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By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons.London) DD
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has been described as the Holy of Holies of the New Testament. In it he reaches the heights to which his other letters have been building up. Intended for a wider audience it presents the Gospel against its background in eternity and stresses the sovereign purposes and power of God in its application. In a unique way it also presents the present position of the believer in ‘the heavenlies’ in Christ.
1.1 ‘Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus.’
As usual Paul begins by stating his credentials. He is an Apostle of Christ Jesus. When Jesus was preparing for the future ministry of His followers He selected from among them twelve whom He called Apostles (Luke 6.13; see also Matthew 10.2-4; Mark 3.13-19). The word means ‘those sent forth’ and can mean simply duly appointed messengers, but here it had the technical sense of those especially selected by Christ Himself to be eye-witnesses to His life and teaching, and to His resurrection. It was in this latter sense that Paul also claimed Apostleship, on the same level as the twelve, as the Apostle to the Gentiles, a status accepted by Peter and the other Apostles (Galatians 2.7-9; 1 Corinthians 9.1, 5; 2 Corinthians 12.11-12; 1 Thessalonians 2.6).
‘Through the will of God.’ Paul stresses that his Apostleship was not man made, nor even by his own choice, but directly within the will of God. It was He Who had chosen Him and set him apart from his birth to be an Apostle (Galatians 1.15) as He had with the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 49.1, 5) and Jeremiah before him (Jeremiah 1.5).
‘To the saints’ (hagioi). This describes all those who belong to Christ and are members of His church. They are ‘sanctified (hegiasmenoi) in Christ’ (1 Corinthians 1.2; 6.11; Hebrews 2.11; 10.10; 10.14) and therefore ‘saints’ (sanctified ones). They are specifically ‘set apart’ (part of the significance of the word ‘sanctify’) as His, sealed and indwelt by His Holy Spirit, and separated to His use.
‘And the faithful in Christ Jesus.’ This is probably meant to expand his greeting beyond the Ephesians to a wider circle. (There is evidence to suggest that this letter was intended to be more than just a local letter). It indicates that while entry into the blessing of Christ is by faith, evidence of it is found in faithfulness. The words that follow are spoken to those who faithfully follow Him. Note the final ‘in Christ Jesus’. It is in Him, and only in Him, that all blessing is found, and He alone can keep us faithful.
The Panorama of the Gospel (1.3-14) .
1.3 ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ.’
As Paul considers the words he is about to say, the blessings he is about to reveal, he can only call down blessing on the name of the One from Whom they will all come.
‘Blessed.’ Worshipped, honoured, held in esteem, given the glory due.
‘Be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Paul is about to inform us of the blessings that are ours in Jesus Christ, bought with His blood and supplied to us in ‘grace’, that is through God’s infinite, active, undeserved favour. And he wants us to know of its source in His God and Father, Who planned, and through the ages brought into reality, the glorious fulfilment of what the Gospel is all about. That He is God and Father of such a One as our Lord Jesus Christ exalts Him beyond measure.
The title ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’ contains three elements. Firstly He is ‘the Lord’ (kurios), the One Whose Name is above every name, Yahweh the God of Creation and history, God Himself (Philippians 2.9). To the Jew and to Paul the Name above every name was Yahweh, the God of Israel, and in the Greek Old Testament Yahweh is represented by kurios. He is also elsewhere the great ‘I am’ (John 8.58, compare Exodus 3.14), another name for Yahweh, and thus ‘the Word’, Who existed in the beginning, through Whom God created the worlds (John 1.1-3; Hebrews 1.1-3; Psalm 33.6, 9), the Lord of all.
Secondly He is ‘Jesus’. He became flesh and dwelt among us (1.14). He was truly man and yet in His manhood epitomised all that man was meant to be. He hungered as a man (Matthew 4.2). He grew thirsty as a man (John 4.7; 19.28). He suffered as a man. And His death was the death of a man, and yet it was of more than a man, for He was ‘the Lord’. He was ‘the Christ (Messiah)’. And the name Jesus means ‘Yahweh is salvation’. He is called Jesus because He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1.21).
Thirdly He is ‘the Christ.’ By His death and resurrection He is declared to be ‘both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2.36). He is the expected King Messiah, the One appointed to eternal Rule (2 Peter 1.11; compare Psalm 145.13; Daniel 4.3, 34; 7.14), the One Who both sits on His own throne and also uniquely shares His Father’s throne (Revelation 3.21), the One before Whom every knee shall bow (Philippians 2.10).
But because of this He is the powerful One (Romans 1.4). He is the One worthy of worship and honour (Revelation 1.6; 5.11, 13). He is the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2.8; James 2.1).
‘Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.’ How great and good is God the Father. He has blessed us by providing for us in Christ every possible spiritual blessing, and these will now be outlined in depth. He has chosen us to be holy and without blemish before Him, foreordained us to be adopted as sons, redeemed us through the blood of His Son, forgiven us all our trespasses, and granted us a glorious future inheritance when all things are summed up in Christ. We are blessed from start to finish.
‘Spiritual blessing.’ That which is not of this mundane world, that which is dispensed by His Spirit, that which works within our spirits making us one with Him (1 Corinthians 12.13) and true children of God (Romans 8.15-16; Galatians 4.5-6), that which makes the truth known within us (1 Corinthians 2.12-15) that which is ‘of the Spirit’, resulting in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.16-25), that which lifts us into another plane of existence (Colossians 3.1-3), that which is our final inheritance when we shall be with Him on His throne (Revelation 3.21), and will be like Him and see Him as He is (1 John 3.2). This is the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1.12).
‘In the heavenlies.’ This is a theme of the epistle. In Christ we have been ‘raised’ into the heavenlies (2.6), into a spiritual realm where we know Him, and walk with Him, and draw continually on His life and power. And even as we live out our lives on this earth we do so as those whose citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3.20), as those whose spirits are continually in communion with Him there (Hebrews 4.16; 10.19), as those whose potential is heavenly and who are watched over by Heaven.
Modern man can have some faint conception of this in that it is now possible for a man in some far off place to enter into his computer room and there soon ‘see’ and be in close touch with family, friends and neighbours, sharing in the benefits of the home country, and be almost for a time as though he was at home. Furthermore even when he leaves his computer he can carry his mobile phone around for instant communication. Thus can the Christian live His life in this world, seemingly far off from his real home in Heaven and yet be in full communion and contact with Heaven, enjoying something of the blessing of Heaven, and bring Heaven with him to earth, and take Heaven with him wherever he goes. He can live in heavenly places.
1.4-5 ‘Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love, having foreordained us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.’
‘He chose us in Him.’ This does not just mean that He chose Him before the foundation of the world, and that when we are in Him we are included in that choice, for elsewhere Paul will tell us that we ourselves are ‘foreknown’ (proginosko) (Romans 8.29), a word which means God has, as it were, entered into a relationship with us beforehand. He ‘knew’ us in eternity and thus chose us (see Genesis 18.19). The wondrous truth is that in His infinite goodness, and eternal awareness and knowledge, He chose us out from the beginning, before the world was, because of what Christ Jesus is and would be, with the purpose of purifying and perfecting us and presenting us to Himself as His sons.
Thus are we who believe in Christ ‘the elect’, the chosen ones (2 Thessalonians 2.13; Matthew 24.22, 24, 31; Mark 13.20; Luke 18.7; Romans 8.33; 9.11; 1 Corinthians 1.27-28; Colossians 3.12; 1 Thessalonians 1.4; 1 Peter 1.2; 2.4; 5.13), like a woman chosen for her husband (Ephesians 5.25-27). But we are not to be complacent about this but to make our calling and election sure by our good, fruitful and holy lives (2 Peter 1.10) wrought in us by the Spirit, thus proving that we are the true children of God.
‘Before the foundation of the world.’ The choice was made even before that time when He first spoke and it was done, and creation came into being. He chose us, then, before Genesis 1.1. The choice was made in eternity. ‘God chose you from the beginning unto salvation, in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth’ (2 Thessalonians 2.13).
‘That we should be holy and without blemish before him in love.’ His purpose in so calling us was to make us Christlike, to make us ‘holy’, set apart totally to Him, sharing that ‘otherness’ which marks Him off in His supreme goodness and splendour, as we are made ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1.4) through His Spirit. It is to make us ‘without blemish’ so that no spot or stain or any such thing might mar our beings. We will need no mirror to search for blemishes then, no make-up to hide the truth, for it will be genuine through and through.
We are set apart to a holy purpose, to manifest and to glorify Him, and only in so far as we are fulfilling that purpose are we being what we should be. But it is a process which will take time, for although the inward change takes place on our rebirth, the effecting of that change in our sinful bodies will go on and on until we are presented perfect before Him.
This blessing initially becomes ours when we first believe and are cleansed, reckoned as righteous and sanctified once for all through His sacrifice on the cross so that all stain is removed and we are made without blemish and acceptable to Him (5.26; Isaiah 1.18; Romans 3.24; 2 Corinthians 5.19; 2 Thessalonians 2.13; Hebrews 9.14; 10.10, 14). It continues as the Holy Spirit works in us His sanctifying work so that we are more and more without blemish among men who see us as lights in the world (‘it is God Who works in you -- that you may be -- children of God without blemish’ - Philippians 2.13-15; ‘are transformed -- from glory to glory’ - 2 Corinthians 3.18; ‘those who are being sanctified’ - Hebrews 10.14; ‘you have your fruit to sanctification’ - Romans 6.19, 22). And finally reaches its completion when in receiving us into His eternal presence He finally perfects that work which He has begun, presenting us as a spotless wife, holy and without blemish (5.27; Colossians 1.22; 1 Thessalonians 3.13; 5.23; 1 Corinthians 15.42-44) making us like Him (1 John 1.2).
‘In love.’ And all this is not the hard, cold choice of some artisan choosing to make one piece of work rather than another, but a work of incomparable love, the love that God revealed in the giving of His Son (John 3.16; Romans 5.8; 1 John 4.9-10) that sweeps us up into His arms and into His heart (Deuteronomy 33.27; John 14.21, 23; 16.27), so that all that comes to us comes in love, for God is love (1 John 4.8).
(It matters little whether we attach ‘in love’ to the earlier words or those that follow. The passage is all of a piece and the thread of His love flows through the whole).
1.5 ‘Having foreordained us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.’
He has not only chosen us but ‘decided on us beforehand’, ‘marked us out beforehand’ (pro-orizo) for a special purpose, that we might be adopted as His sons. Yet this is not because of our deserving but ‘through Jesus Christ’ and in accordance with His own pleasure and will. It was by His own will that He chose us, and of His own will that He begat us by the word of truth (James 1.18). Thus our being saved is not of our own merit but in accordance with the gracious will of God.
When God marked us out it was not because of anything special that He saw in us, but because in His eternal purpose He loved us (Jeremiah 31.3; Deuteronomy 7.6-7; Isaiah 43.4; Malachi 1.2; Romans 9.11-13, 23-24). And He thus purposed beforehand to adopt us as sons, putting the Spirit of His Son into our hearts so that we cry ‘Abba, Father’ (Galatians 4.5-6; Romans 8.15-17), which will result in the final adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8.23). It is not just as servants that He purposed to bless us but as those who were to be His sons.
‘According to the good pleasure of His will.’ And all this is in accordance with the good pleasure of His will. Compare verse 4 ‘in love’, verse 7 ‘according to the riches of His grace’, verse 9 ‘according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Him’, verse 11 ‘according to the purpose of Him Who works all things after the counsel of His own will’. All that comes to us was and is in His good purpose, in accordance with His good pleasure and wisdom, because of the greatness of His love for His ‘intended’. God cannot be thwarted, nor is He coerced. He carries out His purpose and will throughout the ages without fear or favour.
And fore-ordination guarantees fulfilment. Those whom the Father gives to Him will come to Him (John 6.37, 39, 44; 10.28-29) and of all who are given to Jesus Christ in the purpose and will of God not one will be lost, for they are guarded and kept by Him (John 17.12). (The exception proves the rule!)
1.6 ‘To the praise of the glory of His grace with which He freely engraced us in the Beloved.’
This activity of God will result in the praise of His glorious grace. All universes, if such there be, will wonder at His gracious condescension to those who had proved themselves totally unworthy. For when the whole plan of salvation has been carried through, and the redeemed finally share the new Heaven and the new earth with Him in the glory of Christ, and all that mars creation has been done away, then will the fullness of His grace, His active, unbounded, undeserved love and favour shown to the totally unworthy, have been fully revealed and be the focus of the worship of Heaven, as to some extent it is indeed already (Revelation 5.12-13).
For it is through His grace, active and undeserved, that all this will come about. Thus will the universe know and appreciate the grace and graciousness of God, a grace which is beyond all measure and beyond all comprehension, for they will have seen it enacted before their eyes. And yet amazingly it is that grace that we experience, and, yes, if we are His, experience daily.
‘He freely engraced us.’ His grace, His undeserved love and favour, is freely bestowed on us (’echaritosen - ‘He engraced, He fully and abundantly revealed grace’. Compare its use in Luke 1.28. As Mary was ‘engraced’ in bearing Jesus, so we also are ‘engraced’, surrounded by divine mercy and active love. Thus we can say, ‘Hail, believer, full of grace, the Lord is with you’). It is bestowed in Christ, in all He is and has done for us, and in all His activity on our behalf. There was not one jot of worthiness in us, not one jot of deserving. But in Christ He has surrounded us with His active love, enveloped us in His merciful and unrestrained goodness, and poured out on us His unsparing favour, for He has given us all things ‘in Christ’.
He is the beginning (Colossians 1.18) before ever the world was. He is the Source of all things (Colossians 1.16). He is the One Who is over all (Ephesians 1.22). All that has marred creation is the sin of men and of angels, our sin and theirs, but by His amazing grace, His active, undeserved love and favour, He is acting to remove that stain and blemish by the redemption of His chosen ones and the final destruction of all that offends. So all that is will in the end be ‘to the praise of His glorious grace’.
‘In the Beloved.’ All that He has done for us is ‘in (Christ) the Beloved’ . Every spiritual blessing is in Christ (verse 3), our being chosen was in Him (verse 4), our adoption as sons is through Jesus Christ (verse 5), through His blood we have our redemption and forgiveness (verse 7), everything will finally be summed up in Him (verse 10), and in Him we have been made God’s inheritance (verse 11). But here He is called, not by name, but as ‘the Beloved’. For the title ‘the Beloved’ compare (Matthew 3.17; 12.18; 17.5; Mark 12.6; Luke 20.13; 2 Peter 1.17; Colossians 1.13). The idea behind ‘the Beloved’ is the only beloved Son of the Father, the One beloved before all worlds, the One specially sent by the Father as His only Son. Who else could have ‘freely engraced’ us in this mighty way apart from Him?
1.7-8 ‘In whom we have our redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses. According to the riches of His grace which he made to abound towards us in all wisdom and prudence.’
And it has all been made possible by His redeeming work and resulting forgiveness. He has stepped in, borne the punishment for our sin, paid the price for our deliverance, and pours out His forgiveness on us. (This latter is in response to repentance and faith (verse 13), but in this catalogue of God’s gracious working only God’s side is being described. For all is His effective working).
‘Redemption through His blood.’ Now we come down to the means by which this was carried out. It was carried out by the Redeemer, Who redeemed us with His own precious blood (1 Peter 1.18-19). He gave Himself a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2.6). He bought us ‘with a price’ (1 Corinthians 6.20; 7.23). In these verses in 1 Corinthians there may be a deliberate contrast with Isaiah where His people were redeemed ‘without money’ (52.3 compare 55.1). It was not, however, without cost, indeed the cost was the greatest that could be. He ‘gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity’ (Titus 2.14).
Redemption always results from special costly effort or the payment of a ransom. In this case Christ has done both. He has given Himself as a ransom instead of us (Mark 10.45; 1 Timothy 2.6), redeeming us through His blood (Ephesians 1.7; Colossians 1.14; Hebrews 9.12, 15; 1 Peter 1.18-19), and He has exercised His power at great cost in defeating the forces that are against us, triumphing over them in the cross (Colossians 2.15) and bearing our sin as a sacrifice for sin. He has taken what is on record against us and has nailed it to His cross, like a list of debts that have been crossed out as evidence that they have been paid, with ‘it is finished’ written across them. Indeed He has blotted out the Law (the handwriting of ordinances) which condemned us (Colossians 2.14). The stress in redemption is on the price that had to be paid and the power that was involved and the deliverance that was accomplished.
‘The forgiveness of our trespasses.’ The word for forgiveness here is ’aphesis which means ‘cancellation’ and is used to mean the cancellation of the guilt of sin. It is common in the New Testament, see Matthew 26.28; Mark 1.4; Luke 1.77; 3.3; 24.47; Acts 2.38; 5.31; 10.43; 13.38 (by Paul); 26.18 (by Paul); Hebrews 9.22; 10.18. But it is rarely used by Paul in his epistles (only here, in Colossians 1.14, a parallel passage and in a quotation in Romans 4.7) who tends to think more in terms of ‘reckoning righteous’. Elsewhere he speaks of ‘pardon’ (charizomai) for sin (Colossian 2.13) and the ‘passing over’ of sin in the light of Christ’s future redemptive work (Romans 3.25). Thus its use here together with ‘trespasses’, ‘deviations from what is right’ (paraptoma), suggests that the main thought is of the cancelling of our particular failures to do what is right, restoring our personal relationship with God, and removing all that was against us. Usually it is used with ‘sins’ (hamartia), a more general word for sin. For such forgiveness see Psalm 51.1, 9; Isaiah 43.25; 44.22. See also James 5.15; 1 John 1.9; 2.12.
‘According to the riches of His grace.’ Again Paul emphasises that it is the richness of the grace of God that has brought about this redemption and forgiveness, and that it is full and complete in accordance with those riches. There is no stinting in His forgiveness. It is rich and overflowing. Redemption involves our deliverance, forgiveness involves the restoration of our relationship with God and the putting right of the heart in its relationship with God, although the distinctions must not be over-pressed for they are all closely entwined.
‘Which He made to abound towards us in all wisdom and prudence.’ Some may have felt that God’s goodness to such sinners as we are is misplaced. But Paul assures us that God’s actions reveal the wisdom and prudence of God. He does nothing rashly. His actions have been carefully considered by the eternal will, and therefore are effective in the bringing about of His final purposes, and His wisdom is revealed in what will be accomplished. For what will result will prove once and for all His great glory.
Notice again the stress on the abounding nature of what He does for us and of what He offers to us. God withholds nothing from those who are His own. We may feel jaded and under attack by sin, and that God is not near, but if we are His through faith, all His grace and love is abounding towards us at every moment, and especially so in times of chastening.
Some see the ‘wisdom and prudence’ as that given by God to His own (Colossians 1.9), given along with His other spiritual blessings. But later (verse 11) we are told that God works everything ‘after the counsel of His own will’, which ties in with it being His wisdom and prudence here.
1.9-10a ‘Having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him, unto a stewardship (regulation of an estate) of the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth.’
In carrying out these purposes God has made known to us the mystery of His will. This ‘mystery’, the hidden wisdom from before time began that God foreordained to our glory (1 Corinthians 2.7), was kept in God’s counsel through eternal ages (Romans 16.25) but is now revealed to us. And this mystery is ‘Christ in us, the hope of glory’ (Colossians 1.26-27).
So the eternal mystery, which was fully purposed in the will of God from before the beginning of creation, and was kept secret until His coming, was that ‘in Christ’ those chosen in Him would be taken from their sinful and dreadful state, be delivered, and be transformed into His image, enjoying in themselves the indwelling of Christ, and finally sharing with Him His glory throughout eternity, when all things are summed up in Christ.
‘According to His good pleasure which He purposed in Him unto a stewardship (regulation, management of an estate) of the fullness of times.’ And this is all of God’s good pleasure, His settled purpose ‘in Christ’. And His purpose is that He will act as Divine Estate Manager in the fullness of times, (all time from now until the glorious finalisation) carrying out His stewardship and regulating everything so as to bring about the summing up of all things in Christ, whether in Heaven or on earth.
‘Stewardship, dispensation’. The word oikonomia meant household management, stewardship, estate management, the dispensing (and thus dispensation) of what one controls, and the word developed to mean ‘arrangement, regulation, administration’. Here it refers to His continual management of all things through time.
‘Mystery.’ (Musterion). In the New Testament this means a mystery once hidden but now revealed to His own.
‘To sum up all things in Christ.’ The word means ‘to summarise, to sum up’, usually in a piece of literature. So in the end the whole of history will be summed up and find its meaning in Christ, reaching its ultimate end as planned by God. As Paul tells us in Colossians 1.16-17, ‘in Him were all things created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and invisible -- all things have been created through Him and unto Him, and He is before all things and in Him all things hold together’, and here we are told that they will all come to their final satisfactory conclusion in Him, when everything is brought together in the final summation, and when the creation itself is delivered from the bondage of corruption to the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8.21) and there is a new Heaven and a new earth in which dwells righteousness, the old having been finally destroyed (1 Peter 3.12-13).
1.10b-12 ‘In him, I say, in whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will, to the end that we should be to the praise of His glory who had beforehand hoped in Christ.’
The glorious sweep of what has been said is now applied directly to us. It is we who have been made His special heritage, chosen and appointed to enjoy all that He has provided for us and all the blessings that He will give us. Through His grace we are what it is all about.
‘In Him, I say, in Whom also we were made a heritage --.’ ‘In Him’. This refers back to the Christ in Whom all things are to be summed up. In carrying out all these purposes it is in Him that we have been made God’s special heritage. Compare 1.18 where he speaks of ‘the richness of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.’ So we are God’s glorious heritage, having been made glorious by Him, and presented to Christ as His inheritance, an inheritance made rich in glory. We are His treasured possession (verse 14). And this was done ‘according to the purpose of Him Who works all things after the counsel of His will’. All was first done within the mind of God, and is worked out by the hand of God. And its aim is that we should be to the praise of His glory who ‘beforehand hoped in Christ’, that is who before the final fulfilment enjoyed a certain, assured ‘hope’, the hope of His coming to sum up all things because we trust in Him. After which His purposes, as far as this universe is concerned, will draw to an end.
The whole passage has redounded with the fact of God working out His own eternal will and purpose. In the great panorama of time and eternity man is the object of God’s gracious working as God works out His will in accordance with His own counsel, and His own wisdom and prudence. But having seen the sweep of salvation history from God’s viewpoint man now comes into the foreground for the first time.
Some see the continual ‘we’ and ‘us’ as referring firstly to believing Jews prior to the time when Paul spoke, including the believing Jews through the ages, so that ‘we who had beforehand hoped’ is referred primarily to Old Testament believers, and this as then being applied to believing Gentiles in verse 13 (note the change there to ‘you’). But this is too narrow an interpretation. It is far more likely that by ‘we’ Paul means all believers in Christ and the change to ‘you’ is simply a change to refer to his specific readers, for his readers would not naturally apply his former words only to Jews, unless it had been spelt out by him, and Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, was hardly likely to be so restrictive without indicating it.
1.13-14 ‘In whom you also, (having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation), in whom you also, having believed, were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is an earnest of our inheritance unto the redemption of His own possession to the praise of His glory.’
The human side of this great activity of God is now laid out. We heard the word of truth, the good news of what God had done in arranging for our deliverance, and we believed in Christ, and were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, the guarantee of our inheritance until we receive it.
‘In Whom.’ Emphasised twice. All that we receive is in Christ.
‘The word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation.’ We heard the proclamation of truth, ‘the word of the cross’ (1 Corinthians 1.18) with its content revealing the truth of God, the good news about Christ and of the deliverance He has wrought in which we have our part.
‘Having believed you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.’ The reception of the promised Spirit through believing is central to the Christian message. It is His coming to a man when he believes that makes him a Christian (Romans 8.9; John 3.5-6), is the evidence that he is a Christian and marks him off as belonging to God (compare Psalm 4.3, ‘Yahweh has set apart for Himself he who is godly’). He is the seal that authenticates and guarantees once for all the status of a man in Christ and his future hope (Ephesians 4.30; 2 Corinthians 1.22).
We should note here that belief is not something that we have to do. It is a response worked within us as He works within us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13). It is the openness of heart of a person whose heart has been opened by God. It is the automatic response of our lives as the Sun of righteousness shines on us, in the same way as a flower responds to the rising of the sun. He put the inclination within us so that He might feed that inclination, and believing is the inclination flowering into bloom.
‘Who is an earnest of our inheritance.’ The Holy Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance. An earnest is something given to guarantee the fulfilment of the whole (compare 2 Corinthians 1.22). Today we might speak of a deposit being given. But the idea behind the earnest was that it was more than a deposit, it was also a sample of what was to come. The trader would provide a sample which demonstrated the quality and type of what was being sold, and this could then be compared with the goods that finally arrived. It could also be produced as proof of the contract. Thus the Holy Spirit within us and upon us is the sample of what our future inheritance will be in a spiritual life to come, and is the proof that we are His. Indeed it is by this sample that we will be tested. ‘If any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His’ (Romans 8.9). There cannot be a true Christian who is not indwelt by the Spirit of God.
‘Until the redemption of God’s own possession to the praise of His glory.’ The Spirit is also the guarantee of what the future holds in store, when those who are God’s own treasured possession, are finally and ultimately delivered by Him, because of the payment of the price (1.7), and brought for ever into His presence. Then will all redound to His glory. Again we have the thought of redemption but this time related to the buying back of ‘property’. Thus the redemption includes the thought of a purchase price, but also clearly includes an act of power by which all is brought to completion.
‘His own possession.’ Compare 1 Peter 2.9, ‘a people for God’s own possession’. His special treasure. This was originally God’s purpose for His people Israel (Exodus 19.5), that they would be ‘a peculiar treasure to me from among all peoples. For all the earth is Mine.’ And this included being a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. This is now the privilege of His new people. They are ‘a people which I formed for myself that they might set forth my praise’ (Isaiah 43.21), for ‘they shall be mine in the day that I act, even a peculiar treasure’ (Malachi 3.17).
Paul Prays That Their Eyes May Be Opened to the Richness of What Christ Has Brought Them and Has Done For Them (1.15-2.10).
Having declared what God has done for us in the overall plan of redemption Paul now reveals in more depth the work He has done within us and for us through His activity in Christ. He begins by praying that we may be given understanding so that we may grasp it, then he outlines the full glory of the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ, and then he shows how those who are true Christians, saved by grace, partake with Christ in His resurrection and exaltation and, being so transformed, enter into a new spiritual sphere
1.15-16 ‘For this reason I also, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus that is among you, and which you show towards all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.’
What a wonderful testimony is this. Paul says, ‘I have heard of you, of how great your faith is in the Lord Jesus, and of how it is revealed towards all God’s people.’ If only that could be said of us and of our church, known to everybody for the right reasons! And because of what he has heard he gives thanks and prays that they might enjoy even greater blessing.
‘For this reason - .’ Looking back over the whole of verses 3-14, and applying it to them, he is confident that they will receive the promised activity precisely because he has heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus, and the fact that it is revealed also by their lives.
‘Having heard.’ This need not mean he had not known them personally. It describes the fact that he has since had news of them, news that they continue to walk in the faith, something which has rejoiced his heart.
‘The faith in the Lord Jesus that is among you.’ They are a church well witnessed to as a church which believes fully in Jesus the Lord. All around know that to these Christians there in only One Lord, and He is Jesus.
‘And which you show towards all the saints.’ Their faith is also shown by their behaviour towards all God’s people. If we have true faith it will always be reflected in the way we live, and especially in how we behave towards ‘all saints’, all God’s people. (Some manuscripts have ‘the love which you show’ in various forms, but on the whole these are not the better manuscripts).
‘Do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.’ Paul did not forget to be grateful to God for what He had done, indeed he was unceasing in his gratitude. We too would do well to spend more time in gratitude and praise to God. Notice also that his prayers were for their spiritual welfare, not for their material well-being, as our Lord Himself mainly commanded in Matthew 6.7-15.
1.17-18a ‘That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened.’
He prays to ‘the God of our Lord Jesus Christ’ to grant to His people a full depth of understanding of spiritual truth, by the enlightenment of the Spirit. Indeed he desires that they might have ‘a full understanding and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ’, a knowledge that will include all that He is, which will come about by the enlightening of our hearts by the Father of glory, as He Who is the light of the world shines in us through His Spirit.
For ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ see on verse 2.
‘The Father of glory.’ The One Who lives in splendour and glory (see Revelation 21.23), Who is worthy of glory and has glory at His disposal to dispense as He will (Romans 8.17; Revelation 21.11). He is the focal point of all glory. ‘Glory’ speaks of that which is most wonderful in every way. He is called ‘the God of glory’ by Stephen (Acts 7.2; compare Psalm 29.3), and ‘the King of glory’ by the Psalmist (Psalm 24). Jesus also is ‘the Lord of glory’ (1 Corinthians 2.8; James 2.1; compare 2 Corinthians 3.18). The One Who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ must be glorious, for He is glorious.
Reference to God as the Father of glory relates Him back to the God Who revealed Himself in glory at the Exodus in the pillar of fire (Exodus 13.21 and often), in glory on Mount Sinai at the giving of the covenant (Exodus 24.16-17), and in glory in the Tabernacle (Exodus 40.34; Numbers 14.10) and the Temple (1 Kings 8.11), where His glory was revealed visibly. He is thus the God of power, grace and splendour of the Old Testament. His glory is revealed by the heavens which reveal His handywork (Psalm 19.1) and by His many mighty works and wonders (Psalm 96.3; 104.31). His glory is above the heavens (Psalm 113.4) and the whole earth is full of His glory (Isaiah 6.3), which is revealed in His delivering power (Isaiah 40.5).
He is also the One Who is worthy of being glorified, and His glory is revealed in His unchanging purity (Romans 3.23), and in that He is eternally God, unchanging and beyond physical corruption (Romans 1.19-23). The riches of His glory are revealed in His mercy (Romans 9.23), and the light of the knowledge of the glory of God is revealed in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4.6). Indeed Jesus is the outshining of His glory (Hebrews 1.2), and the means by which His glory is made known to us.
‘May give to you a spirit (Spirit) of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened.’ Paul prays that as a result of the activity of the Father of glory their ‘spirits’, the spiritual side of their natures, may be made wise in the true wisdom (see 1 Corinthians 1.21, 24, 30; Colossians 2.3) and that they might have revealed within them the full knowledge of Christ and what He has done, and is doing, for them. Thus he prays that their ‘hearts’, their inner beings, will be enlightened by the Holy Spirit, Who is Himself the Spirit of wisdom and revelation (1 Corinthians 2.10-16), so that they may know Him Who is the Wisdom from God revealed in saving activity (1 Corinthians 1.30). The prior reference to the Father of glory connects with what is being revealed. It is all glorious in His glory and Paul wants them to behold that glory.
1.18-19a ‘That you may know what is the hope of his calling, what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of his power towards us who believe.’
The first thing that he longs is that they may have full understanding about ‘the hope of His calling’. God has called them to a glorious future, to be fully revealed and experienced at the second coming of Christ in the glory of the resurrection and what follows in the new Heaven and the new earth, when He is gloriously revealed and they are to be presented perfect before Him and are to enjoy His continual presence (Ephesians 4.13; 5.27; 1 Corinthians 15.51-52; 2 Corinthians 11.2; Philippians 3.21; Jude 1.24; Ephesians 1.4; Revelation 21.22-25; 22.3-5). In that day God is to be made all in all (1 Corinthians 15.28) and everything will be summed up in Christ (Ephesians 1.10). That is their ‘hope’, the hope that results from the fact that He has called them.It is because of ‘His calling’ that they have this hope that is laid up for them in the heavens (Colossians 1.5). And in the New Testament such hope is always a sure and certain hope.
The second thing that he longs for them is that they may know ‘the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints’. They, His ‘sanctified ones’, the whole people of God, have been made a heritage to Him (verse 11). And they, although they may not see themselves in that way, are in God’s eyes a ‘glorious’ heritage. For God will make them glorious in holiness and righteousness, and it is Christ in them Who is the hope of glory (Colossians 1.27). He wants them to appreciate and understand that coming glory that is to be theirs (John 17.22; Romans 8.18, 30; 2 Corinthians 3.18; 4.17; Hebrews 2.10) as they are prepared and fashioned by the Spirit so as to be presented to Him holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5.27).
And thirdly he longs that they may be made fully aware of the ‘exceeding greatness of His power (dunamis)’, the stupendous power of God, the ‘dynamite’ of God, which is being exercised on their behalf as ‘those who believe’. He Whose power put the Universe in place and maintains all by that power, is now active in that same power on behalf of those who believe, and especially as manifested in the power of the resurrection of Christ and in our being combined with Him in His resurrection power. It is ours because Christ is in us (Galatians 2.20) and we in Him.
And the full blessing of all three hopes is revealed in the verses that follow (1.19-2.10) as he depicts what has been accomplished by Christ’s powerful resurrection.
1.1.19-21 ‘The exceeding greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to that working of the strength of His might which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.’
And what is this power that is at work? It is the power that broke the chains of death and overcame all the powers of evil. So Paul seeks to bring out the greatness of the power exercised by God and he does it by multiplying words, - exceeding greatness, power, working, strength, His might. For this is the power of His resurrection, when the powers of Hell were defeated (Colossians 2.15; Ephesians 4.8), the power of death was broken (Hebrews 2.14; 1 Corinthians 15.54-57), and man and the world were potentially released from their chains (Romans 8.21, 23). Who can even begin to comprehend the power that was needed to this end? And that power is available to those who believe. It is outside the knowledge of the world who are totally unable to see what is happening, but it is known more and more by believers the nearer they grow to Christ.
‘The working of the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.’ As ‘God made Man’ Christ was crucified, and all the sin of the world, past, present and future, was laid on His shoulders. He was made a sacrifice for sin (1 Peter 1.19) and He Who knew no sin was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5.21). And not only that but all the powers of Hell were there to ensure His demise. What a catastrophe this seemed! And what amazing power had to be exercised to reverse the situation so that Christ Jesus rose triumphant and victorious, the power of sin broken, the powers of Hell defeated, and took His rightful place again in Heaven, receiving all authority in Heaven and earth (Matthew 28.18).
‘And made Him sit at His right hand in the heavenly places.’ To sit at the right hand was to share the glory and the rule (Psalm 110.1; Mark 14.62; Luke 22.69; Acts 7,55; Romans 8.34; Colossians 3.1; Hebrews 8.1; 10.12; 12.2; 1 Peter 3.22). This He had known from all eternity, but now as glorified Man He was made co-regent with His Father, sharing the throne of God (Revelation 3.21), and all power and authority in Heaven and on earth was given to Him (Matthew 28.18; John 3.35; Acts 2.36; Romans 14.9; 1 Corinthians 15.27; Philippians 2.9-10; Hebrews 2.8; Isaiah 9.6-7; Daniel 7.14). He was made Ruler over all.
‘The heavenly places.’ The spiritual world. This is not some world within the universe, or indeed outside the universe. He is not so far away. It is a world totally different from the physical, a spiritual world, a world of non-space which we can penetrate even while on earth (1.3; 6.12), a world that exists alongside our world, but of totally different essence. When Elisha’s eyes were opened he became aware of that world (2 Kings 2.11; 6.17), a world of which we are constantly unaware and yet which is ever there. A world in which we can participate even now (2.6), and where we have to battle with powerful forces (6.12) because we are His. And He is Lord over it.
The Christian lives in two worlds simultaneously. He lives through his body in the physical world, and he lives through his spirit in a spiritual world, and it is in that latter world that Christ reigns, that Christ is King. There the Christian enters under the rule (the kingship, the kingdom) of God, acting as His ambassador in this mundane world (2 Corinthians 5.20) and carrying out the orders of the King. Indeed God mainly breaks through into this world through His people, and thus to an extent He depends on us.
‘Far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world but also in that which is to come.’ Here Paul gathers together all the words he can think of which relate to power and control. Christ is over them all. That includes all power and authority in this world, and all power and authority in the world that is yet, as regards full experience, future to us. It includes the powers of Heaven and the powers of Hell (compare 6.12; Romans 8.38; 1 Corinthians 15.24; Colossians 1.16; 2.15; 1 Peter 3.22).
‘Rule, authority, power, dominion.’ All who exercise power, whether in Heaven, in the air, or on earth, are included under His jurisdiction. These words simply depict every type of Ruler. The ancients had many theories about heavenly forces and these words, among others, were used to describe them, but Paul is not following any particular view or particularising any special beings (compare a similar list in 6.14). He is being all-inclusive.
‘Every name that is named.’ Whatever title is given, whether Emperor, King, Potentate, Majesty, President, Excellency, Prince or whatever, He is set above them all, both human and supernatural. For His is the name which is above every name, the name of ‘LORD’ (Yahweh) (Philippians 2.10).
1.22-23 ‘And he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness (pleroma) of him who fills all in all.’
‘He put all things in subjection under His feet.’ Compare Psalm 8.6. The picture is of the great and victorious King and Overlord before whom all His subjects and His enemies humble themselves, prostrating themselves at His feet and acknowledging His lordship. The highest place that Heaven affords is His, and His by sovereign right. And 1 Corinthians 15.26 tells us that the last of His enemies is death, which will also have its power destroyed. This phrase is the climax of verses 20-21, yet also leads in to 22b-23.
‘And gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body.’ As head (supreme ruler) over all things, which includes all heavenly powers and all earthly powers, He is given to His ‘church’, to those whom He has called out and redeemed so that He might uniquely be their Head. They are uniquely His, and while He is ‘Head over all things’, He is their Head in a unique way. Thus in the whole scenario of existence the people of God are depicted as unique and special. For while the remainder are seen as subjects, some even as rebellious subjects, the people of God are seen as in such close relation to Him that they are united with Him in His body.
We can compare here the words of Paul elsewhere in Ephesians where he likens Christ’s Headship over the church to man’s headship over his wife (Ephesians 5.23). Thus it depicts a position of loving authority and close unity without signifying total merger. They are united in one but do not actually become one. They are, as it were, along with Him, His body, sharing with Him in His bodily resurrection and exaltation, and in His rule, and responding to His direction and control. They are as His wife (Ephesians 5.25-27) to be presented to Him without blemish. Note how in the case of the church as the wife Paul can immediately link it with Christ’s relationship with the church in terms of their being members of His body, gliding from the one illustration to the other (5.29-30). This in the same way as the body of the husband and the body of the wife are united so that they become ‘one flesh’ (5.31). Thus have we become ‘one flesh’ with His body (5.30).
‘Which is His body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all.’ Here being His body means being that which makes His own body complete. Thus His people are the ‘fullness of Him Who fills all in all”. This is, of course, a paradox. He Who fills all in all surely needs no completion. Indeed all things ‘hold together’ in Him (Colossians 1.17). How then can His people be His fullness? The answer lies in the plan of redemption. Having become Man in order to redeem man He is incomplete until the redeemed are gathered in. As representative Man He must gather in those Whom He represented. They are the fullness which will make Him whole. He is their Head. He is also the Body, and they are united with His body, making His body full, and as such He ‘needs’ and requires them.
We should note here especially that the idea of the Head is only applied to Him as the risen Christ. In His body He suffered humiliation, but in His resurrection and exaltation He becomes both Head and Body. His Headship (divine rulership) was made patent over all, and especially over His people, and in His Body He was united with His people in one body. (We must not think of Him as the head and we as the body from the neck downwards. That is not the idea at all. He is both Head over all things and Body, and we united with Him in His body (see Appendix)). In His body He experienced resurrection and exaltation, and it is in His body, in which we accompany Him because He is both our representative and our substitute (2.1-10), that we are one with Him (see 1 Corinthians 6.17). Thus He Who is ‘the Firstborn of all creation’ (the source of all creation) is also ‘the beginning, the Firstborn from the dead’, so that He may have pre-eminence in all things (Colossians 1.15, 18). He it was Who began and is the source of that new creation, His people. Thus He is ‘the Firstborn among many brothers’ (Romans 8.29). The word Firstborn means the One from Whom they had their new life, the One Who produced all that followed. They were the result of His life-giving activity.
The same idea of Christ as the Head over His people, and His people as His body united with Him in His body is found in Colossians 1.18 where we read that He is over all things and controls all things, and then that also ‘He is the Head of the body, the church.’ In both contexts the Headship of Christ over all things is emphasised first and then applied to His Headship over the church, and the church is then likened to His body, because they have been made one with His body. They are one in Him. This is to bring out the closer and more tender relationship there is between Christ and His people. But the idea is not amplified in Colossians. It is allowed to express their unique relationship with Him but not applied in detail. The main emphasis is on the Headship (divine rulership) and on our union with Him.
In Colossians the idea is expanded in 2.19 where it speaks of those who do not ‘hold fast the Head, from Whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increases with the increase of God’. This adds the thought that the body receives from its Head, its Lord, all it needs for growth. It is given life by His indwelling within each Christian (Ephesians 3.17; Galatians 2.20) and by His presence in their midst (Matthew 28.20). This expansion also appears in Ephesians 4.15-16 (which see). 2.15-16 will bring home that that body, which is inclusive of Christ’s own body, consists of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles made one in Christ. But this provision of what is needed is in fact also stated in another way, for the thought of the oneness of He Who is the Head with the body, which includes Himself, leads on to 2.1-10 where our oneness with Christ means that we participate in all in which He participates (see Appendix below).
In refinement of these ideas in Ephesians, however, we should note that he is more careful in his expressions. He is not just ‘the Head’ but ‘the Head over all things’ lest we make the mistake (that many make) that he is contrasting head with body. The church is the body of Christ because spiritually it is united with Christ’s own body, not because it alone is His body. ‘If we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection’ (Romans 6.5). Christ is the body with Whom we are united (1 Corinthians 12.12).
The fullness (pleroma).’ In the Gospels the word pleroma is used of the patch that fills up the hole in the old garment (Mark 2.21) and the sufficiency of fragments which filled several baskets after the feeding (Mark 8.20). The word denotes entirety of content and is applied by Philo to the animals housed in Noah’s ark. It is also used of a ship’s complement. It thus represents the full requirement, the whole body of Christians as chosen in Christ through redemption, so as to make complete ‘the crew’, the number of the redeemed, the filling full of the body.
‘Of Him Who fills all in all.’ ‘Pleroumenou’ could be either middle or passive. The middle means ‘fills for oneself’, the passive ‘is being fulfilled’. The latter does not really fit the context for it does not fulfil the grandeur of the previous verses, and it partially turns the eyes away from the main participator, rather than focusing on Him. And grandeur about Christ Himself is what is required to complete this section. The previous verses have built up to the fact that He is all in all. Now it is stated. The thought is an intentional paradox. Christ is the One Who fills all in all, and yet, His people fill up what is lacking simply because of the working out of God’s plan and purpose and His redeeming work, which while potentially fulfilled awaits actual fulfilment.
‘Fills all in all.’ He is the One Who is omnipresent, Who created all things, Who sums up within Himself all things (1.10), in Whom all things hold together, having the pre-eminence in all things (Colossians 1.17-18), Who is totally self-sufficing. In 1 Corinthians 15.28 we are told that in the consummation God will be all in all. The phrase means the totality of what is being spoken about (compare 1 Corinthians 12.6) and when used of God and our Lord Jesus the totality of all things.
2.1 ‘And you (‘He has raised from the dead’, or ‘He has made alive’), when you were dead through your trespasses and sins.’
The ‘and you’ may refer back to ‘raised Him from the dead and made Him to sit at His right hand’ in 1.20, or refer forward to the ‘make alive’ in 2.5 (the words in brackets are not in the Greek text, but are assumed). In the light of verses 2.5-6 the first seems preferable, for it then sees His people as united in Him in all that happened to Him from verse 20 onwards, but the final idea is the same in both cases. The thought is that His people have been ‘made alive’ through spiritual resurrection (John 5.24-25) by being born from above (John 3.3), and created in Christ Jesus to good works as a result of His workmanship (verse 10), have been made one with Him. As a result in the spiritual realm they share His throne, something which is to be followed eventually by literal ‘physical’ resurrection (John 5.28-29). In other words from the moment of believing they reign along with Him in life and in death. It is a parallel thought to that in Isaiah 57.15, where as the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, He dwells with those who are of a humble and contrite spirit, but it is made more significant in the long run because it involves finally sharing Heaven with Him.
This unity with Christ ties in with the previous reference to His people as His body (1.23), as those who are united with Him in His body as One in His saving purpose. It expresses the closeness of Christ with His own. This conception of corporate personality, where the many are seen as one, occurs regularly in the Old Testament. The Servant of God in Isaiah is seen as the people of Israel (Isaiah 41.8 and often); as both them and the Great Prophet (in Isaiah 42 and 49); and as uniquely the Great Prophet Himself (in Isaiah 50 and 53), while in the New Testament the Servant is Jesus Himself (Mark 1.11; Luke 9.35; 22.37) and also the witnessing church (Acts 13.47). The ‘son of man’ in Daniel is both the saints of the Most High (Daniel 7.27) and their Messianic king (Daniel 7.13), in each case one and yet separate. So all that Jesus experiences He shares with His people.
‘And you He raised from the dead when you were dead through your trespasses and sins.’ Their condition had been that they were spiritually dead, and doomed to final death, because of their trespasses and sins. But now He has made them alive, and they vibrate with His life. ‘Trespasses and sins’ is intended to cover all aspects of moral failure, both positive and negative. They had done what they should not have done (Romans 3.23), and had failed to do what they should have done (James 4.17), and were spiritually dead. But He raised them from the dead through the power of His resurrection life, making them spiritually alive. He transferred them from being under the power of darkness to being under the Kingly Rule of His beloved Son (Colossians 1.13).
2.2 ‘Wherein previously you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience.’
They had been guilty at three levels. They were guilty of personal sin (‘your trespasses and sins’), they were not dupes but rebels; they were guilty of following the dictates of the world (‘the course of this world’), allowing themselves to be carried along either unthinkingly or deliberately in the stream of humanity; they were guilty of allowing themselves to be swayed by Satan (‘the spirit who works in disobedient people’), by closing their minds to the light when it came.
‘You walked.’ They had walked in sin because they had walked in darkness (John 8.12; 11.10), in the vanity of their mind (Ephesians 4.17), following the dictates of the flesh (Romans 8.1, 4). This was their way of life. This is in contrast to those who walk in the light (John 12.35), in the steps of faith (Romans 4.12), in accordance with the Spirit (Romans 8.1, 4), in newness of life (Romans 6.4). This is the Christian’s way of life.
‘According to the course (the age) of this world.’ They had followed the spirit of the age and had been tied down by, and submerged in, the ideas of an unbelieving world. To walk with the majority view is to walk in sin because man is sinful.
‘According to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.’ While they may not have been aware of it they were also carried along in their ways by spiritual forces, the spirit who now works in disobedient people (‘The sons of disobedience’ means those who follow and are taken up with disobedience). So three factors were involved; their own choice, the influence of the age, and the workings of Satan.
‘The prince of the power of the air.’ A controlling spirit over ‘the power of the air’. In Colossians 1.13 ‘power’ is equivalent to ‘kingly rule’, for it compares ‘the power of darkness’ with ‘the kingly rule of His beloved Son’. Thus the idea may be of a prince ruling over ‘a kingdom’, a kingdom of spiritual beings not naturally of this earth, and of all who walk in disobedience. ‘The air’ may be seen as a kind of No Man’s Land, almost equivalent to the ‘heavenlies’, but excluded from them, and thus a minor spiritual sphere, from which Satanic forces attack the heavenlies (6.12). It is the sphere of those who do not know God or walk with Him. We can compare how in Revelation Satan was seen as attacking the forces of Heaven and was cast out of the heavenly realm (Revelation 12.8 compare Luke 10.18). In our view both these verses in Revelation are speaking of the time when Jesus was resurrected (see Revelation).
Alternately the ‘power of the air’ may be seen as evil winds, which may tie in with the idea of ‘winds’ of false doctrine tossing men to and fro like leaves (Ephesians 4.14). Winds are often symbols of disaster (see especially Job 1.19 with 12 where such were specifically Satan’s work).
‘The spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.’ This can only be the Devil, Satan, the adversary and tempter (Matthew 4.10; 16.23; Mark 4.15; Luke 22.3; Acts 5.3; 26.18; 2 Corinthians 11.14; Ephesians 4.26; 6.11; 1 Timothy 5.15; 1 Peter 5.8; 1 John 3.8-10). He himself is in rebellion against God, and he has thus brought others into that same spirit of rebellion.
2.3 ‘Among whom we also once lived in the lusts of the flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.’
‘We.’ Lest anyone think he is excluding himself from being a sinner Paul now includes himself and his companions, along with all Christians. They too had once followed the lusts of the flesh and had given way to the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and there was also a theoretical danger that they might do so again. For constant is the battle of the Spirit with the flesh, although those who walk by the Spirit will overcome (Galatians 5.16). Note the duality of the types of ‘lusts of the flesh’, for they include not only the desires of the body, but also the desires of the mind. Intellectual sin is as great as fleshly sin. The mind at war with God is as sinful as the body which walks in disobedience.
‘And were by nature (phusei) children of wrath, even as the rest.’ For phusei compare Galatians 2.15. It means what we essentially are in our thinking and behaviour, our natural condition. The natural man is thus a child of wrath, that is a person deserving of wrath, for by nature man is a sinner (Romans 5.19) and once given the chance this soon reveals itself. Thus is introduced, as a suggestion that cannot be denied, that the wrath of God is directed at sin (compare Romans 1.18) and that all men are under the wrath of God because of sin (Romans 2.5; Colossians 3.6; John 3.36; Revelation 6.17). The wrath of God is not anger as we know it, it represents God’s antipathy to sin, God’s hatred of sin, God’s reaction in His holiness against sin. He cannot abide sin and must act to destroy it like a gardener acting with his chemicals to destroy all that is destructive and harmful in his garden. That is His ‘wrath’.
‘Even as the rest.’ Paul was no different from the others, no different from us, in this.
2.4-6 ‘But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, (by grace you are those who are saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus.’
‘But God.’ Here is the great turning point. In the midst of man’s sinfulness and subservience to evil God stepped in. He did not leave mankind without hope, walking in darkness, not knowing where they were going. Instead He intervened because He is rich in mercy, and because He has set His love on us. Thus Paul now stresses again the abounding riches of the mercy of God and the greatness of His love for us. It is these, and these alone, that can explain why, when we were dead in sins, He exercised the greatness of His power (1.19) and gave us new life, and raised us up with Him, and made us sit with Him in heavenly places, giving us spiritual life that we might know Him.
‘Being rich in mercy.’ Elsewhere we read, ‘according to His mercy He saved us’ (Titus 3.5). Here the richness of that mercy is stressed. This mercy is within His sovereign will (Romans 9.15-18), and it abounds towards us, so that Paul himself could never forget that he had obtained mercy in this way (1 Timothy 1.13, 16), with the result that the plea for mercy for others is often contained in his salutations. Here we learn of God’s overflowing mercy, of His boundless activity which results from His compassion towards the undeserving, towards us and all who are His.
‘For His great love with which He loved us.’ His love was central to the exercise of His saving power. He so loved that He gave His only Son (John 3.16) and John exults continually at the greatness of that love (1 John 3.1; 4.9), while Paul tells us that God commends His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5.8). What greater love could there be than that? Grace is indeed love acting on behalf of the undeserving, and here again we learn of His overflowing and abounding love.
‘Even when we were dead through our trespasses.’ The suggestion appears to be that because we were ‘dead’ we were unwilling and unable to respond. We had no spiritual life. We had constantly deviated from what was right and it had worked death within us. We continually ignore Him in our daily lives. Thus because of our parlous state He had to step in and to force the issue.
‘Made us alive together with Christ.’ And how did He do it? He ‘made us alive.’ The word of God spoke to our hearts and the Holy Spirit worked a new birth within us. We were born from above (John 3.5) We experienced the ‘washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit’ (Titus 3.5). We were ‘begotten again to a living hope’ (1 Peter 1.3). We were ‘begotten again -- of incorruptible seed through the word of God which lives and abides’ (1 Peter 1.23). We were begotten ‘of His own will --by the word of truth’ (James 1.18). It was like the dead earth producing life after an abundant fall of rain, the ‘drenching’ (baptizo) of the Holy Spirit (which is what baptism illustrates). Thus were we ‘made alive’ by Him.
‘Together with Christ.’ And it happened in Christ. Spiritually we rose because He rose. The power of His resurrection was released to give us life (Philippians 3.10; Romans 6.8-9), and we are now alive from the dead (Romans 6.13) and live our lives by the power of His risen life (Galatians 2.20; Romans 5.10; 6.10-11). ‘The hour comes and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live,’ Jesus had said (John 5.25) , and that hour has now come for us who are His. We live as those who are risen from the dead, walking in newness of life in the spiritual sphere (Romans 6.4), which then reflects itself in the physical sphere. So Father, Son and Holy Spirit unite in giving us life.
This ‘making alive’ indicates the commencement of the Christian life, and is therefore speaking of a genuine present, personal experience in the life of each believer. We may not always ‘feel’ it but it is at work within us nevertheless (Philippians 2.13). It is often suggested that while what Paul is describing in 1.19-22 actually happened to Jesus Christ, it only ‘potentially’ happened to us. But that is not what Paul is saying. Rather he is making clear that it is more than that, that it is something that is actuated in experience. There are, in other words, two aspects to what he is describing. One the present aspect which we experience through the Spirit as he opens up a new spiritual world and we enter in and live in it (‘Heaven above is softer blue, earth beneath is sweeter green, something lives in every hue, that Christless eyes have never seen’), and the second the final fulfilment when earth is left behind and we enter totally into that spiritual world at the coming of Christ when we will be ‘changed’ or resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4.14-17) and see Him as He is (1 John 3.2) and spend eternity with Him (Revelation 22.3-5).
‘By grace you are those who are saved.’ Lest this all seem to be too wonderful for us Paul interjects this comment, which he cannot keep back as he contemplates the graciousness of God. This is not something that we have attained for ourselves, he declares. This is not something we have earned or deserved. It is all as a result of God’s active grace, His undeserved, unmerited, active love and favour reaching out to us in saving power. It is ‘by His grace’ that we have been, and are therefore now saved, thus experiencing this glorious chain of events, commencing from new birth and finalising in glory.
‘And raised us up with Him, and made us to sit with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.’ If our being made alive with Him is actual in experience there is no doubt that this is so too. The point is not only that what happened to Him will one day happen to us because we are in Him, (although that is true), but that in a genuine sense it has already happened. We can ‘know Him and the power of His resurrection’ (Philippians 3.10). We can walk continually in His presence. We can experience continually the active power of His life at work within us and through us (Galatians 2.20). And 6.12 makes clear that even now, as we seek to stand against the wiles of the Devil (6.11), ‘our wrestling -- is against -- spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places’. Thus we are seen as already in the heavenly places. And this is because when we responded and believed, we were not only made gloriously alive in Him through His Spirit, but were also raised with Him through His resurrection power and seated with Him in the heavenly places, and entered into a new sphere of existence, reigning in life through Christ (Romans 5.17). Into this sphere we are born as new-born babes (1 Corinthians 3.1; Hebrews 5.13; 1 Peter 2.2) and within it we need continually to grow and mature (Ephesians 4.15; 1 Peter 2.2; 2 Peter 3.18).
Thus having entered into a new sphere of existence, we, as it were, live in two worlds. We live in the physical world, as we always have, but we now also live in a spiritual world where we are seated with Christ, Who is at God’s right hand (1.20). That means that in that world we experience the protection of His authority and power, and we know the power of His life. It is only because of this that we can hope to stand against the wiles of the Devil. (See on 1.19-21). And it is from this world that we then go out as ambassadors for Christ, calling on the world to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5.20). We are, through the Spirit, enjoying the earnest of our inheritance (1.14), the first sample and guarantee, until we finally receive the whole.
2.7 ‘That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.’
And the final purpose of God in all this is that He might continually reveal His goodness and kindness towards us in every possible way through all ages. He will show to us ‘the exceeding riches of His grace.’ What could be greater than that? This is either saying that His grace (active, powerful love) towards us is like a vast treasure-house of riches, beyond comprehension, beyond counting, being showered upon us, or that of His grace we shall experience such treasure-houses of riches for ourselves. Both are in fact true.
‘In the ages to come.’ This is both in the remainder of the present age, and ‘to the ages of the ages’, into the everlasting future. There will be no time limit to the dispensing of His goodness. The ancient Hebrew did not think of ‘eternity’ as we think of it, he thought of ages and ages and ages, ‘the ages of the ages’. These are not necessarily theological ages, simply ages beyond measure. They express the idea of eternity.
‘In kindness towards us.’ The word for kindness is used in Romans 11.22 of God delighting in mercy towards those whom He has chosen. It is used in extra-Biblical literature of the beneficence of rulers as they shower gifts on their favourites and dispense favours to their people, and it is used of Isaac’s pacific nature. Thus it is God being at abundant peace with us, and pouring out His generosity on us in full measure, supplying us from His storehouse of grace.
‘In Christ Jesus.’ And, as ever, all this is ‘in Him’. It is the Messiah Jesus, sent by His Father, Who has brought all these blessings on us.
2.8-9 ‘For by grace you are those who are saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.’
This links back to ‘in Christ Jesus’. We are in this position outlined above as ‘those who are saved’ because we have put our trust in Christ, and even that salvation was not of ourselves but was a gift given to us by the grace of God, the unmerited, active love and favour of God.
‘By grace.’ By God’s actively revealed and unmerited love.
‘Through faith.’ All God’s gifts come to us through our response of faith. As in our hearts we reached out to Him through Christ, and what He wrought for us through His cross, God responds with saving power.
‘And this not of yourselves.’ ‘This’ may refer back to ‘faith’ (but ‘this’ is neuter and ‘faith’ is feminine, so that it is unlikely) or it may refer to the salvation inherent in ‘you are those who are saved’. Either way it signifies that we have done nothing of ourselves. Faith may be the channel, but it does not deserve anything, nor is it of merit. It is merely the opening though which all that God freely gives us comes. It is the breach in our defences brought about by God when we were dead in sin. It is response wrought in us by His Spirit to something wonderful being offered, and is perfected in us by the grace of God. We long for salvation, we look to Him for salvation, He responds in grace, granting it to us as a gift. It is only then that He works righteousness within us.
‘It is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.’ Paul could not have put more clearly that salvation is all of God. It is a gracious gift. We do nothing towards it (‘not of works’), we simply respond for our own selfish reasons and suddenly find ourselves engulfed in the active, unmerited love of God. Thus boasting is excluded. All of us are basically on the same level. Those who have responded have nothing to boast about, but much to rejoice in. But they cannot say ‘we have responded because we were better than they’ otherwise boasting would not be excluded. We must beware of making faith a somehow superior ‘work’. Faith that is ‘our’ work will fail.
Faith as God’s gift is true, lasting faith. It is not faith in ordinances or ceremonies, or in the church. Nor is it faith based on deserts. It is faith in Christ Himself. It is faith in the direct working of God (Colossians 2.12). It is faith in the Faithful One. When the Apostolic preacher proclaimed Christ, he did not initially call men to a series of ritual acts, nor did he initially ask him to join the church, he called him to put his trust in Jesus Christ. It was of faith not of works.
There is a type of so-called faith which is shallow and receives nothing. It is temporary, and is passing and fading like the grass (see John 2.23-25, and compare Mark 4.16-17). It is a faith brought about by the event of the moment, fading when the moment fades. It wants to receive any blessings going but the person who has it has no real desire to be saved. They do not want to be changed, they merely want to remain the same and yet go to Heaven. Such faith does not save.
But when a person recognises his sinfulness and longs to be changed in heart and mind, and cries in his helplessness to the Saviour, then he will be truly saved. We only have to look at the description of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector to see this. The one had strong faith, but it was faith in his own goodness in the sight of God, the other had a weak faith that reached out to God for forgiveness and mercy, and rejected any thought of deserving. And it was the latter which received God’s response (Luke 18.11-14).
2.10 ‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God beforehand prepared that we should walk in them.’
‘We are His workmanship.’ The word poiema means ‘creation, what is wrought’. In the New Testament it is only used of God’s activity. Thus we are His creation, His workmanship. We are made exactly as He wants us to be. This does, of course, refer back to what Paul has described. Our being made alive, and raised, and seated with Christ in Heavenly places, results from the creative work of God within us and upon us and results in a ‘heavenly’ life.
‘Created in Christ Jesus unto good works.’ His creative work within us inevitably results in good works, but the creative work precedes the works, it does not result from them. When we are made ‘a new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5.17 compare Galatians 6.15) He recreates our hearts with a desire and yearning for what is good, with the result that our lives are changed and we begin to ‘hunger and thirst after righteousness’ (Matthew 5.6) and begin to ‘seek first His kingly rule and His righteousness’ (Matthew 6.33). Then the set purpose of our lives becomes to do what is right towards God and man. It may begin slowly, but if this is not beginning to happen in us we need to question our faith.
‘Which God beforehand prepared that we should walk in them.’ God’s purpose has always been that His people should be people of ‘good works’. We must never see good works as ‘not quite as spiritual’ as worship and witnessing. As we carry out good works in the love of God we are fulfilling God’s purpose in us. We are being lights in the world as He commanded us, bringing glory to God (Matthew 5.16). It was for these good works, among other things, that He chose us and it is to this, among other things, that He foreordained us. They are thus part of His great plan. But as ‘wrought by God’ the good works follow His saving work, they do not precede it. Many do ‘good works’ naturally, and that is well and good. They should not be belittled. But in the scheme of things they are incidental. They bring little glory to God, except indirectly. On the other hand the works of which Paul speaks here are those that result from a heart and life changed by God, and they produce fruit for eternity.
So we finish the description of God’s saving power through the resurrection with the indication that the final result on earth will be the good works which bring glory to God.
They Are to Remember that They Were Once Excluded From Israel and the Promises But Are Now Made One With the True Israel; They Are Now the People of God (2.11-3.12) .
Paul here goes on to point out that the ordinances of the Law of Sinai (the whole sacrificial system and all that pertained to it), which were a cause of separation as they were what made Israel distinctive, have now been done away through His cross, which has superseded all offerings and sacrifices, and the result is that all can now be received within that covenant, and within the Abrahamic covenant of promise which offered blessing to the nations (see Galatians 3; Genesis 12.3), and enjoy the same relationship with God and with each other as was dispensed though that covenant. He points out the disadvantages that they had endured while separated, not so much because they had necessarily been concerned about those disadvantages but in order to demonstrate that it was those advantages that they had now gained by having the separation removed. He very strongly emphasises that the two (Jews and Gentiles) have been made one within His covenant. There is now one new Israel, one church, and all who believe are a part of it.
It should be noted that the idea is not that the Law has been abolished, but that it has rather been fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 5.17-18). That is why those who are in Christ will fulfil the Law by being filled with His love, not disregard it (Galatians 5.13-14).
2.11-12 ‘Wherefore remember, that previously you were the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision in the flesh made by hands, that at that time you were separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world.’
Paul first reminds his Gentile readers of the position they had been in. They had been Gentiles, the Uncircumcision (not circumcised as members of the covenant), separate from Christ, outside the promises of God, having no hope and without God in the world. Many of Paul’s converts had been admirers of the Jewish religion while not being willing to be circumcised and enter it fully. They were thus very much aware of this lack. Others had simply been aware, often vaguely, that they were outside the promises of God because they were not His people.
‘Gentiles in the flesh who are called Uncircumcision.’ They were non-Jews by birth and not physically circumcised into the covenant. Therefore the Jews despised them and saw them as having no part in the people of God, as outside the promises of God and as having no claim on the Messiah. They were thus seen as ‘without God’.
Which is called Circumcision in the flesh made by hands.’ This refers to physical circumcision. Previously, without physical circumcision the Gentiles could not become Jewish proselytes, which was at the time their only hope of sharing in the blessings of the God of the Jews. Those who were thus circumcised despised ‘the Uncircumcised’. They saw circumcision as absolutely necessary for all who would be His people.
‘You were separate from Messiah.’ They had had no part in the coming Messiah, who thus would offer them no hope. Not for them the promise of God’s future deliverance, except as a by-product.
‘Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel.’ ‘Alienated’ here means excluded from, seen as having no part in. The Jews were seen as among the most moral members of society because of the Mosaic Law. They were, on this account, and on the basis of their ancient writings, admired by many Gentiles. ‘Commonwealth’ (politeia) can also mean ‘way of life’. Thus the idea may be that they were generally excluded from the Jews as a nation, with their superior laws, or alternatively that they were excluded from their way of life which encouraged morality. They did not enjoy the spiritual and moral blessings brought by the Law (the word of God).
‘Strangers from the covenants of promise.’ ‘Strangers’ were those who were passing through but had limited rights. Thus the Gentiles had had limited rights as regards the covenants or their promises.
‘Having no hope.’ They had had nothing to look forward to, no Messiah, no future kingdom, no promises. Greek philosophies of the time tended to offer little real hope, being either cynical or profligate, and while there were religions which appeared to offer hope, they failed in what they offered.
‘Without God in the world.’ This probably refers to their condition as ‘in the world’ without God. Biblically being ‘in the world’ meant being heedless of God and following the world’s ways. Thus they were in the world and far from God. It may however signify that any religious belief they had did not deal with ‘a god who was at work in the world’, as the God of the Jews was at work in the world, as witnessed by their history.
But a major reason for this detailed description of what they were without, was because he will now demonstrate that in Christ all these benefits are theirs, and theirs without physical circumcision. They will become united with Christ the Messiah, they will become members of the true Israel, they will inherit the covenant promises, they will gain hope, and they will find the God Who acts in history. (In Colossians he will point out that they have in fact been circumcised in the circumcision of Christ - Colossians 2.11).
The Uniting of Jew and Gentile Through the Cross. The Establishing of the New Israel.
2.13 ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off are made near by the blood of Christ.’
Now all is changed. In the Christ Who died for them all these benefits are theirs. They have been brought near to God, the invisible God proclaimed by the Jews, through His shed blood. Through His sacrifice of Himself for sin, which cancels out the old ordinances, He has removed the barrier of sin, making them ‘holy’ and righteous so they can approach Him without fear.
‘Made near.’ In verse 17 the Jews are ‘near’. Thus in Christ Jesus and through the blood of the cross the believing Gentiles are, in being ‘made near’, united with the believing Jews in their ‘nearness’. They are reconciled both to God and to each other (verse 16). The implication is that physical circumcision has been replaced by being united in His death.
2.14-16 ‘For he himself is our peace, who has made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he may create in himself one new man, so making peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.’
Indeed God has united both Jews and Gentiles who come to Christ Jesus into one body. Peace is made between them and they are one. And through the cross He has reconciled both as one body in His own body, to God, by means of His sacrifice on the cross.
‘He Himself.’ The pronoun is emphatic and should be in italics for emphasis. ‘Is our peace.’ This means ‘has brought about and maintains peace’, making both one. They are made one with each other and at one with God.
‘Broke down the middle wall of partition.’ He has, as it were, torn down the wall in the Temple that separates the believing uncircumcised Gentiles from the Jews and their holy place. Copies of the actual inscription forbidding any foreigner on pain of death to ‘enter within the barrier which surrounds the Temple and enclosure’ have been found in the neighbourhood of the one time Temple. It was thus a serious barrier to oneness. But that barrier has now been torn down (even before the Temple was torn down). For all are now His in Christ on equal terms.
‘Having abolished in His flesh (that is, His flesh offered on the cross, compare ‘in the blood of Christ’ - verse 13, and Colossians 1.21) the enmity, even the Law of commandments contained in ordinances.’ The major hindrance to their being one, and a cause of enmity between them, was the ceremonial and ritual requirements which were found in ‘the Law of Moses’. This was why there had to be a wall in the Temple so that the Gentiles could not enter and make the inner part of the Temple ‘unclean’. But through the offering of the flesh of Christ, and the shedding of His blood, the sacrifices and rituals of the Temple are no longer necessary. In Christ and through His sacrifice that Law has been done away as far as it deals with ordinances. Its requirements are no longer binding because Christ’s offering of Himself is all sufficient (Hebrews 10.11-14). All can now enter fully into the presence of God. Paul does not otherwise explain here how this is achieved, so it would seem that it was seen as a settled issue by this time. We can find part of the answer in Galatians 3.
In Galatians 3 Paul tells us that no man can be reckoned as righteous by the Law, for no man can fully observe it, and that through His death Christ has removed the curse of the Law by being made a curse for us, taking our curse on Himself (Galatians 3.10-13). Thus the Law no longer has power over us to condemn us. He also tells us that the promises to Abraham, which include blessing to the Gentiles, are superior to the Law, being applied through the Spirit by faith (Galatians 3.1-9, 14) and that the Law, which was short term, has now been replaced, as its function is now over (Galatians 3.15-29).
‘Having abolished.’ The Greek word is difficult to translate. It can mean ‘to make of no effect’, ‘to do away with’ or ‘to take away the power of’, thus to abolish, invalidate. But its main meaning is clear. All the Jewish rites and ordinances have been done away as far as approach to God is concerned. They are no longer necessary. They have been replaced by something greater.
Thus the enmity and cause of division being removed, Jews and Gentiles who come to Christ become one new man in Christ. United with Him and in Him they are seen as a corporate unity along with Him, ‘in Him’. The idea of the ‘new man’ may be to suggest a new Adam composed of believing Jews and believing Gentiles, a new ‘mankind’. Jesus Christ is ‘the last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15.45).
‘And might reconcile them both in one body.’ This is an interesting use of body which combines two ideas. The prime emphasis is on the fact that His one human body was offered on the cross, thus He offered Himself in one body. But this is then seen as a unifying factor so that they too are seen as ‘one body’ in His body which is why they are ‘one new man’. It thus illuminates the meaning of ‘His body’ in 1.23. There is no suggestion here of the one body as a body in contrast with Him as the head. It represents Christ fully and signifies the one corporate entity represented by the one new man, which is both head and body, united with Him as the body. The later emphasis (verses 20-22) is indeed on one Temple as cementing the unity. The main point is that the two are united as one man, one body, united with His body, so that as one they can be reconciled to God through the cross, the enmity between them having been slain.
This is symbolised for us by the bread at the Lord’s Table. The bread represents the body of Christ offered up for us but it also represents us as the one bread, the one body, incorporated in Christ, ‘seeing that we who are many are one bread, one body, for we all partake of the one bread’ which is ‘a communion, a continual relationship, with the body of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 10.16-17).
‘And might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross having slain the enmity thereby.’ Through their response to the shed blood of Christ both Jew and Gentile, the ordinances of the Law being abolished, are united and made one. And simultaneously, as they are being united in one corporate entity, ‘one body’, they are reconciled to God through the cross, through the one body of Christ with which they are united. So oneness, reconciliation, is achieved with both man and God.
‘Reconcile.’ Apokatallasso. An intensification of katallasso (Romans 5.10; 2 Corinthians 5.18-20), which also means ‘reconcile’. It is only found elsewhere in Colossians 1.20, 21. It is possibly a Paulinism. To ‘reconcile’ is to ‘bring back into relationship’, to ‘remove enmity and antipathy’. We had no relationship with God because of sin, but sin having been dealt with we can now come to know Him truly. We are reconciled with God.
2.17 ‘And he came and preached good news of peace to you who were far off and to those who were near.’
This echoes Isaiah 52.7 and signifies the good news preached through His cross and through His Apostles, which brings them peace with God and peace from God. It is not likely that it means His lifetime ministry as that would put the verse out of order, for the preaching appears to be after the act of reconciliation. The main point here is that both those who had been far off (the Gentiles, compare verse 13) and those who were ‘near’ (the Jews) have had peace preached to them by Him. Peace with each other and peace with God.
2.18 ‘For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.’
For the one Holy Spirit gives both of them access as one in Him to the Father. This emphasises their oneness. Thus both believing Jews and Gentiles now have access to the Father through the activity of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And as the Spirit is one, so they approach God as one.
‘Access.’ The word is prosagoge meaning ‘approach, access’.
The whole emphasis from verses 11-18 is thus on the fact that believing Jews and Gentiles are made one. They are made one, ‘in Christ Jesus -- in the blood of Christ’ (verse 13), through Him Who is ‘our peace’ (verse 14), through the creation of one new man from two (verse 15), through being reconciled as one body (verse 16), through the believing Gentiles being brought near as the believing Jews are near (verse 17), and through both having access to the Father through the one Spirit (verse 18). This is in order to demonstrate that the believing Gentiles may now enjoy equally the privileges already enjoyed by the believing Jews. They have become ‘the Israel of God’ (Galatians 6.16). They are all one in the new Israel.
2.19 ‘So then you are no more strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God.’
Paul could not make clearer that all believers now form the new Israel. Previously they were ‘alienated from the commonwealth of Israel’, now they are fellow-citizens with ‘the saints’ (an Old Testament word for the true Israel). Previously they were strangers to the covenants of promise, now they are no longer ‘strangers and sojourners’. Previously they were ‘without God’, now they are ‘of the household of God’. Previously they were separate from Christ, now they are ‘in Christ’ (verse 14) and joined into God’s Temple with Christ as the chief cornerstone (verse 20). Thus they have been made a part of the new Israel, the ‘Israel of God’ (Galatians 6.16).
‘Strangers and sojourners.’ The ‘strangers’ were those who passed through Israel making only a temporary stay, possibly also having in mind ‘God-fearers’ (Gentiles interested in Jewish teaching but unwilling to be circumcised), while the sojourners were more permanent, but in the later period were never accepted fully as true Jews (unless they were circumcised and entered into the covenant by becoming proselytes). It possibly also indicate these proselytes (Gentiles willing to be circumcised and become ‘Jews’) who, while theoretically accepted as full Jews, never felt themselves as fully accepted in practise. Basically it represents all who have a sense of being separated from the people of God.
‘Fellow-citizens with the saints.’ They now have total equality with, and the same standing as, the Old Testament saints, the people of believing Israel (Deuteronomy 33.3; 1 Samuel 2.9; 2 Chronicles 6.41; Psalm 16.3 and often in the Psalms; Daniel 7 often). As fellow-citizens (sunpolitai) they are members of the commonwealth (politeia) of Israel.
‘And of the household of God.’ They now belong especially to God’s own household (compare Caesar’s household (Philippians 4.22) which was large and widespread), and therefore especially and recognisably His. Thus they now have an intimate knowledge of God in contrast with being ‘without God’. They are as close as anyone can be.
So the believing Gentiles are now joined with Christ, are members of the new commonwealth of Israel, are partakers in the covenants of the promise, have much hope, and have access into God’s presence through the Spirit. They are His people (compare 2 Corinthians 6.17-18).
2.20 ‘Being built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone.’
The believing Gentiles are now built into a living Temple of God (‘a habitation of God in the Spirit’ - verse 22) on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets. The fact that the Prophets are linked with the Apostles as the foundation makes clear that the foundation is the teaching of both, and not the persons themselves. We can compare this with how the foundation rock on which the church would be built was also the statement of Peter, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16.16-18). The true church of God is not founded on men but on truth.
In view of the stress all through on the uniting of believing Jews and Gentiles in one, and their now enjoying together all the benefits of being ‘Israel’, we are almost certainly to see these as including the Old Testament Prophets, and as including John the Baptiser. The foundation is the teachings of the Jesus as revealed through the Apostles, including their expansion of that teaching, and the teachings of the Old Testament as exemplified in the Old Testament Prophets. Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone as the teaching of both prophets and Apostles points to Him and centres on Him. Indeed He is the foundation on which all their teaching is built (1 Corinthians 3.11).
This interpretation parallels it with 2 Peter 3.2, ‘That you should remember the words which were spoken before by the holy Prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your Apostles’, and Romans 16.25-26, where Paul speaks of ‘my Gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ -- the mystery which -- is now manifested and by the scriptures of the Prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known unto all the nations unto obedience of faith’.
Some would see the prophets as solely New Testament Prophets but such stress on their foundation qualities is not found elsewhere, and 2 Peter 3.2 and Romans 16.25-26 also suggest otherwise. (3.5 might be seen as fairly strong support for this view, although see our discussion on that verse. But if so it is almost unique). As we have seen the Old Testament Prophets and their teachings are constantly in mind in the Apostles’ teaching (Romans 1.2; 16.26; James 5.10; 1 Peter 1.10; 2 Peter 3.2). In Revelation 21.14 the names of the twelve Apostles alone are written on the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem, the twelve patriarchs and the twelve tribes being represented by twelve gates.
‘Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone.’ The chief cornerstone was either fitted at the top of the building, giving strength to the whole and binding the structure together, or the foundation stone on which all else rested. Thus Christ Himself is seen as the binding force that holds all together and strengthens the whole, and as the One on Whom all is founded.
2.21 ‘In whom all the building (or ‘every building’), fitly framed together, grows into a holy Temple in the Lord.’
And the purpose of all that has been described is so that they might be ‘the Temple of God’, that is, that in which God dwells in the world. Men must no longer look to Jerusalem and its Temple but to the Temple which is composed of Christ and His believing people. The building being described is ‘a holy Temple’, ‘a habitation of God in the Spirit’, and all its parts are joined and fitted together ‘in Him’, growing into that Temple. Thus the people of God are seen as being His Temple, a picture used elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 3.16-17; 2 Corinthians 6.16. (In 1 Corinthians 6.19 it is the body of each individual Christians which is seen as a sanctuary of God). All believers are being fitted together for this purpose. ‘All the building’ stresses the unity of the whole. If we read as ‘every building’ it may refer to different local churches, but ‘all the building’ seems preferable. (The picture is very similar to that in 1 Corinthians 12.13-27 where we are all members of His body. Note how in 1 Corinthians 6.15, 19 the two concepts merge).
2.22 ‘In whom you also are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.’
Paul’s Gentile readers are therefore also part of that Temple and part of that people, and the presence of God and the indwelling of the Spirit in them is especially stressed. Thus the whole Temple, which is the whole church of true believers in union with Christ, is the dwelling-place of God through the Spirit. God dwells with His people and is active among them (John 14.23).
God’s New Revelation Is Revealed in His Making the Church Into the New Israel.
3.1-6 ‘For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ on behalf of you Gentiles - if so be that you have heard of that stewardship of the grace of God which was given to me for your benefit, how that by revelation was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men as it has now been revealed to his holy Apostles and Prophets in the Spirit, which is that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.’
Paul begins his sentence and then diverts as another thought strikes him. He suddenly decides that, having declared this message of the oneness of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, he must establish a firm basis for his authority to speak in this way. It is possible, though not certain, that his return to his theme is in 3.14 (it could, for example, be 4.1 where he again refers to his being a prisoner in the Lord).
‘For this reason - .’ Because of what he has been saying in the previous chapter.
‘I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles.’ His forthright teaching of these facts, and his fight for the full inclusion of the Gentiles without circumcision (because they are already circumcised in Christ - Colossians 2.11), has brought about his imprisonment. He is a prisoner for their sakes. Had he been willing to accept circumcision and submission to the ritual law he would not have been so persecuted.
‘The prisoner of Christ Jesus.’ This was so in two senses. Firstly in that the reason why he was a prisoner was because of his service for Christ Jesus, but secondly because there was a sense in which Christ had made him a prisoner for the furtherance of the Gospel and for the benefit of the Gentiles (Philippians 1.12-14). He was Rome’s prisoner, but he was also Christ’s prisoner.
‘You Gentiles.’ This may suggest that the letter is for a wider audience of Gentiles than just a church he has founded, but not necessarily so, for he may merely be emphasising that it is as the Apostle to the Gentiles that he suffers on their behalf. Either way Paul is establishing his position so that even those who do not know him will recognise his authority. And this is what then makes him switch his thoughts to a different topic.
‘If so be that you have heard of that stewardship of the grace of God which was given me for your benefit, how that by revelation was made known to me the mystery - .’
‘If so be that you have heard.’ This again suggests that he has in mind many who have not personally heard him, although this could in fact be referring to some who became Christians after he left Ephesus. He has decided he needs to establish his credentials, for if they have heard previously what he is about to say they will have no difficulty in recognising that he is a prisoner on their behalf.
‘Of that stewardship of the grace of God which was given me for your benefit.’ This stewardship is his Apostleship to the Gentiles. He has been entrusted with the message of God’s free grace to all, which especially, (at least outwardly), benefits the Gentiles, for among other things it makes them fellow-heirs with the believing Jews (verse 6).
Alternately he may mean that the stewardship was given to him by the grace of God (compare Galatians 1.15) and consists in the content of the revelation he is about to speak of.
‘How that by revelation was made know to me the mystery - .’ Either way his position was finally established by the special revelation that God gave him. Compare on this revelation Galatians 1.12-17. What he was bringing to them was not what men had taught him, not even the Apostles, it was what was personally revealed in him by God.
Some would restrict this to the revelation on the road to Damascus (Acts 9.3-6), but there seem good grounds for thinking that it included further revelation, possibly during his time in Arabia (Galatians 1.17). Was that for forty days like his Master? (During the ‘three years’ he had a solid period of ministry in Damascus of ‘many days’ - Acts 9.23 - thus he was not in Arabia for three years). Consider the man in Christ who was lifted up into Heaven (2 Corinthians 12.2). He learned and experienced that which was to be the basis of his ministry, and it is not necessary to assume that all that he heard was unlawful to utter.
Certainly the revelation, whether it came by meditation on his experience or by further special revelation from the Lord, included ‘the mystery’ (in the New Testament the idea of ‘mystery’ indicates what had been hidden but was now revealed. It was no longer a mystery to those who were taught), the fact of the full acceptance of the Gentiles.
‘As I wrote before in a few words.’ This may refer to 2.11-22 or even 1.3-14. Or it could refer to a previous letter, or even to the letter to the Colossians, or that to the Galatians, passed on to other churches.
‘Whereby when you read you can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ.’ What was written made clear his full understanding in Christ’s mystery re the Gentiles. Either the previous verses or Galatians or Colossians would suit this admirably. All made known the acceptance of the Gentiles by God in full measure without circumcision.
‘Which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy Apostles and Prophets in Spirit (or ‘by the Spirit’).’
The mystery of Christ, now revealed, was not known in previous generations to ‘the sons of men’, that is men in general (this description may suggest, but not necessarily, that it was known to some who were not the sons of men, i.e. ‘the bene elohim - ‘the sons of God’ (the angels) and/or the Spirit-inspired Prophets). But now it has been revealed to His holy Apostles and Prophets. ‘Holy’ means set apart for God for a special purpose. All the people of God are sanctified and therefore ‘holy’, because they have been set apart for God and endued with His Spirit (1 Corinthians 1.2), and thus it is even more so of the Apostles and Prophets. Paul wants us to know that they have been set apart by God and are uniquely His.
‘As it has now been revealed to His holy Apostles and Prophets in Spirit, (or ‘by the Spirit’).’ Who are these Prophets? The fact is that nowhere else does Paul give such status to New Testament prophets. While therefore this is considered by many to refer to such New Testament prophets there are weighty arguments against it, and consideration must be given to the fact that he may well mean the Old Testament Prophets as now revealing more fully by the Spirit the significance of what they had prophesied. For in Romans 16.25 he says that the mystery ‘is now manifested, and by the scriptures of the Prophets -- - is made known to all’. This clearly links the Old Testament Prophets with the revealing of the mystery, and 1 Peter 1.10 says the Old Testament Prophets ‘prophesied of the grace that would come’ to them. And these Prophets are constantly appealed to (Romans 1.2; 16.26; James 5.10; 1 Peter 1.10; 2 Peter 3.2) while the New Testament prophets are never elsewhere appealed to in this way or put on such equivalence with the Apostles.
Furthermore it is the Old Testament Prophets who are called ‘holy Prophets’ in 2 Peter 3.2, and the Apostles are directly connected with these Prophets in Revelation 18.20 (compare verse 24) with ‘Apostles’ coming first. ‘Prophets in Spirit’ may thus well mean that what the Prophets wrote, and did not fully understand, is now ‘by the Spirit’ through their writings being made known and revealed on earth, while also possibly being now made known to them by the Spirit in their heavenly existence as they are aware of events on earth (see Hebrews 12.1 and compare the awareness of delayed judgment in Revelation 6.10-11. Consider also 3.10. If the principalities and powers could know, why not the prophets?).
3.6 ‘That is that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.’
This is the revealed mystery, that the Gentiles come on the same basis as believing Jews and partake of all the promises of God without having to become Jewish proselytes. They are fellow-heirs. That means that on believing they inherit the promises made to Abraham and the Prophets, and now belong to the commonwealth of the true Israel. They are fellow-members of the body. This is the body mentioned in 2.16, the new man made of both Jew and Gentile united with Christ. The Greek for ‘body’ is ‘sussoma’, a combination of ‘sun’ (with) with ‘soma’ (body). The emphasis is thus not on the body but on the oneness of it. Thus they are no longer alienated. They are fellow-partakers of the promise. Thus they are no longer strangers to the promises. They are one body together ‘in Christ’, joint heirs, joint members, joint beneficiaries.
‘In Christ Jesus through the Gospel.’ This is how the miracle has been brought about, through the offering of Christ Jesus on the cross as a sacrifice as proclaimed in the Gospel and by their being united with Him in His body (2.13, 16; 1 Corinthians 1.17-18).
It is difficult for us to appreciate how great this change was. As a Pharisee Paul had believed implicitly in the precedence of the Jews in all things related to God. The Gentiles were in the shadows, with a comparatively few coming humbly to take hold of the coat tails of the Jews. But now all this is turned upside down. Now all God’s ways are open to all who believe on equal terms, and all are equal in God’s sight.
3.7 ‘Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God which was given me according to the working of His power.’
In mentioning the Gospel given to the Gentiles he cannot but remember how God graciously took him and made him a minister of that Gospel to the Gentiles (Galatians 2.7-8).
‘According to that gift of the grace of God which was given me.’ This means that the gift sprang from the grace of God and that he recognised the wonder of that gift. It was given to him solely as the act of God’s grace even while he was in the womb (Galatians 1.15), and it was revealed in the Damascus Road experience (Acts 9.15-16).
‘According to the working of His power.’ As ever when the gift was given the power resulted. He experienced the mighty power of God at work through him (compare 1.19). That is the test of the true gift of God, that He works through it with power.
3.8 ‘Unto me who am less than the least of all saints was this grace given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.’
The more Paul preached and proclaimed the Gospel, the more humbled he became that he could be allowed such a wonderful privilege. Having just spoken of ‘the holy Apostles’, which would include himself, he assures them that the ‘holiness’ is due to God’s grace not his merit. Many may say such words for effect but few genuinely feel it as Paul did. This is the test of the really great man. He began by seeing himself as the least of the Apostles, not fit to be an Apostle because he persecuted the church of Christ (1 Corinthians 15.9), but now he sees himself as the lowest of all the people of God. Later he would recognise himself as the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1.15).
‘Was this grace given.’ No man deserves the privilege. Once again he repeats that it is a gift of God’s grace. Sadly many a preacher is lacking in this genuine recognition, and all are in danger of being lacking and must be watchful. Pride is a subtle enemy.
‘To preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.’ What vast treasures this covers. The whole of eternity is summed up in these words. The unsearchable riches of Christ, riches so great and so vast that their depths cannot be plumbed, and they are now offered to all irrespective of race, through Christ and His indwelling.
3.9-12 ‘And to make all men see what is the stewardship of the mystery, which from all ages has been hid in God who created all things, to the intent that now to the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the many sided wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him.’
‘To make all men see.’ Paul is desirous that the whole world should know, and indeed is commanded that it should be so.
‘What is the stewardship of the mystery.’ He wants them to see ‘the stewardship of the mystery’, that is, the carrying out into effect of the mystery by God in the church of God with its indwelling by Jesus Christ. For this is the wonder of the mystery, that Christ is in them the hope of glory (Colossians 1.27), so that they will become like Him, will partake in His glory, and will through the ages continully reveal that glory (compare 2 Corinthians 3.18; John 17.22). That is God’s purpose in Christ.
‘Which from all ages has been hid in God Who created all things.’ This mystery was kept secret in the heart of God even from before creation, and has now been made known in Christ.
‘To the intent that now the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places.’ This probably means all heavenly beings both unfallen and fallen (for the latter compare 6.12). They were created by Jesus Christ (Colossians 1.16) and have a part in the spiritual realm into which Christians have now been brought through the Spirit, some being helpful (Hebrews 1.14) and some being antagonistic (Ephesians 6.12). Many ancient religious non-Christian creeds produced whole hosts of heavenly beings of great varieties. Whatever they are, says Paul, they can only stand in awe at the church of God through whom God is carrying out His purposes. We may wonder at angels. They wonder at us.
‘Might be made known through the church the many sided wisdom of God.’ All such beings are to see the many sided (variegated) wisdom of God, either through the activity of the called out people of God, the Christ indwelt church, or perhaps just through its very existence, although the one assumes the other; and especially by its final presentation before God as the unblemished ‘wife’ of Christ (5.26-27).
‘According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ The great mystery of the church is that, having been redeemed and sanctified, they are indwelt by the risen Christ, ‘Christ in you the hope of glory’ (Colossians 1.27), and enjoy His unsearchable riches. But this indwelling is not of some great organisation called ‘the church’, but of living members of the church, who are each indwelt by Christ (3.17; Galatians 2.20) and who must each be presented perfect in Christ (Colossians 1.28), and yet are united as one in Him.
‘Christ Jesus our Lord’. A phrase used only here (but compare Colossians 2.6 where it is used without ‘our’). It is intended to emphasise the majesty and glory of Christ (‘the Christ, Jesus our Lord’, compare Acts 2.36).
‘In Whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in Him.’ Their being possessed by Christ makes His people confident in their approach to God, for they come through Him. Thus they come boldly to the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4.16), and find that their access is sure. ‘Confident access.’ Not blase or arrogant, not thoughtless or presumptious, but humble and joyful because we come through Him.
3.13 ‘Wherefore I ask that you may not faint at my tribulations for you, which are your glory.’
Some of his readers were clearly very constrained at what Paul was enduring. They were dispirited and concerned. Why did God not step in and deliver him so that he could carry on with his powerful ministry. What would happen when he was gone? How could the church survive? Do not worry says Paul, my sufferings are your glory. Either a cause for them to glory, or will result in glory for them, or both. Without his imprisonment there may well have been no letters, and what would we have done then?
‘Tribulations.’ The word means literally ‘squeezings’ or ‘pressings’, being pressed in and afflicted by circumstances.
Paul’s Prayer for His Readers (3.14-21).
‘For this reason -.’ Compare 3.1 which begins in the same way. Does this mean that this is the continuation that he would have made had he not made a diversion? There are good grounds for suggesting that that occurs in 4.1 when he returns to the theme of the prisoner of the Lord, and exhorts them to walk worthily of their calling and maintain the unity of the Spirit.
We may equally see the prayer here as resulting from his outlining of the mystery of God to be revealed through the church of Christ. In order to complete their destiny they will need divine empowering in order to fulfil their responsibilities and fulfil His eternal purpose.
3.14-17a ‘For this reason I bow my knees to the Father from whom every Fatherhood in Heaven and on earth is named, that he would grant you according to the riches of his glory, that you may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.’
Paul now feels constrained to express his prayer on their behalf. Prison gave much time for praying and Paul used it to the full. Aware of the future they faced he prayed for their divine empowering without which they could not hope to succeed.
‘For this reason.’ Because of the wonder of what God is doing, and because He has made them all one on Christ.
‘I bow my knees to the Father.’ Father He may be, but He is the divine Father. Thus Paul kneels in submission and worship. Boldness and confident access do not make him careless in his approach. Besides he has deep matters to deal with.
‘To the Father from Whom every fatherhood situation in Heaven and on earth is named.’ There is a play of words here between ‘pater’ (father) and ‘patria’ (family, fatherhood situation). The whole hierarchy of existence went down through fatherhood. God was Father of all. Then reflecting His Fatherhood came national and tribal leaders, including Abraham. Then came heads of the sub-tribes and families. Then the head of the individual family. And the same was so among the heavenly beings (‘in Heaven’). It is the whole pattern of existence. And the whole pattern of fatherhood is based on God’s Fatherhood. He is the supreme example of Fatherhood.
In all cases ‘the father’ was responsible for maintenance of unity, for justice and for the well-being of his family. Thus here the supreme Father is being approached about the well-being of His family (compare John 17.11).
‘That he would grant you according to the riches of His glory.’ He calls on all the resources of the Godhead, ‘the riches of His glory’, confident that He will supply from the riches of His glory and in accordance with it.
‘That you may be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.’ The unique feature of the new people of God is that the Spirit of God has come among them and has entered in to them. They are born of the Spirit, sealed by the Spirit, being filled with the Spirit. They are Spirit possessed (in the right sense), filled with the dynamic of the Spirit. And this by the Spirit of God. Thus he prays that each member may learn to so yield to the Spirit that His full empowering might understay their whole being.
‘Strengthened.’ To be fortified, braced, invigorated.
‘In the inner man.’ The inner depths of a man that some call the soul, the centre of his being. In the Christian it is being renewed day by day, and delights in the precepts of God. Compare Romans 7.22; 2 Corinthians 4.16.
‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.’ He is addressing the whole church, and yet each individual member of that church. Each individual heart is in mind. To Paul the church is not an organisation or a society. It is a living body composed of individual living members. It throbs with the life of its members. And his prayer is that they may each experience the indwelling of Christ to the full, Christ revealing Himself in them, Christ living through them, Christ in them the hope of glory (Colossians 1.27; Galatians 2.20; John 14.18, 20, 23; 17.23, 26). Each member is daily to allow Christ to reveal Himself through their lives. Thus will the whole reveal Him in greater fullness.
3.17b-19 ‘To the end that you being rooted and grounded in love may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.’
Enjoying the empowering of the Spirit and the indwelling of the risen Christ their very being will be rooted and grounded in love, for love is the basis of their salvation (John 3.16; Romans 5.8; 1 John 4.9-10), the nest in which they find their rest (1 John 4.8), the goal ever set before them (1 John 4.11). And it is the love of Christ which is beyond all knowledge. It is something that is so vast that its breadth, length, height and depth will take all the people of God through all ages to fathom. And being filled with that love we will be filled with all the fullness of God, thus becoming the fullness of Him Who fills all in all (1.23).
‘That you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.’ God is ready to give of Himself as much as we will receive. Each Christian may receive of that fullness to the measure that He is willing and able to receive it, and all the members of His true church as a whole may receive it, for it is inexhaustible and beyond measure. And the more they are open to Him the more they will receive of His fullness until they are completely filled.
In Colossians 2.2 Paul expresses his similar longing that the hearts of God’s people might be knitted together in love resulting in a full knowledge of Christ, in Whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. If we would fully know Christ we must first love, and as we love we will know more and more, and as we know more and more we will love more and more, and so it will go on. And this love is not what the world calls love. It is true, deep, spiritual love, like the love of God. And it results in revealing God-likensess to the world (Matthew 5.48).
The words for breadth, length, height and depth were all words used in contemporary literature to speak of cosmogonies and heavenly hierarchies, and Paul deliberately takes them over to express the wonder of God’s love to and through His people. That love is beyond all, plumbing greater heights and depths than any supposed semi-divine beings could ever know or be.
‘Rooted and grounded.’ Love, the love of God revealed in Christ, is the soil of the Christian, in which we are planted, His love that surrounds us and assists our growth unfolding that love in our hearts so that we begin to love as He loves. The language is of the soil and not of the building. There is no temple in mind here. (Note how he actually avoids saying ‘rooted and built up’ as in Colossians 2.7). It connects with the significance of John’s baptism as the product of the rain-drenched earth. The Spirit is poured down and the roots grow and flourish (Isaiah 44.2-5).
‘May be strong to apprehend.’ In extra-Biblical literature the verb means ‘to acquire power, to prevail’. By His strengthening we are made strong to apprehend the full panoply of love, not only to appreciate it but also to firmly lay hold on it. When light came into the world mankind did not lay hold of it (John 1.1-18). But those who were His people did. They received it and laid hold of it right gladly. And now they must also apprehend with strength the love it revealed. They may bask in it but that is not all. They must also take it and make it their own, allowing it to posses them and flow through them. They are to be revelations of His love.
‘With all God’s people (the saints).’ It will take the whole of the people of God to apprehend the whole, for none are sufficient of themselves to reveal God’s infinite love. We will need each other. Not one must be lacking. There is no room for inner circles here.
‘What is the breadth and length and height and depth.’ Some would see in this the dimensions of the Temple of chapter 2.20-22 in terms of Ezekiel’s heavenly archetype. The idea being that it is depicting a Temple of the love of God which we may enter and enjoy in all its fullness as we recognise its huge dimensions, so that we can, by being united in it, grasp and know the wonder of the love of Christ, and as one Temple know and experience the fullness of His people and our part with them, the very fullness of God. But there has not been a hint of such a temple since he digressed in 3.1 and this interpretation, true though it is, is laying too much stress on an uncertain connection. Paul could not go on as though he had not digressed and expect his readers to appreciate the fact. Had he wished them to do so he would somehow have indicated it. Rather it surely has in mind divine dimensions, the divine dimensions of love using language plundered from the mysteries to depict an even greater and all consuming mystery. God’s love is as broad and long and wide and deep as anything in the whole creation and beyond.
‘And to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge.’ Glorious contradiction. It is a love which passes knowledge and yet we can know it. Many a mother gives herself wholly for her children, but none even faintly to the extent to which He gives Himself for us. It is beyond our comprehension. But there is a play on the word ‘know’ here. We can know it, we can know it fully in our experience, but without even beginning to comprehend its vastness which is beyond knowledge.
‘Filled unto all the fullness of God.’ This is, of course, in the sphere of love. Our love as a whole will attain to His, and indeed will become like His, beyond all measure (John 17.21-23, 26). Although the fullness of the experience of God’s love in all its fullness can also only mean the fullness of blessing too.
3.20-21 ‘Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all the generations of the age of the ages. Amen.’
As Paul looks back over what he has prayed he recognises the greatness of what he is asking. But he has no doubt that the Father can accomplish it, for He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. The power at work through Him and at work in us is insuperable and wide-reaching. And this power has been constantly emphasised (1.19 on; 3.7, 16). It is rooted in the resurrection. Thus he prays with confidence for the fulfilment of God’s purpose through the means he has described, the activity of the Father (14-16a), the empowering Holy Spirit (16b), the indwelling resurrected Christ (17a). It is a thrice twofold partnership between the members of the Godhead and ourselves (17a-18).
‘Exceedingly abundantly above.’ This translates the word huperekperissou. ’Ekperissou means ‘surpassingly, beyond comparison. Paul adds huper to indicate that it even surpasses what is beyond comparison.
‘To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.’ What must come from this work of God is great glory to Him, as the whole church are presented perfect before Him along with, and through the activity of, their Messiah Jesus, their heavenly Husband (5.25-27), Who has been responsible for it all. Together, as the Saviour and the saved, they will bring Him glory through the ages, indeed through all ages. The placing of Christ Jesus subsequent to the church indicates that the former are taken up into the latter as their total fulfilment.
‘In the church.’ See verse 10. Glory will come to God from the principalities and powers in the heavenly places as they view His activity in His people and are filled with amazed wonder at what God can do.
‘To all the generations of the age of the ages.’ Well may we translate ‘for ever and ever’, for it will be so to all eternity.
‘Amen.’ So be it.
Exhortation to Oneness (4.1-16).
Paul calls on them therefore now to be as one, and walk worthily of their calling.
4.1-3 ‘I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk worthily of the calling with which you have been called. With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love. Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’
Paul continues his theme of the oneness of the people of God. They have been called to be one in Christ (2.11-22; 3.6). All history is devoted to their cause (1.3-12). Thus they must work worthily of this calling by ensuring that this unity in heart is maintained. Paul did not believe in some mystical means by which we ‘merge into the one’. He recognised a robust individualism by which each contributes to the whole. So they must work at unity, maintaining a right attitude of mind and heart.
‘I therefore the prisoner in the Lord.’ This may be seen as taking up where he left off in 3.1. He is a prisoner on their behalf. Thus he has a right to make requests of them. But there is a difference in emphasis. There he was ‘the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles’. Here he is ‘the prisoner in the Lord.’ He may be referring to himself here as a prisoner, yet as not so much within a prison, which is secondary, but as imprisoned ‘in the Lord’. Thus he speaks directly as from Him.
‘Beg you.’ He does not presume, his heart is in his request. He is pleading with them as one who, imprisoned for their sakes, has the right to do so.
‘Walk worthily of the calling with which you were called.’ They have been called to oneness as they were caught up in that great process from 1.3-10, let them then portray that oneness, made strong by the love of Christ (3.14-21). The Christian walk is a continual one, to be maintained step by step, and they must ever keep in mind what they have been called to be with every step they take (see Colossians 1.10 - ‘pleasing in every way’).
‘With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.’ There is to be nothing abrasive about the Christian when dealing with his fellow-Christians. He is to be humble, self-effacing, enduring willingly for Christ’s sake while still firm (but not ungracious) for truth. Each is to be concerned for the other. They are to be concerned for each other’s welfare, for each other’s sensitivities, for each other’s feelings, in the same way that Jesus Himself was while on earth. How gently He chided, how sweetly He sought to guide, how regularly He said nothing when He might have torn His disciples to pieces. He Who had the right to command ministered humbly to His disciples. There were times when He had to rebuke but it was always with concern and the readiness to console, and never for His own aggrandisement.
‘Giving diligence to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ Unity does not just happen, it requires diligence. Like marriage it has to be worked at because we are such awkward creatures. Yet for the Christian there is the great assistance of the Spirit. He is the One Who invokes and seeks to maintain unity. As the One Spirit He combines us as one. And to do so He uses the bond of peace.
‘In the bond of peace.’ The word for ‘bond’ is sundesmos, a word which means ‘something that keeps together the whole’. And this bond is to be ‘peace’. Peace with God (Romans 5.1) and peace from God (Romans 1.7; 2 Corinthians 1.2; Galatians 1.3), ever linked with His ‘grace’, and above all the peace of God ruling in the heart (Colossians 3.15; Philippians 4.7) will be the bond that will enable us to behave rightly towards each other. Lose that peace and we will begin to behave wrongly. Our source is in God.
4.4 ‘There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.’
It may well be that this sevenfold list was regularly recited in some form in a recognised creed in Christian gatherings. It gives the impression of a repetitive statement.
‘One body.’ Paul now stresses that the oneness of His people is based on the oneness of the bases for their faith. Thus ‘one body’ is not just a bald statement, it has in mind the One body of our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified on the cross, in which we are united with Him in His death and resurrection (2.16). We are one body because we are united in the One body (1 Corinthians 10.16-17; Romans 6.4-6), the body of His flesh through death (Colossians 1.21).
‘One Spirit.’ Compare 2.18; 1 Corinthians 12.13. We are made alive, indwelt and sealed by the One Spirit. He is not divided and we too should not be. We should share His aims and purposes. How can we divide the One Spirit?
‘One hope of your calling.’ We have all been called by God and all share the same confident hope. Therefore, with our hope one, our aims should be one. For our calling is not only in relationship to ourselves it is in relationship to the whole of God’s people. We are together a part of His overall purpose.
‘One Lord.’ No overlord would be satisfied to have his armies bickering under his command. He wants them to be working together for the good of the whole. That is why coalitions do not work so well, there is not one overall lord. So our Lord also demands that we love one another and work together as one in loving obedience to Him.
‘One faith.’ Our faith is based on the testimony of Jesus Christ. We thus share the same faith on primary matters, the same essential teachings. These essential truths are important and were carefully guarded by the early church. Without them a man is not a Christian. So our oneness must be on the basis of basic Scriptural truth.
‘One baptism.’ All see in baptism the same essential truth of having received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10.47). And see in that one baptism the outward symbol of being baptised in the Spirit into the body of Christ, into oneness with Him in His death and resurrection. Thus baptism should be expressing unity with all who have been baptised into Christ.
‘One God and Father of all, Who is over all, and through all, and in all.’ There is One Who is over all, the One from Whom every Fatherhood in Heaven and earth is named (3.14-15), Who is Father of all His children, Who works through them, and Who dwells with and in them by His Spirit (John 14.23). Thus are we all one family and should maintain family unity under His Fatherhood.
So each of the seven aspects of faith point to our oneness, which He desires will be the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
The seven are divisible into three groups each of which centres on a member of the Godhead. The Spirit was the One Who effectually called us and implanted our hope within us, the Lord taught us our faith and supplies the Spirit testified to in baptism (John 14.16; 15.26; 16.7), the Father is over all. Compare 1 Corinthians 12 4-6 where there are diversities of gifts but the same Spirit, diversities of ministrations but the same Lord, and diversities of workings but the same God Who works all things in all.
Other conjunctions are discernible. One body (first) with one Father (seventh). One Spirit (second) with one baptism (sixth). One hope (third) with one faith (fifth), with one Lord central.
4.7 ‘Now to each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ.’
Having stressed the oneness Paul now stresses the individuality. ‘To each one of us.’ Every Christian has his part to play in the ministry of the church. It is a ‘gathering’ of living people acting in unity not a conglomerate mass. And each is given by grace some gracious gift to contribute towards the whole (1 Corinthians 12.28-30). This is measured out to us by Christ Himself. ‘The grace of God’ which was given to Paul was to be Apostle to the Gentiles (3.2).
4.8 ‘Which is why he says, ‘When he ascended on high he led captivity (or ‘prisoners of war’) captive and gave gifts to men.’
‘He says.’ Some see this as meaning simply ‘it is said’. But there are good grounds in seeing this as demonstrating Paul’s view that the Scriptures were the voice of God (a view certainly taken by the Jewish theologian Philo).
The words are a quotation from Psalm 68.18, but there the Massoretic text reads, ‘You have ascended on high, you have led captivity captive, you have received gifts among men.’ However the Aramaic Targum (Rabbinic commentary) on the book of Psalms and the Syriac Peshitta ( Old Testament in Syriac) both read ‘you have given gifts to men’ which suggests either a translation from a Hebrew text which contained these words, which was also clearly known to Paul, or an authentic oral tradition. He Who received gifts also gave them. The receiving of tribute by a great conquering king would regularly be accompanied by a giving of gifts to those who had served him faithfully.
So the picture is of a conquering lord leading prisoners of war captive and receiving tribute, and giving from the tribute to those who had proved faithful, and this is clearly the basis for the alternative rendering which is cited from some source. So Paul has in mind here the triumph of Christ on the cross, defeating the powers of the Enemy (Colossians 2.15) and giving gifts to His faithful people. The source of our gifts is the triumph of the great Giver.
4.9 ‘Now this “he ascended”, what does it indicate but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth.’
Paul then takes the opportunity for a small digression in order to exalt Christ. He points out that for this Giver to have ascended there must first have been a descent, for the Psalmist was speaking of God. ‘The lower parts of the earth’ may simply indicate human birth (see Psalm 139.15 where it may mean the womb or the Adamic birth from the dust of the ground) or the ground, possibly but not necessarily with some element of humiliation (Isaiah 44.23; Psalm 71.20), and it would seem that Paul has in mind the incarnation. He is basically saying, ‘He Who was God descended’. Some however would see it as meaning His descent into the grave (Psalm 63.9). There are no grounds here for suggesting that the raising of men from Hades is meant. Such a suggestion is pure speculation.
4.10 ‘He who descended is the same also who ascended far above all the heavens that he might fill all things.’
But having descended He then ascended far above all the heavens (compare 1.20-21) with the purpose of ‘filling all things’. In other words that He may become Lord of all. We can compare with these thoughts Philippians 2.5-11, where He Who humbled Himself and became man and suffered the death on the cross, was highly exalted and given the name above every name, with all confessing Him as Lord.
4.11-12 ‘And he gave some Apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints unto the work of serving, unto the building up of the body of Christ.’
Having ascended on high Jesus now gave His gifts to men. The gifts are interesting in illustrating early ministry. 1 Corinthians 12.28 mentions Apostles, prophets and teachers. It may be that wider outreach into country districts called for evangelists (‘Gospellers’) and the need was appreciated for sub-shepherds to the flock. The purpose of these ministries was in order to ‘perfect the people of God’ so that they in turn could build up others. ‘Pastors and teachers’ may reflect a joint office as ‘teachers’ has no definite article in contrast with the remainder. Good and sound servants of God are God’s special gift to His people in contrast with those described in verse 14.
‘Perfecting.’ The verb can be used of setting fractures and mending tears in garments and the idea may therefore be of restoring what was previously spoiled. But it may mean here ‘equipping’.
‘Unto the work of serving.’ Diakonios means service, and spiritual ministry in that sense. God’s purpose in equipping His people is that they might engage in service.
‘The building up or edifying of the body of Christ.’ The latter phrase looks back to the idea of Christ dying in His body of flesh, with which we are united when we come to Him by faith, dying along with Him and rising with Him. We too rise as He rises and conjoined with Him we are therefore His body needing to be built up and made strong. This then led on to the idea of the body having many members, each playing its part in the building up of the whole.
The mention of the body of Christ here suggests Paul has in mind his teaching in 1 Corinthians 12 where the same gifts are similarly related to the body of Christ. The picture of a body with many members (which body ‘is Christ’ - 1 Corinthians 12.12) was seen as well describing the numerous activities within the church, contributing to the whole. ‘Building up.’ The word is regularly used metaphorically to signify growth in the spiritual life so that the idea of literal building fades into the background. But there may be some reference back to 2.20-22 and the thought of the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
4.13 ‘Until we all attain unto the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.’
The final aim is that we may attain to that unity to which he has earlier exhorted us (verse 3) and to a deeper understanding and knowledge of the Son of God (compare Romans 1.4). And as we grow to a deeper knowledge of Him we become no longer babes but full grown men. The unity of faith is in respect of essential doctrine such as the true divinity of Christ and His work of redemption, not secondary matters.
‘Into a full-grown man.’ Believing Jews and Gentiles form ‘one new man’ (2.15). (Illustrative and not to be overpressed). This picture is linked with our oneness in Christ in the body. The full-grown man can thus be seen as Christ and His people growing as one into total Christ-likeness and perfect unity. This twofold strand runs through all Paul’s teaching. The one and the many. He stresses both individual responsibility and corporate oneness.
But this verse could easily be intended as such a contrast, for he may mean that each of us is to grow into a full-grown man, each achieving the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (1 John 3.2).
‘To the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.’ In the Christian sense to become a full grown man involves exactly this, reaching the level of the fullness of Christ, becoming like Him (1 John 3.2).
‘Stature (or maturity).’ So translated of Zacchaeus who was ‘small of stature’ (Luke 19.3), and in a number of other extra-Biblical occurrences. However the word later predominantly means ‘time of life, age’ and can mean to be ‘of age’, thus it may here refer to maturity of age.
‘The pleroma of Christ.’ In the Gospels the word pleroma was used of the sufficiency of fragments which filled several baskets after the feeding (Mark 8.20). The word denotes entirety of content and is applied by Philo to the animals housed in Noah’s ark. It is also used of a ship’s complement. Thus it means that which is full and perfectly complete. Compare ‘the fullness of God’ (3.19). See also on 1.23.
4.14 ‘That we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men in craftiness after the wiles of error.’
The result of being full grown in this way will be freedom from being led astray by false teaching because we are no longer children. The picture of children in understanding as being like leaves blown around by different winds of doctrine is vivid. Is this wind ‘the power of the air’? It is tempting to think so. Certainly it is the work of the Prince of the power of the air (2.2). And he is working through clever men who like conjurors deceive the mind and lead into error. Behind the words is a warning against such people. And a warning not to be too easily swayed by clever preachers. Those who seek every new thing will soon be caught up in the wiles of error.
‘Carried about.’ Peripheromai - ‘to carry about, carry here and there.’
‘By the sleight of men.’ Kubeia - ‘dice playing’, therefore by the clever movements of men’s hands.
4.15-16 ‘But speaking truth in love may grow up in all things into him who is the Head, even Christ, from whom the whole body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in due measure of every part, makes the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.’
We need to recognise here that Christ is both Head and body. He is the Head because He is Head over all things (1.22) and especially of His church (5.23). And He is also the body (2.16; 1 Corinthians 10.16-17). For we are only the body because we have been united as one with Him in spirit in His spiritual body, in His death and resurrection (1.19-2.10).
Some have this the wrong way round. They see the Head as in Heaven and the church His body on the earth. But this is not Paul’s teaching. He has taught that both Head and body are in heavenly places. Christ’s body in Heaven and the body on earth are one body in heavenly places, in the spiritual realm. Paul never loses sight of the fact that we are one with Him in His body (1 Corinthians 10.16-17). This is why he can say ‘Christ’ when we expect him to say ‘the church’ (1 Corinthians 12.12). This is what 1.19-2.10 teaches us.
‘But speaking truth in love.’ Literally ‘truthing it in love’. It can refer to both words and actions. This is the result of true growth in Christ, truth spoken and truth lived from a heart of love. This then contributes to our growth into Him Who is the Head for He is the Truth (John 14.6). When we stray from this we hinder our own growth. Note the contrast with falsehood taught from the heart of deceit (verse 14). Yet what seems a loving heart can be deceitful, for men easily deceive themselves. We need to ensure that what we hear is the truth and this can only be by comparison with the whole word of God. And if someone introduces ‘a new thing’ we need to doubly beware.
‘May grow up in all things into Him who is the Head, even Christ.’ The consequence of speaking truth in love will be that we grow up ‘in all things’ into Him Who is the Head i.e. the One Who is Head over ‘all things’ (1.22), the sovereign King of the universe. We grow up into our glorious heritage which we will share with Him.
‘Even Christ.’ This intervenes between ‘the Head’ and the next statement. He does not want ‘the Head’ too closely linked with the idea of the body lest a mistaken impression be gained. He does not want us to see Christ as the head in contrast with the church as the body (see Appendix). Thus what follows relates to Christ as the body rather than as the Head, although closely linked to His Headship (when the ancients thought of the body being directed it was by the heart or the ‘inner parts (bowels)’, not by the head).
‘Even Christ, from whom the whole body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in due measure of every part, makes the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.’ Through the guidance and direction of Christ, and in union with Him, those who are united with Him in His body grow together, becoming joined in love, perfectly fitted together, with each part working together with the remainder and fulfilling its responsibility towards the whole. Thus the body grows, building itself up in love.
Exhortation to Righteous Living (4.17-32).
4.17 ‘This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind. Being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart.
The fact that they are intended to grow into a full-grown man involves their lives being in total contrast to those of others, especially their fellow-Gentiles. They are to no longer walk as they walk. What the state of the Gentiles in general is, is then laid out. Their mind is vain, their understanding is darkened, their hearts are hardened. Thus they are alienated from the life of God.
‘In the vanity of their mind.’ The mind here is mainly the moral thought and attitude combined with the spiritual thought (compare ‘the mind of the flesh’ (Romans 8.6), the mind controlled by the flesh). In men generally this is ‘vain, empty, purposeless’. The word mataiotes means ‘emptiness, futility, purposelessness, transitoriness’. It is going nowhere and has no end in view. Such men’s lives are futile.
‘Being darkened in their understanding.’ They are lost in the dark, and their minds are in darkness. Things always look different in the dark so that what in the light would be seen as tawdry and unacceptable, in darkness seems acceptable. This was the condition of the Gentiles. But it is not because they could not know. It is because they ‘hold down the truth in unrighteousness’ and refuse to accept God’s light through nature. It is because ‘they became vain in their reasonings and their ‘senseless heart was darkened’ (Romans 1.18-21). Thus they turn away from the light of the world and walk in darkness and do not know where they are going (see John 12.35; 8.12; 1 John 1.6).
‘Alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them because of the hardening of their hearts.’ It is hardened hearts, not ignorance, that is their real problem. They close their minds to the truth about God because they do not want to face up to His demands. They prefer the desires of the flesh. Thus they have no part in life from God. They are totally separated from Him and completely alienated. And this despite the fact that many were ‘very religious’. But their religion was not a light, it was only darkness. Their thoughts were futile, their minds were in darkness, they were alienated from God. What a dreadful condition they were, and are, in.
Notice the two sides to their condition. Their minds are darkened, by the god of this world ‘lest the light of the good news of the glory of Christ shine on them’ (2 Corinthians 4.4), and they are alienated from the life of God, and thus strangers to Him.
‘Hardening.’ Porosis, ‘obstinacy, dullness, insensibility’.
4.19 ‘Who being past feeling gave themselves up to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.’
Their desire for fleshly pleasures having deadened their feelings they gave themselves up to every kind of vice. They have become callous and their lives were epitomised by sexual misbehaviour and covetousness, avarice, greed and envy. They have ceased to care.
4.20 ‘But you did not so learn Christ.’
This is one of Paul’s ‘buts’ (compare 2.4). It heralds a reference to a life transforming change. This kind of behaviour was not the kind that they had been taught about by those who brought Christ to them. They had been taught that their meeting up with Christ was life transforming. It demanded a new way of life. Others were teaching that it was good to do as you liked and so show you were free. But Paul insists that that is abhorrent to Christ, as His own teaching, known to the churches, makes clear.
4.21-24 ‘If so be that you heard him, and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, that you put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, which waxes corrupt after the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man which after God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.’
If they had really heard His words as taught through witnesses, and had been taught about Him and His life, for what He brought was the truth, then they have will been shown that they should put away what they previously were, the ‘old man’, with all its deceitful desires, and, being renewed in the spirit of their mind, should put on the new man, that man into which they had been changed, created within them by God in righteousness and true holiness. They will be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5.17).
‘If so be that you heard Him and were taught in Him.’ We are reminded here of our own great privileges. These men had no Gospels to read so as to learn the truth about Jesus. They were dependent on eyewitnesses and the passing on of tradition. And some may not have had much opportunity to hear such. So Paul makes allowance for the fact that some are in that position.
‘As the truth is in Jesus.’ The tradition of His life and teaching was very important. It was ‘the testimony of Jesus’ (Revelation 1.2, 9; 12.17; 19.10 compare 1 Corinthians 1.6) and amplified and expanded on the Old Testament teachings. It revealed the One Who brought the fullness of truth and indeed Who was the truth (John 14.6).
‘That you put away, as concerning the old manner of life, the old man.’ Their old ways must be put away. There was still that within them which had been brought up in the old ways, and which even hankered after the old ways. Some take longer to throw them off than others. This is ‘the old man’. The man that they were. And he must be put aside, taken off like an unwanted suit of clothes. Examples of what must be put aside are given in verses 25-31 and in the parallel passage in Colossians 3.5-9.
‘Which waxes corrupt after the lusts of deceit (deceitful lusts).’ The behaviour of this old man engages continually in what is corrupt following deceitful desires (‘the lusts of deceit’ is probably a Hebraism for ‘deceitful lusts’, lusts springing from deceit - Hebrew regularly uses genitives instead of adjectives). He is to be locked away in the wardrobe! The verb is aorist indicating something that should be done once for all.
‘And that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind.’ Literally ‘to go on being renewed’. They are to daily submit to the working of the Spirit and of the risen Christ, so that the renewing process may go on.
‘And put on the new man.’ They are to dress themselves with the new man, again aorist, once for all. This is to be a once for all decision to put off the old and put on the new. They must then seek the daily renewing by the Holy Spirit. This compares very closely with the comparison between following the desires of the flesh of the desires of the Spirit (Romans 8.5-7; Galatians 5.16-17). The Christian life is never negative, there must not just be a renunciation of the bad but a positive commitment towards the good.
‘Which after God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.’ The new man is patterned on God and has been created in His likeness in ‘righteousness and holiness of truth’. ‘Holiness of truth’ is a Hebraism meaning ‘true holiness’ similar to and in opposition to ‘the lusts of deceit’ (verse 22). When they received Christ and the Holy Spirit they received righteousness and true holiness as ‘new men’. They are thus seen by God as righteous and holy. But this righteousness and holiness must reveal itself in their lives. Righteousness indicates the behaviour expected towards God and man, holiness the setting apart to God and His will. The word for ‘new’ is kainos indicating freshness.
4.25 ‘Wherefore, putting away falsehood, each one of you speak truth with his neighbour, for we are members of one another.
The first test of whether we know the truth and have put on the new man is that we are truthful, especially with fellow-Christians, for ‘we are members one of another’. To sin by falsehood is to sin against one’s own body, and that is how we will feel if our hearts are right. What a stringent test is this. If there is deceit among us, if there is exaggeration, if there is innuendo, then we are not of the truth. We have given place to the Devil. Can someone be certain that if we say something is so, it really is? Can they rely on our simple word? Jesus said ‘let your ‘yes’ be yes, and your ‘no’ be no, for whatever is more than these is of the Evil One’ (Matthew 5.37). So can they rely on what we say whatever it may be? Do they know that we will die rather than break our word? Truthfulness and trustworthiness are shining lights in a dark world, and the Christian is to shine as a light in the world (Matthew 5.16).
The Psalmist describes the one who is fit to dwell in the Lord’s presence as, “He who walks uprightly and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. He who does not slander with his tongue, nor do evil to his friend, nor take up a reproach against his neighbour --- he who swears to his own hurt, and does not change’ (Psalm 15.2-4). To God our openness and honesty, reliability and truthfulness are very important. In contrast falsehood is a characteristic of man around the world. Bribery, corruption and deceit are everywhere prevalent. To the Oriental the saving of face is more important than the truth. In the Middle East bribery is a way of life. It is only where Christianity prevailed that a man’s word could once be trusted. Yet those days are sadly going as commitment to Christ declines. But the Bible says, ‘Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truly are His delight’ (Proverbs 12.22).
4.26-27 ‘Be angry, and do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your angry mood. Neither give place to the Devil.’
The first phrase is taken from the LXX of Psalm 4.5. It recognises that anger in itself is not necessarily wrong. Indeed it tells us that we need to be angry if the cause is good. But it is a command that when we are angry we ensure it is short lasting and does not make us do wrong. The man who is too angry is least likely to make the right decisions.
At times anger against sin and wrongdoing is justified, and must be approved of, but not if it results in our behaving wrongly and failing to reveal the love of Christ. Nor if it festers in our hearts and minds. What we call ‘righteous anger’ is often extremely unrighteous and self-defensive, and can reveal that the old man is still very much alive. As Paul says, we must be very careful, for wrongful anger gives a foothold to the Devil. We must bolt the door against him, for, as a Spanish proverb says, ‘from the fast-bolted door the Devil turns away’.
We can compare incidents in the life of Moses. He had every right to be angry with the constant failure and unbelief of the children of Israel, but he had no right to break the tablets written on by the finger of God (Exodus 32.19) and even less right to strike the rock twice in anger. The first was forgiven but the second blighted his future (Numbers 20.11-12).
4.28 ‘Let him who stole steal no more, but rather let him work hard, working with his hands what is good, that he may have the means to give to the one who is in need.’
The Christian must ensure that his hands work what is good and not what is evil, and the motive of his life should be the blessing of others not the furtherance of his own wealth.
Paul here hits at the root of theft. People do not steal so that they can help others, they do it because they have themselves very much in mind (we must except here such as a mother in extreme poverty who steals for her starving children because she can obtain food in no other way). Theft is the fruit of covetousness (see the total condemnation of the latter in 5.3, 5-6). Once a Christian has put on the new man such attitudes will have gone. His concern will not be for himself but for others, the property owner as well as the needy. Thus for the Christian theft can never be right. As a general principle the theft of someone else’s property, obtained by them in accordance with the customs of their society, is to be condemned and is here forbidden.
Yet theft is a part of everyday life today. The stolen phone call and stationery, taking advantage of the weakness of the system, overclaiming on expenses, ‘the sick day’ taken when there is really little wrong, accepting the ‘sweetener’, these are thought of as clever rather than frowned on. But all things are open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do and all will be called to account at the last great reckoning. And they are forbidden to Christians.
‘4.29 ‘Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to those who hear.’
‘Corrupt speech’ is foul, degraded or dirty speech and ribald innuendo. This should never issue from a Christian mouth. Rather the Christian’s words should always be positive and helpful in building up others. The Christian should always be on the watch for how they can lighten another’s load, make them feel good or give them positive strength in their lives. He is not just called to witness to them. Indeed more action and less words might well make the witness of some more effective. He should be concerned to reveal active, unmerited love in all his words so that through them others are blessed. For every idle word a man shall speak he shall give account thereof in the day of judgment (Matthew 12.36).
We note from all this that Paul does not just look at sin negatively. He is comparing the old and the new man (verse 24). He constantly has positive goodness in mind. The new man will speak truth, the old man falsehood, the new man will be rightly angry when the cause is right but the old man would let their anger take control, the new man will work hard so as to be able to help others rather being like the old man who avoids work and steals, and now the new man will speak what benefits others rather than be like the old man who hurts, upsets and deceives them. For then he knows that he will not grieve God.
This contrast between the old and the new man must not be over-stressed as suggesting two separate entities. Each of us is only one man, we choose which will have control, ‘the man that I was’ or ‘the man that I am now’.
4.30 ‘And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God in whom you were sealed unto the day of redemption.’
The word for grieve may be rendered ‘make sorry, fill with regret’. That the Holy Spirit can be grieved emphasises His personality and the depths of God’s concern for His people. The fact of His grief over sin here contrasts with His wrath against sin in those who refuse to respond to the light. His people have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in readiness for the coming day of final deliverance, and He is now at work in perfecting them, and their failure to respond therefore grieves Him but does not incur His wrath, because if they are His they will in the end submit to His will. But we must beware of complacency, for as Paul will shortly remind us, ‘Because of these things the wrath of God comes on the sons of disobedience’ (5.6).
‘Until the day of redemption.’ Compare Romans 8.23. This is the day when sin will finally be dealt with, when Jesus Christ will come to deliver His own and call men into judgment, and creation will be ‘restored’, the day made possible through the redeeming death of Christ.
4.31-32 ‘Let all bitterness and wrath, and anger and clamour, and railing, be put away from you with all malice, and you be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you.’
Paul now sums up this section by including further things to be avoided, the signs of the old man. ‘the man that they were’, and by directing them to reveal the new man, ‘the man that they now are’.
The signs of the old man are bitterness (pikria - bitterness, animosity, harshness, tartness of speech), wrath (thumos - anger, passion, rage, touchiness), anger (orge - indignation, wrath), clamour (krauge - shouting clamour, here arising from passion), railing (blasphemia - evil speaking, blasphemy). All these describe loss of the self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit.
In contrast the signs of the new man are kindness, consideration for others, tender-heartedness, a forgiving spirit, a positive life of self-giving. And we are to be like this in the light of the fact that God, for Christ’s sake, forgave us and because we are now ‘in Him’. As Jesus said with regard to the prayer He taught His disciples, ‘if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses’ (Matthew 6.15). Those who have been pardoned must not themselves regularly be finding fault.
‘Even as God also in Christ forgave you.’ With Paul everything in the end comes back to the cross. There we died with Christ, and there the old man was put to death. It is because we have been given hope that we must give others hope. And God in Christ forgave us so that we must be willing to forgive others. In this we are to be imitators of God (5.1).
The Christian Walk in Love, Light and Wisdom (5.1-21).
5.1-2 ‘Therefore you be imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling fragrance.’
The imitation of God looks both back to 4.32 and on to 5.2. We imitate God in being those who forgive, and we also imitate Him by walking in love, a love that is comparable with Christ’s love. And it is because we are His beloved children, those loved by Him, that we are to walk in love.
‘As beloved children.’ Christians are regularly described as those who are beloved by God (compare Romans 1.7; Colossians 3.12; 2 Thessalonians 2.13) and this is because they are ‘in the Beloved’ (Ephesians 1.7). God’s love for His own is a constant theme (Romans 5.8; 8.39; 1 John 4.9-10).
‘And continually walk in love even as Christ also loved you.’ You are to continually walk in love because you are imitating God (5.1), because loving your neighbour as yourself fulfils the law (Galatians 5.14; Romans 13.8), because the Father’s love is in you (John 17.26), because you are rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3.17), and because Christ so loved you. His love is the example of what our love is to be. Christian love is to be something special. It is to be genuine and not feigned (2 Corinthians 6.6) for real love is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22). Love is to colour everything we do and say.
This Christian walk is often emphasised. We are to walk in love (here and in Romans 14.15), we are to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5.16), we are to walk in newness of life (Romans 6.4), we are to walk in accordance with the Spirit (Romans 8.4), we are to walk honestly as in the day (Romans 13.13; 1 Thessalonians 4.12), we are to walk by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5.7), we are to walk in good works (Ephesians 2.10), we are to walk worthily of our calling (Ephesians 4.1), we are to walk as children of light (Ephesians 5.8), we are to walk carefully (Ephesians 5.15), we are to walk worthily of the Lord (Colossians 1.10; 1 Thessalonians 2.12), we are to walk in the light (1 John 1.7), we are to walk as He walked (1 John 2.6), and we are to walk in the truth (2 John 1.4; 3 John 1.4). Walking in love will accomplish all these.
‘Even as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling fragrance.’ We must love as Christ loved, and that was totally sacrificially. He held nothing back but freely gave everything. So Paul’s demand is absolute. There should be no limit on our love.
He gave Himself up for us as ‘an offering and a sacrifice to God’, a propitiation for sin so that God’s wrath against sin was borne by Him on our behalf (compare 1 John 4.9-10), dying on a cross, and bearing our sin in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2.24), offering Himself as the Lamb of God (John 1.29; 1 Corinthians 5.7), being offered to bear the sins of many (Hebrews 9.28). And His offering was a sweet smelling fragrance (compare Genesis 8.21; Exodus 29.18, 25, 41), and thus acceptable and delightful to God.
But how could such an offering be acceptable and delightful to God? The answer lies in the loving heart that it revealed and in the full satisfaction it gave for sin, meeting all the requirements of justice and holiness. It was acceptable because it fulfilled all that Jesus sought to accomplish.
The ideas behind such sacrifices and offerings were numerous. The sin offering and guilt offering were substitutionary in the sense that because the sacrifice died the sinner was forgiven and his sin was borne in some way by the sacrifice. It was the offering of the shed blood, which represented the life yielded in death, which was of crucial importance (Leviticus 17.11). A life given, a death died. The whole burnt offering was a total offering to God, a complete act of worship which also contained within it the idea of propitiation and atonement resulting in God being able to deal with the sinner without taking account of his sin. And these sacrifices were effective because they looked forward to the one great sacrifice in the death of Jesus (Romans 3.25; Hebrews 9.9-14). Thus they came up to God as a sweet smelling savour.
The suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 was to be such an offering for sin, ‘He was wounded for our transgression, bruised for our inquities’ (verse 5), He was ‘made an offering for sin’ (verse 10), through His humiliation (from Ugarit we know that the verb yatha‘ also meant humiliation) He would justify many and He would bear their iniquities (verse 11). And from this passage Philip ‘preached to him Jesus’ (Acts 8.35). At important moments of His career God declared His Son to be this suffering Servant, ‘the One in Whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3.17; Mark 1.11; Luke 3.22 compare Isaiah 42.1), ‘My elect’ (Luke 9.35 with Isaiah 42.1). See also Matthew 12.17-21. He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life ‘a ransom instead of many’ (lutron anti pollon).
5.3-4 ‘But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you as is becoming to those set apart, nor filthiness, nor foolish talking or jesting which are not befitting, but rather giving of thanks.’
These are in stark contrast to the sweet smelling savour. These smell rank and putrid in the presence of God. ‘Fornication’ (porneia) - ‘every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse’. ‘All uncleanness’ - (akatharsia), both violent and immoral, viciousness and immorality, the word is used literally of refuse and especially the defiling contents of graves. Thus that which is defiling and an abomination. Sexual misbehaviour and violent behaviour, and especially sexual perversions, are an abomination to God.
‘Or covetousness.’ (Pleonexia). ‘Greediness, insatiableness, avarice, covetousness’. Greed, which means being taken up with ‘things’ and wanting excess, and an insatiable desire for more than we have, is as abhorrent to God as sexual sin. For this is the equivalent of idolatry (verse 5). It is to put them before Him. Rather we should ‘seek first the kingship of God and His righteousness’ (Matthew 6.33).
‘Let it not even be named among you.’ Christians should take no delight in talking about evil behaviour. It should only be mentioned where strictly necessary and only by those with responsibilities, for whom it is sadly sometimes necessary.
‘As is becoming to those set apart (to saints).’ Those who are set apart to God as holy must be such as are pleasing to Him. To talk about such things unnecessarily would mar their holiness and the pleasure they bring Him, and would indeed make them contaminated.
‘Nor filthiness, not foolish talking or jesting.’ The smutty remark, the laugh at unseemly behaviour are as bad as indulging in the acts themselves, and are as degrading and as abhorrent to God.
‘But rather giving of thanks.’ This should be what fills the mouths of His people, this is what is befitting to saints. Worship, praise, gratitude and talking about the things of God are what should monopolise our tongues. For by our words and what we talk about we will be shown to be righteous and will finally be ‘justified’ (Matthew 12.37).
5.5 ‘For this you know of a surety that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.’
Paul strongly reinforces what he has said so that there can be no doubt about it. As we learn from Revelation (2.14-15; 2.20-23) there were those who were claiming that sexual freedom was right and good, and indulging in sexual perversions, claiming them as a kind of worship. They may even have spoken of them as ‘revealing love’. Paul condemns them utterly and completely. That is the opposite of Christian love. Such people have no part in Christ or God.
‘You know for certain, of a surety.’ His language could not be stronger. He does not want anyone under any misapprehension. Neither unclean nor covetous people have any part in Christ. We must be careful not to water this down. To play with such attitudes is to demonstrate what we really are.
‘Who is an idolater.’ To put things before God, to give them precedence, is to make them idols. Such a man worships the things that are made rather then the Creator. He is a lover of mammon, a money-grubber, a desirer of wealth for its own sake or in order to indulge in fleshly living.
‘Has any inheritance.’ Compare 1.11. These people have no part in Ephesians 1 to 3. They are on the dark side.
‘In the kingdom of Christ and of God.’ The sphere of God’s rule is now also the sphere of Christ’s rule (compare Colossians 1.13). There is no room here for acts of darkness. 5.6 ‘Let no man deceive you with empty words, for because of these things comes the wrath of God on the sons of disobedience.’
Paul’s continual stress shows how strongly he felt on the issue and how dangerous he saw it to be. They are to be in no doubt, uncleanness and covetousness bring men under the wrath of God. By such behaviour they are ‘sons of disobedience’, that is, they reveal that they are disobedient by nature and determined to remain that way. The language is repeated from 2.2-3. They are still in their sins whatever their profession.
5.7 ‘You, therefore, do not be partakers with them.’
His command is straight. Have nothing to do with them or with such things. See 1 Corinthians 5.4-5 for the way such things should be treated in the churches.
5.8 ‘For you were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord. Walk as children of light. For the fruit of light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth.’
Having dealt with the dark side Paul now returns to the theme of the Christian’s walk. They did once walk in darkness. They were darkness through and through. Many of them had once participated in such things. Indeed they epitomised ‘darkness’. But now their darkness has turned to light. They are light, as God is (1 John 1.5). They have come to Him Who is the light of the world receiving the light of life (John 8.12). They have become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1.4). They live as in His presence, in heavenly places (2.6). They are no longer under the power of darkness (Colossians 1.13). They dwell in the kingdom of His beloved Son, enjoying the inheritance of the people of God ‘in light’ (Colossians 1.12-13). Thus they are to walk in the light (1 John 1.7), as children of light.
Living in the light is seen as a huge privilege. They should enjoy it and exult in the privilege and live continually in the light. To walk in the light, to be children of light, signifies living in the light, open before God, with nothing hidden from Him, being totally honest with Him and daily, no, each opportune moment, joyously bringing their lives to Him like an open book and letting His light shine on them. It is a life of not hiding anything from His gaze. It is letting His word be a lamp to our feet and a light to our way (Psalm 119.105), showing us the way ahead. For the entrance of His word gives light (Psalm 119.130). It is an attitude of heart and life to be continually fostered. So we are to walk in love (verse 2) and in light. The two must go hand in hand. And this will result in the fruit of goodness, righteousness and truth, the very opposite of uncleanness and covetousness.
As Paul spoke these words he must surely have had in mind that first moment at the beginning of time when all was darkness, and God said, ‘Let there be light’, and light flooded everything. His people have now entered into a new creation. They have come from nothingness and vanity to a glorious new future. They must walk in the light that shines from God.
5.10 ‘Proving what is well pleasing to the Lord.’
‘Proving.’ (dokimazo). ‘Putting to the test, examining.’ Everything we do and are must be brought to His light to be examined and tested. This does not mean negatively, by examining our lives through a microscope for every possible defect, resulting in continual self-doubt, but a positive willingness to let the light reveal our failures and what our way ahead should be. We should live our lives before the Lord desiring only to please Him. We too should be a sweet smelling perfume to Him (compare verse 2).
5.11-12 ‘And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove (convict) them, for the things which are done by them in secret it is a shame even to speak of.’
Living in the light means avoiding the darkness and its ‘unfruits’. They must not have any part with the behaviour of those who are still in darkness. But it is their behaviour they must avoid, not them (this means non-Christians, not defaulting Christians). Indeed by the purity of their lives they should act as a reproof and a way of convicting such people about their manner of life so that they may be converted. That this means primarily by life and not by word comes out in the last phrase. Christians should not even talk about, or think about, such behaviour as they witness in others. They must refute them by their lives. Thus men will see their good works and glorify their Father who is in Heaven (Matthew 5.16).
‘The unfruitful works of darkness.’ In direct contrast with ‘the fruit of the light’ (verse 9). That which is done in spiritual darkness can be of no lasting benefit.
5.13 ‘But all things when they are reproved (convicted, brought to light) are revealed openly by the light. For everything that is revealed openly is light.’
The result of the convicting power of their lives will be that in some people there will come conviction as the light shines in their hearts and what they are is made clear to them, they will feel reproved as they see the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4.4-6). And the effect of this will be that they too become light as God works on their lives. For when God’s light reveals openly what men are, and they do not shy from the light but respond to it, that light transforms them into light (compare John 3.19-21).
‘For everything that is revealed openly is light.’ Darkness, and that which is in darkness, never reveals itself openly. Only those who come to the light reveal themselves openly and do not hide in the darkness. And then they themselves become light as God is light.
5.14 ‘For this reason he says, “Awake you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”.’
We do not know the source of this saying. It may well be a conflation of Isaiah 60.1 combined with Isaiah 52.1, with Daniel 12.2-3 in the background. ‘Awake, awake, put on your strength --- arise, shine for your light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you -- His glory shall be seen on you’. We may thus see it as a Pauline, or early church, combination of these Scriptures. However, its import is clear. Those outside of Christ in darkness must awake out of their deadness and let Christ shine on them. He is there to shine on them and reveal His glory to them. So, as the light of Christian lives convicts them of their sin and need, this is to be their response And Christ Himself will shine on them once their hearts are open to Him.
5.15-16 ‘Look therefore carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, buying up the time because the days are evil.’
The Christian is to live a life of careful thought. He does not blunder blindly on but weighs up his life and makes the most of his time, ‘buying up the time’, to bring the most glory to God. He makes sure that he walks in the light before God, and in these ‘evil days’ ensures that his life is a force for the good. He walks as one of those who is truly wise, in contrast with the unwise.
5.17 ‘For this reason do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is.’
Because we live in evil days we must be the more careful to ensure that we know what the Christ’s will for us is by allowing His light to constantly shine on our lives, by reading His word and meditating and praying in His presence (Matthew 6.6), and listening to His word expounded by reliable men of God. Not to do so, says Paul, is foolish. We learn the will of God as we get to know Him better through His word and through Christian teaching.
5.18 ‘And do not be drunk with wine which results in riotous behaviour (or wastefulness), but be being filled in (or ‘by’) the Spirit.’
Continuing his contrasts which are a feature of 4.22-5.21, bringing out the contrast between the old man and the new man (4.22-24), Paul points out that the old man looks to drink for his consolation but the new man looks to the Holy Spirit. Thus they are not to get tipsy but are to continually drink of the heavenly wine which is provided by the Holy Spirit (compare 1 Corinthians 12.13; John 7.37-39). It is something they must go on doing continually, enjoying the continual flow of God’s blessing by looking to Jesus Christ (John 7.37) for their sustenance, and drinking of His word as the instrument of His Spirit. Note how in Colossians this spiritual singing in the heart results from ‘the word of Christ dwelling in them richly in all wisdom’ (Colossians 3.16).
This is the only use of ‘filled by the Spirit’ (plerousthe en Pneumati) in the New Testament. (‘En’ never means ‘with’. It means ‘in’ or ‘by’).
Luke, in Luke and Acts, uses the verb pimplemi followed by ‘of the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 1.15; 1.41; 1.67; Acts 2.4; 4.8; 4.31; 9.17; 13.9) and in his case the phrase is always describing inspired words to be explained in terms of the Spirit’s working, and is usually temporary to that occasion. The exceptions are in the cases of John the Baptiser (Luke 1.17), the disciples (Acts 4.31) and Paul (Acts 9.17). The Acts 2 experience as a whole was, of course, permanent, but the actual phrase ‘filled of the Holy Spirit’ applied to the vocal phenomenon specifically referred to on that occasion.
The phrase ‘full of Holy Spirit’ is used of Jesus (Luke 4.1) as a more permanent experience (it is also used of Stephen in Acts 7.55).
‘Pleroo’ is used followed by ‘of the Holy Spirit’ in combination with some spiritual attribute in Acts 6.3 (‘and wisdom’); 6.5 (and ‘of faith’); 11.24 (‘and of faith’); 13.52 (and ‘with joy’) to explain in each case some spiritual attribute. So pimplemi signifies being filled to utter inspired words in the proclamation of God’s truth and pleroo signifies the possession of spiritual attributes resulting from the presence of the Spirit.
Here in Ephesians the pattern is followed but the verb is in the present tense and the attributes are as in verse 19. The Christian life is to be one of continual worship and praise through the infilling work of the Spirit.
5.19-20 ‘Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.’
Rather than the bawdy singing of the drunk they are to engage in spiritual song, indeed they will not be able to help it, their hearts overflowing through the word of Christ (Colossians 3.16) and the Holy Spirit. They are to be continually filled with worship and praise, expressing their continual gratitude to God the Father for all they have received in Christ, which is everything that is important.
‘Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.’ Covering the whole range of spiritual music. The Holy Spirit allows variety.
5.21 ‘Subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.’
The exuberance of the Spirit does not lead to wild abandon but to thoughtful consideration for others and humility. Each is to be ‘subject to’ the other and responsive to the whole. While the church is full of individuals it should be of individuals subject to one another for the good of the whole.
‘In the fear of Christ.’ A reminder that while we rejoice in His goodness and exult in His love, we must still remain in awe of His power and authority.
Husbands and Wives Are A Pattern of Christ and His Church (5.22-33).
In this passage there is a constant movement from the husband wife relationship to that of Christ and His church. In one sense it is the former which is the main theme, for both opening and closing verses refer to it. But Paul’s illustrative application of the idea to the Christ-church relationship leads him on to an expansion of that relationship as he exults in the wonder and glory of it, so that it too becomes a main thought. However, the church is never spoken of as His wife (or His bride) and there is no direct application of the idea. The application is rather of His Headship and His care and nourishment of His church as being similar to that required of a good husband.
5.22 ‘Wives be in subjection to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the saviour of the body.’
From time immemorial the husband has been head of the family in all societies with rare exceptions. And this natural order is confirmed by Scripture on the grounds that man was first made and the woman was created for the man (1 Corinthians 11.9). Both are equal in God’s eyes (Galatians 3.28) but the man takes precedence in the line of authority (1 Corinthians 11.3). So Paul says that just as Jesus, in the plan of salvation, subjected Himself to the Father even though He was co-equal and co-eternal, and the man subjects himself to Christ, so the woman is to subject herself to the man (1 Corinthians 11.3). It is the divine order and those who rebel against it rebel against God. Thus the wife in fact reveals her submission to the Lord by a proper submission to her husband.
However subjection is a voluntary state and does not mean being browbeaten. Each member of the church is to submit to the other (verse 19), but not to be browbeaten, and Christ subjected Himself to God, with mutual ‘respect’ being shown. So husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church (verse 25), nurturing and caring for them and showing them proper respect, and the wives are to respect their headship. The whole relationship can only work properly when all parts are doing so.
‘As Christ is also the head of the church.’ Here the headship of Christ over His church is likened to that of the husband over the wife. Christ is head over all things, but He is in a special way head over His people, and He watches over them, cares for them and seeks their responsive obedience and submission.
‘Being Himself the Saviour of the body.’ Notice the careful wording. Not the head of the body but the Saviour of the body, for the body is made up of His people in union with Himself and He is revealing His Headship by being at work in saving them (see verses 25-27). The husband/wife analogy is suspended. He is elsewhere said to be ‘the Head of the body’ (Colossians 3.18 but see 3.22) but there the idea is of His Headship rather than as differentiating between the head and the rest of the body (see Appendix below).
It should be noted that outside Revelation 19-21 and 2 Corinthians 11.2 Jesus Christ is never strictly said to be the husband or bridegroom of the church nor is the church said to be His wife or bride. While the illustrative idea is used it is never made specific. In 2 Corinthians 11.2 the idea is different from here. There Paul, acting as a father with a beloved daughter, espoused the church to one husband, to Jesus Christ, that he might ‘present them as a chaste virgin to Christ’. There the idea is that he has obtained from them a permanent commitment to Jesus Christ, so that they are betrothed to Him and will not go running off and being unfaithful to Him or misbehaving. The context is the possibility of being unfaithful by following false teachers. (A betrothed man could be described as a husband, and Mary, while only betrothed to Joseph, is described as a wife).
Here, however, in Ephesians the comparison is more of the wife to the husband and there is no suggestion of betrothal. Given that fact interpretation of the passage often tends to be more romantic than exact.
5.24 ‘But as the church is subject to Christ so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything.’
The wife is to follow the pattern of the people of God who are submissive to Christ ‘in everything’. Thus she is to be subject to her husband in everything. But in a godly household this will result in reasonable discussion not dictatorship, just as a good king would discuss matters with his counsellors. However this is because the wife has the right to expect her husband to behave towards her with the same consideration as Christ does to His church.
5.25-27 ‘Husbands love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for it, that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word that he might present the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.’
Although Paul is strictly supposed to be talking about the husband/wife relationship he takes the opportunity of his analogy to bring home some theological lessons, and these soon take over. Here Christ is described as loving the church as the husband should love his wife. There is not strictly a bridegroom analogy. What bridegroom dies for his bride before marrying her? And what bridegroom washes his bride in preparation for the wedding and provides her beauty treatment? He would soon be sent packing! Christ is shown here to be even more than a husband (and certainly more than a bridegroom). He is Saviour, husband, attendant, ladies’ maid, beauty expert and everything. He is depicted as the Carer and Nourisher supreme. Contrast this with Revelation 19.7 where the bride makes herself ready! There the thought was of the works of righteousness which result from the Saviour’s saving work. So to His people He is not just the bridegroom, He is all in all, and here we see the Godward side of His working.
‘As Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it with the washing of water with the word.’ Here He is acting as ‘Saviour of the body’ (verse 23). His motive is love, and the price paid is Himself. ‘He gave Himself up’ for His people (see 1.7; 2.15; Romans 3.24-25; 8.3 and often). The result is then His continued saving activity as He first washes them with the washing of water with the word (compare 1 Corinthians 1.17-18) and then sanctifies them.
‘He gave Himself up for it.’ Voluntarily humbling Himself (Philippians 2.5-8), and suffering death on their behalf. Always, as with Israel when salvation is spoken of, it is ‘the true church’ that is in mind, that which is made up of all those who are truly responsive to Christ.
‘That He might sanctify it.’ The verb is aorist representing something done once for all. His people are ‘set apart’ as His own once and for all, as ‘holy’ to God and to Himself (each as they respond), and then go through the process of being made perfect before Him.
‘Having cleansed it with the washing of water with the word.’ It is not baptism that washes, but the application of the word, the preaching of the cross (1 Corinthians 1.18) (baptism symbolises the life-giving rains from Heaven, representing the Holy Spirit, rather than washing). Compare ‘of His own will He brought us into life by the word of truth’ (James 1.18). This is quite clear here. Reference to ‘the word’ refers overwhelmingly to the preached word. Had baptism been in mind he would have said so.
Note. It is a mistake to equate washing with baptism. It is true that the idea of the new birth is related to washing, ‘the washing of new birth (regeneration)’, in Titus 3.5, but even there it is not directly connected to baptism. The idea there is of spiritual renewal as being like the ‘washing’ of rain that regenerates the earth. Indeed Peter specifically warns us not to relate baptism to washing. He says that ‘it is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh’ (1 Peter 3.21) precisely because some were seeing it in that way. Rather, he says, it is ‘the appeal of a good conscience towards God (a baptism of repentance and faith) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ’. In other words the emphasis in baptism is on new life.
This is possibly also what Ananias meant in Acts 22.16, although he does relate washing there indirectly to baptism. But he uses ’apolouo which is used only once in LXX, and that of washing in the snow (Job 9.30) (thus what comes directly from the heavens) as opposed to louo which is used for ritual washing. Thus even here he does not relate baptism to ritual washing. Apart from this possible reference baptism is never spoken of in terms of ‘washing’ in the New Testament. That is mainly a later idea. Baptism rather represents the coming of the Holy Spirit like rain from heaven, producing grain and fruit and good trees, and new life out of death, and providing spiritual water to drink.
End of note.
However, there are no grounds for referring to baptismal formulae here in Ephesians. That is a mere invention of fertile (and sacerdotal) minds. Of course those who always see any mention of water as referring directly to baptism will see baptism here but that is not sound exegesis. The washing here refers to the purifying activity of the word of God.
‘That He might present the church to Himself, a glorious one, not having spot, or wrinkle or any such thing.’ Having washed, cleansed and sanctified His people He will remove every blemish so that He can receive His church as fit to bring before God. Every spot or wrinkle or blemish will be done away (see 1.4 where this was promised as part of His plan). Through His sacrifice on the cross we will be presented ‘holy, and without blemish and unreproveable before Him’ (Colossians 1.22 compare Jude 1.24).
This is often interpreted as signifying that He presents herself to Him as His bride, but this is nowhere clearly suggested and the comparison is more of a husband to a wife all the way through. A bridegroom is not noted for having nourished and cared for his bride until after the wedding. Even then the comparison is indirect. The church is never spoken of in this passage as His wife or His bride. The emphasis is rather on His Headship, and on the loving relationship revealed by His expressed care and concern, and the great efforts He makes for the well-being of His church, the same care and concern that a husband should have for his wife (in general, not in detail).
5.28 ‘Even so ought husbands to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself.’
This confirms that the proper love of a husband can be compared with the love of Christ for His church. Just as Christ loves His church which has been made one with Him in His body, so a husband should love his wife as his own body, with which she is made one in marital union. ‘He who loves his wife loves himself.’ This is because they have been made one flesh (verse 31). So he cares for her as for himself, just as Christ cares for His church.
5.29-30 ‘For no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ also the church, because we are members of His body.’
A man takes great care of his own body, and nourishes and cherishes it, and he will therefore do the same for his wife who has been made one with him. So Christ does the same for His people for they have been made one with Him and are members of His body. The analogy is that just as husband and wife have been made one by the act of union, so Christ and His church have been made one, and because this is so He will nourish and care for it too.
5.31 ‘For this reason will a man leave father and mother and will cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’
This is cited from Genesis 2.24, also cited with approval by Jesus (Matthew 19.5) who added, ‘so that they are no more two but one flesh. What God therefore has joined together let not man put asunder’. In God’s eyes the man and woman become one. Yet they are still two individuals. The point is that their relationship is such that it is inviolable and the two should act and think as one.
5.32 ‘This is a great mystery, but I speak in regard of Christ and of the church.’
The church too on being united with Christ become one. It too is made up of individuals but is one in God’s eyes. Their relationship with Christ is also inviolable and they should act with Him and think with Him as one.
‘This is a great mystery.’ This refers back to the previous verse which Paul assures us he is applying to Christ and His church. It thus signifies that Jesus left His Father in order to cleave to us so that we may be one with Him. Our maker is our husband (Isaiah 54.5).
5.33 ‘Nevertheless do you also severally love each one his own wife even as himself, and let the wife see that she fear her husband.’
Paul does not want the practical lesson to be lost, and applies it at the end. Each husband must love his wife as he loves himself, and each wife must hold her husband in godly reverence.
Instructions Concerning Children and Bondservants (6.1-9).
6.1-3 ‘Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honour your father and mother, which is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’
Children are to obey their parents ‘in the Lord’. Obedience to parents is therefore an obligation to Christ. That is as long as they do not tell them to do something that is clearly against God’s declared will. This is then enforced by reference to the ten commandments.
‘The first commandment with promise.’ Honour your father and mother is the first commandment where reward is promised for obedience. The words following the second commandment are a more general statement. Note that both father and mother are given authority. The reward for this will on the whole tend to a long life. The rebellious will often find their lives cut short as a result of their behaviour. This command is more needed today than at any time in history.
6.4 ‘And you fathers, do not provoke your children to anger. But nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord.’
The Christian father will seek to be scrupulously fair and will not deliberately do things which will unnecessarily rile his children. He will consider their point of view and consider what is genuinely best for them. However he will be concerned that they grow up under the hand and care of God. He will seek to build them up spiritually, admonish them verbally where necessary, and may occasionally have to use a heavier hand. Of course this should never be to relieve his own anger but because he thinks it will genuinely help the child. If it does not hurt him equally (rather than just saying it does) he should not do it.
6.5-7 ‘Bondservants be obedient to those who according to the flesh are your masters, with fear and trembling (with greatest care), in singleness of your heart, as to Christ. Not in the way of eyeservice as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, doing service with good will as to the Lord and not to men.’
This applies to all types of service, including that of employees and the self-employed. All service is to be performed with the sole purpose of pleasing Christ, who sees exactly what effort is put in and what care is taken. (He also sees what is invoiced). They must act as though they were bondservants of Christ. For dedicated and careful work is pleasing to God. And all such work should be done cheerfully and gladly as being done for the Lord. Genuine work is as much a spiritual service as worship.
6.8 ‘Knowing that whatever good thing each one does he will receive the same again from the Lord, whether he be bond or free.’
When our work is done properly as to the Lord, it is the Lord who will finally reward us, on top of anything we receive in wages or in gratitude. Note that Paul specifically applies this to free men as well as bondservants.
6.9 ‘And you masters, do the same things to them, and forebear threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven and there is no respect of persons with him.’
The bosses and masters are also to remember that they have a Master in heaven to whom they are accountable. They are merely His foremen and will have to give account to Him. Thus they must avoid bullying and menaces, and act with reasonableness as in the presence of God. They must remember that God sees all people as of equal value. Therefore they must require only what is reasonable.
The Armour of God and the Battle That Lies Ahead (6.10-20).
Having given general teaching Paul now closes the letter with a reminder that we are in a spiritual battle and need to take the proper precautions. The letter opened with a description of God’s eternal action in redeeming His own, all brought about by His sovereign purpose, it ends with our responsibility to arm ourselves for battle against the Foe. We have our part to play too.
6.10 ‘Finally, be made powerful in the Lord and in the strength of his might.’
Our only hope for the future and our only means of victory against an implacable enemy is to be ‘made powerful in the Lord’, to enjoy and experience the strength of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His mighty strength within us by His indwelling that will enable us to overcome all obstacles. And as we walk in love (5.2), and in light (5.8), (both are necessary), this power will be at work in us. Love is the approach and attitude we have towards God and the world, light is our openness to God through His word and prayer, so that His light might shine in us and through us, dealing with anything that might diminish our strength in the Lord, and revealing to us His glory as we face the Foe.
‘Finally.’ Bringing matters to a conclusion. Having described our position in Christ and having exhorted us to right behaviour Paul now closes by reminding us of our resources in Christ.
‘Be made powerful.’ Without Him we are without strength for the battle ahead. He is the One Who can make us powerful through His resurrection life as we put on the armour of God.
‘In the Lord and in the strength of His might.’ The source of our power is the indwelling Lord, Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, the One Who has been exalted, seated far above all, with everything in subjection under His feet (1.20-22). And it is His mighty strength that we can enjoy and experience as we look to Him to live through us (Galatians 2.20).
6.11-12 ‘Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.’
The armour does not fall on us, we have to put it on. We cannot defeat the enemy by our own efforts but we can put on the armour, the armour of truth, of righteousness, of faith, of His word, and of assurance of salvation. And we need that armour, for we have to deal with a wily enemy who will attack at every point in all manner of ways. He will come as a roaring lion (1 Peter 5.8), he will come as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11.14). He will try to frighten us into betrayal of Christ as he frightened Peter; he will try to lure us into false teaching through deceptive teachers; and into false ideas as he did the Master Himself, appearing to offer a quick and easy way to all we desire. He will try to make the bad look good, and the good appear not worth the effort. He will seek to undermine our faith, and to persuade us to compromise the best for the good. And sometimes he will appear to have succeeded.
Satan desired to have Peter so that he could sift him as wheat (Luke 22.31), and Peter, terrified, denied his Lord. But he had behind him the strength of the Lord, and he was restored and overcame. We too may stumble, but if we put on the armour of God we too will finally prevail.
‘That you may be able to stand.’ This does not refer to fleshly temptations. From those we have to flee (1 Timothy 6.11; 2 Timothy 2.22). (Do not attempt to fight them, your hope lies in flight. You must avoid them and keep away from them). But this refers to the frontal assaults of the Evil One, his attempts to mislead and misdirect, his attempts to weaken our faith or attack us head on, or to put insidious thoughts into our minds. Against these we have to stand in the armour of God.
‘The wiles of the Devil.’ We are against a tricky foe and he knows every dirty move. He is a liar and the father of lies (John 8.44). He is the perpetrator of false teaching (Ephesians 4.14). He uses the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things to choke the word that comes to us (Mark 4.19). He is the arch Deceiver (Revelation 12.9). We have no hope on our own. Sometimes he will attack with fiery darts, inflicting wounds of doubt and fear, even with the unwitting help of our loved ones and friends and those we trust the most. Only Jesus is totally reliable. Then we will need the shield of faith. At others he will seek to whisper in our minds, insidious thoughts, evil thoughts, disturbing thoughts, even using self-satisfaction and overmuch holiness to bring about our downfall, and we will need the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. At others he will tempt us openly with all that is most desirable, and our only hope will be a strategic retreat. But attack us he will, and his attack will be subtle and clever, tailored to our strengths and weaknesses.
‘For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.’ These are our enemies, the evil hosts of wickedness under their evil master. And our wrestling is in heavenly places, demonstrating our present access to that sphere. It is the spiritual world into which we enter with Christ when we become His. And there we will have our major battles. And there we will need the protection of God’s armour.
‘Our wrestling.’ The battle will often be very personal, individual and hand to hand. But the wrestling in mind is that of the soldier as he grapples, fully armed, with his opponent, not that of the wrestler in a sporting contest. This is no sport, this is war.
‘Not against flesh and blood.’ What we may see may be human beings who are against us, and we may be very conscious of them. But our fight is not really with them. They are only the tools. The real battle is with spiritual forces of wickedness.
‘The principalities, the powers.’ They were originally His creation (Colossians 1.16) until they rebelled. And now they are defeated foes and fighting a violent rearguard action (Colossians 2.15). They are unable to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.38), and as they fight they are filled with amazement at what God is doing for His people (Ephesians 3.10). But they still fight on for there is nothing left for them but final doom.
‘The world-rulers of this darkness.’ Kosmokratores - used of world-rulers such as Nebuchadnezzar and one of the adulatory titles for the Roman Emperor. But here it refers to the powers that lie behind them and work through them. Those who run the world in darkness and keep it in darkness, by blinding men’s minds, rendering them bereft of the light that shines out from God (2 Corinthians 4.4).
‘The spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places.’ While we were under the power of darkness (Colossian 1.13) we were left untroubled, except to be drawn in into his schemes (Ephesians 2.2), but now we have entered the heavenly places with Christ, the spiritual realm, and live in the light, we are subject to the attacks of spiritual forces of wickedness under the Prince of the power of the air (the prince of a kingdom not of this world and yet with no right in the heavenly sphere).
So what we are to face is frightening. But God has provided the means by which we can go forward without fear, the armour of God. As we go forward in His mighty strength, His mighty armour will provide all the protection that we need.
6.13 ‘Because of this take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.’
Such foes demonstrate the importance of being clothed in the armour of God, so we must ensure that we put it on. Indeed we have the responsibility of putting it on, and much Christian failure lies in our failure to do so adequately, for the enemy will attack the parts that are unprotected. We need ‘the whole armour’.
‘To withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand.’ The battle may not appear to be continuous. There will be seemingly quiet days, the phoney war. But at other times the attack will be ferocious and we will have to withstand firmly, and having repelled the attacks again and again we will have to go on standing for the attacks will go on until the relief forces arrive and Christ comes for His own. And our certainty of survival lies in the armour of God.
The importance of the armour is demonstrated by its content. Truth as a belt, righteousness as a breastplate, the good news of peace for boots, faith as a shield, salvation as a helmet, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, as a means of defence and attack. These weapons, we are told elsewhere, are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds (2 Corinthians 10.4).
6.14a ‘Stand therefore having your loins girded about with truth.’
The first essential piece of the armour, which holds all together, and keeps firm for battle, is the belt. And the Christian’s belt is truth. Thus Paul tells us that we must receive the word of truth (Ephesians 1.13; 4.21), we must speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4.15, 25) and we must reveal the fruit of the Spirit in goodness, righteousness and truth (Ephesians 5.9). Truth received, understood, taken to heart and lived out is all important in the battle against the Lie and the father of lies (John 8.44).
Truth from God and trueness in ourselves, both are needed. Firstly, if we are to stand against all attacks it will be by our grasp of essential truths, our grasp of the word of God, and what He has revealed to us, our grasp of the promises of God, our grasp of the truth about Him. And secondly it will be by ourselves being true. The belt is truth in all its facets. All go together. The more truth the more Satan will be defeated. We must receive Him Who is the Truth (John 14.6), He Who is the Light (John 8.12), and we must ground ourselves in that truth and receive all the light that He brings. We must be children of light, open, honest, genuine and responsive, and exemplars of truth.
6.14b ‘And having put on the breastplate of righteousness.’
We are to put on the new man which after God has been created in righteousness and true holiness (4.24), the new man in which we have been reconciled to God through the death of His Son on the cross (2.16), the new man through whom we are to reveal the fruit of the Spirit in righteousness (5.9). This is accomplished by submission to Christ, steady commitment, and response to the Holy Spirit, walking step by step by the Spirit and allowing Christ to live out His life through us.
Thus it includes trusting in the righteousness put to our account in Christ (Romans 10.4; Philippians 3.9; Romans 10.10; Galatians 3.6), by Him Who has been made to us righteousness (1 Corinthians 1.30). For we have been made righteous in Him (2 Corinthians 5.21). It also includes the righteousness that we are to reveal through the Spirit at work within us (5.9; Romans 14.17; 1 Corinthians 15.34; 1 Timothy 6.11), being righteous as He is righteous (1 John 2.29; 3.7). For it is this recognition that we are accepted as righteous in the sight of God with a righteousness that can never be sullied, and the resulting fruit of righteousness in our lives that results from it, that will protect our hearts from the sword strokes of the forces of evil, for our breastplate will be impenetrable. No accusation of Satan to God will be able to hurt us when we are confident that we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. And though men may accuse us, if our lives are righteous they will put them to shame. In 1 Thessalonians 5.8 the breastplate is one of faith and love, faith in the promises of God and in the crucified One, and a dwelling in the love of God. Here it is the breastplate of both imputed and imparted righteousness.
The idea of the breastplate of righteousness, along with the helmet of salvation, comes originally from Isaiah 59.17. But there the intention is attack, and they are worn by The Lord as He goes forward as vindicator and deliverer. The righteousness there refers to vindication and true righteousness, the helmet to deliverance. Here they are for our defence, covering us with His righteousness and surrounding us with His salvation, His power to deliver. But it is good to know that we have the same protection as He had, as those who are vindicated and being delivered.
6.15 ‘And having shod your feet with the preparation (or readiness or equipment) of the Gospel of peace.’
In Ephesians peace refers to peace with God (2.13-14 compare Colossians 1.20), ‘peace from God’ (1.2; 6.23), and the resulting peace between Christians (2.14-16; 4.3), all included in the message of peace which He has proclaimed to us (2.17). Peace with God means that our hearts are right with Him and that there is no shadow between. It is ours because we have been reckoned as righteous by faith (Romans 5.1) and this enables us to stand, confident of victory, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5.2).
Indeed it is the God of peace, the God Who brings peace, the God Who gives peace to His own, Who will bruise Satan under our feet (Romans 16.20) through the Gospel of peace. Both of these aspects are particularly apposite here. Peace with God is our assurance and protection. Peace from God, flooding our very beings (Philippians 4.7), will further protect us from all that the Enemy can throw at us and result in confidence and assurance.
Having the feet shod in good shoewear was a vital part of a soldier’s equipment. It affected all his movements, including his sense of comfort, his ability to travel long distances at speed, and his agility on the battlefield. It put him at peace with himself. Nothing is better for our peace of mind than to know that we have peace with God and peace from God, two aspects of the same privilege. Then there is nothing between us and God and His peace fills our souls. Then are we ready to stand in the battle and are equipped for what we must face. Then can we march forward in comfort and strength. And being at peace with one another we will fight as one whole.
In view of the context and Romans 16.20, this footwear may well have in mind the bruising of the Serpent’s head in Genesis 3.15. It is the fact that we are confident that we have peace with God, and because of the cross through which we found that peace, that we are enabled to tread down the Enemy without fear.
‘The preparation’. (Hetoimasia). This word is used of a ship’s tackle and can mean equipment, and could thus be translated ‘boots’. If, however, we see it as preparedness then we may see it as meaning that the Christian soldier must at all time be ready with the Good News of peace with God to combat the enemy and deliver the enslaved.
The importance to Paul of peace from God cannot be over-exaggerated. The idea is always contained in his greetings, and regularly in his final salutations and in his prayers for God’s people. To him God is the God of peace (Romans 15.33; 16.20; 1 Thessalonians 5.23; 2 Thessalonians 3.16), and peace is His children’s birthright. And the Good News is the good news of peace, from the One Who has made peace through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1.20).
6.16 ‘Withal taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery arrows of the wicked one.’
Once we are founded in truth, clothed in imputed righteousness and revealing true righteousness, and shod with the good news of peace, we have to learn to exercise faith, using the shield of faith. Through faith we came to Christ for redemption through His blood (Romans 3.25) and receive assurance in our hearts. Through faith we receive the Spirit (Galatians 3.5-6, 14) and experience Christ dwelling in our hearts (Ephesians 3.17). And through faith we must defend ourselves against the attacks of the Enemy by holding up the shield of God’s promises. As he attacks every attack can be met by a promise of God, in the same way as Jesus thwarted him during His time of temptation. So we must hold up as our shield, faith in the promises of God. This was the weapon that Jesus used when tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and there is no better. To each attack He replied with a quotation from Scripture, confounding the Enemy, and we must do the same. Thus every Scripture verse that we take to our hearts is another weapon in our armoury.
For every attack of Satan there is a reply in Scripture. There is our means of combating his lies. It thus behoves us to study the Scriptures assiduously, and to hold it in our hearts, so as to be able to produce it at the opportune moment. Our faith in the God of the Scriptures will then act as a defensive shield on the basis of His promises.
‘The fiery arrows of the Evil One.’ Fiery arrows, like temptation, may seem picturesque in the sky but when they land they burn and destroy. His arrows never bode any good. In Psalm 120.4 the sharp arrows of the mighty are linked with lying lips and a deceitful tongue, and are characteristic of the enemies of peace. Compare how the false Messiah in Revelation 6 has a bow while the true Messiah in Revelation 19 has a sword. But these arrows are turned away by the shield of faith in the promises of God.
6.17a ‘And receive the helmet of salvation.’
In 1 Thessalonians 5.8 the helmet is ‘the hope of salvation.’ Here it is expanded to include all aspects of salvation. Confidence in what Christ as Saviour has done, and is doing, and will do on our behalf, will protect the Christian’s mind from all the Enemy’s assaults. When all seems lost flee into the arms of the Saviour.
The Bible teaches different aspects of 'salvation', each of which is important. It speaks of salvation accomplished once for all in the past, of ‘having been saved’ - Titus 3.5; 2 Timothy 1.9 (aorist tense, something that has happened once for all). It speaks of ‘having been saved and therefore of now being saved’, so that we can say we “are saved’ - Ephesians 2.5; 2.8 (perfect tense, something that has happened in the past the benefit of which continues to the present time). These are what is in mind when we speak of a person as having been ‘saved’. He has been set apart by God with a view to his full salvation, once and for all secure in His hands.
But the Bible also speaks of us as those who “are being saved” - 1 Corinthians 1.18; 2 Corinthians 2.15; (present tense - a process going on), and who will be saved - (the hope of salvation) 1 Corinthians 3.15; 5.5; 2 Corinthians 7.10; 1 Thessalonians 5.9; 2 Thessalonians 2.13 (future tense - something yet to happen - and equivalents). These are present and future aspects of our salvation. It is something that is continually going on, and will go on to the end. In other words, when God ‘saves’ someone they are saved once and for all, and it is fully effective. But if it is genuine it means that it will then result in a process by which they are being ‘changed from glory into glory’ (2 Corinthians 3.18), with the final guarantee of a completed process. If the salvation is not progressing, even though slowly, then its genuineness must be questioned. The Saviour does not fail in His work.
As an illustration consider a man drowning at sea, in a fierce storm, clinging to a life raft with one hand, his other arm broken and trailing behind, and both his legs paralysed, having been many hours in the freezing water and suffering from hypothermia, more dead than alive. Then along comes the life boat and drags him out and he gasps, hardly able to speak because of the seriousness of his condition, “I am saved”.
Well, it is true. But he has a long way to go. He would not have much confidence in his salvation if they put him to one side in the bow of the boat, with the waves lashing over him, and said to him, “Well, you’re saved now”, and then went off for a drink and practised turning the lifeboat over. His confidence and dependence lie in a fully trained and capable crew who are dedicated to warming him up, treating him and getting him to hospital so that he can be fully restored.
So as they get to work on him, wrapping him in a blanket and gently warming his frozen limbs, trying to set his broken arm and doing everything else necessary to restore him to some kind of normality, he can begin to have hope and think gratefully to himself, “I am being saved”. But he may well still be aware of the winds howling round, and the boat heaving in the heavy seas, and the pain and agony of his limbs, and he may then look forward and think, “I will soon be saved”. If those crewmen, and the ambulance waiting for him on shore on that terrible night, can be so dedicated, can we think that the One Who died on a cross for us on an even more terrible night, can be less dedicated? He does not just want us in the lifeboat. He wants us fully restored. And that is what He is determined to have. And if we want to be saved that is what we must want! We cannot say, ‘Lord, save me, but leave me as I am’.
This salvation is entered into by an act of faith and commitment. As we genuinely recognise our need to be saved (in every way) from sin we commit ourselves completely to the One Who Saves (the Saviour), and trust Him to carry out the work, knowing that once He has begun the good work He will carry it out to the end (Philippians 1.6). We are then ‘saved’, and have entered the process of ‘being saved’. And we can wear the helmet of salvation, confident against all the Enemy can do.
6.17b ‘And the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.’
The sword is used for both defence and attack, and the Christian, indwelt by the Spirit, must use the sword of the word of God in both modes. It acts as a further defence as its promises are utilised to divert Enemy attack, and it is a means of delivering from darkness those who are under ‘the power of darkness’. Its cut and thrust will tear aside the refuge of lies for those willing to hear. ‘The word of the cross is to those who perish foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1 Corinthians 1.18).
It is not without significance that the Evil One uses a bow or javelin where the Christian uses a sword. The former’s attacks are many and varied, thrown at a venture, hoping to do harm, but the attacks of the latter are personal and sure, hand to hand and personally directed. And we must learn to attack as well as defend, by proclaiming and passing on the word of God.
6.18-20 ‘With all prayer and supplication at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints, and for me, that utterance may be given to me in opening my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains, that in it I may speak boldly, even in the fashion in which I ought to speak.’
The armour must be combined with prayer, that spiritual assault weapon that equally confounds the Enemy. The prayers are to be twofold, for all the people of God and for Paul in his special ministry. They are to be ‘at all seasons’ and ‘in the Spirit’, and should be persevering. Their concern is to be for the spiritual wellbeing of the people of God and the furtherance of God’s purposes through Paul and his fellow-ministers.
‘With all prayer and supplication.’ The repetition is probably for emphasis rather than to distinguish types of praying. It covers the whole range of prayer. We are to be a praying people, earnest and urgent.
‘At all seasons in (or by) the Spirit.’ There is no holiday from our responsibility to pray, and we must seek to ensure that our prayer is Spirit inspired, and not just repetitive and formal. Compare Jude 1.20, ‘praying in the Holy Spirit’.
‘Watching thereto with all perseverance and supplication for all God’s people, and for me --.’ Again the need for persistence and perseverance is stressed, and the supplication is now said to be for all God’s people (those set apart to Him) and for Paul. It is to be thoughtful and penetrative, and continuing.
‘That utterance may be given to me in opening my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains, that in it I may speak boldly, even as I ought to speak.’ We may note this with some surprise. We tend to feel that Paul knew no inhibitions and never lacked boldness. But he is here aware that he not only needs the words to be given to him, but the boldness as well. He is not so confident in himself that he boasts of being without fear. He is too aware of his weakness. This is in total contrast with Peter’s words on the night before the crucifixion (Mark 14.29, 31), which brought only disaster and taught him an important lesson. Possibly Paul too had learned from that. That he is speaking of his continuing to preach the Gospel, and not just his testimony in court, comes out in Colossians 4.3-4, although the court testimony would be included.
‘The mystery of the Gospel.’ See on 1.9; 3.3-9; 5.32; Mark 4.11; Romans 16.25-26; 1 Corinthians 2.7; 1 Timothy 3.16). The mystery now revealed is the work of God in bringing to Himself through the shed blood of Jesus Christ both Jews and Gentiles as one, and His final glorification of them with Himself when He sums up all things in Christ
‘For which I am an ambassador in chains.’ An ambassador in chains is an ambassador seemingly rendered useless, but he can still seek to carry out his mission. So Paul is aware that his ambassadorship is limited and precarious because he is in chains. But he wants them to pray that he will not fail in his responsibility. Yet had he not been in chains we may well not have had Ephesians. God had greater purposes than Paul or the early church could ever know. When all seems lost God triumphs.
We should note that on the whole Christ’s view of prayer, and the Scriptural view of prayer, is not as a means of obtaining personal favours, or even guidance, but as a means of furthering the Kingly Rule of God. Jesus in fact told us that personal prayer for material things merely demonstrated that we doubted that God would provide all we needed and was unnecessary (Matthew 6.8).
When He taught us to pray the first part of His prayer was concerned with the overall purposes of God. He taught us to pray for the ‘hallowing’ or ‘sanctifying’ of the name of God. This is to occur through the forwarding of His purposes (Ezekiel 36.23; see also 28.22, 25; 38.16, 23; 39.27). Then we are to pray for the coming of His kingly rule and the doing of His will on earth. The main concern then is to be for the fulfilling of His work and will.
The second part of the prayer was for daily bread (the minimum of sustenance), forgiveness of sins, and deliverance from temptation and evil. Thus it concentrated on what was personally necessary for the successful carrying forward of the purposes of God, the meeting of our basic spiritual needs, and the minimum sustenance required so that we could fulfil that work. How different from so much of our praying.
In view of His comment about God knowing our needs before we asked, the prayer for daily bread was clearly intended, not so much as a prayer for daily food, but in order to continually remind us of the Source from which we obtained our bread. For this aim of reminding ourselves of God’s goodness alone can justify praying for other than spiritual things for ourselves, and that should be with the aim of being made useful in carrying forward the work of God.
Closing words (6.21-24).
6.21-22 ‘But that you also may know my affairs, how I do, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make all things known to you, whom I have sent to you for this very purpose, that you may know our state and that he may comfort your hearts.’
Tychicus is also mentioned as the bearer of the letter to the Colossians (Colossians 4.7 see also 2 Timothy 4.12; Titus 3.12). He is a highly trusted friend and ‘beloved brother’. But his greatest commendation is that he is a faithful servant of Christ. He will give full information about Paul’s position and circumstances. This indeed is why he has spared him, so that he may comfort and strengthen the churches.
The lack of numerous greetings would seem to confirm that the Ephesian letter was intended for a wider circle.
6.23 ‘Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’
‘Peace’ was a regular greeting in Biblical times and denoted a desire for the well being of the recipient. But with regard to God it has a special significance. As light is to darkness, so peace is to evil (Isaiah 45.7). It is the ultimate good. It had become especially associated with the coming Messianic age which would be an age of ‘peace’ sealed by the ‘covenant of peace’ (Isaiah 32.17; 52.7; 54.10; 55.12; 57.19; Ezekiel 37.26; Haggai 2.9; Zechariah 9.10) presided over by the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9.6). And for the wicked there will be no peace (Isaiah 48.22; 57.20-21).
Thus ‘peace from God’ contains the idea of total well being. It includes peace with God (Romans 5.1), and the peace of God planted in the heart (Philippians 4.7). For Jesus Christ is our peace, having reconciled us to God and to each other (Ephesians 2.14-16).
‘And love, with faith.’ Love without faith is empty. Faith without love is puerile. Together they form the platform for a true life, and provide complete protection from the Enemy (1 Thessalonians 5.8), and result in an active life of goodness (1 Thessalonians 1.3).
‘From God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This links the peace from God with the Messianic promises and expresses the furthest heights of peace, love and faith. Their source is in the Father and the Son. Thus they will be peace beyond measure, love unfathomed and unchangeable, and faith unfailing.
6.24 ‘Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruptibility (immortality).’
Grace lies at the root of all. It is the undeserved, unmerited, active love of God reaching out to His own. And it is the portion of those who love the Lord Jesus Christ totally and unfailingly.
The Body of Christ
The idea of the body of Christ begins with teaching concerning the literal body of Christ. Thus when Jesus at the Last Supper took the bread and broke it and said, ‘Take, eat. This is my body.’ (Matthew 26.26). ‘Take you, this is my body.’ (Mark 14.22). ‘This is my body which is given for you, do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22.19). ‘This is my body which is for you, do this in remembrance of me’ (1 Corinthians 11.24), He was clearly pointing to His death on the cross in a physical body and equally pointing to the fact that they could nourish themselves from Him and His death. He was symbolising spiritual participation in the body of His flesh as the crucified One.
It is hardly necessary to point out that someone who was alive and well at the time could hardly have meant this to be taken literally. The bread could not be His body for He was still in His body. To claim that it was His body in a mystical sense is to make such an idea meaningless. Such a ‘mystical body’ would not be His body in any meaningful sense of the term. It would not in fact be to declare a miracle but to argue a literal and factual impossibility. It would be to play with words.
What Jesus in fact simply meant was that the bread was to be seen as representing His body symbolically, just as in the Passover, of which Jesus’ words were a parallel, the leader took bread and said ‘this is the bread of affliction which your fathers ate’. Such a person did not mean that it literally was that bread of affliction, but that it represented it, it symbolised it. What he actually meant was, ‘this is to remind you of and symbolises, and allows you to partake in, by inference, by thought transference, the bread of affliction’. Each time they ate they as it were entered into the experience of eating the bread of affliction. And in the same way each time we eat the bread at the Lord’s Table we enter by inference and by thought transference into the experience of His crucifixion, confirming that we are united with Him in His death, and united with Him in His body.
He had said earlier, ‘I am the bread of life, he who comes to Me will never hunger’ (John 6.35). Thus coming to Him was pictured here by the idea of ‘eating’ of Him. And this bread now thus signified that by coming to Him and responding to His words they were to be seen as ‘eating Him’, not in fact but in symbol. Thus when in future the people of God would eat the bread at the Lord’s Table they also would be declaring their participation by faith in Him, and in His sacrifice for them made once for all (Hebrews 10.10). They would be coming to Him afresh to declare their participation with Him in His death and to partake of His spiritual blessing. And as they came He would bless them.
This very act was an act of unity based on their representation of themselves as all partaking of the one body. In 1 Corinthians 10.17 Paul says, in the context of the Lord’s Table (Holy Communion), ‘seeing that we who are many are one bread, one body, for we all partake of the one bread.’ The stress here is on the oneness of the people of God brtought about by all partaking of the one bread. Because we eat of the one bread we are to be seen as one in Christ. Thus we are to be seen as one ‘body’, having oneness in Christ’s own body. The idea here is metaphorical, but gives a sense of oneness in Christ. However each is individual, for each must come. They are many yet one. The metaphorical nature of the words is emphasised in that he says that by participating in the bread we become the bread. No one in his right mind would take this literally or even metaphysically. Thus the body is also metaphorical. We become spiritually one body, united with Christ in His body. We become the body of Christ.
In Romans 7.4 we read that the genuine Christian has become ‘dead to the Law through the body of Christ’. The thought here is again of the death of Christ in His physical body as a sacrifice, but once more we have each Christian participating in the totality of His sacrifice, so that by faith and response to Him His death is their death. Thus their oneness in His body is again stressed. They are united with Him, by faith, in His death and in His resurrection (Romans 6.4-11), and will thus participate in the resurrection from the dead (Romans 8.11). They are made one with His body sacrificed on the cross for them, and rising again.
But when it comes to the deeds of the body it is the deeds of the individual’s body which are to be put to death, not the deeds of the whole (Romans 8.13), although the latter will in the end be the result. They are one in Him, one body in Christ, and yet each has to respond as an individual. They do not merge into each other. Each is responsible as an individual. The ‘church’ is never a solid conglomerate whole without individuality. It is made up of responding individuals. It does, of course, finally include all who truly believe in Him, but not specifically as one indivisible whole brought together under and responding to a hierarchy, but as individuals making up a whole. Each responds directly to Christ as an individual, and that is an important fact to grasp.
So while Paul sees us all as participating in the death and resurrection of Christ in one body he sees us as doing so as individuals and not just as one whole. And the same applies to the redemption of our body in 8.23. The church is seen as a totality but not as simply a corporate totality. Each individual member contributes to making up the whole. The church is not a single mass.
This is well illustrated in 1 Corinthians 6.15-17. ‘Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? God forbid. Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute is one body. For the two, says he shall become one flesh. But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.’
Membership of the body of Christ is not mentioned but is implied in ‘members of Christ’. Our bodies are members of Christ because we are in submission to and in unity with Christ, that is, because we are united with His body. But if we then with our bodies as individuals unite physically with a prostitute we become ‘one body’ with the prostitute. We take the members of Christ and make them one body with a prostitute. The idea is clearly metaphorical and not metaphysical (as well as being totally morally unacceptable).
The unity of the Christian with Christ is in fact stated here to be ‘in one Spirit’ and not literally in one physical body. It is not in one flesh like the unity with the prostitute is. So there is a crossing over from the physical to the spiritual. The point is then stressed that for each of us our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that therefore fornication is a grievous sin against our bodies as Temples of the Holy Spirit, for the Scriptural position is that we are each a sanctuary of God (1 Corinthians 6.19) and yet together make up the sanctuary of God (Ephesians 2.21). And are to protect the holiness of that sanctuary. This is then another way of presenting our oneness in Christ.
This reminds us that when we look at an illustration used in Scripture we must always ask what the writer intended to convey by it. That, and that alone, is Scriptural truth. Any expansion that we make on it is but human speculation. And there is nothing this applies to more than the description of the church as ‘the body of Christ’ which we are now to consider further, which if stretched out of context can be used to prove anything. But in this idea the idea of the church is not of some great monolithic object but of the totality of the people of God of which all are individually priests and sons of God.
The idea of ‘the body of Christ’ does not occur outside Paul’s letters, and indeed it appears in only four of them, and that with a variety of emphases. Its purpose appears to be threefold. Firstly it is to demonstrate that all that we have is ‘in Him’. We are united with His living resurrected body by faith and thus participate in all He has done for us. His body is not just made up of Christians, it includes Him Himself, and indeed finds its significance in this fact. But it does incorporate those who are united with Him. This is why Paul could speak of ‘Christ’ rather than ‘the church’ in 1 Corinthians 12.12. That is how he thought of the body. The body is Christ, and also incorporates His people. Secondly it is to demonstrate the unity yet diversity of the church. Each member is a part of the whole. It stresses the oneness of the whole, and the importance of all the parts fitting together, the contribution of each part to the whole, and yet their working each as a part of the whole. Thirdly it is to show that the church receives from Christ its sustenance and strength. Thus the emphasis is on the well-being of the body in its union with Christ
The idea of Christ as Head over His body comes later, for in 1 Corinthians the head is but one part of the body. Thus we must not allow ourselves to fall into the easy trap of seeing Him as the head and we as the body. This is not what is in Paul’s mind. The body as applied to the church includes the head. It has eyes and ears (1 Corinthians 12.16) and the head is contrasted with the feet (verse 21). Thus the body is inclusive of the head.
For the truth is that the doctrine of the Headship of Christ has rather in mind His authority and power (Ephesians 5.23), rather than signifying one part of the body, namely the head. In relation to each individual Christian He is his Head (1 Corinthians 11.3) just as the man is the head of his wife. But this can hardly mean that the one is the head and the other is the body. The man is head of his own body as well as being the ‘head’ of his wife’s body. Thus when in relation to His body Jesus is described as the ‘Head over all things’ (Ephesians 1.22), He is not being seen as just the head, in contrast with the body which is His church, but as the Head over both head and body of the body of Christ. And it is as such, and not as a bodiless head connected by the neck with its headless body, that the church are united with Him as His body. ‘The church which is His body’ does not mean His body in contrast with Himself as the head, but as accepting that the church has become one with Him in His own body (including the head) as He dies on the cross (Ephesians 2.16) and as He rises again and is exalted (Ephesians 1.19-2.10). He is the Saviour of the body, which includes a head (Ephesians 5.23) which is saved by being united with Him. The church is not to be seen as joined to Him by the neck.
This in fact could not be so for, as we have seen, initially the body is literally His body, and we are united with Him in that body. We benefit from His activity as the Head of all things, but we also benefit by our oneness with His resurrection body (including the head). We are one body with Him. Thus when we are persecuted He is persecuted (Acts 9.4).
The whole idea is metaphorical, although depicting a true spiritual unity. But there is no suggestion anywhere that it is through the church as the body that Christ reveals Himself in the world, or lives out His life in the world, as though the church were ‘Christ’s body on earth’. The concept is never used in that way. That is not the emphasis. In the New Testament such revelation of Himself is by preaching and by individual living, not by a corporate presence in ‘the body’. The body is always thought of in terms of being Christward, not earthward. Indeed in ‘the body’ we are in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1.19 - 2.10).
We will now consider this in more detail section by section. Chronologically the first passage is found in 1 Corinthians 10.17, already referred to above, where Paul says, in the context of The Lord’s Table (Holy Communion), ‘seeing that we who are many are one bread, one body, for we all partake of the one bread.’ The stress here is on the oneness of the people of God, and that oneness arises out of our connection with His one body (including the head). Because we ‘eat’ of the one bread by coming to Him (John 6.35) we are one in Christ. Thus we can be seen as one ‘bread’ and one ‘body’, having a kind of spiritual oneness with the one literal body of Christ through participating in the one bread. The idea of ‘the body’ is of identification with and oneness with Christ’s own body and of spiritual communion with Him, not of ourselves as a separate body.
This leads on to its use later in 1 Corinthians. Here the ‘body’ (including the head) is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12.12-31 in the context of the giving of spiritual gifts to the church, the people of God. The different types of gifts and their importance to the whole are described in terms of a ‘body having many parts’.
But it is first stressed that that body is Christ. Our being the body is because we participate in Christ. “For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body being many are one body, so also is Christ.” Here Christ as including His people is likened to a body which has a variety of ‘members’ or parts, each of which is important and has to play its part, and one of which is the head including its parts. (Here in 1 Corinthians the body as the church, and as Christ, clearly includes the head for it has eyes and ears (verse 16) and the head is contrasted with the feet (verse 21)).
Paul then goes on to say, “For in one Spirit were we all baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free, and were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member but many” and the differing parts of the body are then described and include the head.
Note that emphasis is placed on being ‘baptised (drenched) in one Spirit into one body and being made to drink of one Spirit’. It is the oneness of the Holy Spirit that makes His infilled people one body and conjoined with Christ in His body, and also the fact that they partake of the one Spirit, as they partook of the one bread. Thus are they one body with Him. They come to the spiritual rain that pours from Heaven and the springs of water that result. What is important here is not water baptism but its significance as indicating that the baptised person is partaking in the Holy Spirit and through doing so is being made one with Christ’s own body. Our being the body is certainly not in this instance because Christ is the head but because Christ is the body.
This is, of course, only true where the response is genuine. The Holy Spirit is not controlled by men’s ordinances, even where they follow a seemingly divinely ordained pattern. Only the person who genuinely ‘receives the Spirit’ as a result of the hearing of faith, with the signs of the working within of the power of the Spirit following, becomes a member of the body (Galatians 3.2). Those who do not ‘through the Spirit await the hope of righteousness’ are by their own attitude ‘severed from Christ’ whether baptised or not. For if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ he is none of His (Romans 8.9).
The early church would not have seen a person as necessarily having received the Spirit just because he was baptised. They baptised him because of their assumption and hope that he had received the Spirit by being converted. They looked for the response of faith and took that as the sign that men had received the Spirit.
But Paul had later to question whether the Galatians had genuinely received the Spirit. So reception of the Spirit was finally judged in other ways, not by baptism, and resulted from response to the preaching of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1.17). Once that response had taken place they baptised men because they had responded, and they accepted that because of this response of faith they would, if it was genuine (which they could not judge) receive the Spirit. And then they looked for evidence of the Spirit’s working, or the evidence that He was not working. They acknowledged that mistakes could be made (e.g. Ananias and Sapphyra - Acts 5.1-6). But they left that with God to sort out.
Some may believe that this can happen to a baptised infant but the whole of human experience is against it. Baptised infants tend to grow up the same as other infants. They do not especially evidence the signs of the Spirit’s working. Nor do they become members of the body of Christ in the Biblical sense. That can only happen through spiritual union with Christ resulting from personal response and faith. It is a spiritual state of individual cooperating members.
We have stressed here that there is no suggestion of Christ being the head and the church being ‘separate’ as the body. The body is ‘Christ’. The church, can be described as ‘Christ’ because they are ‘in Christ’ and one with Christ as described in 1 Corinthians 10.17. He and they are united as one. They are united with His body. It includes the head which is no different from the rest of the body (as evidenced by the mention of the ear and the eye, and the contrast between head and feet). And that body is composed of Christ and of all genuine Christians of all types and races. Thus the church is seen as being ‘in Christ’ through the work of the Holy Spirit and as such forming one complete body in Him, made up of many individual ‘members’. And as we have seen the description is bold. The body as a whole is actually spoken of as ‘Christ’, because it is composed of those who through the Spirit have come into oneness with His own body. Having been made one bread and one body there is total spiritual unity. There is total intimacy.
But we must beware of making of it more than is intended. We can mysticise it and go too far. It is describing the indescribable and we must therefore beware in applying it that we do not go beyond what the Scriptures teach about it. We must not read out of it more than we can find in each passage if we are to claim it as Scriptural truth.
So Paul goes on to say that in Christ the church is like a body which is made up of a multiplicity of members. We are made participators in that body by being drenched in the one Spirit. And we must each play our part in sustaining that body. For ‘now you are the body of Christ and severally members of it’ (1 Corinthians 12.27). The whole emphasis is on oneness with Christ spiritually, and the part that each member must play in the upbuilding of the whole as one with Christ. It looks inwards towards the growth of the body, not outwards towards the world, and stresses our communion with Christ. There is no thought of Christ in Heaven and we on the earth. Far from it. We are conjoined together in the closest spiritual union.
A similar idea is prominent in Romans 12.4-5. ‘For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office, so we who are many are one body in Christ and severally members one of another.’ Note that we are one body ‘in Christ’. It is because we are in Christ that we are part of His body and make up the one body. He then goes on to outline the spiritual gifts divided among the members of the church. Note the stress on the many within the one. The one body is called in to illustrate the oneness of the whole people of God in union with Christ, but is immediately shown to be composed of many individual members. This unity is ‘in Christ’ but it is illustrated in terms of the human body which reflects their position as one in Christ, working together for the good of the whole. Again the continuing thought is of close communion with Christ in His body with a view to spiritual growth.
This now brings us on to Colossians where the idea is expanded in the light of Paul’s arguments there. Here, having described the supremacy of Christ in all things pertaining to the universe (1.15-17) he adds, ‘and He is the Head of the body, the church, Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence’.
The idea here is of ‘the Head’ as being ‘Lord over’ rather than as in contrast with the body. It is in context with His Lordship over everything. Compare ‘the husband is the head of the wife as Christ also is the head of the church’ (Ephesians 4.23), where the body of both husband and wife are seen as one (the husband is not the head with the wife being the body). This is parallel with ‘and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body’ (Ephesians 1.22-23) and ‘the Head of every man is Christ (1 Corinthians 11.3). This mention of ‘the body’ out of the blue suggests that the background in 1 Corinthians was by now well known.
This interpretation is confirmed by the further description of Him as ‘the beginning’ (i.e. the source of life), ‘the firstborn from the dead’ (He Who first broke the power of death and rose and is the cause of all others rising), ‘that in all things He might have the pre-eminence’. There is not even a hint here that we should see Him as the head in contrast with the body. And everything we have previously seen is against it.
This gains some confirmation from the fact that in verse 22 we read of ‘yet now has He reconciled, in the body of His flesh through death to present you holy, and without blemish and unreproveable before Him.’ Thus it is being stressed in context that the body that is ever in mind is ‘the body of His flesh’ as now resurrected as a spiritual body and united with His people This closeness of connection supports the idea that ‘the body’ in verse 18 has the union of the church with ‘the body of Christ’ in mind.
But the case is at first seemingly different in 2.19. There we read, ‘and not holding fast the Head from Whom all the body being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increases with the increase of God.’ Is this not contrasting Christ as the head with the church as His lower body receiving its sustenance and growth from its head. I would have no quarrel with the idea as a symbol and picture, as long as it is then recognised that it is a totally different illustration from previously. However I do not think it is what Paul was meaning.
Firstly we should note that the idea of ‘the Head’ follows on immediately after the idea of worshipping angels and experiencing great visions. The Head is in contrast with these. As described in chapter 1 He is Head over all things. Here it is implied but not stated, but in Ephesians 1.22 it is clearly stated that He is ‘Head over all things’ in a context where the body of Christ is in mind. And this is as well as being the Head of the body, the church. Thus he is speaking of those who are ignoring the overall Headship of Christ in His sovereignty.
Secondly it is questionable as to whether the ancients did see all growth in the body as springing from the head. They placed great stress on other organs. The ancients did not see the head as the controlling influence over the body, they considered that lay more in the ‘heart’ and the ‘bowels’ and other similar parts of the body (Mark 2.6, 8; 3.5; Luke 24.32; Philippians 2.1; Colossians 3.12; 1 John 3.17).
Thirdly if it did mean this it would be unique usage in Scripture, except possibly for in Ephesians 4.15-16, and it would ignore the constant idea that we are united in His actual glorified body.
Thus it would be more consistent with the ideas of Paul looked at previously to see ‘the body’ as Christ’s own body within which His people are united, and the Headship as indicating Christ as the Supreme Authority from Whom all their growth comes. Either way they are one living unit. Christ, risen and with all authority in Heaven and earth, seen as over all, controlling and directing, strengthening and empowering, and we as members of His body, one with His body, responsive and obedient, ministering to each other (compare 1 Corinthians 12.20-27; Romans 12.4-8) for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. The difference is subtle, and in some ways is not vital. Either way Christ is the source of the growth and unity of the people of God and the cause of their ‘increase’. But it has its importance in ensuring that we grasp Paul’s full meaning.
The ‘incidental’ reference in Colossians 3.15 to ‘to which also you were called in one body’ shows that the idea of the body has become well established. The idea he has in mind is that they have all been united in the body of Christ by being made one with Him and they are therefore one.
We now come to the final usage of ‘the body’, in Ephesians. In 1.22-23 we read ‘And he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness (pleroma) of him who fills all in all.’
This comes in a context where the overall supremacy of Christ has been declared, finalised by ‘He put all things in subjection under His feet,’ compare Psalm 8.6. The picture is given of the great and victorious King and Overlord before whom all His subjects and His enemies humble themselves, prostrating themselves at His feet and acknowledging His lordship.
Then we read ‘And gave him to be Head over all things to the church, which is His body.’ As ‘Head over all things’, which includes all heavenly powers and all earthly powers, He is given to His ‘church’, to those whom He has called out and redeemed, those who have been united with Him in His body on the cross, to be their Head as well. They are uniquely His, and He is Head to them in a unique way. Thus in the whole scenario of existence the people of God are depicted as unique and special. For while the remainder are seen as subjects, some even as rebellious subjects, the people of God are seen as in close relation to Him becasue they are ‘His body’, united as one with Him in His body.
We can compare here the words of Paul elsewhere in Ephesians where he likens Christ’s Headship over the church to man’s headship over his wife (Ephesians 5.23). Thus the head depicts authority and close unity in that authority. But it is the two bodies merging that makes them ‘one’. Note that there is also not total merger, they are united in one but do not actually become one entity. In the same way the church have been united with Him in His body, sharing with Him in His exaltation and in His rule, and responding to His direction and control. That is why they are ‘one body’. They are His queen. They are His wife (Ephesians 5.25-27) to be presented to Him without blemish, not as the body to the head but as the one body with His body. Note how in the case of the church as the wife Paul can immediately link it with Christ’s relationship with the church in terms of their being members of His body, gliding from the one illustration to the other (5.29-30), just as husband and wife are ‘one body’ by the act of union.
‘Which is His body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all.’ Here being His body, uniting with Him in His death and resurrection, means being that which makes Him complete. Thus His people are the ‘fullness of Him Who fills all in all”. This is, of course, a paradox. He Who fills all in all surely needs no completion. Indeed all things ‘hold together’ in Him (Colossians 1.17). How then can His people be His fullness? The answer lies in the plan of redemption. Having become Man in order to redeem man He is incomplete in His body until the redeemed are gathered into His body. As representative Man He must gather in those Whom He represented. They are the fullness which will make Him whole. He died that they might be His, and they become His by being united with Him in His death and resurrection. They become His body because they are united with Him in His body.
In Ephesians 2.15 we have the idea that believing Jews and believing Gentiles are joined together as ‘one new man’. This is then connected with the body of Christ. ‘And might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.’ The ‘one body’ mentioned in Ephesians 2.16 must surely signify the actual body of Christ, crucified for us, the body of His flesh (Colossians 1.22), but is also intended to incorporate something of the idea of 2.15, the ‘one body’ also representing the ‘one new man’, recognising that we were ‘crucified with Christ’ in His body (Galatians 2.20). Once again the emphasis is on oneness, union with Him. So we are His body as identified with Him in His body of flesh on the cross. This is confirmed in 3.6 where the Gentiles are said to be ‘fellow-heirs, fellow-members of the body, fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel’.
Mention of the body comes again in Ephesians 4.4, where the emphasis is on ‘the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (verse 3). Then Paul says ‘there is one body, and one Spirit, even as also you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (4.3-6). Here all the other examples refer to that which is not itself the church but part of its essential foundations and make up. So to be consistent and in order to tie in with these comparisons, this ‘one body’ must refer to the one body of His flesh, His body, in which His people are united.
Then he goes on to outline those gifted people who have been provided ‘for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of the ministry, unto the building up of the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (4.12-13). Once again the emphasis in the use of the term ‘body’ is on the building up of the body to a full faith and knowledge of Christ, indeed to full Christ-likeness as one full-grown man, and that body is one with Christ’s body. This is clearly metaphorical and spiritual, not metaphysical. The blurring of individuals is never in mind as is clear constantly throughout. Individual responsibility is central to the Christian message.
He then adds, ‘But speaking the truth in love may grow up in all things into Him Who is the Head, even Christ, from Whom the whole body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in due measure of each several part, makes the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love’ (4.15-16).
At first sight this seems to be the clearest example of the idea of Christ as the head connected to a body and yet distinct from that body and providing for the needs of the body. But its use in 5.23 on and elsewhere suggests otherwise even here. There Christ as the Head of the church is the Saviour of the body, Someone active to deliver. And the church is subject to Christ as a wife is to her husband, and this is likened to a husband’s position with regard to his wife. The husbands are to love their wives ‘as their own bodies’, in other words as much as their own bodies and as if they were their own bodies, and by uniting their two bodies they then become ‘one flesh’. There is no suggestion that the husband is the head, being connected to the wife as the body. So we are justified as seeing in this the position whereby through uniting with Christ the people of God become united with His body and thus are His body.
Even here therefore we have to question whether the idea is of Christ as the head and we as the body as two separate parts of one whole, and this obtains confirmation from the fact that ‘the Head’ is separated from what follows by ‘even Christ’. He is the Head, but the body of which Paul is speaking is His body with which His people are made one. Unlike in Colossians he does not want to move directly from the Head to what is done in the body. (Perhaps rereading that letter warned him of the danger). This would suggest that the idea of the Headship of Christ is thus maintained as the One Who is over the body as its Head and Overlord. And it is specifically Himself as the whole Body, rather than just as the Head Who unites and sustains the body, in which they are one body in Him, conjoined with Him in His body. They are ‘members of His body, in union with His body’ (5.30), and as its Head He is its Saviour and Overlord.
So Christ is the Head of the church as the husband is the head of his wife stressing His position in authority. In relation to the body He is its Saviour (5.23).
We may sum up therefore by recognising that the idea of the church as ‘the body of Christ’ has nothing to do with the behaviour of the church in the world or towards the world (except indirectly) but everything to do with its union with Him in His death and resurrection. The church, the people of God, are His because they are ‘in Christ’, because by His Spirit they have been made One with Him, and the whole emphasis behind this is that this results in the growth and development of the body as each member plays his part in the whole. The emphasis in the idea of the one body is on spiritual unity with Christ, and the benefit of the whole, and their oneness is with Christ Himself. It is inward looking not outward looking. The idea behind ‘the body of Christ’ is Christ in union with His people enabling their growth in Him, not Christ through His people revealing Himself to the world.
It may be said, ‘but surely Paul could not in Colossians and Ephesians mention Jesus as the head and the church as the body without associating the two in comparison with the human make-up?’ It is, of course, possible that the connection was to some extent there in his mind. But if so it is never specifically spelled out, and it is reasonable to argue that he was well aware that to do so would be confusing, for to him the Headship of Christ meant Lordship and Sovereignty and could not be debased to a subservient function. And the unity of Christ and His people in one body was equally a part of his thinking so that he was unlikely to move from that to another position for the sake of a good illustration. And this is confirmed by the subtle changes that took place in Ephesians, as his thought developed, in contrast with Colossians.
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