyond death. And it was the apostle’s great joy to unfold to them the riches available to them in Jesus Christ — riches which, if accepted as facts, would free them, would transform them and make them over into wholly different people, would bring them into a sense of joy and love and faith and radiant experience. That happened again and again. So the apostle gloried in these exceeding great riches in Jesus Christ.

The epistle to the Ephesians ought to be a treasure store to which we go repeatedly anytime we get discouraged.

I remember reading years ago about an old Navajo Indian who had become rich because oil had been found on his property. He took all the money and put it in a bank. His banker became familiar with the habits of this old gentleman. Every once in a while the Indian would show up at the bank and say to the banker, “Grass all gone, sheep all sick, water holes dry.” The banker wouldn’t say a word — he knew what needed to be done. He’d bring the old man inside and seat him in the vault. Then he’d bring out several bags of silver dollars and say, “These are yours.” The old man would spend about an hour in there looking at his money, stacking up the dollars and counting them. Then he’d come out and say, “Grass all green, sheep all well, water holes all full.” He was simply reviewing his resources, that’s all. That is where encouragement is found — when you look at the resources which are yours, the riches, the facts which undergird your faith. As we go through this letter to the Ephesians I hope you will read it in that way. Last week we looked at the summary statement with which Paul gathers up the great themes of this letter:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places… (Ephesians 1:3 RSV)

Then we took a quick survey of the list of these great spiritual blessings which follows. We are going to spend more time with that in coming Sundays. If you want to keep the structure of this chapter in mind, remember that we have this summary statement, then the more detailed description of the blessings, Verses 4 through 14, and then, beginning with Verse 15, Paul’s great prayer that his hearers would understand what this is all about.

There is an unusual structure in this passage to which I’d like to call your attention. From Verse 3 through Verse 14 in the Greek text (not in the English) you have one complete, unbroken sentence filled with many adjectival phrases brought in to amplify and enrich it. If you want to get the effect of it, take a deep breath and try to read it through with one breath. You will see how much Paul has crammed into this great sentence. It’s almost as though he is taking a walk through a treasure chamber, like those of the Pharaohs of Egypt, describing what he sees. He starts out with the most immediate and evident fact and tells us what that is. Then something else comes into view and he puts that in. And glory flashes upon glory here until he has this tremendously complicated sentence which includes vast and almost indescribable riches.

That is Paul’s way of showing us how truth is interconnected, how you can never touch upon some of these great themes but that they lead to others, and soon you find yourself caught up with still others. That is how truth is, isn’t it? Truth in nature is like that also. You can’t study one subject in nature without touching upon a great many others. This is the way God builds truth. There is a rather simplifying division of this passage, however, such as is always present whenever the apostle states something like this. That is, these blessings gather about the Persons of the Trinity. There is the work of the Father, the work of the Son, and the work of the Holy Spirit. In Verses 3-6 you have the work of the Father:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6 RSV)

Then, in Verses 7-12, you have that which relates to the Son:

In him [the Beloved] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us. For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:7-12 RSV)

How rich that language is concerning the Son, our relationship to him, and our present experience! Finally, in Verses 13 and 14, you have the work of the Holy Spirit:

In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14 RSV)

Remember that these are all available to us in the realm which Paul calls “the heavenlies.” As we saw last week, that is not heaven; it does not mean going to heaven when you die. We get such distorted concepts of heaven! I confess to you that heaven, as most people envision it, is not an attractive place to me — damp, rainy clouds, unstrung harps out of tune, white robes, and all that. A good travel folder could make West Texas look preferable to heaven. And yet most people think that this is what Paul is talking about when he speaks of the heavenlies.

No, “in the heavenlies” is a reference to the invisible realities of our life now. It reaches on into eternity, yes, but it is something to be experienced now, in the inner life. That is what he is talking about — your thought-life, your attitudes, your inner life where you live, where you feel conflict and pressure, struggle and disaster — that is part of the heavenlies. It is where we are exposed to the attack of the principalities and powers which are mentioned in Chapter 6, those dark spirits in high places who get to us, and depress us, and frighten us, and make us anxious or hostile or angry. The heavenlies is the realm of conflict, but also the realm where God can release us and deliver us, where the Spirit of God reaches us at the seat of our intellect and our emotions and our will. It is the realm of those deep, surging urges which rise within us and create either a restlessness or a sense of peace, depending on the source from which they come. So don’t read this as though it were something out in space somewhere. These blessings are yours in your inner experience, now, if you are in Jesus Christ.

Obviously, all of this, as we saw last week, comes to us in one great package “in Christ.” If you are not a Christian you cannot possibly claim these benefits. They are not yours, they don’t belong to you. You cannot buy them, you cannot discover them, you cannot sign up for a course about them in a university. You can’t send away ten dollars in the mail and get a pamphlet that will lead you to them. There is no way you can appropriate them unless you are in Christ. But if you are “in Christ” there is nothing to keep you from having all of them, every moment of every day. That is why it is so important that we discover what they are.

You see, these are much more than mere doctrinal ambiguities, mere theological ideas. They are facts, foundational truths which undergird us in every moment of our life. And, unless you understand those facts, you can’t utilize them, you can’t benefit from them. In that way they are like natural laws. The laws of nature operate regardless of how we feel — they are impersonal in that respect.

I’ve been doing a bit of electrical work in an addition to my home, and I’ve discovered that electricity follows a pattern of its own and takes no notice of how I feel at the moment. That can be a shocking experience! It is not in the slightest degree impressed with my position as a pastor of Peninsula Bible Church. It doesn’t hesitate to retaliate for any violation of its laws that I commit. It is up to me to discover how it works, and then to respect it, if I want to utilize it. The same thing is true of these great facts. They will do you not a particle of good if you don’t discover what they are and believe them enough to operate on the basis of them. That is why we are having this study together. We couldn’t possibly cover in one message all that is wrapped up in these great truths, and I don’t want to attempt it. We want to take our time going through this passage so that we might grasp these fundamental facts. So I would like to center this morning on the two great facts which are mentioned here concerning the work of the Father. Take this first statement:

…he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4 RSV)

Here we are dealing with what theologians call the doctrine of election, i.e., the fact that God chose us to become Christians and to be in Christ before the very foundation of the world. If you begin to try to understand that truth, your mind will boggle. That is a fantastic statement, isn’t it? We struggle with it, we question it, and therefore I submit to you that we really don’t believe it, because oftentimes it doesn’t show up in our actions, which is where the proof of our belief comes. We say, “How could this be? How could God choose us, and yet still offer a choice that we must make?” And thus we sense the struggle between the doctrines of the free will of man and the sovereign election of God. Many have wrestled with this great truth and have tried to explain it with various suggestions:

Some say, “Well, God can foresee the future, so he looks down and sees that we are going to make a choice, and on the basis of seeing what we will determine to do he then says, ‘All right, I’ll elect them to be part of my process.’” That sounds very simplistic, and it is, because it is not what the Scriptures say. Some say, “Well, God sees what we will be when we become Christians. He sees the value that we will have toward him, and so he chooses us on that basis.” Again, nothing could be more unscriptural than that idea! You see, it is true that we are chosen of God. In John 6, Jesus said so himself. He said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,” (John 6:44 RSV). That’s putting it plainly, isn’t it? You can’t come to Christ unless you are drawn by the Father. God has to initiate the activity. Ah, yes, but in Matthew 11 Jesus made his appeal directly to the will of the individual, saying, “Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28 RSV). And that means it’s up to you. You can never become a Christian until you choose to come. So both of these facts are true.

And though we can’t reconcile them in our puny intellects, nevertheless we can accept them as facts and realize that it is true that we must choose. The good news is offered to us, but if we don’t respond we will never obtain the benefit of it. But if we do respond, if we come to Christ, if we believe in him, then we discover a great fact: God began the process, it was he who chose us, and we have been drawn to him by his Spirit at work in our spirit. That is amazing, isn’t it? But it is the first thing that Paul wants us to know.

And then we struggle with the timing of this: “before the foundation of the world.” Before we existed, before we ever took form seminally, let alone actually, we were chosen in him. Before there was an earth, no matter how far back in time you put it — billions of years, squillions of years into the past — yet the statement stands that you and I, as the very persons we are among the billions of people we could have been, were chosen in him. How could that be? Do you see how that boggles the mind? We must realize that we are dealing with an Eternal Being, one with whom there is not past or future, but only an eternal present, only one great now who therefore reads our future as clearly as he does the past, who determines all things by the counsel of his will, as the next verse has it, and brings them to pass so that they all work together to accomplish what he wants done. And we can only sit in amazed wonder and say, “Lord, how great thou art!”

“Chosen in him before the foundation of the world!” Do you see what that does for our sense of identity as Christians? We are not afterthoughts in God’s working. We are not accidental members of his body. There are no second class citizens in the church of Jesus Christ; we are all equal, chosen of the Father, selected to be members of his family, added to the new creation, the new order that God is producing in this world. What a fantastic privilege! It is not because of anything in us, as we’ll see in a moment, but because of everything in him. The purpose of all this is that we are to be holy and blameless. God says that he chose us for that reason, that we might be holy and blameless! Now, I’d like to ask a question: How many of you here are holy? Raise your hands, would you? Yes, we do have a few. Well, what’s the matter with the rest of you?

I submit to you that these great facts are so revolutionary, so radical, that we hesitate to believe them! We hesitate to apply them to ourselves despite the fact that they are true. The reason we hesitate is that we have such distorted ideas of what these words mean. We think that holiness is sanctimoniousness and that it results from a kind of theological de-worming process we must go through, and we don’t want to claim that for ourselves. But it is not that at all. As we have seen in our studies in Leviticus, holiness means “wholeness,” and wholeness means “to be restored to the originally intended functioning,” to be put to the proper use, that’s all. Physical wholeness prevails when the body works the way it was supposed to. And when your whole being functions the way it was intended to do, you are holy.

Now how many of you have had your whole being restored to proper functioning? You may not always function properly, but you have the capacity to do so. Ah, that’s better! There are even more holy people here than I thought! It is when we begin to understand these words that we can apply them and accept them. Now let’s look at the other one, blameless. Most people refuse to think of themselves as blameless because they know that they have done many things for which they ought properly to be blamed. That is, they have made choices, deliberately, against light, against knowledge of the results. They have purposely done that which they knew they ought not to have done. They could have done otherwise but didn’t. And who is not in that boat? Therefore they feel they are to be blamed. But they are confusing this word with another, because it is not sinless. Never having done anything wrong is sinlessness. But you can be sinful and still be blameless. Do you know how? By handling your sin in the right way.

If you did something that injured someone else, and the full result of it was not visible to you when you did it but afterward you saw how much you had hurt the person, and you acknowledged it, apologized to them, did what you could to restore it, then there would be nothing further you could do, would there? And from that point on you would be blameless. You would not be sinless — you still did it — but you also did all you could to handle it rightly.

The idea is the same with our offenses against God. What can you do about your sins, your evil? You can’t go back and straighten it all out, no, but you can accept his forgiveness. You can acknowledge your need. You can put it back into his capable hands to straighten out the results. And when you’ve done that, you’re blameless! How many blameless people are here today? Yes, that’s better. And that is what God has chosen us to do — to learn this wonderful process of being whole and blameless. Notice that these things are to be reckoned true even though we don’t feel that way. That is the way it is in nature also.

You get up in the morning and look at the sun and say, “The sun rose this morning.” It looks as though the sun were traveling around the earth. But you know better than that, don’t you? You look out across the landscape and it looks flat, and you say, “The earth must be flat.” No, you know better. Even though you can’t see that the earth is round and revolves around the sun, you have learned to accept these facts despite your feelings. That is exactly what we are called on to do here. Accept the fact that God chose you in Christ to make you holy and blameless. And as you walk before him in his prescribed way, that is what you are. And then rejoice in that great fact. Now look at the second great aspect which is recorded of the work of the Father, and which is related to the first,

He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:5-6 RSV)

Here is a partial explanation of how God takes care of all the past failures and the shame of our lives, in order to produce someone who is holy and blameless. It is by means of a change of family relationship. “He destined us to be sons,” or, literally, he “foreordained us to sonship standing,” or, as the Authorized Version puts it, to “adoption” as sons. We are familiar with the process of adoption. Adoption means leaving one family and joining another, leaving behind all that was involved in the first family and assuming the name, the characteristics, the resources, the history of another family. And this is the way Paul describes this relationship. We all belong initially to the family of Adam. We leave it, in Christ, and, thereafter, we belong to a new family, the family of Jesus Christ. We are no longer part of the family of Adam. Now that doesn’t mean that we are not human; it means that we no longer need to be possessed by fallen Adamic characteristics. We are still exposed to temptations to believe in them and to act that way, but we don’t have to — that’s the point. We’ve been transferred into a new family.

And, more than that, the emphasis is upon living as a full-grown, mature, responsible son. We are not put into this family as mere babes; we are put in as mature, grown-up children. As soon as we grasp the truth we can exercise it. In other words, to put it very simply, we are to live exactly as Jesus lived. He was a Son, the Son of the Father, and, as such, a certain way of life was his. And now we have it too, in him, living exactly as he did.

This is how Jesus described his own life: In John 6, he said, “I live by means of the Father,” (John 6:57). That is, “The Father is my resource, my wisdom, my strength, my power. The Father is the secret of how I act, and what I do, and where I go. The Father is living in me, and working in me. And in everything I do, it is not I; it is the Father.” He went on to say, “And as I live by means of the Father; so he who eats me [that is a beautiful figure for partaking of Christ, trusting in Christ] will live by means of me,” (John 6:57 RSV). That is the secret of the Christian life. What a beautiful way to live! By the same method that Jesus lived, in the same way that he arrested the attention of humanity — this is the way that we are called upon to live. We have been made sons in him, like him, so as to share his life. It is this, you see, that pleases the Father. Isn’t that amazing?

The rest of the statement deals with the why and how of this. Why should this be so? Most of us struggle with believing it because we say, “Why me? Why should he see anything in me which would motivate him to do that?” And, of course, that is our problem. It isn’t that he sees anything in us. We make a serious error when we think that there is something in us which God is after. No, it is not anything in us. The ground of his choice is the kind of God he is. There are three elements of it here: “He destined us in love to be his sons…” “According to the purpose of his will…” “To the praise of his glorious grace…” It is entirely God, isn’t it? His love began it, so he purposed it, literally, according to “the good pleasure” of his will, i.e., it gives him pleasure to do so, and all to the final end that it results in joy, in praising him, throughout all creation — “to the praise of the glory of his grace.”

I think I saw a taste of that at Explo ’72 in Dallas a few weeks ago. The thing above all else that impressed everyone who came to Explo was the fact that all over the city there was an outburst of joy. It was infectious. There was a spirit of cheerful happiness no matter what happened. The young people, particularly, went all over the city and met everything and everyone with a smile or a “Praise the Lord!” Even the gruff old police of Dallas were impressed by this. One policeman said, “I’ve been treated like a human being for the first time in my career,” and he couldn’t get over the fact that it was young people who were treating him this way. Another, a guard at the Cotton Bowl, said, “I’ve been shoved 22,000 times this week, and everyone said ‘Excuse me’ when they did it.” Why? Because the joy was born of God. It was not coming from the circumstances — they were unpleasant, at times. Kids were living in tents, and sleeping on the ground, and often didn’t have enough to eat. I met some who hadn’t eaten for two or three meals, but their joy was undiminished. I watched the rain pour down upon thousands of them in the Cotton Bowl, and not one of them complained; they just enjoyed it thoroughly. That is what God is after — to increase joy.

A few days ago one of the women of this church came to me. It was an ordeal for her to come because she is in pain constantly. She told me of some of the struggle this has meant in her own life, of how she has cried out, “Why?” and has been assaulted with temptations to bitterness and resentment because she can’t do what she’d like to do. She told how this all reached a crisis about a year ago when she finally said, “Lord, I can’t take this! It’s too much for me! But, Lord, you seem to expect me to take it. No matter how much I pray, nothing seems to happen. But I just can’t do it. So I give it back to you, Lord. If I’m even going to be able to exist, you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to uphold me, and somehow you’ve got to make me able to obey you and to reflect what you want me to be.” And she said that there was born in her heart a sense of joy she couldn’t explain. But for over a year now (and that is an adequate test, isn’t it?) that joy has remained. And the radiance on her face as she told me about this was sufficient evidence that she was not trying to pull my leg. Joy, unbroken joy — the praise of God’s glorious grace — in the midst of pain and suffering, disappointment and frustration. That is what God is after. That is what he is training us for. He has destined us to be that kind of sons, because that is the kind his Son Jesus Christ is, according to the purpose of his will.

Finally, there is just one word on how, and this introduces the next section which we will take up in our next time together. How did this come to us? It was “freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” God “engraced” us, is the word. He came to us in Christ, he poured it all out in Christ. Jesus was sent of the Father. That is the mark of his love. He came to be poor, he came to be misunderstood, to be opposed and hated, to be spat upon, to be cruelly beaten and finally crucified, so that we might be rich. Remember how Paul puts it in Second Corinthians 8:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9 RSV)

Now, my question is: Are you enjoying your inheritance? Do you wake in the morning and remind yourself at the beginning of the day, “I’m a child of the Father.” “I’ve been chosen by him to be a member of his family.” “He imparts to me all the richness of his life.” “His peace, his joy, his love are my legacy, my inheritance from which I can draw every moment of life. And have them no matter what my circumstances may be.”

Do you reckon on these unseen things which are real and true? — because, if you do, when you trust in God’s grace to be your present experience, you can know of yourself what the Father said three times about his Son Jesus. God the Father, looking down at you can say, “This fellow here, this girl there, this man, this woman — this is my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.” That is our inheritance.

Prayer

Our heavenly Father, we thank you for these vast truths. We pray that our understanding may be made equal to them. We can’t grasp them properly apart from the work of your Spirit, and we pray that you will open our eyes and help us to see that these things are true indeed, that they undergird our lives. And as we venture out upon them, as we dare to apply them to ourselves, you will take them and make them lead us into the liberty of the children of God, so that we will be free men and women, free despite the circumstances under which we live, and despite the people with whom we have to work. We are a free people. We thank you in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Title: The Foundations
By: Ray C. Stedman
Series: Riches in Christ
Scripture: Ephesians 1:3-14
Message No: 2
Catalog No: 3002
Date: July 30, 1972

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God At Work, by Ray C. Stedman (Ephesians 1:1-14)

– - Listen

We turn now to The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, one of the greatest letters of the New Testament. We will study Chapters 1 through 3, thus completing the exposition of this book begun several years ago with Chapters 4 through 6 — messages which are already available in print (Catalog Numbers 98-116, 119-127, and 130-133).

I hope that, as we begin this doctrinal portion of Ephesians, your heart will be anticipating tremendous truth. I would like to urge you to read this letter through once a week during the time that we are engaged in studying these first three chapters. Read it through in various versions, and in different ways. Read it through at one sitting the first week, and then the next week take a chapter a day. Other weeks read it in some of the paraphrases. Let this truth come to you afresh in new and different language. I can guarantee that if you will do this faithfully until we finish our study you will never be the same person again. This truth has the power to change you, and it will!

I think that, of all Paul’s letters, the letter to the Romans and this one to Ephesians have affected me most profoundly. Both are attempts at a systematic and rather exhaustive setting forth of the whole Christian view of life and of the world. Others of Paul’s letters deal with specific problems, and they are very helpful when we are involved with those same problems. But these two deal with the whole sweep of truth, the great canvas of God’s painting of reality. Ephesians has changed my life again and again:

It was from this book that I learned how the body of Christ functions. The truth of the fourth chapter was strongly in my heart when I came to Palo Alto, as a young man fresh from seminary, and began to pastor a small group of people meeting here. It was the conviction that the ministry belongs to the saints, and that the business of a pastor is to help the people find their ministries and to prepare them to function in them, and to discover the excitement of living as Christians where they are, which was formative in the early years of Peninsula Bible Church and is still so strongly emphasized here. It was from this letter that I learned, as a young man, how to handle the sex drive which God had given me, as he has given it to all of us, and how to live properly in a sex-saturated society. This letter is most practical in that way. It teaches us how to come to grips with life as it is.

This letter taught me profound truths about marriage and about family life. I’m still learning in this area, and have a lot more to learn, but I’ve already learned a great deal about this subject from the letter to the Ephesians. It was this letter which taught me better than any other passage of Scripture how to understand the strange turbulence I often found in my own heart, the spiritual attacks to which I was subject, and how to deal with my fears and anxieties and my depressions — where these were coming from, and what to do about them. So this is a great and practical letter, and I urge you to become familiar with it and to make it second nature to know the truth of Ephesians. Let me share with you the experience of another person in this respect. This is from the introduction to a book by Dr. John McKay, for many years the president of Princeton University:

I can never forget that the reading of this Pauline letter when I was a boy in my teens exercised a more decisive influence upon my thought and imagination than was ever wrought upon me before or since by the perusal of any piece of literature. The romance of the part played by Jesus Christ in making my personal salvation possible, and in mediating God’s cosmic plan, so set my spirit aflame that I laid aside, in all ecstasy of delight, Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo which I happened to be reading at the time. That was my encounter with the Cosmic Christ. The Christ who was, and is, became the passion of my life. I have to admit without shame or reserve that as a result of that encounter I have been unable to think of my own life or the life of mankind or the life of the cosmos apart from Jesus Christ. He came to me and challenged me in the writings of St. Paul. I responded. The years that have followed have been but a footnote to that encounter.

So I would suggest that, if you feel the need for change in your own life and for deepening your relationship with our Lord, you would do well to expose yourself in a very personal way to these teachings from the letter to the Ephesians.

This letter was written about A. D. 61 from Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment there. It was written to the Christians in the Roman province of Asia. These were ordinary people — tradesmen, craftsmen, a few doctors and lawyers, some politicians — the general run of people. Many of them were slaves. The letter is commonly called “The Epistle to the Ephesians,” but, as a footnote in the Revised Standard Version points out, this is not found in many of the ancient manuscripts. Most have just a blank for the address of these saints. Many scholars, therefore, feel that this is a circular letter which was written to many churches, probably those in the region of Ephesus. Some think it may have been addressed to the very churches to which Jesus had John address the letters in the book of Revelation, beginning with Ephesus and ending with Laodicea. It may be of interest to you to notice that, in his letter to the Colossians, Paul refers to a letter from Laodicea. Many feel that this is that letter. It was brought from Rome by the hand of Tychicus, to whom the apostle dictated this great treatise. Circulated from church to church, and read in each one, it finally ended up in Ephesus where it was labeled, The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians. At any rate, as we gather from Paul’s footnote at the end, it is really a letter addressed to all Christians everywhere. You can read it, therefore, as “the letter of Paul the Apostle to the church at Palo Alto, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.”

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:1-2 RSV)

That is the briefest salutation in any of Paul’s letters. There are just three simple things to which I will call your attention in passing: First, Paul’s credentials: notice how he describes himself, “an apostle … by the will of God.” An apostle was one sent with a message, a messenger. Paul gloried in the fact that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ. And, as he tells us in his letter to the Galatians, the Lord Jesus appeared to him directly. Paul did not learn what he knew about the gospel by discussing it with the other apostles. Peter and James and John and others of the twelve were never teachers of the Apostle Paul. The truth which he imparts to us here he learned directly from Jesus Christ. And that is his authority. Therefore, when you read Paul you are reading an authorized spokesman for the Lord Jesus. He speaks by the authority of Christ. He makes this clear in all his letters.

I am sometimes amazed at the brazen temerity of people today who will read a section from one of his letters and say, “I don’t agree with Paul.” Well, that makes me tremble. Paul is speaking as an apostle. An apostle is an authorized spokesman. What he says is what he has heard. So, if you don’t agree with Paul, you don’t agree with the Lord either! We need to remember that as we come to this letter.

Paul was always amazed by the fact that it was “by the will of God” that he was an apostle. He had no other glory in his life than that God, in the amazing wonder of his grace, had called this man who was such a bitter, intense, nationalistic persecutor of the church, had arrested him and changed him, and had sent him out to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Paul could never get over that: “Called by the will of God” — what a mighty influence this was in his life! Now notice that he gives no other credentials. He doesn’t refer to his training at the feet of Gamaliel, nor his Hebrew background and pedigree, nor the brilliance of his intellect, nor any thing else. He simply says, “I’m an apostle by the will of God. That is the ground upon which I write.”

Then notice how these Christians are described: “saints who are faithful in Christ Jesus.” Saints is a word at which we all shudder a little. We don’t like to be called saints because we have such a plaster idea of what a saint is. We think of them as being unreal — so beatific, so holier-than-we, so unlike ordinary human beings. But the saints of the New Testament are not that way; they are people like us. Saints are people who are beset with struggles and difficulties, who have disturbances at home, and problems at work, and troubles everywhere else. They’re normal people, in other words!

But one thing is remarkable about them: They are different. That is really the basic meaning of this word saint. In the Greek it is a word derived from the word for holy. And holy means distinct, different, whole, belonging to God and, therefore, living differently. That is the mark of the saint. It isn’t that he doesn’t have problems, only that he approaches them differently. He handles them in a different way. He has a different lifestyle. That is what Paul is talking about here. Their characteristic is that they are faithful, which means, of course, that they can’t quit. That’s what a Christian is — a person who can’t quit being a Christian. A true Christian just can’t stop!

A young man called me this past week to tell me how discouraged he was, how he’d lost his confidence in prayer because he felt that no answer was coming, and how ready he was to quit. So I said to him, “Well, why don’t you just quit, then? Give up. Stop being a Christian. Try it.” — because I knew that if he did, the first thing he would have discovered is that he couldn’t quit. And he knew it, too. The minute I said that, he acknowledged it: “You’re right. I can’t quit.” That is because, as Paul will describe in this letter, there is imparted to us the Holy Spirit of God, and we are sealed by the Holy Spirit so that we can’t quit! That is a mark of a believer in Christ.

Then comes the invariable greeting of Paul to these groups of believers: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The two great heritages of the Christian are grace and peace. These are two things you can always have, no matter what your circumstances. Grace is all God’s power, all his love, all his beauty available to you. It is a marvelous term which wraps up all that God is and offers to us. It comes from the same Greek word from which we get our English word charm. Grace is charming, lovely, pleasant. It is something which pleases, which imparts charm and loveliness to a life. Peace is freedom from anxiety, fear, and worry. These are the two characteristics which ought to mark Christians all the time: Grace — God at work in their life; and peace — a sense of security, of trust. A man said to me this morning, “You know, I’ve learned something new about trust. Trust is not knowing, and yet still being at peace, at rest.” You see, if you know something, you don’t have to trust. But trust is not knowing, and still being at peace. From here the letter follows the usual structure of Paul’s letters. First comes the doctrine, the teaching, the great, revolutionary, radical facts that God is setting before us. And then comes the practice, the application, the working out of these in terms of the normal situations of life.

Now, don’t read these first three chapters of this letter as though they were mere theological gas. They are not! They are facts! They are what God says is real. They are what is actually happening in the world, and what is available to you. And if you once read them that way you won’t treat them as merely academic. You’ll begin to found your life upon these facts and act upon them. That is why Paul always begins his letters by setting forth the radical facts of life as God teaches them.

Also characteristic of Paul is to gather everything up in one great prefatory statement, and then break it down into its detail. So I’m going to conclude this introductory message by examining the great statement which Paul makes at the beginning of this letter and which gathers up the great themes of Ephesians to which he will return again and again. And then we’ll look briefly at these themes. In Verse 3 we have a tremendous summary of the teachings of this letter:

Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places [or, more literally, "in the heavenlies"]… (Ephesians 1:3-4 RSV)

There are four elements in this summary that I want you to note. Paul begins, first, with the One who is behind all these blessings, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is his starting point. And when a man begins with God you know that what he is going to say is in line with reality. Our problem is we don’t start our thinking with God; we tend to start it with ourselves, with our experience, which is only a partial view of truth. Thereby we immediately narrow the range of our vision to what we are going through and what is happening to us, and we don’t see this in relationship to the whole reality of life around us. Consequently we get twisted and deformed ideas of what is happening. The only proper way to view truth is to see it in relationship to all truth everywhere. And there is only one way to do that, and that is to start with God. Only God is great enough to encompass all truth.

This is the difference between what the Bible calls “natural” thinking, as done by “the natural man,” and the “spiritual” thinking of “the spiritual man.” Natural thinking is always limited, always wrong to some degree, because it isn’t large enough and broad enough to handle all the facts. But spiritual thinking is always God-centered, and, therefore, true, and to the extent that it is spiritual, it is true in every way. We need to learn to be spiritual thinkers about ourselves. This is where Paul begins.

The second element is the aim of the work of God. He sums it up in the twice-repeated word blessed: Blessed be God, and blessed are we with every spiritual blessing. That is what God is aiming to do. His goal is to bring about a world, a universe, filled with blessing. Frequently throughout this letter you find the repeated phrase that everything occurs “to the praise of God’s glory,” i.e., in order that God should be praised, in order that his people should be so struck by the wonder of what has happened to them that their hearts reflect without limit and without their being able to prevent it — the praise and the glory and the blessing of God. Now, you know that is not new. We all have learned that God is to be praised. We are to give thanks in all circumstances, etc. But most of us think of that as something we must make ourselves do. We have to do this because God needs it, his ego needs to be massaged every now and then by our praise, and unless we praise him he won’t operate. He gets upset and mad at us and doesn’t run things right, and we have to butter him up a little bit to get him to work. That is really the basis upon which most of us act, at least much of the time, isn’t it?

But that isn’t what this is talking about at all! It is saying that God has done such remarkable deeds that, if we once understand them, if it once breaks upon our dull intellects what it is that God has already done for us, what is already true of us right now, there will be nothing that we can do but stand in absolute awe and amazement, and say, “You mean that is true of me, Lord? I am overwhelmed! My God, how great thou art!” That is what God is after. That is what he wants to produce — that sense of awe and amazement which causes us to stop and give thanks to a great and glorious God who has given us every spiritual blessing.

In the verses that follow, those blessings are listed for you. We are going to look at them in more detail in subsequent messages, but for now let me just gather them up for you. Notice that:

…he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4 RSV)

That is Number 1: It goes back before the beginning of time, before the foundation of the universe. The second:

He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:5-6 RSV)

What a fantastic thing that is! We are members of the family of God, made to be partakers of the divine nature. Third:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavishes upon us. (Ephesians 1:7-8 RSV)

Think of that! Our guilt is removed, utterly gone. Four:

For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:9-10 RSV)

We have been taken into the secret councils of the Almighty. He has unfolded to us what he plans to do, what he is going to accomplish in the future. We have been told something of the details of this plan. Then look at Number 5:

In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11-12 RSV)

That is why we are gathered here this morning. God has appointed us to be a demonstration of all these great truths, to live for the praise of his glory. Look at the sixth:

In him you also, who have heard the word of truth [Think of that! In this election year when all the politicians are trying to confound and confuse us with words of promise there is a place where you can get the truth, the straight goods, the facts as they are], the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, (Ephesians 1:13a RSV)

All that, you see, comes as a part of the work of the word of truth. And then the last:

…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13b-14 RSV)

Those are the things that make life worthwhile. Without these great facts, life is unbearable to man, desolate, dull, boring, and we can hardly stand ourselves or each other. This is a list, if you like, of the incompetencies of man. Man cannot provide these. No political party can introduce them. They come from God, and God alone — God at work. No one else can give them to us. It is absolutely impossible that we ever should achieve them by ourselves. They are the gifts of God.

The third element of this great verse is that the apostle points out that all this blessing is “in Christ.” All this comes to us in Christ, in the Person and the work of the Lord Jesus himself. This fact is going to be stressed again and again in this letter. No two words appear in it more frequently than “in Christ,” or “in him.” Over and over it is emphasized that everything comes to us through him.

We must learn not to listen to those who claim to have God’s blessing in their lives, and yet to whose thinking Christ is not central. They are deceived, and they are deceiving us if we accept what they say. The only spiritual blessing that can ever come to you from God must always come in Christ. There is no other way that it can come. So if you are involved with some group which sets aside the Lord Jesus Christ and tries to go “directly to God,” and thus claim some of the great spiritual promises of the New Testament, you are involved in a group which is leading you into fakery and fraud. It is completely spurious! For God accomplishes spiritual blessing only in Christ. Physical blessings are available “to the just and the unjust alike,” but the inner spirit of man can be healed and cured only in Christ, and there is no other way.

Finally, notice the locale where all this occurs — “in the heavenlies.” Now, that doesn’t mean heaven, as we usually conceive it. Paul is talking here about the present experience of these blessings. We are involved with the “heavenlies” right now. These heavenlies, which occur throughout this letter and in other parts of Scripture, are really the realm of invisible reality, of things which are true about life in the world, in the cosmos, but which we can’t see or touch right now. And yet they are very real, and they play an important part in our lives now. This is what Paul refers to in Second Corinthians 4: “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen;” (2 Corinthians 4:18 RSV) — unseen, invisible reality.

Do you remember the story in the Old Testament about Elisha and his servant? They were in a small city one day when they were surrounded by the armies of Syria. The servant looked out upon this vast enemy army and he saw the cavalry and the armed chariots. Fearfully he turned to Elisha and said, “Everything’s hopeless! Look! We’re surrounded, what shall we do?” Elisha said, “Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And he prayed, “Lord, open his eyes,” (2  Kings 6:15-17). And the Lord opened the young man’s eyes and he saw ringing the horizon all the fiery chariots of God, manned by hundreds and thousands of angels, and he realized the true situation.

We live in a world where most of the important things of our lives are not visible. They can’t be touched or seen or tasted or weighed or otherwise measured. They are not subject to the scrutiny of science, nor are they available to the philosophies of men, but they are there. We must recognize that fact. And it is in this realm that these great spiritual blessings are to be found. It is here that our life can be changed and we can become different people, by God’s grace. All this will be developed in fuller detail as we go on into the letter.

I want to close by returning to that great initial thought of the Apostle Paul and pointing out to you how he underlines the fact that it is God who does all this. This is not the activity of men that we are talking about. In this first chapter there is no demand for us to do anything. Later on, the question of human activity will come in, but not here. He is talking about what only God can do and what God alone has already done. All progress in the spiritual life comes by understanding a truth which is already true. It is not something that God is going to do, but something he has already done. Therefore it is available to you the minute you understand it and grasp it. It would be useful for you to take a pencil and underline the finite verbs of this passage. You will notice that they all refer to God. He chose, …he destined us…in him, we have redemption…has made known to us his will. Go through the passage and what you will see highlighted is God at work.

All around us in the world today men are doing things, and it is right and proper that they should. Men are to work and to plan, they are to dream and to hope, and they are to try to accomplish things. It is right for the government to try to govern and for statesmen to try to accomplish their goals. All of us have something to do. But what our age has tragically forgotten is that the only activity which will change anyone ultimately is what God does, not what man does. That is where we need to focus our thoughts. And we need to see what it is that God is doing.

One of these days, we all recognize and know, even though we hate to admit it, all the vaunted, proud, symbols of our civilization as we know it today are going to be brought low, to crumble into dust, to be lost in the debris of the ages. All the knowledge on which we pride ourselves today will be lost in some forgotten tomb. Man’s glory shall fade. All the accomplishments of our present day which give us such self-satisfaction will become nothing but obscure references in some future history, if anything at all. And what will endure in that day is the work of God. These great facts, revealed in this letter, will still be as brilliant and untarnished in their reality as they are today. Rudyard Kipling once wrote about the British Empire,

Far flung, our navies melt away, on dune and headland sinks the fire.
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday is one with Nineveh and Tyre.

America’s greatness is going to fade, as is Russia’s, and as is that of all the nations of the earth. But one day, when that day comes, the things which will be true are these great facts. Therefore, if we want to endure, if we want to lift our eyes above the plodding, puny circumstances of our own present experience to the greatness of what God is doing, we must give our attention to these great thoughts — planned before the foundation of the world, begun even before there was an earth, designed to reveal the greatness of God’s grace, his compassion, his tenderhearted love, his forgiving ability, his power restore, available through the one Person who in all the scope of history is able to accomplish what no other man could do, Jesus Christ himself, and resulting at last in the healing of all division and the breaking down of every barrier. That is what Ephesians is all about. It is a story of how God is breaking down division.

We are so aware of division, aren’t we? We are divided within our homes, divided in our work, divided into cliques and camps and nations, all against one another, with all the consequent hurt and injury and malice and hate and prejudice. God is at work to remedy that. He is healing it. He has already begun. He is breaking down the barriers, removing the hate and enmity, restoring and bringing together.

Remember what Jesus said: “All those who are with me gather, and all those who are against me scatter,” (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23). You can tell whose side you are on by the effect of your life. Are you gathering, or scattering? Are you healing, or hurting? Are you bringing together, or breaking up? Which is the direction of your life? Well, God’s great movement in our lives, as individuals, and in history at large, is to heal and make whole, to bring together all things in Christ, to restore harmony once again in his universe.

The exciting thing about that, according to this letter to the Ephesians, is that it has begun already. It has begun in us. We are the first ones to set it forth. We, the church, have felt the force of this great movement of God. We have found it in our homes — the barriers are beginning to break down there, the divisions are beginning to be healed. The harmony is beginning to emerge in our church life. And the more visibly it is evident, the more the world will see God at work. That is what this letter is all about — how to allow this healing flow from the great God behind all things, through his Son Jesus Christ, to touch our individual lives and heal us of all our illness and injury. No wonder this great apostle cries out, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies.”

Are you a part of this scheme? Are you part of this family? Have you joined the family of God through Jesus Christ our Lord? If not, you can become a part of it right now. You can say, “Lord Jesus, here I am. I respond to your appeal. Enter my life and make me part of your family.” And if you are already part of it you can give thanks to God.

Prayer:

Once again, our Father, we pray that you will take away the dimness from our vision, the dullness from our understanding, and help us to comprehend these great themes which have changed the history of the world again and again as men have grasped them. Save us from the folly of taking them for granted or of giving them no attention. But help us, Lord, young and old alike, to think deeply and seriously about these great statements, to understand that this is the way that you are acting, this is the course of your movement through history. Lord, help us by thy grace to rejoice, to lay hold of your provision, and to be responsive instruments in your hand; in Jesus’ name we ask, Amen.


Title: God at Work
By: Ray C. Stedman
Scripture: Ephesians 1:1-14
Date: July 23, 1972
Series: Riches in Christ
Message No: 1
Catalog No: 3001

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Chrysostom’s Homily on Ephesians 1:1-10

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus. Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Observe, he applies the word “through” to the Father. But what then? Shall we say that He is inferior? Surely not.

“To the saints,” saith he, “which are at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus.”

Observe that he calls saints, men with wives, and children, and domestics. For that these are they whom he calls by this name is plain from the end of the Epistle, as, when he says, “Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands.” (Eph. v. 22.) And again, “Children, obey your parents:” (Eph. vi. 1.) and, “Servants, be obedient to your masters.” (Eph. vi. 5.) Think how great is the indolence that possesses us now, how rare is any thing like virtue now and how great the abundance of virtuous men must have been then, when even secular men could be called “saints and faithful.” “Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Grace” is his word; and he calls God, “Father,” since this name is a sure token of that gift of grace. And how so? Hear what he saith elsewhere; “Because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” (Gal. iv. 6.)

“And from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Because for us men Christ was born, and appeared in the flesh.

Ver. 3. “Blessed be the God,” he saith, “and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Observe; The God of Him that was Incarnate. And though thou wilt not, The Father of God the Word.

Ver. 3. “Who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

He is here alluding to the blessings of the Jews; for that was blessing also, but it was not spiritual blessing. For how did it run? “The Lord bless thee, He will bless the fruit of thy body;” (Deut. vii. 13.) and “He will bless thy going out and thy coming in.” (Deut. xxviii. 4.) But here it is not thus, but how? “With every spiritual blessing.” And what lackest thou yet? Thou art made immortal, thou art made free, thou art made a son, thou art made righteous, thou art made a brother, thou art made a fellow-heir, thou reignest with Christ, thou art glorified with Christ; all things are freely given thee. “How,” saith he, “shall He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom. viii. 32.) Thy First-fruits is adored by Angels, by the Cherubim, by the Seraphim! What lackest thou yet? “With every spiritual blessing.” There is nothing carnal here. Accordingly He excluded all those former blessings, when He said, “In the world ye have tribulation,” (John xvi. 33.) to lead us on to these. For as they who possessed carnal things were unable to hear of spiritual things, so they who aim at spiritual things cannot attain to them unless they first stand aloof from carnal things.

What again is “spiritual blessing in the heavenly places?” It is not upon earth, he means, as was the case with the Jews. “Ye shall eat the good of the land.” (Isa. i. 19.) “Unto a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Ex. iii. 8.) “The Lord shall bless thy land.” (Deut. vii. 13.) Here we have nothing of this sort, but what have we? “If a man love Me, he will keep My word, and I and My Father will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John xiv. 23.) “Every one therefore which heareth these words of Mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man which built his house upon the rock, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon the rock.” 51(Mat. vii. 24, 25.) And what is that rock but those heavenly things which are above the reach of every change? “Every one therefore who,” saith Christ, “shall confess Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father which is in Heaven: But whosoever shall deny Me, him will I also deny.” (Mat. x. 32, 33.) Again, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Mat. v. 8.) And again, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” (Mat. v. 3.) And again, “Blessed are ye which are persecuted for righteousness sake, for great is your reward in Heaven.” (Mat. v. 11, 12.) Observe, how every where He speaketh of Heaven, no where of earth, or of the things on the earth. And again, “Our citizenship is in Heaven, from whence also we wait for a Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philip. iii. 20.) And again, “Not setting your mind on the things that are on the earth, but on the things which are above.” (Col. iii. 3.)

“In Christ.”

That is to say, this blessing was not by the hand of Moses, but by Christ Jesus: so that we surpass them not only in the quality of the blessings, but in the Mediator also. As moreover he saith in the Epistle to the Hebrews; “And Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were afterward to be spoken; but Christ as a Son over His house, whose house are we.” (Heb. iii. 5–6.)

Ver. 4. “Even as,” he proceeds, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before Him in love.”

His meaning is somewhat of this sort. Through whom He hath blessed us, through Him He hath also chosen us. And He, then, it is that shall bestow upon us all those rewards hereafter. He is the very Judge that shall say, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Mat. xxv. 34.) And again, “I will that where I am they will also be with Me.” (John xvii. 24.) And this is a point which he is anxious to prove in almost all his Epistles, that ours is no novel system, but that it had thus been figured from the very first, that it is not the result of any change of purpose, but had been in fact a divine dispensation and fore-ordained. And this is a mark of great solicitude for us.

What is meant by, “He chose us in Him?” By means of the faith which is in Him, Christ, he means, happily ordered this for us before we were born; nay more, before the foundation of the world. And beautiful is that word “foundation,” as though he were pointing to the world as cast down from some vast height. Yea, vast indeed and ineffable is the height of God, so far removed not in place but in incommunicableness of nature; so wide the distance between creation and Creator! A word which heretics may be ashamed to hear.

But wherefore hath He chosen us? “That we should be holy and without a blemish before Him.” That you may not then, when you hear that “He hath chosen us,” imagine that faith alone is sufficient, he proceeds to add life and conduct. To this end, saith he, hath He chosen us, and on this condition, “that we should be holy and without blemish.” And so formerly he chose the Jews. On what terms? “This nation, saith he, hath He chosen from the rest of the nations.” (Deut. xiv. 2.) Now if men in their choices choose what is best, much more doth God. And indeed the fact of their being chosen is at once a token of the loving kindness of God, and of their moral goodness. For by all means would he have chosen those who were approved. He hath Himself rendered us holy, but then we must continue holy. A holy man is he who is a partaker of faith; a blameless man is he who leads an irreproachable life. It is not however simply holiness and irreproachableness that He requires, but that we should appear such “before Him.” For there are holy and blameless characters, who yet are esteemed as such only by men, those who are like whited sepulchres, and like such as wear sheep’s clothing. It is not such, however, He requires, but such as the Prophet speaks of; “And according to the cleanness of my hands.” (Ps. xviii. 24.) What cleanness? That which is so “in His eyesight.” He requires that holiness on which the eye of God may look.

Having thus spoken of the good works of these, he again recurs to His grace. “In love,” saith he, “having predestinated us.” Because this comes not of any pains, nor of any good works of ours, but of love; and yet not of love alone, but of our virtue also. For if indeed of 52love alone, it would follow that all must be saved; whereas again were it the result of our virtue alone, then were His coming needless, and the whole dispensation. But it is the result neither of His love alone, nor yet of our virtue, but of both. “He chose us,” saith the Apostle; and He that chooseth, knoweth what it is that He chooseth. “In love,” he adds, “having foreordained us;” for virtue would never have saved any one, had there not been love. For tell me, what would Paul have profited, how would he have exhibited what he has exhibited, if God had not both called him from the beginning, and, in that He loved him, drawn him to Himself? But besides, His vouchsafing us so great privileges, was the effect of His love, not of our virtue. Because our being rendered virtuous, and believing, and coming nigh unto Him, even this again was the work of Him that called us Himself, and yet, notwithstanding, it is ours also. But that on our coming nigh unto Him, He should vouchsafe us so high privileges, as to bring us at once from a state of enmity, to the adoption of children, this is indeed the work of a really transcendent love.

Ver. 4, 5. “In love,” saith he, “having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself.”

Do you observe how that nothing is done without Christ? Nothing without the Father? The one hath predestinated, the other hath brought us near. And these words he adds by way of heightening the things which have been done, in the same way as he says also elsewhere, “And not only so, but we also rejoice in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. v. 11.) For great indeed are the blessings bestowed, yet are they made far greater in being bestowed through Christ; because He sent not any servant, though it was to servants He sent, but the Only-begotten Son Himself.

Ver. 5. “According to the good pleasure,” he continues, “of His will.”

That is to say, because He earnestly willed it. This is, as one might say, His earnest desire. For the word “good pleasure” every where means the precedent will, for there is also another will. As for example, the first will is that sinners should not perish; the second will is, that, if men become wicked, they shall perish. For surely it is not by necessity that He punishes them, but because He wills it. You may see something of the sort even in the words of Paul, where he says, “I would that all men were even as I myself.” (1 Cor. vii. 7.) And again, “I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children.” (1 Tim. v. 14.) By “good pleasure” then he means the first will, the earnest will, the will accompanied with earnest desire, as in case of us, for I shall not refuse to employ even a somewhat familiar expression, in order to speak with clearness to the simpler sort; for thus we ourselves, to express the intentness of the will, speak of acting according to our resolve. What he means to say then is this, God earnestly aims at, earnestly desires, our salvation. Wherefore then is it that He so loveth us, whence hath He such affection? It is of His goodness alone. For grace itself is the fruit of goodness. And for this cause, he saith, hath He predestinated us to the adoption of children; this being His will, and the object of His earnest wish, that the glory of His grace may be displayed. “According to the good pleasure of His will,” he proceeds,

Ver. 6. “To the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

That the glory of His grace may be displayed, he saith, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. Now then if for this He hath shown grace to us, to the praise of the glory of His grace, and that He may display His grace, let us abide therein. “To the praise of His glory.” What is this? that who should praise Him? that who should glorify Him? that we, that Angels, that Archangels, yea, or the whole creation? And what were that? Nothing. The Divine nature knoweth no want. And wherefore then would He have us praise and glorify Him? It is that our love towards Him may be kindled more fervently within us. He desireth nothing we can render; not our service, not our praise, nor any thing else, nothing but our salvation; this is His object in every thing He does. And he who praises and marvels at the grace displayed towards himself will thus be more devoted and more earnest.

“Which He freely bestowed on us,” he saith. He does not say, “Which He hath graciously given us,” (ἐχαρίσατο) but, “wherein He hath shown grace to us.” (ἐχαρίτωσεν) That is to say, He hath not only released us from our sins, but hath also made us meet objects of His love. It is as though one were to take a leper, wasted by distemper, and disease, by age, and poverty, and famine, and were to turn him all at once into a graceful youth, surpassing all mankind in beauty, shedding a bright lustre from his cheeks, and eclipsing the sun-beams with the glances of his eyes; and then were to set him in the very flower of his age, and after that array him in purple and a diadem and all the attire of royalty. It is thus that God hath arrayed and adorned this soul of ours, and clothed it with beauty, and rendered it an object of His delight and love. Such a soul Angels desire to look into, yea, Archangels, and all the holy ones. Such grace hath He shed over us, so dear hath He rendered us to Himself. “The King,” saith the Psalmist, “shall greatly desire thy beauty.” (Ps. xlv. 11.) Think what injurious words we uttered heretofore, and look, what gracious words we utter now. Wealth has no longer charms for us, nor the things that are here below, but only heavenly things, the things that are in the heavens. When a child has outward beauty, and has besides a pervading grace in all its sayings, do we not call it a beautiful child? Such as this are the faithful. Look, what words the initiated utter! What can be more beautiful than that mouth that breathes those wondrous words, and with a pure heart and pure lips, and beaming with cheerful confidence, partaketh of such a mystical table? What more beautiful than the words, with which we renounce the service of the Devil, and enlist in the service of Christ? than both that confession which is before the Baptismal laver, and that which is after it? Let us reflect as many of us as have defiled our Baptism, and weep that we may be able again to repair it.

Ver. 6. “In the Beloved,” he saith, “in whom we have our redemption through His Blood.”

And how is this? Not only is there this marvel, that He hath given His Son, but yet further that He hath given Him in such a way, as that the Beloved One Himself should be slain!

Yea, and more transcendent still! He hath given the Beloved for them that were hated. See, how high a price he sets upon us. If, when we hated Him and were enemies, He gave the Beloved, what will He not do now, when we are reconciled by Him through grace?

Ver. 7. “The forgiveness,” saith he, “of our trespasses.”

Again he descends from high to low: first speaking of adoption, and sanctification, and blamelessness, and then of the Passion, and in this not lowering his discourse and bringing it down from greater things to lesser, no rather, he was heightening it, and raising it from the lesser to the greater. For nothing is so great as that the blood of this Son should be shed for us. Greater this than both the adoption, and all the other gifts of grace, that He spared not even the Son. For great indeed is the forgiveness of sins, yet this is the far greater thing, that it should be done by the Lord’s blood. For that this is far greater than all, look how here again he exclaims,

Ver. 7, 8. “According to the riches of His grace, which He made to abound toward us.”

The above mentioned gifts are riches, yet is this far more so. “Which,” saith he, “He made to abound toward us.” They are both “riches” and “they have abounded,” that is to say, were poured forth in ineffable measure. It is not possible to represent in words what blessings we have in fact experienced. For riches indeed they are, abounding riches, and He hath given in abundance riches not of man but of God, so that on all hands it is impossible that they should be expressed. And to show us how He gave it to such abundance, he adds,

Ver. 8, 9. “In all wisdom and prudence, having made known unto us the mystery of His will.”

That is to say, Making us wise and prudent, in that which is true wisdom, and that which is true prudence. Strange! what friendship! For He telleth us His secrets; the mysteries, saith he, of His will, as if one should say, He hath made known to us the things that are in His heart. For here is indeed the mystery which is full of all wisdom and prudence. For what will you mention equal to this wisdom! Those that were worth nothing, it hath discovered a way of raising them to wealth and abundance. What can equal this wise contrivance? He that was an enemy, he that was hated, he is in a moment lifted up on high. And not this only,—but, yet more, that it should be done at this particular time, this again was the work of wisdom; and that it should be done by means of the Cross. It were matter of long discourse here to point out, how all this was the work of wisdom, and how He had made us wise. And therefore he repeats again the words,

“According to His good pleasure which He purposed in Him.”

That is to say, this He desired, this He travailed for, as one might say, that He might be able to reveal to us the mystery. What mystery? That He would have man seated up on high. And this hath come to pass.

Ver. 10. “Unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth, even in Him.”

Heavenly things, he means to say, had been severed from earthly. They had no longer one Head. So far indeed as the system of the creation went, there was over all One God, but so far as management of one household went, this, amid the wide spread of Gentile error, was not the case, but they had been severed from His obedience.

“Unto a dispensation,” saith he, “of the fulness of the times.”

The fulness of the times, he calls it. Observe with what nicety he speaks. And whereas he points out the origination, the purpose, the will, the first intention, as proceeding from the Father, and the fulfillment and execution as effected by the agency of the Son, yet no where does he apply to him the term minister.

“He chose us,” saith he, “in Him, having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself;” and, “to the praise of the glory of His grace, in whom we have redemption through His blood,—which He purposed in Him, unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ;” and no where hath he called Him minister. If however the word “in” and the word “by” implies a mere minister, look what the matter comes to. Just in the very beginning of the Epistle, he used the expression “through the will of the Father.” The Father, he means, willed, the Son wrought. But neither does it follow, that because the Father willed, the Son is excluded from the willing; nor because the Son wrought, that the Father is deprived of the working. But to the Father and the Son, all things are common. “For all Mine are Thine,” saith He, “and Thine are Mine.” (John xvii. 10.)

The fullness of the times, however, was His coming. After, then, He had done everything, by the ministry both of Angels, and of Prophets, and of the Law, and nothing came of it, and it was well nigh come to this, that man had been made in vain, brought into the world in vain, nay, rather to his ruin; when all were absolutely perishing, more fearfully than in the deluge, He devised this dispensation, that is by grace; that it might not be in vain, might not be to no purpose that man was created. This he calls “the fulness of the times,” and “wisdom.” And why so? Because at that time when they were on the very point of perishing, then they were rescued.

That “He might sum up” he saith.

What is the meaning of this word, “sum up?” It is “to knit together.” Let us, however, endeavor to get near the exact import. With ourselves then, in common conversation, the word means the summing into a brief compass things spoken at length, the concise account of matters described in detail. And it has this meaning. For Christ hath gathered up in Himself the dispensations carried on through a lengthened period, that is to say, He hath cut them short. For “by finishing His word and cutting it short in righteousness,” (Rom. ix. 28.) He both comprehended former dispensations, and added others beside. This is the meaning of “summing up.”

It has also another signification; and of what nature is this? He hath set over all one and the same Head, i.e., Christ according to the flesh, alike over Angels and men. That is to say, He hath given to Angels and men one and the same government; to the one the Incarnate, to the other God the Word. Just as one might say of a house which has some part decayed and the other sound, He hath rebuilt the house, that is to say, He has made it stronger, and laid a firmer foundation. So also here He hath brought all under one and the same Head. For thus will an union be effected, thus will a close bond be effected, if one and all can be brought under one and the same Head, and thus have some constraining bond of union from above. Honored then as we are with so great a blessing, so high a privilege, so great loving-kindness, let us not shame our Benefactor, let us not render in vain so great grace. Let us exemplify the life of Angels, the virtue of Angels, the conversation of Angels, yea, I entreat and conjure you, that all these things turn not to our judgment, nor to our condemnation, but to our enjoyment of those good things, which may God grant we may all attain, in Christ Jesus, our Lord, with whom to the Father, together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, strength, &c. &c.

What Can We Know About God? Ephesians 1:3-14

A Pocket Guide to New Testament Theology

by I. Howard Marshall

Chapter 3: What can we know about God?

A well-known hymn of praise, found in many hymnbooks, opens with the words:

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes.

The rather negative tone with its stress on God’s invisibility and unknowability typifies many people’s conception of God. Certainly there is a sense in which God is incomprehensible and beyond our understanding, and it would be wrong for us to think of him as an “object” that we can grasp and comprehend like any other object in the universe. But the theme of our previous chapter was that, although man cannot by searching find out God, yet God has revealed himself to us in ways that we can understand. Since man is a creature made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), it is possible for him to have some understanding of the God who made him. God has revealed himself by means of human language, and so long as we realize that human language is a true, but inadequate, vehicle for communicating the reality of God, we can make some progress in understanding. God has graciously accommodated himself to our feeble and sinful minds by speaking to us in a personal revelation, and so we must remember that the person himself is greater than the revelation. In Jesus we see, as Charles Wesley put it,

Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.

Provided we remember that he is greater than our understanding, and that human words cannot do justice to him, we can still say much about him.

God in three Persons (Ephesians 1:3-14)

The Bible reveals God to us in three ways. In the Old Testament, particularly, we read about God the Creator and Lord of the universe. He alone is God, for the idols of the heathen are in no sense real gods (Psalm 96:5; Isaiah 45:12-18). On the basis of the teaching in the Old Testament the Jews became convinced monotheists, i.e. believers that there is only one God (Mark 12:28-34; cf. Deuteronomy 6:4).

It was against this background that the early Christians came to believe that Jesus shared the nature of God, and we can see that it was a remarkable step for them to take. Jesus himself claimed to come from God and spoke of him in a unique personal sense as his Father (Matthew 11:25-27). When he rose from the dead, Christians saw in this a confirmation of the status which he had claimed for himself, and they said that God had given him the title of “Lord” (Acts 2:36). The writer of one of the Gospels described him as the Logos (Greek “word”), a being separate from God and yet called God (John 1:1; cf. 20:28). The church knew him as the Son of God (Acts 9:20; Romans 1:3f.: Galatians 2:20; Hebrews 1:1f.); it prayed to him (Acts 7:59; 1 Thessalonians 3:11ff.); it worshipped him as Lord (Romans 10:9-13; cf. Philippians 2:9-11); and it applied to him titles used of God in the Old Testament (Philippians 2:10f.; cf. Romans 14:10-12 and Isaiah 45:23; 1 Peter 2:3; cf. Psalm 34:8).

The Old Testament contained references to the Spirit of God as one of the means by which God spoke and acted in the world. This Being was more fully revealed in New Testament times. He was spoken of as “another comforter” (i.e. “strengthener” or “advocate”) sent from God to take the place of Jesus with his followers after the ascension (John 14:16f., 26; 16:7-11, 13-15, 26). He was described in personal terms (Romans 8:26f; 15:30; 1 Corinthians 12:11; Ephesians 4:30; 1 Timothy 4:1) and regarded as divine (2 Corinthians 3:17f.).

The striking thing is the way in which the earliest Christian writings name God the Father and Jesus his Son alongside each other (Galatians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:1) in a way that must have shocked the Jews with their belief in the uniqueness of God the Father. The Holy Spirit too was linked with the Father and Son in a way which suggests irresistibly that all three Beings stood on the same level (Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 2:18; 4:4-6; 2 Thessalonians 2:13f.; 1 Peter 1:1f.). The actual term “God”, however, is rarely used directly of Jesus and never of the Spirit.

This understanding of the Father, Son and Spirit arose out of Christian experience as God revealed himself in Jesus and then in the life of the church, and the New Testament writers seem to have accepted it without thinking too deeply about its implications. But the problem was inevitable: how could this belief in three divine Persons be reconciled with the Old Testament idea of only one God? During the first two or three centuries of Christian history many attempts were made to solve this problem. Various solutions were tried which proved inadequate. One solution was to suggest that the Father alone was God and that the Son and Spirit were lesser, created beings, superior-quality angels, so to speak. Another suggestion was that “Father”, “Son” and “Spirit” were three roles played by God, rather like one actor appearing in three different parts in a play. Neither of these solutions did justice, however, to the plain facts revealed in the New Testament, namely that the three Persons were each fully God, and that God was at one and the same time existent as three Persons.

It is doubtful whether the problem of the being of God can be solved in the sense of giving an explanation of it. Christians have been content to affirm the doctrine in a form which takes account of all the facts and to try to find human analogies which may throw some light on it.

Some people find these analogies helpful, although obviously none of them must be pressed too far. All of them start from the point that the biblical teaching reveals one God (the basic Old Testament doctrine) who is nevertheless revealed in a threefold way (the New Testament revelation). The problem is then to state how one God can combine unity and diversity. At an impersonal level we may think of how an atom is a unity composed of various kinds of particles. A biological organism consists of a unity of different indispensable parts. The human personality unites intelligence, feeling and will in such a way that we can hardly conceive of the whole without its parts or the parts without the whole. Other analogies have been drawn from personal relationships. Thus a husband and wife who are bound together by the closest ties of love can be one in thought and purpose and yet are clearly capable of independent action, which is nevertheless in harmony with the wills of both of them. In the same way, Jesus spoke of his relationship as a Son to the Father in terms of mutual knowledge and a common purpose (John 5:19f.; 17:21, 23).

These two types of analogy may be of some help. The former emphasizes the unity and the latter the distinctness of the parts of the whole. Together they point to the need to stress the oneness of God and the distinctness of the Father, Son and Spirit. The term which has come to be used for the three members of the Godhead is “Persons.” Whatever its original meaning — which was more that of the “roles” played by actors — it inevitably conveys to modern readers all that is meant by human personality. This development in usage is understandable and legitimate. Father, Son and Spirit do each show the characteristics which we associate with human person-hood, and in particular the capacity to enter into relationships with other persons. It may be most helpful to think of the Trinity as a unity of three Persons, joined by the closest ties of love and common purpose, so that they appear as one God. This is certainly suggested by the way in which Jesus is regarded as the Son of the Father. This way of speaking was misunderstood in the early church to mean that the Son was “begotten” by the Father at some remote point in time past, but it was generally realized that to say this was to press the metaphor of human fatherhood further than was legitimate; what it means is that the Son stands in a perpetual relation of sonship to the Father. The Bible does not offer any comparable way of speaking about the relation of the Spirit to the Father, but the early church developed the thought that the Spirit “proceeded” from the Father and the Son (cf. John 15:26). This manner of speaking states the relationship without explaining it.

To speak of God as the Trinity is to affirm that he exists as one God and yet in three Persons, all equally divine.

God is spirit (John 4:24)

The basis of the biblical understanding of God is the doctrine of the Trinity. Our next step must be to consider the character of the God who is revealed to us in this threefold manner. We shall base our discussion on a series of affirmations made by John in his Gospel and First Epistle. These affirmations were not meant as a systematic and comprehensive summary of the nature of God, but nevertheless they do offer a very handy summary of the biblical teaching.

The first, and most difficult, of these affirmations is that God is spirit. The difficulty is obviously that we have just spoken of one particular Person of the Trinity as “the Spirit” and now we have to affirm that this word applies to the Father also. At the same time the word is popularly used of the soul of a man as distinct from his body, or of the life-breath which animates his body, or of superhuman beings. In general, the word is used of non-material beings, and it is this idea that is present when we speak of God as spirit. His manner of existence is basically different from our human bodily existence (cf. Isaiah 31:3).

On a negative side, this warns us against thinking falsely of God as having a human or material body like the superhuman figures of Greek gods. He is not to be confused in any way with man-made idols, and the Bible strongly forbids any attempt to make material representations of him (Exodus 20:4-6). Any such representations are bound to be crude and misleading. Our normal physical and material ways of thinking completely break down when they are applied to God.

On the positive side, the term “spirit” implies that God’s existence is on a higher level than ours. It is true, real existence, free from the limitations and corruption associated with bodily existence. The idea that God is free from physical limitations, and so is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-present, is bound up with the thought that he is spirit. In John 4:24 spirit and truth are closely associated. What is spiritual is therefore ultimately real and lasting. God is eternal spirit.

God is love (1 John 4:8)

God as spirit is the basis of reality and truth. These qualities come into clearer focus when we consider the biblical revelation of his character as loving. Love involves at least two people, the lover and the beloved. The Bible makes it clear that the Father and Son are bound together by mutual love (John 5:20; Colossians 1:13), and it is reasonable to conclude that the Holy Spirit shares in this loving activity although the Bible does not explicitly state this. God’s love for the world is then an extension of this eternal loving relationship within the Trinity so as to include the world, and human love is meant to be a copy of this love (1 John 4:11).

But love is a word with several different meanings, and it is important to understand what the term means when it is used of God. There are at least two Greek words translated into English as love. One is the word erōs which often expresses the desire to have or possess the object which one loves and so to obtain pleasure and satisfaction. Such love is called forth by the sheer desirableness of its object, and its aim is essentially selfish, it aims primarily at its own good, and its watchword is “get”. This word is not used in the Bible. The other word is agapē;. The kind of love often expressed by this word aims to give pleasure and satisfaction to the object of its affection, rather than to the lover. It does not simply love the lovable but it reaches out to the unlovely and unlovable and makes it lovable. It is fundamentally unselfish and altruistic, it aims at the good of the beloved, and its watchword is “give”. Naturally this does not mean that the lover himself gets no satisfaction or pleasure out of his love. His satisfaction is that which comes from giving to others and sharing their joy, and of course the agapē of one person can be matched by the answering agapē of another.

There are other concepts of love as well as these (see C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves), but this comparison of the two concepts of love which have come to be broadly associated with these two Greek words will suffice to make our point. The kind of love which is shown by God is agapē. It is this word that is used in the Bible for his love, and it is fair to say that the concept of giving love largely developed from the use of this word in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to describe the love of God. We might go so far as to say that men arrived at this concept of love only from seeing what love meant in the case of God. The idea of love as giving, in distinction from desire or friendship, is bound up with the revelation of God’s character. “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). These two verses sum up the matter. God’s love is concerned with the welfare of the undeserving and confers benefit on those who have no title to it nor show any love to him. Human love is possibly never free from self-seeking. God’s love is given freely to all men without discrimination and seeks only their highest good. Here is the pattern for a human love which cares for all men regardless of their race, colour, language or place in society.

This, then, is the kind of love which is shown in the fellowship of the three Persons of the Godhead. It led to the creation of the universe, and it brought the Son of God to earth to win back rebellious mankind into joyful fellowship with God. It is this love which lies behind the ascription of the title of Father to God. He is Father primarily of Jesus as his Son (John 5:20). It is very significant that the Bible scarcely ever uses the term “father” of God’s relationship to mankind in general. It is only when men respond to his redeeming love and become his spiritual children (Matthew 6:9, 15) that they enter into a family relationship with him; only then are they entitled to call him their Father. The popular modern idea that God is the Father of all men and that they can expect all the privileges of his fatherly goodness without undertaking any filial responsibilities has not basis in biblical teaching and needs to be clearly exposed as an error. If God’s love is available for all mankind, it remains true that entry into a relationship in which he is known as Father is reserved for those who are prepared to respond positively and wholeheartedly to his invitation.

God is light (1 John 1:5)

In the Bible light is a symbol of various ideas, such as holiness, goodness, truth, knowledge and salvation. It is thus a natural symbol for God, who is the supreme embodiment of these qualities (Psalm 27:1; Malachi 4:2; John 3:19; 8:12: 2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 5:8f.; Revelation 22:5).

God’s character as light can express his separateness from men (1 Timothy 6:16), but it can also signify that he gives guidance and direction to men in the darkness of this world (1 John 2:8-11). Above all the symbolism of light in its purity speaks of the holiness of God. We should not distinguish this attribute of God too sharply from his love, as if these were two different aspects of his character. The temptation for some thinkers has been to regard holiness as almost the opposite of love, if not actually incompatible with it. It makes better sense to say that holiness and love are like the obverse and reverse sides of the same coin. They are two complementary, personal aspects of the character of God.

It has been said that holiness is what makes God different from man, and certainly something of the mystery and majesty of God is summed up in this word. But at the heart of God’s holiness there lies the moral quality of righteousness. He is just in all his ways. Justice can be understood negatively in terms of treating people as they deserve, and, in particular, of meting out the appropriate punishment to a wrong-doer. God’s justice, however, is predominantly positive, for it expresses itself primarily in love and mercy even to the undeserving. Justice means seeing that people get what they deserve when good things are being handed out, as well as that penalties are given to those who deserve them. The gospel itself can be regarded as a revelation of the righteousness of God (Romans 1:17). It is precisely because he is faithful and just that he forgives the penitent sinner (1 John 1:9). He is a righteous God and therefore a Saviour (Isaiah 45:21). God’s love is righteous love, so that it is not a matter of arbitrary sentiment; his righteousness is loving righteousness, so that it is not a matter of austere payment of what is owed. True love is seen in justice, and true justice in love.

The concrete expression of God’s holiness and righteousness is the moral law, which he has given to men as the way of life they must follow. Love is meant to express itself in harmonious relationships. Just as the life of the triune God is marked by perfect harmony, so the life of man in his relationships with his fellow men and with God should be marked by harmony. This means that there must be some rules regarding the expression of love in human relationships. The essence of God’s law is accordingly that men ought to love God and one another (Mark 12:29-31). This basic law, however, needs to be expanded into a great number of commandments which express the obligations of love in different circumstances.

These commandments are given to men in the context of God’s love and concern for them. In the Old Testament they mostly appear as part of the covenant made by God with the people of Israel. They were spoken in the context of God’s love for the people, expressed in his deliverance of them from their slavery in Egypt. He summoned them to be his people and promised them his fatherly care, on condition that they would obey his commands. Similarly, in the New Testament the concrete instructions for daily life appear in the form of an explanation of what it means to respond to the love of God revealed in Jesus. This does not mean, however, that God’s commands are binding solely on those who agree to accept his covenant and grace. Ultimately they express his will as the creator of mankind, and they are rooted in the moral law which finds its source in him. If this way of life is not followed by men, the consequence is the breakdown of life itself; human relationships become destroyed and the life of men together fails to achieve its purpose. The tragedy is that men have refused to acknowledge the demands of God’s love expressed in his law. They would prefer to be free from it, and they imagine that their way is better. When love is thus denied the possibility of existence, God’s holiness is felt as an alien force, and it cannot be experienced in any other way than in wrath and judgment.

When men refuse to accept God’s way, they become the objects of his wrath. This is the inevitable consequence of their attitude, since there can be no room in a moral universe governed by the law of love for those who live for themselves and refuse to submit to the law which structures the universe. If a man rejects the holy demands and the loving offers of God, he himself must be rejected and suffer exclusion from the presence and life-giving power of God, as the penalty of his rebellion (Matthew 23:31ff.; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12).

This is why God’s holiness symbolizes his separation from men. It is not because of their finiteness that men are separated from God. It is because of their sin that they exclude themselves from him, for no sinner can stand in the presence of God (Malachi 3:1f.). The Bible implies that if it were not for their sinfulness, men could enjoy fellowship with their Creator (cf. Genesis 2:8; 5:22-24; Exodus 33:11). This fellowship has been destroyed by sin, and God’s holiness is now a barrier to the approach of sinners into his presence. But God himself has taken the initiative in reopening a way to fellowship through the gospel (1 John 1:3, 7). He wants men to come back into fellowship with him and to share his holy nature (2 Peter 1:3-11), and so he gives himself freely in love, bearing their sin and taking its evil effects upon himself in order that they might be freed from it and be fit to come into his presence. It is the very greatness of this holy love which makes the sin of men in rejecting them all the more heinous and culpable.

Questions for study and discussion

  1. On the basis of such a passage as Ephesians 1:3-14, what would you say is the significance of the doctrine of the Trinity for the Christian in his spiritual life?
  2. Do you think that it is fitting to address prayers to the Son or the Spirit as well as to the Father?
  3. With the aid of a concordance examine the teaching of the New Testament about God as Father: what evidence, if any, is there that he is the Father of all mankind?
  4. “The divine attributes of justice and mercy … do not need to be reconciled, for they are never at war” (J. Denney): discuss.
  5. Make a list of the different kinds of human love. What light do they throw on the nature of God’s love?

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    Used by permission: © 2000 I. Howard Marshall. Website: www.BiblicalTraining.org.

    God Predestined Us unto Sonship Through Jesus Christ

    Listen

    Ephesians 1:3-6

    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

    One of the saddest feelings in the world is the feeling that your life is going nowhere. You’re alive. But you feel like there is no point in being alive. You get a little daydream—a little flicker—of what it might be like to be a part of something really great and really valuable, and what it might be like to have a significant part in it. But then you wake up and everything looks so small and insignificant and pitiful and out of the way and unknown and pointless.

    Our Need for a Meaningful, Purposeful Future

    We were not made to live without a destiny. We were made to be sustained by a meaningful, purposeful future. We were made to be strengthened each day by this assurance, this confidence: that what is happening in our lives today, no matter how mundane and ordinary, is a really significant step toward something great and good and beautiful tomorrow.

    When that connection breaks down—between my present life and a great and good and beautiful destiny—I have three choices:

    1. I can kill myself; or
    2. I can numb myself (with alcohol or drugs or television or pornography or romance novels or computers or frantic work or frantic play); or
    3. I can seek to reestablish the connection by finding what my true destiny really is.

    An Illustration from a Nazi Concentration Camp

    In a Nazi concentration camp in Hungary during the Second World War prisoners were forced to do nauseating work in a sewage plant. But it was work; and something was accomplished. Then the plant was destroyed by allied bombers. So the Nazi officers arranged for the prisoners to shovel sand into carts and drag it to the other end of the plant and dump it. The next day they ordered them to shovel it back into the carts and bring it to where they started. And so it went for days.

    Finally one old man began crying uncontrollably; the guards hauled him away. Another screamed until he was beaten into silence. Then a young man who had survived three years in the camp darted away from the group. The guards shouted for him to stop as he ran toward the electrified fence. The other prisoners cried out, but it was too late; there was a blinding flash and a terrible sizzling noise as smoke puffed from his smoldering flesh. In the days that followed, dozens of the prisoners went mad and ran from their work only to be shot by guards or electrocuted by the fence. (Charles Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict, p. 68)

    We were made to be sustained by a purposeful future. We were made to live in the assurance of a significant destiny.

    “Destiny” and Predestination

    I use the word destiny simply to connect this tremendous cry of the human heart with the word predestination in today’s text, Ephesians 1:5. We began last week with verse 4: “God chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” This week we take up verse 5: “God predestined us to sonship through Jesus Christ for himself according to the good pleasure of his will.”

    I want to establish in your hearts this morning—you who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and count him your Master and Savior and Hope—I want to establish in your hearts an assured destiny, a great and good and beautiful future, so that you don’t ever have to sob over empty days or scream over futility or throw yourself on the wires because there is no future worth living for. And the way I want to establish this destiny in your heart and make it firm is by showing you two things in this text: the goal of your destiny, and the ground of your destiny.

    1. The Goal of Our Destiny

    First, let’s focus our attention on the goal of our destiny. What are we destined for?

    Predestined for Sonship to Bear the Family Likeness

    Verse 5 gives part of the answer: “God predestined us for sonship.” Our destiny from before the creation of the world was to become the children of God.

    The difference between predestination, which is mentioned in verse 5, and election (or choosing) which is mentioned in verse 4, is that election refers to God’s freedom in choosing whom he will predestine. Predestination refers to the goal or destiny for which he chose them. Election is God’s choosing whom he will, and predestination is God’s determination that they will become his children.

    When God chose you, he had a purpose, and so he predestined that purpose to come about, namely, that you would become a child of God. That you would be part of his family. That you would become an heir of all that God owns. That you would take on the family likeness.

    Your destiny to be God’s children is mentioned in verse 5: “He predestined us unto sonship.” And one meaning of that, the family likeness, is mentioned at the end of verse 4: “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world [Why? For what destiny?] that we should be holy and blameless before him in love.” That’s the practical content of our destiny as God’s children. We are destined to take on the character of God our Father, the character of holiness and blamelessness. That’s our destiny.

    Holy and Blameless “In Love”

    Now notice where I am putting the little phrase “in love.” I’m making it a part of the end of verse 4, not the beginning of verse 5. My reading is found in the footnote in your Bible if you have an RSV or NIV or an NASB. I’m following the KJV and the NRSV.

    Here’s the difference: I’m suggesting that verse 4 reads, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love.” “In love” goes with holy and blameless and shows us what holiness is.

    The other way of reading it puts “in love” with predestine in verse 5 and says, “He predestined us in love unto sonship.” Here it refers to the love of God and tells us the way he predestined us. The order of the words in Greek allows for both of these readings.

    Four Parallels with 1 Thessalonians 3:12–13

    Here’s the main reason I go with the KJV and put it with verse 4 and make love the essence of our holiness. There is a parallel in 1 Thessalonians 3:12–13 that goes like this:

    May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men . . . so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father.

    To me it is very remarkable that there are at least four parallels with our text:

    1. the phrase “in love” (“may God cause you to abound in love”),
    2. the combination of blamelessness and holiness (“that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness”),
    3. the phrase “before our God” (“holiness before our God”) which corresponds to the phrase “holy and blameless before him” in Ephesians 1:4;
    4. and the reference to God as our Father just as we have the focus on sonship in Ephesians 1:5.

    Our Destiny to Live in and Walk in Love

    All that says to me that just as love is the pathway to holiness in 1 Thessalonians 3:12, so love is the pathway to holiness in Ephesians 1:4. And so to live in love and to walk in love is part of our destiny in Ephesians 1:4–5. God predestined us to be his children and that means he destined us to be like him—to be holy, to be blameless, that is, to live in love to each other and to all men.

    John put it like this in 1 John 3:10, “By this the children of God . . . are manifest . . . the one who does not love his brother is not [a child] of God.”

    Your destiny is to be holy as your Father is holy, and that means that your very essence is to love, for God, your Father, is love (1 John 4:8). You are predestined to be like your Father.

    Our Highest Destiny

    But that’s not your highest destiny. Your highest destiny is described in verse 6. Why has God predestined us to sonship and holiness and blamelessness and love? Verse 6: “To the praise of the glory of his grace.” Our holiness and our blamelessness and our love and our sonship are not ends in themselves. They exist for something greater: the praise of the glory of God’s grace.

    The ultimate goal of God in election and predestination is that God might be praised for his glory. And the highest point of that glory is grace. This is the final goal of our destiny. There is no higher hope, no greater tomorrow, no more meaningful future, no more worthy cause to live for, than to reflect and praise the glory of God’s grace forever and ever.

    The certainty of that destiny is grounded in the freedom of God and the all-sufficient work of his Son Jesus.

    2. The Ground of Our Destiny

    So consider finally and briefly the ground of your destiny. We’ve seen the goal. Now we look at the ground or foundation.

    “Through Jesus Christ”

    In verse 5 Paul says, “God predestined us to sonship through Jesus Christ.” Now to see what that means, look at Ephesians 5:25–27.

    25) Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 26) that he might sanctify her [that is, "make her holy"] . . . 27) that he might present the church to himself in glory, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she might be holy and blameless.

    The same two words from Ephesians 1:4! In other words, the basis of your becoming holy and blameless before God is the loving self-sacrifice of Christ on your behalf. The ground of our destiny to be holy and blameless in love as God’s children is the death of Jesus in our place.

    This means that when God chose you before the foundation of the world, and predestined you to be his holy, blameless, loving child, he also predestined his Son to die for you. The ground of your destiny is not only that the Son of God died for you, but that God planned it that way from the beginning. “He predestined us to sonship through Jesus Christ.” The end was predestined and the means were predestined. Our holiness and Jesus’ death.

    The Sovereign, Free Will of God

    But the ultimate ground, the deepest foundation, of our becoming blameless and holy in love is not the death of God’s Son. Verse 5 points to a deeper ground, namely, the sovereign, free will of God.

    Verse 5 says, “God predestined us to sonship through Jesus Christ for himself according to the good pleasure of his will.” The point of this text is to teach every believer this morning that we owe our adoption into God’s family to the “good pleasure of God’s will.” We were chosen before the foundation of the world; we were predestined to sonship and holiness and love not according to what we had done, or according to what we understood, or according to who our parents were, or according to our race, or according to religious background, or according to where we lived, or according to our work or our status or wealth, or according to what we willed. We were chosen and predestined according to the good pleasure of God’s will.

    And the point of the double phrase (not just “according to his will” but) “the good pleasure of his will” is meant to communicate to us that God chose us and predestined us without any binding reference point but his own sovereign will.

    Conclusion

    The sum of the matter is this: the ground of our predestination is the good pleasure of God’s will, the goal of our predestination is the praise of God’s glory, and the predestined connecting links between the good pleasure of his will and the praise of his glory are the death of his Son and the holiness of his people.

    If you are trusting in Jesus Christ this morning, the roots of your life were planted in the eternal counsels of God, and the branches of your life are growing into an absolutely sure and glorious future with God. There are no unimportant days in your life. You don’t ever have to go to bed at night feeling that your life is going nowhere. You don’t ever have to give in to the lie that you are not connected to an awesome purpose.

    For God chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world that you might be holy and blameless before him in love; he predestined you to sonship through Jesus Christ for himself according to the good pleasure of his will to the praise of the glory of his grace. Amen.


    Used with permission of author: John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

    John Wesley’s Notes on Ephesians 1

    Ephesians 1

    Verse 1. By the will of God – Not by any merit of my own. To the saints who are at Ephesus – And in all the adjacent places. For this epistle is not directed to the Ephesians only, but likewise to all the other churches of Asia.

    Verse 3. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us – God’s blessing us is his bestowing all spiritual and heavenly blessings upon us. Our blessing God is the paying him our solemn and grateful acknowledgments, both on account of his own essential blessedness, and of the blessings which he bestows upon us. He is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, as man and Mediator: he is his Father, primarily, with respect to his divine nature, as his only begotten Son; and, secondarily, with respect to his human nature, as that is personally united to the divine. With all spiritual blessings in heavenly things – With all manner of spiritual blessings, which are heavenly in their nature, original, and tendency, and shall be completed in heaven: far different from the external privileges of the Jews, and the earthly blessings they expected from the Messiah.

    Verse 4. As he hath chosen us – Both Jews and gentiles, whom he foreknew as believing in Christ, 1 Pet. i, 2.

    Verse 5. Having predestinated us to the adoption of sons – Having foreordained that all who afterwards believed should enjoy the dignity of being sons of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. According to the good pleasure of his will – According to his free, fixed, unalterable purpose to confer this blessing on all those who should believe in Christ, and those only.

    Verse 6. To the praise of the glory of his grace – His glorious, free love without any desert on our part.

    Verse 7. By whom we – Who believe. Have – From the moment we believe. Redemption – From the guilt and power of sin. Through his blood – Through what he hath done and suffered for us. According to the riches of his grace – According to the abundant overflowings of his free mercy and favour.

    Verse 8. In all wisdom – Manifested by God in the whole scheme of our salvation. And prudence – Which be hath wrought in us, that we may know and do all his acceptable and perfect will.

    Verse 9. Having made known to us – By his word and by his Spirit. The mystery of his will – The gracious scheme of salvation by faith, which depends on his own sovereign will alone. This was but darkly discovered under the law; is now totally hid from unbelievers; and has heights and depths which surpass all the knowledge even of true believers.

    Verse 10. That in the dispensation of the fulness of the times – In this last administration of God’s fullest grace, which took place when the time appointed was fully come. He might gather together into one in Christ – Might recapitulate, re-unite, and place in order again under Christ, their common Head. All things which are in heaven, and on earth – All angels and men, whether living or dead, in the Lord.

    Verse 11. Through whom we – Jews. Also have obtained an inheritance – The glorious inheritance of the heavenly Canaan, to which, when believers, we were predestinated according to the purpose of him that worketh all things after the counsel of his own will – The unalterable decree, “He that believeth shall be delivered;” which will is not an arbitrary will, but flowing from the rectitude of his nature, else, what security would there be that it would be his will to keep his word even with the elect?

    Verse 12. That we – Jews. Who first believed – Before the gentiles. So did some of them in every place. Here is another branch of the true gospel predestination: he that believes is not only elected to salvation, (if he endures to the end,) but is fore-appointed of God to walk in holiness, to the praise of his glory.

    Verse 13. In whom ye – Gentiles. Likewise believed, after ye had heard the gospel – Which God made the means of your salvation; in whom after ye had believed – Probably some time after their first believing. Ye were sealed by that Holy Spirit of promise – Holy both in his nature and in his operations, and promised to all the children of God. The sealing seems to imply,

    1. A full impression of the image of God on their souls.

    2. A full assurance of receiving all the promises, whether relating to time or eternity.

    Verse 14. Who, thus sealing us, is an earnest – Both a pledge and a foretaste of our inheritance. Till the redemption of the purchased possession – Till the church, which he has purchased with his own blood, shall be fully delivered from all sin and sorrow, and advanced to everlasting glory. To the praise of his glory – Of his glorious wisdom, power, and mercy.

    Verse 15. Since I heard of your faith and love – That is, of their perseverance and increase therein.

    Verse 16. I cease not – In all my solemn addresses to God. To give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers – So he did of all the churches, Col. i, 9.

    Verse 17. That the Father of that infinite glory which shines in the face of Christ, from whom also we receive the glorious inheritance, ver. 18, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and Revelation – The same who is the Spirit of promise is also, in the progress of the faithful, the Spirit of wisdom and Revelation; making them wise unto salvation, and revealing to them the deep things of God. He is here speaking of that wisdom and Revelation which are common to all real Christians.

    Verse 18. The eyes of your understanding – It is with these alone that we discern the things of God. Being first opened, and then enlightened – By his Spirit. That ye may know what is the hope of his calling – That ye may experimentally and delightfully know what are the blessings which God has called you to hope for by his word and his Spirit. And what is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints – What an immense treasure of blessedness he hath provided as an inheritance for holy souls.

    Verse 19. And what the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe – Both in quickening our dead souls, and preserving them in spiritual life. According to the power which he exerted in Christ, raising him from the dead – By the very same almighty power whereby he raised Christ; for no less would suffice.

    Verse 20. And he hath seated him at his own right hand – That is, he hath exalted him in his human nature, as a recompence for his sufferings, to a quiet, everlasting possession of all possible blessedness, majesty, and glory.

    Verse 21. Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion – That is, God hath invested him with uncontrollable authority over all demons in hell, all angels in heaven, and all the princes and potentates on earth. And every name that is named – We know the king is above all, though we cannot name all the officers of his court. So we know that Christ is above all, though we are not able to name all his subjects. Not only in this world, but also in that which is to come – The world to come is so styled, not because it does not yet exist, but because it is not yet visible. Principalities and powers are named now; but those also who are not even named in this world, but shall be revealed in the world to come, are all subject to Christ.

    Verse 22. And he hath given him to be head over all things to the church – An head both of guidance and government, and likewise of life and influence, to the whole and every member of it. All these stand in the nearest union with him, and have as continual and effectual a communication of activity, growth, and strength from him, as the natural body from its head.

    Verse 23. The fulness of him that filleth all in all – It is hard to say in what sense this can be spoken of the church; but the sense is easy and natural, if we refer it to Christ, who is the fulness of the Father.

    John Darby’s Commentary on Ephesians 1

    Ephesians 1

    The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ, having chosen us in Him. Chapter 1 unfolds (v. 4-7) these blessings, and the means of sharing them; verses 8-10, the settled purpose of God for the glory of Christ, in whom we possess them. Next, verses 11-14 set before us the inheritance, and the Holy Ghost given as a seal to our persons, and as the earnest of our inheritance. Then follows a prayer, in which the apostle asks that his dear children in the faith-let us say that we-may know our privileges and the power that has brought us into them, the same as that by which Christ was raised from the dead and set at the right hand of God to possess them, as the Head of the assembly, which is His body, which, with Him, shall be established over all things that were created by its Head as God and that He inherits as man, filling all things with His divine and redeeming glory. In a word, we have first the calling of God, what the saints are before Him in Christ; then, having stated the full purpose of God as to Christ, God’s inheritance in the saints; then the prayer that we may know these two things, and the power by which we are brought into them, and the enjoyment of them.

    But we must examine these things more closely. We have seen the establishment of the two relationships between man and God-relationships in which Christ Himself stands. He ascended to His God and our God, to His Father and our Father. We share all the blessings that flow from these two relationships. He has blessed us with all spiritual blessings; not one is lacking. And they are of the highest order; they are not temporal, as was the case with the Jews. It is in the most exalted capacity of the renewed man that we enjoy these blessings: and they are adapted to that capacity, they are spiritual. They are also in the highest sphere: it is not in Canaan or Emmanuel’s land. These blessings are granted us in the heavenly places; they are granted us in the most excellent way-one which leaves room for no comparison-it is in Christ. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. But this flows from the heart of God Himself, from a thought outside the circumstances in which He finds us in time. Before the world was, this was our place in His heart. He purposed to give us a place in Christ. He chose us in Him.

    What blessing, what a source of joy, what grace, to be thus the objects of God’s favour, according to His sovereign love! If we would measure it, it is by Christ we must attempt to do so; or, at least, it is thus that we must feel what this love is. Take especial notice here of the way in which the Holy Ghost keeps it continually before our eyes, that all is in Christ-in the heavenly places in Christ-He had chosen us in Him-unto the adoption by Jesus Christ-made acceptable in the Beloved. This is one of the fundamental principles of the Spirit’s instruction in this place. The other is that the blessing has its origin in God Himself. He is its source and author. His own heart, if we may so express it, His own mind, are its origin and its measure. Therefore it is in Christ alone that we can have any measure of that which cannot be measured. For He is, completely and adequately, the delight of God. The heart of God finds in Him a sufficient object on which to pour itself out entirely, towards which His infinite love can all be exercised.

    The blessing then is of God; but moreover it is with Himself and before Him, to gratify Himself, to satisfy His love. It is He who has chosen us, He who has predestined us, He who has blessed us; but it is that we should be before Him, and adopted as sons unto Himself. Such is grace in these great foundations. This consequently is what grace was pleased to do for us.

    But there is another thing we have to note here. We are chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. Now this expression is not simply that of the sovereignty of God. If God chose some out of men now, it would be as sovereign as if before the world: but this shews that we belong in the counsels of God to a system set up by Him in Christ before the world existed, which is not of the world when it does exist, and exists after the fashion of this world has passed away. This is a very important aspect of the christian system. Responsibility came in (for man of course) with the creation of Adam in this world. Our place was given us in Christ before the world existed The development of all the characters of this responsibility went on up to the cross and there closed; innocent, a sinner without law, under law, and, when every way guilty, grace-God Himself comes into the world of sinners in goodness and finds hatred for His love. The world stood judged and men lost, and this the individual now learns as to himself. But then redemption was accomplished, and the full purpose and counsel of God in the new creation in Christ risen, the last Adam, was brought out, “the mystery hidden from ages and generations,” while the first man’s responsibility was being tested. Compare 2 Timothy 1:9-11; Titus 1:2, where this truth is very distinctly brought out.

    This responsibility and grace cannot be reconciled really but in Christ. The two principles were in the two trees of the garden; then promise to Abraham unconditionally, that we might understand blessing was free grace; then the law again brought both forward, but put life consequent on responsibility. Christ came, is life, took on Himself for all who believe in Him the consequence of responsibility, and became, as the divine Son and withal as risen Head, the source of life, our sin being put away; and here, as risen with Him, we not only have received life, but are in a new position quickened out of death with Him, and have a portion according to the counsels which established all in Him before the world existed, and are established according to righteousness and redemption, as a new creation, of which the Second Man is the head. The following chapter will explain our being brought into this place.

    We have said that God reveals Himself in two characters, even in His relationship to Christ; He is God, and He is Father. And our blessings are connected with this; that is, with His perfect nature as God, and with the intimacy of positive relationship with Him as Father. The apostle does not yet touch on the inheritance, nor on the counsels of God, with regard to the glory of which Christ is to be the centre as a whole; but he speaks of our relationship with God, of that which we are with God and before Him, and not of our inheritance-of that which He has made us to be, and not of that which He has given us. In verses 4-6 our own portion in Christ before God is developed. Verse 4 depends on the name of God; verse 5, on that of Father.

    The character of God Himself is depicted in that which is ascribed to the saints (v. 4). God could find His moral delight only in Himself and in that which morally resembles Him. Indeed this is a universal principle. An honest man can find no satisfaction in a man who does not resemble him in this respect. With still greater reason God could not endure that which is in opposition to His holiness, since, in the activity of His nature, He must surround Himself with that which He loves and delights in. But, before all, Christ is this in Himself. He is personally the image of the invisible God. Love, holiness, blameless perfection in all His ways, are united in Him. And God has chosen us in Him. In verse 4 we find our position in this respect. First, we are before Him: He brings us into His presence. The love of God must do this in order to satisfy itself. The love which is in us also must be found in this position to have its perfect object. It is there only that perfect happiness can be found. But this being so, it is needful that we should be like God. He could not bring us into His presence in order to take delight in us, and yet admit us there such as He could not find pleasure in. He has therefore chosen us in Christ, that we should be holy, without blame before Him in love. He Himself is holy in His character, unblamable in all His ways, love in His nature. It is a position of perfect happiness-in the presence of God, like God; and that, in Christ, the object and the measure of divine affection. So God takes delight in us; and we, possessing a nature like His own as to its moral qualities, are capable of enjoying this nature fully and without hindrance, and of enjoying it in its perfection in Him. It is also His own choice, His own affection, which has placed us there, and which has placed us there in Him, who, being His eternal delight, is worthy of it; so that the heart finds its rest in this position, for there is agreement in our nature with that of God, and we were also chosen to it, which shews the personal affection that God has for us. There is also a perfect and supreme object with which we are occupied.

    Remark here that, in the relationship of which we here speak, the blessing is in connection with the nature of God; therefore it is not said that we are predestined to this according to the good pleasure of His will. We are chosen in Christ to be blessed in His presence; it is His infinite grace; but the joy of His nature could not (nor could ours in Him) be other than it is, because such is His nature. Happiness could not be found elsewhere or with another.

    But in verse 5 we come to particular privileges, and we are predestined to those privileges. “He has predestined us unto the adoption, according to the good pleasure of his will.” This verse sets before us, not the nature of God, but the intimacy, as we have said, of a positive relationship. Hence it is according to the good pleasure of His will. He may have angels before Him as servants; it was His will to have sons.

    Perhaps it might be said that, if admitted to take delight in the nature of God, one could hardly not be in an intimate relationship; but the form, the character of this relationship depends certainly on the sovereign will of God. Moreover, since we possess these things in Christ, the reflection of this divine nature and the relationship of son go together, for the two are united in us. Still, we must remember that our participation in these things depends on the sovereign will of God our Father; even as the means of sharing them, and the manner in which we share them, is that we are in Christ. God our Father, in His sovereign goodness, according to His counsels of love, chooses to have us near Himself. This purpose, which links us to Christ in grace, is strongly expressed in this verse, as well as that which precedes it. It is not only our position which it characterises, but the Father introduces Himself in a peculiar way with regard to this relationship. The Holy Ghost is not satisfied with saying “He has predestined us unto the adoption,” but He adds “unto himself.” One might say this is implied in the word “adoption.” But the Spirit would particularise this thought to our hearts, that the Father chooses to have us in an intimate relationship with Himself as sons. We are sons to Himself by Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will. If Christ is the image of the invisible God, we bear that image, being chosen in Him. If Christ is a Son, we enter into that relationship.

    These then are our relationships, so precious, so marvellous, with God our Father in Christ. These are the counsels of God. We find nothing yet of the previous condition of those who were to be called into this blessing. It is a heavenly people, a heavenly family, according to the purposes and counsels of God, the fruit of His eternal thoughts, and of His nature of love-that which is here called the “glory of his grace.” We cannot glorify God by adding anything to Him. He glorifies Himself when He reveals Himself. All this is therefore to the praise of the glory of His grace, according to which He has acted towards us in grace in Christ; according to which Christ is the measure of this grace, its form towards us, He in whom we share it. All the fulness of this grace reveals itself in His ways towards us-the original thoughts, so to speak, of God, which have no other source than Himself, and in and by which He reveals Himself, and by the accomplishment of which He glorifies Himself. And observe here, that the Spirit does not say “the Christ,” at the end of verse 6. When He speaks of Him, He would put emphasis on the thoughts of God. He has acted towards us in grace in the Beloved-in Him who is peculiarly the object of His affections. He brings this characteristic of Christ out into relief when He speaks of the grace bestowed upon us in Him. Was there an especial object of the love, of the affection of God? He has blessed us in that object.

    And where is it that He found us when He would bring us into this glorious position? Who is it that He chooses to bless in this way? Poor sinners, dead in their trespasses and sins, the slaves of Satan and of the flesh.

    If it is in Christ that we see our position according to the counsels of God, it is in Him also that we find the redemption that set us in it. We have redemption through His blood, the remission of our sins. Those whom He would bless were poor and miserable through sin. He has acted towards them according to the riches of His grace. We have already observed, that the Spirit brings out in this passage the eternal counsels of God with regard to the saints in Christ, before He enters on the subject of the state from which He drew them, when He found them in their condition of sinners here below. Now the whole mind of God respecting them is revealed in His counsels, in which He glorifies Himself. Therefore it is said, that that which He saw good to do with the saints was according to the glory of His grace. He makes Himself known in it. That which He has done for poor sinners is according to the riches of His grace. In His counsels He has revealed Himself; He is glorious in grace. In His work He thinks of our misery, of our wants, according to the riches of His grace: we share in them, as being their object in our poverty, in our need. He is rich in grace. Thus our position is ordered and established according to the counsels of God, and by the efficacy of His work in Christ-our position, that is, in reference to Him. If we are to think here, where God’s thoughts and counsels are revealed, if remission and redemption come of this, we are to think not according to our need as its measure, but according to the riches of God’s grace.

    But there is more: God having placed us in this intimacy, reveals to us His thoughts respecting the glory of Christ Himself. This same grace has made us the depositaries of the settled purpose of His counsels, with regard to the universal glory of Christ, for the administration of the fulness of times. This is an immense favour granted us. We are interested in the glory of Christ as well as blessed in Him. Our nearness to God and our perfectness before Him enable us to be interested in the counsels of God as to the purposed glory of His Son. And this leads to the inheritance (compare John 14:28). Thus Abraham, though on lower ground, was the friend of God. God our Father has given us to enjoy all blessings in heavenly places ourselves; but He would unite all things in heaven and on the earth under Christ as Head, and our relationship with all that is put under Him, as well as our relationship with God His Father, depends on our position in Him; it is in Him that we have our inheritance.

    The good pleasure of God was to unite all that is created under the hand of Christ. This is His purpose for the administration of the times in which the result of all His ways shall be manifested.[2] In Christ we inherit our part, heirs of God, as it is said elsewhere, joint-heirs of Christ. Here however the Spirit sets before us the position, in virtue of which the inheritance has fallen to us, rather than the inheritance itself. He ascribes it also to the sovereign will of God, as He did before with regard to the special relationship of sons unto God. Remark also here, that in the inheritance we shall be to the praise of His glory; as in our relationship to Him we are to the praise of the glory of His grace. Manifested in possession of the inheritance, we shall be the display of His glory made visible and seen in us; but our relationships with Him are the fruit, for our own souls, with Him and before Him, of the infinite grace that has placed us in these relationships and made us capable of them.

    Such then, with regard to the glory bestowed on Him as man, are the counsels of God our Father with respect to Christ. He shall gather together in one all things in Him as their Head. And as it is in Him that we have our true position as to our relationship with God the Father, so also is it with regard to the inheritance bestowed upon us. We are united to Christ in connection with that which is above us; we are so likewise with regard to that which is below. The apostle is speaking here first of Jewish Christians, who have believed in Christ before He is manifested; this is the force of “we who have first trusted in Christ.” If I may venture to use a new word, “who have pre-trusted in Christ”–trusted in Him before He appears. The remnant of the Jews in the last days will believe (like Thomas) when they shall see Him. Blessed is he who shall have believed without seeing. The apostle speaks of those among the Jews who had already believed in Him.

    In verse 13 he extends the same blessing to the Gentiles, which gives occasion for another precious truth with regard to us-a thing that is true of every believer, but that had special force with regard to those from among the Gentles. God had put His seal on them by the gift of the Holy Ghost. They were not, according to the flesh, heirs of the promises; but, when they believed, God sealed them with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the earnest of the inheritance, both of the one and the other, Jews and Gentiles, until the possession acquired by Christ should be delivered to Him, until He should in fact take possession of it by His power-a power which will allow no adversary to subsist. Remark here, that the subject is not being born again, but a seal put on believers, a demonstration and earnest of their future full participation in the heritage that belongs to Christ-an inheritance to which He has a right through redemption, whereby He has purchased all things to Himself, but which He will only appropriate by His power when He shall have gathered together all the co-heirs to enjoy it with Him.

    The Holy Ghost is not the earnest of love. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost who is given unto us. God loves us as He will love us in heaven. Of the inheritance the Holy Ghost is but an earnest. We do not yet possess anything of the inheritance. Then we shall be to the praise of His glory. The glory of His grace is already revealed.

    Thus we have here the grace which ordered the position of the children of God-the counsels of God respecting the glory of Christ as Head over all-the part which we have in Him as Heir-and the gift of the Holy Ghost to believers, as the earnest and seal (until they are put in possession with Christ) of the inheritance that He has won.

    From verse 15 to the end, we have the apostle’s prayer for the saints, flowing from this revelation-a prayer founded on the way in which the children of God have been brought into their blessings in Christ, and leading thus to the whole truth respecting the union of Christ and the assembly, and the place which Christ takes in the universe that He created as Son, and which He reassumes as man; and on the power displayed in placing us, as well as Christ Himself, at the height of this position which God has given us in His counsels. This prayer is founded on the title of “God of our Lord Jesus Christ”; that of chapter 3 on the title of “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” There it is more communion than counsels. God is called the Father of glory here, as being its source and author. But not only is it said, “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ,” but we shall see also that Christ is viewed as man. God has wrought in Christ (v. 20), He has raised Him from among the dead-has made Him sit at His right hand. In a word, all that happened to Christ is considered as the effect of the power of God who has accomplished it. Christ could say, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up again in three days,” for He was God; but here He is viewed as man; it is God who raises Him up again.

    There are two parts in this prayer: first, that they may understand what the calling and the inheritance of God are; and secondly, what the power is that puts them in possession of that which this calling confers upon them-the same power which sets Christ at the right hand of God, having raised Him from among the dead.

    First, the understanding of the things given us. We find, it appears to me, the two things which, in the previous part of the chapter, we have seen to be the saint’s portion-the hope of the calling of God, and the glory of His inheritance in the saints. The first is connected with verses 3-5, that is, our calling; the second, with verse 11, that is, the inheritance. In the former we have found grace (that is, God acting towards us because He is love); in the latter, the glory-man manifested as enjoying in His Person and inheritance the fruits of the power and the counsels of God. God calls us to be before Him, holy and unblamable in love, and at the same time to be His sons. The glory of His inheritance is ours. Take notice that the apostle does not say “our calling,” although we are the called. He characterises this calling by connecting it with Him who calls in order that we may understand it according to its excellence, according to its true character. The calling is according to God Himself. All the blessedness and character of this calling are according to the fulness of His grace-are worthy of Himself. It is this which we hope for. It is also His inheritance, as the land of Canaan was His, as He had said in the law, and which nevertheless He inherited in Israel. Even so the inheritance of the whole universe, when it shall be filled with glory, belongs to Him, but He inherits it in the saints. It is the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. He will fill all things with His glory, and it is in the saints that He will inherit them. These are the two parts of the first thing to which the eyes of the saints were to be opened. By the calling of God we are called to enjoy the blessedness of His presence, near to Himself, to enjoy that which is above us. The inheritance of God applies to that which is below us, to created things, which are all made subject to Christ, with whom and in whom we enjoy the light of the presence of God near to Him. The apostle’s desire is, that the Ephesians may understand these two things.

    The second thing that the apostle asks for them is, that they may know the power already manifested, which had already wrought to give them part in this blessed and glorious position. For, even as they were introduced by the sovereign grace of God into the position of Christ before God His Father; so also the work which has been wrought in Christ, and the display of the power of God, which took place in raising Him from the grave to the right hand of God the Father above every name that is named, are the expression and the model of the action of the same power which works in us who believe, which has raised us from our state of death in sin to have part in the glory of this same Christ. This power is the basis of the assembly’s position in her union with Him and of the development of the mystery according to the purposes of God. In person Christ raised up from among the dead is set at the right hand of God, far above all power and authority, and above every name that is named among the hierarchies by which God administers the government of the world that now is, or among those of the world to come. And this superiority exists, not only with regard to His divinity, the glory of which changes not, but with regard to the place given Him as man; for we speak here-as we have seen-of the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is He who has raised Him from the dead, and who has given Him glory and a place above all; a place of which no doubt He was personally worthy, but which He receives, and ought to receive, as man from the hand of God, who has established Him as Head over all things, uniting the assembly to Him as His body, and raising up the members from their death in sins by the same power as that which raised up and exalted the Head-quickening them together with Christ, and seating them in the heavenly places in Him, by the same power that exalted Him. Thus the assembly, His body, is His fulness. It is indeed He who fills all in all, but the body forms the complement of the Head. It is He, because He is God as well as man, who fills all things-and that, inasmuch as He is man, according to the power of redemption, and of the glory which He has acquired; so that the universe which He fills with His glory enjoys it according to the stability of that redemption from the power and effect of which nothing can withdraw it.[3]

    It is He, I repeat, who fills the universe with His glory; but the Head is not isolated, left, so to speak, incomplete as such, without its body. It is the body that completes it in that glory, as a natural body completes the head; but not to be the head or to direct, but to be the body of the head, and that the head should be the head of its body. Christ is the Head of the body over all things. He fills all in all, and the assembly is His fulness. This is the mystery in all its parts. Accordingly we may observe that it is when Christ (having accomplished redemption) was exalted to the right hand of God, that He takes the place in which He can be the Head of the body.

    Marvellous portion of the saints, in virtue of their redemption, and of the divine power that wrought in the resurrection of Christ, when He had died under our trespasses and sins, and set Him at the right hand of God: a portion which, save His personal session at the right hand of the Father, is ours also through our union with Him!

    __________

    [2] It will be a grand spectacle, as the result of the ways of God, to see all things united in perfect peace and union under the authority of man, of the second Adam, the Son of God; ourselves associated with Him in the same glory with Himself, His companions in the heavenly glory, as the objects of the eternal counsels of God. I do not enlarge here upon this scene, because the chapter we are considering directs our attention to the communications of the counsels of God respecting it, and not to the scene itself. The eternal state, in which God is all in all, is again another thing. The administration of the fulness of tunes is the result of the ways of God in government; the eternal state, that of the perfection of His nature. We, even in the government, are brought in as sons according to His nature. Wonderful privilege!

    [3] Compare chapter 4: 9, 10: and this introduction of redemption, and the place Christ has taken as Redeemer, as filling all in all, is full of interest.

    Predestined For Adoption to the Praise of His Glory, Ephesians 1:1-6

    Reflections of John Piper on Being Adopted by God and Adopting Children

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    Ephesians 1:1-6

    Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithfulin Christ Jesus: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined usfor adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

    Adoption is one of the most profound realities in the universe. I say “universe” and not [Read more...]

    Matthew Henry’s Commentary On Ephesians 1:3-14

    He begins with thanksgivings and praise, and enlarges with a great deal of fluency and copiousness of affection upon the exceedingly great and precious benefits which we enjoy by Jesus Christ. For the great privileges of our religion are very aptly recounted and enlarged upon in our praises to God.

    I. In general he blesses God for spiritual blessings, v. 3, where he styles him the God and Father of our Lord [Read more...]