James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:Ephesians 1:1-23
THE BELIEVER’S BLESSINGS IN CHURCH
This is the first of what are called the “prison” epistles, because written by Paul while a prisoner at Rome, (Compare Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1; with Acts 28). The others are Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. The apostle wrote these with the chain upon his wrist.
This also (with Colossians) contains the profoundest truth God has been pleased to reveal to His people, even that of the church considered as the body of Christ, “the mystery which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest” (Romans 16:25-26).
The church is a body distinct from the Jews on the one hand or the Gentiles on the other. Neither is it identical with the kingdom, but separate from it.
It is something unique, not heard of in the Old Testament, and especially given to Paul to reveal. It had its earthly beginning after Christ’s ascension into glory. It will have its earthly ending when He comes again, and it is caught up to meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Thenceforward the church will reign with Him over the earthly kingdom to be set up. The church is composed of both Jews and Gentiles, and is called The Body of Christ (compare 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Colossians 1:18; Colossians 1:24; Colossians 2:10, etc.) The apostolic salutation, Ephesians 1:1-2, contains the first allusion to this “mystery” in the phrase “to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” “In” Him, just as the members of our body are in us, i.e., vitally one with us.
The thanksgiving in the next verse carries the thought further “hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” Note the past tense, “hath blessed,” indicating that it is not something God is doing, or is about to do, but something He has done in the case of every believer, once and forever. Note the comprehensiveness of the work, “all spiritual blessings.” There is no blessing God has purposed for the saint that is not already his potentially, in Christ. In the physical realm, the newborn infant is potentially the man, and all his earthly life is simply the working out, the developing of that which was his in the beginning; so in the spiritual sense of the saint in Christ. The phrase “in heavenly places” does not qualify this at all, since it does not mean that these blessings will not be ours, or not be realized in any sense, till we get to heaven. They are “in heavenly places” in the sense that their source, the One in Whom they are located, and from Whom they flow, Jesus Christ, the Head of the body, is in heaven.
THE FOUR GREAT BLESSINGS
The verses following (Ephesians 1:4-14) describe these blessings, of which there are four all-inclusive ones.
First, the believer is “chosen” in Him (Ephesians 1:4-6). The period of choice was “before the foundation of the world”; the purpose, that “we should be holy and without blame before Him”; the ground, “the good pleasure of His will”; the object, or motive, “the praise of the glory of His grace.” “Holy and without blame” does not mean merely that this will be true of us in the life to come, but that it is true now, not experimentally indeed, but positionally, or legally, as we stand before God uncondemned in Christ.
Secondly, the believer is redeemed in him (Ephesians 1:7-10). The redemption was necessary that thus by the removal of sin, the choice of God might become operative in our case. This redemption includes the forgiveness of our sins, and more. It means the revelation to us of the mystery of the divine will (Ephesians 1:9). Being now sons of God through His grace, we are given the mind of God. The Father reveals His purposes to His children. These are stated in Ephesians 1:10. “The dispensation of the fulness of the times,” is by some understood as the Millennial age which follows the present one; but there are others who think it refers to an age succeeding that and prior to Eternity. That word ‘fulness of the times,’ seems to imply not only the fulfillment of the broken purposes and plans of past dispensations (broken by man’s sin), but also a duration of time in comparison with which all past ages shall be but as fragments, while this will be complete.
Thirdly, the believer is inherited in him (Ephesians 1:11-12). Read Ephesians 1:11 in the Revised Version. It is not only true that “we have obtained an inheritance” in God through Christ, but that God has obtained an inheritance in us. We are His purchased possession, and hence we may be persuaded that He is able to keep that which we have committed against that day (2 Timothy 1:12).
Fourthly, the believer is “sealed” in Him (Ephesians 1:13-14), the Holy Spirit Himself, Who dwells in the believer, being that seal.
In the symbolism of Scripture, a seal signifies a finished transaction (Jeremiah 32:9-10); ownership (Jeremiah 32:11-12; 2 Timothy 2:19); and security (Esther 8:8 : Daniel 6:17; Ephesians 4:30).
PRAYER FOR ENLIGHTENMENT
The apostle concludes the revelation of these blessings with a prayer for spiritual enlightenment on the part of his readers, that they may understand and appreciate their meaning (Ephesians 1:15-23). It is not enough that the Holy Spirit reveal a great truth like this to Paul, or inspire Him to record it, but the same Spirit must accompany it to the minds and hearts of his readers or hearers if it is to be effective in their faith and experience. They require “the spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Ephesians 1:17), in order to know “the hope of His calling,” “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,” and “the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19). Their calling, these riches and this power have just been revealed in the preceding verses, but who can know them without the aid of the Holy Spirit? Consider the “power” for example. It is that which in Christ raised Him from the dead and set Him at the right hand of God, and put all things under His feet (Ephesians 1:20-22). This power will do the same for us who are in Christ. It will do so because He is the “Head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:22). Speaking in the physical sense merely, if one’s head is raised from the dead and exalted to a place of power and dignity, every member of the body united to that head, living in it, and in which it lives, must necessarily be raised and exalted also. The head, in a physical sense, finds its completeness, its “fulness” in the body it governs and to which it gives life, and so in the spiritual sense, the church of Christ, which is His body, is His “fulness” in the sense that He fills it all in all things (Ephesians 1:23). How much we need the aid of the Holy Spirit to apprehend these things, and make them our glorious possession!
1. What is the title of this lesson?
2. Name the “prison” epistles, and state why they are so called.
3. What is the great truth revealed in this epistle, and how does it compare with other features of inspiration?
4. What is the church, and its earthly history?
5. Have you re-read 1 Corinthians 12:12-27?
6. How would you illustrate the phrase “in Christ”?
7. What is the sum of the believers blessings in Christ?
8. Name these blessings in their order.
9. What may be understood by “the fulness of the times”?
10. What does a seal signify in the symbolism of Scripture?
11. Explain the necessity for Paul’s prayer in this case.
12. Have you offered the same prayer for yourself?