We reviewed the fact that the Ephesian letter was written by Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome between 61-63 AD. It was delivered to Ephesus by Onesimus, a slave returning to his master in Colossae, located about 100 miles west of Ephesus. This man had been converted in prison and sent back by Paul with several letters to deliver, among them this one to the Ephesians. Ephesus was a key congregation in an important location and much of the evangelization of the area was begun from this point. Ephesus flourished as a church, but in time began to lag in its original zeal, so a warning was given to it by John the Apostle in the book of Revelation some 30 years later. After Paul left Ephesus, John came to work and settle there until his last days. The book of Ephesians can be divided in several ways, and I have already provided one possible outline:
- Blessings of the church – 1:1-23
- Universality of the church – 2:1-3:21
- Obligations of the church
- Unity – 4:1-16
- Righteousness – 4:17-6:9
- Faithfulness – 6:10-24
The thing to remember about Ephesians, however, is that it is a letter that focuses on the importance of the church in God's plan. In his letter, Paul says four main things about the church:
- That the creation and blessing of the church was the objective that God had from the beginning of time.
- That true "living" can only be experienced as a member of the body of Christ and that everyone could be part of that body (church).
- That the church is the "light" in society as far as setting the standard for what is right, how to treat one another and the revelation of Christ in His Word.
- That in the end the church will arise as victorious over every physical and spiritual entity, including death.
So, keeping all of this in mind, let us go into the first chapter and examine the blessings that Paul says are reserved only for the church.
The first chapter and section are divided into two parts.
1. The Greetings
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
As was the custom, Paul introduces himself at the beginning of the letter. Note that he also establishes his own credibility and authority as an inspired Apostle, not self-appointed but appointed by God. He also recognizes them as faithful saints; not every church was so addressed since some congregations had problems and the letters sent to them were letters of rebuke (Corinthians). Again, he completes his greetings with a familiar blessing: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Grace was that quality of God that led Him to offer salvation through the death of His Son (instead of universal condemnation). Peace was the result of that gracious action on God's part. There would now be peace between all men who believed in Jesus and God. There would also be peace in every saved person's soul.
This was a way that Paul compressed the entire gospel message and its effect on mankind in just a few words, and offer it as a blessing to those who knew the details and significance behind these words.
2. God's Purpose
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.
In the second part of this section Paul will discuss God's essential purpose when it comes to the church. God's purpose from the beginning of time was to create an entity (church / body of Christ / Christians / saints / the saved / the redeemed etc.) upon whom He could lavish spiritual blessings. The Bible is the account of how He accomplished this; Jesus Christ is the person through whom He accomplished this; the church is that "thing" (entity) He did it for. In verses 3-14 Paul describes the nature of the blessings (gifts) that God gives to the church through Jesus Christ.
Vs. 3 – God blesses, or gives gifts that are spiritual in nature, to the church in connection with Jesus. God has given to believers all of the available gifts. These gifts are given and received because of and in relation to Jesus Christ only! "In Christ" is the term that Paul uses to express this idea.
Election – The idea of election is that God chooses (elects) Jesus Christ and those who are united to Him by faith, to be the ones who receive the blessings. Election does not refer to some process where God arbitrarily chooses who is to be saved and who is to be lost.
Vs. 4a – The decision to choose Christ as the Savior and save those who believe in Him was made before the beginning of time, and not an afterthought. All of history fits into this plan. Paul describes some of the blessings that God has prepared to give to the church:
Vs. 4b – Those in Christ would be holy and blameless, without impurity. They would have no imperfections, be without condemnation and able to look at God without fear.
Vs. 5-6 – Those in Christ become sons of God and recipients of His grace.
Vs. 7-8 – Those in Christ have forgiveness because their sins have been redeemed (moral debt has been paid for by Christ's death).
Vs. 9-10 – Those in Christ have insight into God's overall plan for man, which is not stated fully here in this passage. However Paul explains a little further on that God's plan is to unite all the saved (Jew and Greek), to separate the saved from the unsaved at judgment, and then to unite the saved with the Godhead forever.
Vs. 11-12 – Those in Christ become God's witnesses here on earth (salvation and light). The church is the vehicle by which God is revealed and through which God is praised. The church is here to provide praise and provoke praise to God from others. By virtue of its very existence, the church is praise to God.
Vs. 13-14 – Those in Christ have possession of God's Holy Spirit as a gift for their own spiritual pleasure (it is delightful to commune with God intimately). In addition, the possession of the Spirit is the identifying factor that guarantees the other promises (resurrection, eternal life, etc.). God gives these to those who have the Holy Spirit and He knows who these are.
These are the major gifts that those who are united to Jesus by faith (expressed in repentance and baptism) and referred to as being "in Christ" possess.
The Value of the Gifts "in Christ"
15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
After receiving the blessings that God bestows on those who are in Christ, Paul expresses a prayer in which he asks God to help his readers understand more deeply the nature and value of the gifts they possess. Like the gift of youth that many older people say is wasted on the young, these are young Christians and so Paul wants them to appreciate what they have and not squander it.
Prayer for the church
Vs. 15-17 – Because they have been faithful as a young church, despite persecution, Paul prays that God will give them the ability to know God more intimately. Heaven will be the experience of having a relationship with God without the hindrance of sin and death. He wants them to begin experiencing this phenomena now.
Vs. 18-19 – In this passage he describes in more detail some of the things he wants them to know about God that will prove to be a blessing to them. He wants them to know: the hope before them (vs. 18a), the riches of the inheritance (vs. 18b), and the greatness of His power (vs. 19). All refer to the same thing: our resurrection, glorification and exaltation to reign with God forever. He wants them to be able to see what wonderful things these will be.
Vs. 20-23 – In these verses Paul completes his prayer by describing how these blessings were acquired and how they are presently administered. Those in Christ will be resurrected and be with God in heaven because that's where Jesus is now. He prays that they can appreciate more and more the rewards that they have been called to receive as disciples of Jesus, who guarantees them by virtue of His sovereignty over all things.
Here are several things we can learn from this passage:
- Spiritual blessings are only available if one is united with Christ through faith. We need to verify if we have faith and if it has been expressed as Jesus would have it (repentance and baptism).
- Spiritual blessings are far more valuable than material ones, yet they are given for free. If we were truly spiritual we would worry less about trying to gain and keep material things and spend a little more time in search of the spiritual and eternal blessings. After all, Jesus said, "What will a man give in exchange for his soul?"
- Spiritual blessings are appreciated and enhanced through the activity of prayer. Paul prayed for them to begin experiencing the joy associated with the blessings they had. Many times what's missing in our spiritual lives is prayer or prayer to know God and appreciate His gifts more. When we literally have everything but are not enjoying it, usually this is because we don't understand that spiritual things are tasted, contemplated, and experienced in the dimension of prayer, service, worship, sacrifice and obedience. The first step to heaven usually begins by getting on our knees.