I. God's Church: Its Theological Foundations (the Indicative) 1:1-3:21
A. Prologue 1:1-2
1. author 1:1a
2. addressees 1:1b
3. greetings 1:2
B. Praise 1:3-14
1. the extent of our spiritual blessings 1:3
2. the essence of our spiritual blessings 1:4-14
a. election by the Father 1:4-6
b. redemption by the Son 1:7-12
c. sealing by the Spirit 1:13-14
C. Prayer 1:15-23
Our concern in this lesson is with B. 1. and 2. a.
Paul's extended praise in 1:3-14 is characterized by several important truths:
* The first thing to note is that vv. 3-14 is one long sentence in the Greek text: 202 words! Ideas and principles and exclamations of praise come tumbling out of Paul's mouth "in a continuous cascade (Stott, 32) with such joy and intensity that he dared not pause to take a breath, much less end it with a period!" There are other lengthy sentences in Ephesians (1:15-23; 2:1-7; 3:2-13; 3:14-19; 4:1-6; 4:11-16; 6:14-20), but none can compare with this one.
* One cannot help but note the Trinitarian structure of his praise: Father (vv. 4-6), Son (vv. 7-12), and Spirit (vv.13-14) are together united in the work of salvation. The origin and source of these spiritual blessings is God the Father. The sphere within which as well as the means by which these blessings are experienced is God the Son. And it is the Spirit who "stamps his character on every blessing" (O'Brien, 92).
* We must focus on the goal of all that God does. Each stanza concludes with the refrain: "to the praise of the glory of His grace" (v. 6), "to the praise of His glory" (v. 12), "to the praise of His glory" (v. 14).
* Note also the repeated emphasis on the divine initiative in salvation as seen in the vocabulary related to God's will or purpose or plan: "according to the kind intention of His will" (v. 5), "the mystery of His will" (v. 9), "His kind intention which He purposed" (v. 9), "according to His purpose" (v. 11), "the counsel of His will" (v. 11). Indeed, no fewer than 11x in these verses do we find vocabulary reflective of divine sovereignty: he elected us (v. 4), he predestined us (v. 5), his good pleasure (v. 5), God's will (v. 5), God's will (v. 9), his good pleasure (v. 9), his purpose (v. 9), he foreordained us (v. 11), his purpose (v. 11), his counsel (v. 11), his will (v. 11).
* There is also a distinct emphasis on God's grace (how appropriate, then, to speak of sovereign grace!). No fewer than 5x is grace mentioned: grace comes to us from God and Jesus Christ (v. 2), the glory of God's grace is to be praised (v. 6), God's grace has been lavished on us in Jesus (v. 6), God's grace is not poor or limited but rich, which accounts for the forgiveness of our sins (v. 7), and God's grace abounds to us (v. 8).
* We see also that three perspectives on time appear: God's activity in eternity past when He chose and predestined us (before the foundation of the world, v. 4; cf. vv. 9,11); God's activity in present history in Christ and in those who believe (vv. 6-8, 11-14); and God's activity in the future, at the close of history when all is summed up in Christ (v. 10).
* Observe the centrality of Jesus Christ: in the first 14 verses of this letter the name or title "Christ" (or its equivalent or a personal pronoun) occurs 15x!
* Observe the repeated use (no fewer than 11x in 1:1-14) of the phrase "in Christ" or "in Him" or their equivalents.
1. the extent of our spiritual blessings 1:3
It is probable that Paul's praise in v. 3 is a declaration of fact, not a wish. I.e., the missing copula = "is," not "be" (as in NASB). He is declaring that God is blessed (cf. Rom. 1:25; 2 Cor. 11:31; 1 Pt. 4:11). Note also here the three-fold use of the same root word: "Blessed is God . . . who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing . . ."
Theological aside: Here the first person of the Trinity is called both the God and the Father of Jesus. In what sense is He the "God of Jesus Christ?" In what sense is He the "Father of Jesus Christ?" Has He always been the Father of the second person of the Trinity, or did this relationship emerge in conjunction with God's creative and redemptive purposes in earth?
Four things are said here that must be noted.
First, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. Whatever blessings we have, we have from God. And whatever blessings we need, he has provided. None is omitted. God is not stingy with his blessings. Contrary to what we may often think, that God is holding out on us or that there are needs in our lives which what we have in Christ cannot fulfill or meet, every possible or conceivable blessing is ours.
Second, these blessings are spiritual.
* Some think there is a contrast here between the predominantly material or physical blessings given to Israel under the old covenant and the predominantly spiritual or non-physical blessings in the new covenant (cf. Jer. 31).
* Others point to the spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Cor. 12.
* G. B. Caird says the blessings are spiritual because they belong to a person's inner, hidden life (and thus to be contrasted with 'flesh).
* But Paul's primary reference is to those blessings that pertain to, are characterized by, and come from the Holy Spirit himself. As Fee notes, the word "spiritual" is "an adjective for the Spirit," that is, "pertaining to or belonging to the Spirit" (God's Empowering Presence, 666). Paul has particularly in mind: election, adoption, grace, redemption, forgiveness, knowledge, an inheritance, and the seal of the Spirit, each of which he discusses in the subsequent verses. In other words, "all the gifts between vv. 3 and 14 are understood as elements of this one blessing and are therefore grounds for giving praise" (O'Brien, 96).
Third, these blessings are ours "in the heavenlies," a phrase found only in Ephesians. Contrary to popular notions, the "heavenlies" or "heavenly places" does not refer to a particular location beyond our literal atmosphere, as if some celestial topography were in view, or to blessings to be enjoyed later in heaven, after one dies physically.
In Ephesians this phrase can refer to (1) the place of exaltation for Christ (1:20), (2) the place of exaltation for believers because they are united with Christ (2:6), (3) the place or sphere in which God's wisdom is revealed to rulers and authorities (3:10), and (4) the place of warfare between believers and demonic forces (6:12). Thus "the heavenlies" are where Christ is, where we are, where demons are, and where God is revealed! In other words, ''heavenly realms" does not refer to a physical location but to a spiritual reality, God's world, in which believers have a share and which evil forces still seek to attack. It includes all of the believer's relation to God and the church's experience. It is a way of saying that this world is not the only reality. A larger reality exists where Christ is already exalted as Lord, where believers participate in his victory, and where spiritual forces are opposed (Snodgrass, 47). Heavenly places, therefore, is a reference to 'the unseen world of spiritual reality (Stott, 35). It is the unseen, spiritual realm in which we enjoy God's presence, commune with Jesus, and wage war with the enemy.
Fourth, these blessings are only available "in Christ." This phrase may well be the most important theological theme in Paul's writings. Numerous suggestions have been made about its significance:
* Some say it is a concept carried over from the mystery religions of Paul's day and refers to sacramental initiation and absorption into divinity, resulting in some sort of mystic identity, ecstatic experience; etc.
* Many contend for what can only be called a literal or local sense: the risen Christ is something of an ethereal, omnipresent spirit; as air is in us and we in it, so Christ is "in us" and we "in him," in a somewhat quasi-physical sense (cf. Acts 17:28 "in Him we live, and move, and have our being").
* Often this phrase has an instrumental sense and might be translated "through Christ" or "by means of Christ," or even "because of Christ."
* It may be that 'in Christ is simply a metaphor of personal communion with Christ via the indwelling Holy Spirit; an undefinable, mystical oneness or spiritual fellowship with the Lord.
* On occasion the phrase is used adjectivally and is simply synonymous with the word "believer" or "Christian" (see 2 Cor. 12:2).
* In some texts the phrase qualifies or limits an action, as in Eph. 6:1 where children are commanded to obey their parents "in the Lord."
* Many argue for a corporate or covenant identification with Christ. What is true of him is true of us. As we were once 'in Adam in that he represented us, and what he did, we were reckoned to have done, so now we are 'in Christ. He represents us. What was said of Christ can now be said of believers (cf. 2:6).
* Snodgrass combines several of the ideas in the above list and says that "Christ" is the "place" where believers reside, the source in which they find God's salvation and blessings, and the framework in which they live and work. . . . [However], Just as Christ's personhood is not lost, neither is the believer's individuality lost. This is not some eastern religious thought of absorption into the deity. Rather, Christ and the believer are bound into a unity in which Christ sets the parameters for life and makes available God's provisions for life (47-8).
2. the essence of our spiritual blessings 1:4-14
a. election by the Father 1:4-6
Next to Romans 9, Paul's comments in Ephesians 1 are generally regarded as the most important information we have about divine election. I want to consider seven truths concerning election that Paul emphasizes.
Before we begin, note the word (Gk, kathos) with which v. 4 opens, translated "just as" (NASB) or "for" (NIV). There may be a causal idea involved: God blessed us "because" he has chosen us in Christ. Or it may be that it is simply Paul's way of introducing the first and most glorious "spiritual blessing" given to us by God. It might even have the sense, "in accordance with the fact that" (Lincoln, 17). I. e., here is how we know God blessed us, "he chose us" . . . The latter option would give to kathos a modal emphasis.
(1) First, election is pretemporal: it was "before the foundation of the world" that God the Father chose us in Christ (cf. 2 Tim. 1:9-10; 2 Thess. 2:13; see also 1 Thess. 1:4). This is to emphasize that the divine decision concerning human destiny is wholly unaffected by human deeds. To say that God chose us before the existence of all created things is to say that he chose us without regard to any created thing. It was before, and therefore independent of, the birth and behavior of the twins that God chose Jacob but not Esau. Election is not something that awaits some event in human history, either the cross-work of Jesus or the faith of man. It antedates all human history. God's choice is not dependent on human merit or temporal circumstances. God sovereignly elects us unto eternal life before we exist and without our consent. That isn't to say that our voluntary consent isn't important. We must still believe in Jesus, but our belief is itself the historical and experiential fruit or effect of God's pre-temporal elective decree (see Eph. 2:8).
What we see unfolding in time-space history is the progressive fulfillment of a divine purpose that was conceived in eternity past. Jesus himself declared that his redemptive sufferings at Calvary were specifically designed to accomplish the salvation of those God had already given (elected) him. And the faith of individual men and women is not the beginning, cause, or foundation of their election, but its fruit (see Eph. 2:8; Acts 13:48). The religious implications of this are profound, for either a person thanks himself for his faith, because it resulted in his election, or he thanks God for his election, because it resulted in his faith.
As a Calvinist, when I reflect upon my election in this light there wells up within my heart a virtual flood of wonder and worship. To think that my election proceeds from a grace that was 'born long before I was is glorious indeed. Charles Spurgeon perhaps put it best:
"In the very beginning, when this great universe lay in the mind of God, like unborn forests in the acorn cup; long ere the echoes awoke the solitudes; before the mountains were brought forth; and long ere the light flashed through the sky, God loved His chosen creatures. Before there was any created being --- when the ether was not fanned by an angel's wing, when space itself had not an existence, where there was nothing save God alone --- even then, in that loneliness of Deity, and in that deep quiet and profundity, His bowels moved with love for His chosen. Their names were written on His heart, and then were they dear to His soul. Jesus loved His people before the foundation of the world --- even from eternity! and when He called me by His grace, He said to me, 'I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee'" (Autobiography, I:167).
(2) The objects of divine election are people. Contrary to what some have suggested, the object of God's elective choice in Eph. 1:4 is not Christ but "us" (hemas). In 2 Thess. 2:13, Paul declares that "God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation." See also Acts 13:48. Paul uses the plural in 1:4 for two reasons: First, it would be impossible to use the singular! Second, "the choice" of a multitude is simply the choice of each individual composing it. That multitude may be regarded as a unity by God, but to Him it is a unity of definite elements or members (Eadie, 19). Remember that Paul is writing to everyone in the church at Ephesus, each of whom is the object of this particular "spiritual blessing" that extends to the entire church. In other words, what is the corporate church if not a collection of individuals to each of whom the blessing comes? The plural here simply indicates that all believers in Ephesus are chosen by God. It is a blessing common to everyone. That includes us as well.
(3) The third thing we observe is what Paul says about the immediate purpose or goal of election (for the ultimate goal of election, see below). God chose us in order that we might be "holy and blameless" in his glorious presence. These two words have been the cause of considerable debate.
* Some have thought they refer to the daily experience of each believer, what we call progressive sanctification. If that is true, the goal of election is to secure for Jesus Christ a people whose lives are characterized by purity and obedience to his will (an idea that is certainly substantiated by other passages in the New Testament: see Titus 2:14; 1 Thess. 4:7; 1 Peter 1:1-2). No one doubts that the word "holy" is frequently used to describe the character of Christian living, but what about the word "blameless?" It is a word that sounds as if it means 'sinless perfection, but see Phil. 2:15 where Paul urges believers 'to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (cf. Rev. 14:5). Therefore, it is surely possible that in Ephesians 1:4 Paul is referring to the holiness and blamelessness of the Christian in the here and now of daily life.
* On the other hand, this Greek word translated "blameless" is used in Ephesians 5:27 of the church in its final state of perfection and glory. This is also the case in Colossians 1:22 and in Jude 24. The only other occurrences of this word in the New Testament are in Hebrews 9:14 and 1 Peter 1:19, both of which refer to the blamelessness of Jesus Christ. We should also note that in Ephesians 5:27, Colossians 1:22, and Jude 24, as in Ephesians 1:4, we find the notion of being presented blameless "before Him," that is, before God. All this persuades me that Paul is referring to that absolutely sinless, holy, and blameless condition in which we shall be presented to God at the second coming of our Savior. Of course, this by no means excludes the notion of progressive sanctification. Indeed, experiential purity and holiness in this life is but a prelude to our ultimate glorification in the next. The latter is but the consummation of the former.
In either view, the fact remains that if our personal holiness and blamelessness are the goal or end for which we were chosen, they cannot be the ground or cause of our election. It cannot be the case that God foreknew any degree of holiness or blamelessness in us and on that basis chose us in his Son. It would be absurd for Paul to say, "God chose you to become holy and blameless because you already are holy and blameless." If this verse does not preclude the Arminian view of election, it surely wreaks havoc with all forms of Pelagianism!
Three additional points to note:
* Observe the words "before Him" (v. 4b). As Eadie explains, "the phrase denotes the reality or genuineness of the holy and blameless state." God accounts it so. The elect are not esteemed righteous "merely before men," . . . Their piety is not a brilliant hypocrisy. It is regarded as genuine, "before Him" whose glance at once detects and frowns upon the spurious, however plausible the disguise in which it may wrap itself (22-23).
* Note that in v. 5 our election, predestination, and adoption are ascribed to the "good pleasure" of God's "will." But if God must elect people because He foresees their faith, what would be the point of saying that they are elect according to His "good pleasure?" On the Arminian scheme of divine election God's "good pleasure" is fundamentally irrelevant. What God "wills" or does "not will", what "pleases" or "displeases" God would have nothing to do with election. If election is conditional on foreseen faith it becomes a matter of obligation and duty and requirement, not good pleasure and sovereign choice. See also Mt. 11:26 and Luke 10:21.
* Note also that election pleases God. He likes it. God didn't predestine us unwillingly, grudgingly, or reluctantly. He wanted to do it. He delighted to do it. God has an emotional life. There is immense and unfathomable complexity in His feelings: He delights in some things, and despises others. He loves and hates. He rejoices and judges. Choosing hell-deserving sinners to spend an eternity with Him as his beloved children is uniquely joyful and pleasing and delightful and exciting and satisfying to the heart of God! Should it not also then be a joyful and pleasing and delightful and exciting and satisfying truth to our hearts? Should we not, then, talk of it often, sing of it often, and often tell of it to others? God's pleasures must become our pleasures. We must learn to rejoice in that which rejoices Him.
(4) The fourth important point to be made concerns the relationship between election and being predestined to adoption. What is the connection, if any, of verse 4 with verse 5? Is Paul saying that God elected us because he predestined us to adoption? That is certainly possible, but not likely. I believe his point is that God elected us in this way, by predestinating us to adoption. Therefore, election, at least in part, consists of or perhaps is even synonymous with being predestined to become a child of God.
What is "adoption?"
* Adoption is a constituted, not a natural, relationship. I.e., it is an act of grace (cf. John 1:12-13).
* Adoption is a marvelous display of God's love (cf. 1 John 3:1-3).
* Adoption is both a present reality (Gal. 4:6ff.; Rom. 8:15ff.; 1 John 3:2) and a future hope (Rom. 8:19-23; 1 John 3:1-3).
* Adoption entails an inheritance. As God's children we share in Christ's inheritance. We are co-heirs with him (Rom. 8:17ff; Gal. 4:7).
* Adoption as God's children is staggering, given that apart from saving grace we are "the sons [not of God, but] of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2) and are "by nature the children [not of God, but] of wrath" (Eph. 2:3)! Think about it!!
(5) The fifth and, perhaps, most important point of all is Paul's statement that we were chosen "in Christ". Arminians insist that an individual is chosen for salvation because and only after he puts himself in Christ by an act of free will. God foreknows that we will fulfill the condition, as a result of which we are put "in Christ," and on that basis he elects us. Other Arminians insist that it is not so much individuals who are elect, but Christ himself (although as noted above, Paul does not say here in Eph. 1 that "Christ" is elect but that "we" are). Thus they insist that it is only because we are in Christ (by free will, of course), who is himself the one true elect person, that we as individuals may be said to be elect ourselves.
It must be admitted that the clause "in Christ" is ambiguous. By itself, it says neither that we are elect because we are in Christ nor that we are elect in order that we shall be in Christ. What are the options according to Calvinist interpreters?
* Contrary to what some Calvinists would say, it is unlikely that Paul means we were chosen 'to be in Christ, insofar as the latter part of the verse declares that we were chosen 'to be holy and blameless.
* Even less can it mean that we were chosen because we, before our election, put ourselves in Christ by free will. This is reading into the passage what is conspicuous by its absence. Besides, the ground of our election is said to be God's good pleasure, not ours.
* Others suggest Paul means that Christ is the foundation of election, or perhaps the sphere of election. But what do those terms mean? What is their theological significance?
* Maybe Paul means that it is "in union with Christ" that we are chosen. I have no problem with that, but the question remains, how did we come to be "in union with Christ": by free will or by free grace or by some other avenue? Did our union with Christ precede or follow our election? Was it the cause or the consequence of election? Or is our union with Christ simultaneous with our election, perhaps even synonymous with it? In other words, simply saying that God chose us "in union with Chris"t does not tell us how or when that "union" came about, or whether it has anything to do with the basis for our being chosen.
* Perhaps "in Christ" simply means "through Christ," or, to say it negatively, "not apart from Christ". Charles Hodge opts for this view and explains it this way:
"It was in Christ as their head and representative [that] they were chosen to holiness and eternal life, and therefore in virtue of what he was to do in their behalf. There is a federal union with Christ which is antecedent to all actual union, and is the source of it. God gave a people to his Son in the covenant of redemption. Those included in that covenant, and because they are included in it in other words, because they are in Christ as their head and representative receive in time the gift of the Holy Spirit and all other benefits of redemption. . . . It is, therefore, in Christ, i.e., as united to him in the covenant of redemption, that the people of God are elected to eternal life and to all the blessings therewith connected (Commentary on Ephesians, 31)."
In summary, when God elected a people from the fallen mass of humanity, he never intended to save them apart from his Son but only by means of what his Son, the Lord Jesus, would accomplish in his redemptive work. Jesus is therefore the means by which God's electing purpose is put into effect as well as the goal of that election, inasmuch as it is God's purpose through election to sum up all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10).
Paul says much the same thing in 2 Timothy 1:9. There we are told that God saved us and "called us with a holy calling," not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity. If we are given anything in grace it is by virtue of who Jesus is and what he has done and will do, not by virtue of who we are or what we have done or will do. Therefore, we are elect "in Christ," not "in ourselves." It is because of God's love for His Son and his desire that his Son have a people through whom he might be glorified and honored that God chose us. Therefore, we are chosen "in Christ" in the sense that this Son to whom the Father has given us is he through whom this election to life is made ours in experience. His sinless life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection were the means through which God's electing purpose was put into effect.
(6) According to vv. 4b-5a, God's motive in this pre-temporal decision was love. Many have argued that "in love" should be taken with what precedes in v. 4a, hence: we were chosen to be "holy and blameless before Him in love." If so, then "love" is one aspect of the goal for which we are chosen. But if "in love" is taken with what follows in v. 5a it is the divine motive for our election. I believe the latter is correct: (1) according to 2:4-5 it was "because of His great love with which He loved us that we were saved;" (2) those who argue for taking "in love" with what precedes insist that it refers to our loving other believers in this life; but if, as noted above, "holy and blameless" refer not so much to our present experience but to our final and perfected standing at the coming of Christ, "love" would more likely refer to God's motive in predestining us; (3) the emphasis throughout the paragraph is on God's motive, intent, and initiative, not human response.
(7) The ultimate goal of divine election, that is to say, the pre-eminent reason why God did not leave all humanity in the just reward of their sin, was so that the glory of his grace might be praised. Election was undertaken to establish a platform on which the glory of God's saving grace might be seen and magnified and adored and praised. Thus we see again here a consistent theme in Scripture: all that God does, he ultimately does, to glorify himself!