Free Bible Study Magazine
This Month’s Featured Resource: First Love Discipleship Series – Ephesians
By Dr. Tony Keys. Available now for £8.80 from Amazon.co.uk
Ephesians – The Believer’s Riches in Christ!
Week One All Spiritual Blessings – Ephesians 1: 1-23
Day 1: Read Introduction & then Ephesians 1: 1-6.
Whilst reading today’s commentary shown below, think about the following points, keeping in mind what they mean to you as a believer.
• Why the phrase ‘heavenly places’ is an important phrase in understanding the book of Ephesians
• The doctrine of adoption – considered to be one of the cornerstones of the Christian belief.
• What Paul meant when he wrote, “by which He made us accepted in the Beloved”.
When Christians begin to read and understand Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, something wonderful happens in our spiritual lives. We discover how rich we already are, for reading Ephesians is like reading the catalogue of our own treasures that we have in Christ.
A. The Greeting (1: 1-2)
Paul begins his letter with the conventional first century Greek-style writing of his day, which is that of the writer sending greetings to the reader. Yet, Paul takes this style of writing and lifts it to a higher plane, for he describes both writer and reader from the standpoint of their relationship in God through Christ Jesus.
The words found in these opening verses do not roll easily from Paul’s lips, nor are they words that are artistically shaped in the mind. They are words that come from one whose heart and mind are thoroughly Spirit-controlled.
V.1 Paul begins this verse by first describing his own personal relationship in God through Christ Jesus. He says, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God”. Paul calls himself an ‘apostle’. The word ‘apostle’ comes from the Greek word ‘apostolos’, which comes from the verb ‘apostellein’, meaning ‘to send out’. The word was used of a naval squadron or an ambassador sent out on a special expedition. Paul, by this word, not only shows that he is a member of a large task force for Christ but also that he is a man with a special mission. Yet, by coupling the word ‘apostle’ with ‘of Jesus Christ’, he gives the fullest meaning that can properly be applied to the word ‘apostle’, for he shows that he not only belongs to Christ and is under the authority of Christ, but also that the marks of his apostleship are clearly evident in his life and work.
Even though Paul makes the claim of one writing with authority, he goes to great pains to show us that this authority is not due to his own personal merit, aspiration or through usurpation, nor was he nominated by men, but that it came as a result of God’s initiative and sovereign will, for he says “by the will of God”.
Paul then continues on to describe the personal standing of his readers in Christ Jesus. He calls them both “saints” and the “faithful in Christ Jesus”. By the word ‘saints’, Paul describes the work of Christ’s salvation for them, that they have been set apart and consecrated to glorify Christ and to proclaim the message of Christ. By the word ‘faithful’, Paul expresses their part in remaining set apart in God and of proclaiming the message and yet he is quick to point out that, like him, they also need the strength of Christ to accomplish such a feat, for he says ‘in Christ’. Just as the strength of any tree is found in the soil and how deep its roots go into that soil, so the strength of any Christian is found in Christ and how deep we have placed our roots in Him.
V.2 Paul then continues with the greeting of that day, “Grace to you and peace”. These words capture the riches of the Christian faith, for ‘grace’ represents a believer’s standing, and ‘peace’ the believer’s present and continued experience with God, the continued experience being expressed by describing God as “our Father”. The word ‘Father’ in the Aramaic is ‘Pater’, a word describing a father in a happy family relationship.
B. Praise to God for His Purpose and Blessing for Us in Christ (1: 3-14)
In the Greek, V.3-14 is one long sentence. Paul’s mind seems to go on and on as each successive thought crowds one upon the other. His thoughts are like a snowball gathering momentum as it races down a hillside, as his mind first contemplates the blessings of God, then the purpose of God in our lives, then the privileges we have in Christ.
As we read his words and take time to contemplate them, they almost seem like steps leading to an illustrious castle. Once we, like a pilgrim, begin to climb, the aim becomes to quickly ascend those steps without taking a breath in our bid to reach the castle as quickly as possible.
1. The Divine Plan of Salvation (1: 3-8)
V.3 In this passage, Paul’s thoughts erupt into loud resounding praise to God. We can almost hear his voice ringing through the prison as he blesses God the Father or Our Lord Jesus Christ “who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing”. These words hardly seem the words of a man in prison facing the possibility of execution, and yet they are, though in this case the prisoner looks ahead to something far greater.
In July 2009, the reticent billionaire Chuck Feeney gave Queensland its biggest ever single gift of $102 million to three medical projects. These projects are overseen by Queensland University of Technology (QUT). The university’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Coaldrake remarked that the donation underscores Mr Feeney’s personal commitment to giving; “The contribution of Chuck Feeney to QUT and the state of Queensland has been nothing short of remarkable,” he said. Born in 1931 in New Jersey, Mr Feeney earned his fortune after setting up the Duty Free Shopping Network in Mediterranean seaports in the 1950s. By 1982, he had established a philanthropic institution called the Atlantic Philanthropies and, according to Wikipedia estimates, by 2005 he had given away $3.457 billion, with most of it done in total anonymity. He eventually sold his interests in 1997, a sale which boosted his personal wealth and for the first time brought this shy, mysterious man to the public arena. Up until that time, Feeney was the world’s biggest secret philanthropist. There are only two other charities that have out-given him: the Ford Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Feeney’s foundation does not accept requests but rather it seeks out those who are most needy. He gives his money away because it brings him great satisfaction in helping others.
Yet how differently Paul in this verse describes our relationship with the One who blesses us with all spiritual blessings! To the world, Chuck Feeney is an enigma, a shy reclusive man whom we can never really know, who seems to appear out of nowhere, donating large sums of money and then, as surreptitiously as he appears, he vanishes. Paul does not describe God as shy or one difficult to reach but as “Father”. Throughout this wonderful Epistle, Paul continually assures us that it is from the parental heart of God the Father that the fountain of all blessing flows down upon our lives. Paul tells us in Rom 8:17 that every true believer is a joint-heir with Christ. Our unique family relationship with Christ is further stressed by His words at His resurrection (Jn 20:17) when He said, “I am ascending to My Father and Your Father”. Jesus is a Son by nature and we are ‘sons’ by adoption.
Paul continues to say that God has blessed us with “every spiritual blessing”. Writing of the blessings of God upon us, Paul is not speaking of them as being in the past or remaining only in the present, but rather as one continuous flow of blessing. Though the benefits of Chuck Feeney’s donations will aid tens of thousands of people, not everyone can access them; many billions of the world’s population will be left wanting and, even if he was to give away all his money, he could not assist all of them. Later on in Eph. 3:8, Paul describes these spiritual blessings from God as “the unsearchable riches of Christ” which he and the church are commissioned to preach to all. The word ‘unsearchable’ describes a resource that can never be emptied or measured, like a great unfathomable ocean. The verses in Eph. 1:3 and 3:8 tell us that God not only seeks us out to bless us but He also accepts requests to bless us. God does not just bless us with temporal blessings that are consumed with time and effort but with spiritual blessings that find their source “in the heavenly places in Christ”, and this makes these blessings eternal, inexhaustible, glorious and wonderful beyond compare. The phrase ‘in Christ’ also shows us that we cannot enjoy these blessings without Christ.
Starting from this verse, the whole Epistle of Ephesians is a magnificent anthem of the believer’s riches in Christ, beginning with the grace and mercy with which God through Jesus Christ brought us into a special relationship with Him in that He, God, is now our Heavenly Father, the One who blesses us with every spiritual blessing. Amen!
The opening line of this verse so fills our heart and spirit with joy that we just want to jump up and sing for joy the praises of God, just as the hymn writer Fanny J. Crosby so well put it: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine… Praising my Saviour all the day long”.
One of the key phrases in understanding the book of Ephesians is the phrase ‘heavenly places’.
Paul sees that the heavenly places are those places where the real issues of life take place.
Paul speaks of these blessings as being both spiritual and of coming from heavenly places in Christ. He impresses upon us the fact that the blessings of God eclipse and are unlimited compared to material things that pass away, because their origin is not found in the commonplace of this world but far above, in Christ who is in the heavenlies. Paul here in this verse claims the privileged position of a Christian. As a citizen of Rome he may be in prison but, as a citizen of heaven, he is in heaven. He urges us, the readers, to accept the same privilege (Eph. 2: 6-7).
This verse in Eph. 1:3 is also directly linked to Eph. 6:12 where Paul speaks of wrestling with principalities and powers in heavenly places. Therefore, the spiritual blessing of which Paul is speaking relates to our success with wrestling with principalities and powers in heavenly places. The two verses (Eph. 1:3 & 6:12) resemble the beginning and ending of a document of war that contains military strategies to overcome principalities and powers in heavenly places.
In fact, Eph. 1:3 is also the declaration of a counsel of war. The words ‘heavenly places’ could be translated here as ‘God’s heavenly counsels’, a place where God puts His plans into operation. It is as if we have been ushered into the war counsel room of God and there in the heavenly places we have become privy to the plans and purposes of God.
Paul continues to tell us in Eph. 1:3 that the plans and purposes of God, of which we are made part, are only accomplished ‘in Christ’. But, why does Paul say ‘in Christ’? It is because Paul sees that our relationship ‘in Christ’ is vital to the outcome of anything that we do.
V.4-5 The story is told of a group of theologians who were discussing the tension between the schools of thought of predestination and free will. Things became so heated that the group broke up into two opposing factions, but one man, not knowing which faction to join, stood for a moment trying to decide. At last he joined the predestination group. “Who sent you here?” they asked. “No-one sent me,” he replied. “I came of my own choice.” “Free will!” they exclaimed. “You can’t join us! You belong with the other group!” So he followed their orders and went to the other clique. There someone asked, “When did you decide to join us?” The young man replied, “Well, I didn’t really decide – I was sent here.” “Sent here!” they shouted. “You can’t join us unless you have decided by your own free will!”
So often we get caught up in the debate of predestination that we lose sight of the wonderful treasure of our own adoption into the family of God, of which Paul wants us to grasp hold. Paul now becomes deeply aware not only of his own conversion and calling but also that of his readers. The words of Jesus in John 15:16 no doubt ring in Paul’s ears: “You do not choose me but I choose you”. As Paul contemplates his and our salvation, he becomes overwhelmed with the wonder of it, that it was not a last minute idea of God’s or a happy accident of fate, but rather an achievement of God’s that He initiated before the foundation of the world. Paul sees that this privilege could not possibly bring about the occasion of pride or boasting, for he says that we are adopted. Paul uses this word to describe both our present and past condition. Paul looks into the past and does not see us as a perfect child, squeaky clean and pressed by an adoption agency, presenting us to God as our parent-to-be, hoping that He will adopt us! Rather, he sees us as we really are: orphans of the street, dirty, neglected, wretched little urchins living in the gutters, repulsive to many people, living like dogs scavenging for food in the dumps of life, as sadly many children still do today. Also, we must remember that Satan has no desire to give us up and present us as squeaky clean to God
Dr. Tony Keys (from Victoria in Australia) is a prolific author with degrees in biblical/theology, education and leadership/ management. Tony is passionate about developing leaders and conducts leadership seminars for pastors around the world.