The Doctrine of the church
or the creation of the Body of Christ
The letter to the Ephesian church was written by Paul from prison in Rome around A.D. 60. He reminds his readers of this imprisonment three times in this epistle. In Ephesians 3:1 he calls himself “the prisoner of Christ Jesus”; in 4:1 the “prisoner of the Lord”; and in 6:20 “an ambassador in chains.” Paul, though held prisoner by the Roman government, always views himself as the prisoner of the Lord. Paul views life from the perspective of the sovereignty of God. He was the prisoner of Christ, not the prisoner of Nero. Prison was no disadvantage to Paul; indeed it gave him opportunity to reﬂect deeply upon the nature of the church and its relationship to Christ, its head. His three most Christological books, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, are all prison epistles, making it clear that Paul had his greatest insight into the person of Christ under these conditions.
THE TRINITY EXTOLLED 1:1-21
GREETINGS TO THE READERS 1:1-2
The first two verses of Ephesians follow the ancient custom of letter writing. The name and title (or office) of the sender is identi- fied first, followed by the names of the recipients, and then a salu- tation directed to them. The skeletal formula is “X to Y, greeting.” Any of the three elements may be expanded, depending upon the circumstances. In the New Testament, this secular form of address is embellished with distinctively Christian truths. For example, notice that reference to Jesus Christ is found in each of the three elements found here. Each feature of the address found here in the opening words of this epistle finds parallel in Paul’s other letters.
Paul was a unique instrument of God in many ways. First, he was unique in the way he was saved. Unlike others, no human instru- ment was utilized to instruct Paul concerning the nature of the gospel; the risen Christ appeared to him and taught him the gospel directly (Galatians 1:11-12). Second, Paul played a distinctive role in the explanation of the nature and function of the church, God’s “mystery” (Ephesians 3:1-13). As Moses stood in special relation- ship to Israel, so Paul stood in unique relationship to the church. Paul held the office of apostle, a transliterated Greek word
meaning one sent forth. The word always implies a sender and pos- session of credentials on the part of the one sent. It is used in a special sense in the New Testament to designate a special represen- tative of Jesus Christ following His resurrection. Apostles were bona fide messengers of divine revelation to the church. The word marks Paul as an accredited envoy of Christ. The title stresses the authority of the sender and the accountability of the one sent.
The noun apostle is buttressed by two phrases. The first is of Jesus Christ, showing who Paul officially represented; the second is by the will of God, exhibiting the authority by which he represented Him. The exact phrase is also found in I Corinthians 1:1,
II Corinthians 1:1, Colossians 1:1 and II Timothy 1:1. Paul was keenly aware of his calling, and his personal desires were lost in the will of God. This made Paul the prisoner the freest man in the Roman Empire, for man’s true freedom lies in the cheerful accep- tance of God’s will as his own. The fullest commentary on the words “apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God” is found in Galatians 1:1 and Romans 1:1, 5.
Paul usually opens his letters by addressing the organized body, (“the church at Corinth, Colossae, etc.”) but here simply addresses the saints. This universal form of address fits the scope of his letter. The teaching of Ephesians does not deal with local situations but rather addresses the needs and proclaims the wealth of the entire body of Christ, both then and now.
The word saint is the characteristic designation of a Christian in the New Testament, occurring first in Acts 9:13. The word signifies one set apart for God. The emphasis is not on moral or spiritual quality but upon the idea of purposeful possession. This is difficult for us to perceive since we have a hard time separating the word saint from a halo. It is a prominent designation in Ephesians and is found in 1:1, 15, 18; 2:19; 3:8, 18; 4:12; 5:3, and 6:18.
In each of the above occurrences, the noun is plural. Saints comprise a class of people who reside on this earth but bear a special relationship to the Lord as belonging to Him and living for Him. Every chapter in Ephesians addresses this privileged group. The root from which the word comes is the same as for the words sanctify and holy.
The prepositional phrase in Christ is the most fundamental expression in the New Testament for what it means to be a Christian. Grammatically, the designation Christ is in the locative case; and it would therefore be correct to say “in union with Christ.” The expression is used thirty-five times in Ephesians. Our union with Christ is our only hope of a standing with God (Romans 8:1) and never changes nor is ever lost. The implications of this union are discovered only in the word of God and are unre- lated to our feelings and emotions.
Those who are in Christ are described as faithful. This word may have an active meaning, to be trusting, or a passive meaning, to be trustworthy and dependable. Both ideas are probably present here. One obtains a position in Christ by trusting Him (active idea), and one who is in Christ should be trustworthy and dependable (pas- sive idea).
The threefold designation, saints, faithful, and in Christ Jesus, gives us a complete description of those to whom Paul writes. As saints, they are part of a divine society; as faithful, they are moved by devotion to Christ; and as being in Christ, they find Him to be their source of life, vitality, and unity.
This is Paul’s fundamental greeting. While grace and peace were words of common usage and courtesy, they are elevated to a much higher significance in the New Testament epistles. The order of grace and peace never varies; it is always grace first, followed by peace. This has great doctrinal significance: There is no peace with God apart from the grace of God. Grace is the fountain from which peace flows. In his writings, Paul prefixes the characteristic bless- ing of the Old Testament (peace) with the characteristic blessing of the New Testament (grace).
In the salutations of Paul, Christ is always united with the Father. This is consistent with Paul’s teaching concerning the equal nature of the Father and the Son. The Son is no less deity than the Father, and neither can be honored in disjunction (John 5:23).
A Textual Note
The words at Ephesus are left out of the Chester Beatty papyrus (P46), which is the oldest text of Paul’s epistles, dating around A.D. 200. They are also omitted in two very old manuscripts, Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. If these words are not part of the original text, then this epistle should be considered a circular letter, or an encyclical. In this case, verse 1 reads “. . .to the saints which are at and faithful. . .,” with the blank to be filled in by each church that receives the letter.
PRAISE TO THE GODHEAD 1:3-14
Ephesians 1:3-14 is the greatest doxology of the Bible and the longest sentence in the Greek New Testament. The entire book of Ephesians is trinitarian in nature, addressing the Father (1:3-6), the Son (1:7-12), and the Spirit (1:13-14). Each ascription of praise is neatly marked off by the words “to the praise of. . .” (1:6, 12, and 14).
What is a doxology? A doxology is an utterance of praise. The word itself is a compound made up of the Greek word dokeo (doke÷w), which means to think, to believe, to have an opinion, and the word logos (lo÷goß), which means teaching or doctrine. An opinion that results in praise may be subjective or objective. If subjective, it tells how we feel about something, whether true to fact or not. If objective, it reflects an opinion that is true to fact. The praise found here is of that type; it contains no flattery or false perception.
To the Praise of the Father 1:3-6a
The Father’s Relationship to the Son 1:3a “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ….”
The Greek word translated blessed (eujloghto÷ß = eulogatos) is used exclusively of God the Father and God the Son in the New Testament. It is applied to the Father in Mark 14:61, Luke 1:68, Romans 1:25, II Corinthians 1:3. It is applied to the Son as Messiah in Romans 9:5. Since it refers to one who is blessed on the basis of personal merit, it is not surprising to learn it is never used of man. The word designates one who alone is worthy of worship and could be translated “Praise be to the God and Father. . . .” We bless God when we attribute to Him the honor due His name.
While it is true that men and women are said to be blessed as when Elizabeth said to Mary, “Blessed among women are you. . .” (Luke 1:42), a different word is used. The verb blessed (eujloge÷w = eulogeo) in the participial form means blessing received by one rather than blessing due to one.
What relationship is meant when Jesus is spoken of as having a God and Father? Does this mean that Christ is less than God? Does this mean the Father is superior to the Son?
In answering this question, one should recall the following. To be the Father of Christ is to hold a unique relationship to Him— one known by no other. The origin of this idea probably comes from Jesus’ own words spoken in John 20:17 where He tells Mary to stop clinging to Him and to go tell the other disciples, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, My God and your God.” Jesus distinguished between God as His Father and God as their Father, between His God and their God. Unique relationship is the point
He is making. For Jesus to call God His Father was a claim to deity. Even His enemies understood this as can be seen in John 5:18 where we read, “For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.”
The designation Father points to the order of the Trinity. It has nothing to do with superior character or nature. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist as equal in nature, but subordinate in function.
The Father’s Relationship to the Believer 1:3b-6 “. . . who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. 5In love He pre- destined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, accord- ing to the kind intention of His will, 6to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”
THE RELATIONSHIP IN TERMS OF BLESSING 1:3B
The participle blessed is different than the word blessed that opens verse 3. The lat- ter refers to the Father who merited blessing, but here the word refers to one who has received blessing. It is not something we anticipate receiving, it is some that has already happened to us.
The words in Christ strike the keynote of the book of Ephesians. By virtue of our union with Christ, we are a blessed company. These blessings are described as spiritual for two reasons. First, blessing in the Old Testament was often material in nature. Paul, therefore, wishes to show the contrast with the blessings of the church age. Second, the word spiritual points to their source in the Holy Spirit. The word spiritual (pneumatiko÷ß = pneumatikos) occurs about twenty-four times in the New Testament. In each case the word implies the working of the Holy Spirit. The word every probably means spiritual blessing in every conceivable form.
The expression in the heavens occurs five times in Ephesians. The logic is this: Jesus Christ died, was buried, was raised, and ascended to heaven and is now seated at the Father’s right hand. Since we are in (union with) Christ, we are seated where He is, that is, in heaven. This position puts the believer in the forefront of five spheres.
We are in the forefront of the sphere of blessing (1:3).
We are in the forefront of the sphere of power (1:20).
We are in the forefront of the eternal sphere (2:6-7).
We are at the forefront of God’s display of wisdom (3:10).
We are at the forefront of the lines of spiritual battle (6:12).
We will look at the significance of each of these as we come to them in the exposition of this epistle.
THE RELATIONSHIP IN TERMS OF SELECTION 1:4A
The words just as introduce the amplification and explanation of the thought found in verse 3. They describe the manner in which we have been blessed. The action of the Father is expressed by the verb He chose. Selection is the fundamental aspect of all God’s working. The Old Testament centers about God’s chosen people and nation, Israel. The choice of Israel was not intended to eliminate the salvation ofothers; its purpose was to mediate salvation to all through a select- ed people.
I have chosen to use the word select rather than elect because it seems to carry a more personal idea. This is justified by the use of the middle voice, which points to action taken by God that benefits Himself. We could say, God “selected for Himself.” The verb is never used of random or arbitrary choice; it is always choice with
a worthy purpose or goal in mind.
The verb chosen is connected to the words in Him. Most exposi-tions of Ephesians seem to overlook this prepositional phrase.Jesus Christ is in heaven; we are in Christ; we are therefore also in heaven; that is, we share His position. Further, Jesus Christ is the Father’s eternally chosen One; we are in Christ; we are therefore also eternally chosen; that is, we share His selection. This act of God does not violate human volition of its innate properties.
The words before the foundation of the world should be considered in connection with similar Pauline expressions in I Corinthians 2:7, before the ages, and I Timothy 1:9, from all eternity. In each case, they point to a divine action that occurs apart from time and history. Each phrase points to a divine action taken in eternity. The believer’s security rests in a love that will never end as well as a love that never began!
The word foundation (katabolh÷ = katabole) means laying down in the sense of founding or establishing. It is used eleven times in the New Testament, and each occurrence clearly denotes the creation of the universe.
We should humbly admit the limitations of our human understanding when facing such profound truths as election. It is easy to take the path of human logic and engage in speculation of a purely intellectual nature. Paul immediately stops such pursuit with the word that we should be (ei™nai = einai), an infinitive of design, intent, and purpose. It urges us to focus on the practical purpose of God’s elective grace.
THE RELATIONSHIP IN TERMS OF PURPOSE 1:4B-6
Paul does not deal with the mystery of our selection; he deals with the purpose of our selection. The word holy is the same as the word saints in verse 1. Verse 1 tells us what we are; verse 3 tells us what we are to become as a result of God’s loving and eternal choice. Realization of the purpose for which God has set us apart has three phases: the act
of setting apart, the process of setting apart, and the culmination of the setting apart. These three phases of salvation are often expressed in the following way. First, we have positional sanctifi- cation (I Corinthians 1:2); second, we have experiential sanctifica- tion (Ephesians 4:1; I Thessalonians 4:3); third, we have ultimate sanctification (I John 3:1-3).
God’s moral purpose for His children is expressed positively and negatively by the words holy and blameless. These two nouns are linked together here and in 5:27 and in Colossians 1:22. The word blameless has four applications. First, it applies to Christ
Himself (Hebrews 9:14, I Peter 1:19); second, to the church in her glorified state (Ephesians 5:27); to believers at the end of the age (II Peter 3:14, Jude 24); and finally, to believers now (Philippians
2:15). The words before Him mean in His sight. This word also described the requirement for the sacrificial animals in the Old Testament. A verb form of this word was a technical term for the examination of sacrificial animals for blemishes.
What is the connection of the words in love? King James ver- sion connects it to the words before Him and thus gives us “before Him in love.” New American Standard Bible ends verse 4 with the words before Him. It then begins a new sentence with the words In love. This punctuation connects in love to the verb predestined in verse 5. Thus we have “In love He predestined us. . . . ” This seems to be the best connection. It introduces the loving motivation behind the act of predestination, which is the correct view of this doctrine.
It is important to note that there is no “negative predestination” taught in the word of God. That is, the Bible does not teach that men are predestined to hell. The word predestined (proori÷zw= proorizo) means to mark out beforehand. We were marked out, not before others but before time. The positive aspect of predestination is adoption as sons. Here we have a single Greek word (uiJoqesiva = uiothesia) that is used only by Paul in the New Testament. He speaks of it five times: Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5. Under Roman law, an adopted son had the status and the privileges and responsibilities of a natural born son. The word involves much more than being placed in a family; it refers to all the privileges of a full grown son. As the last chapters of Ephesians will show, the privilege of sons should result in the character of sons.
This great position given to us is designed to bring glory to Him who put us in this position. The verb He freely bestowed (carito÷w = charitoo) means to bestow favor on and is the verb form of the noun grace. We could say He “begraced” us. The words in the Beloved introduce a paean of praise to the Son. This is the only place in the New Testament where the word beloved is applied to Christ as a perfect passive participle. It points to an emphatic affir- mation of love.
To the Praise of the Son 1:6b-12
The Beloved 1:6b
The focus is on the Son in verses 7-12. However, the participle Beloved in verse 6 serves as a transitional title. It is in the perfect tense, which points to a full and final bestowal of love. The passive voice marks off Jesus as the object of the Father’s love—a love bestowed on the Son permanently and without reserve. The same idea is expressed in Colossians 1:13 where Paul speaks of God’s beloved Son. The title beloved is applied to Israel as God’s chosen people in the Septuagint translation.
The meaning of this bestowal is found in the words spoken by the Father at Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1:11 and at the
transfiguration, as recorded in Matthew 17:5. It recognizes Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah of the Old Testament.
The Redemption 1:7-8a “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, 8which He lavished upon us.”
Paul itemizes some of the blessings of the bestowal spoken of in verse 6. The Ephesians were acquainted with the Greek-Roman practice of redemption wherein slaves were freed by payment of a ransom. However, Paul is not speaking of the practice of redemp- tion in a general sense because the word redemption found here car- ries a definite article with it. It is the redemption of which there is no other and which stands in solitary eminence. The word redemp- tion (ajpolu÷trwsiß = apolutrosis) denotes deliverance brought about by payment of a ransom. It frequently means to release (Hebrews 11:25). Paul uses it seven times in his writings (Romans 3:24, 8:23; I Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 1:7, 14, 4:30; and Colossians 1:14). When the word is used in a doctrinal context, it always implies a previous condition of slavery from which man could not extricate himself.
Lest we associate the price of redemption with mundane things, Paul attaches the phrase through His blood. Blood shedding consistently refers to a violent death, pointing to the agony and suffering of the cross. The blood of the sinless Son of God, upon whom the law of God had no claim, was the substitutionary pay- ment that satisfied the righteous claims of God upon the sinner.
Redemption and forgiveness are inseparably linked. Jesus best expressed this fact when He said, “For this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28).” The word forgiveness (a¡fesiß = aphesis) carries three basic meanings. First, it may mean to leave as in Matthew 3:36. Second, it may be used in the legal sense of divorce as in I Corinthians 7:11. Finally, it may mean to abandon as in Matthew 6:56. The idea of separation runs through all the meanings.
Applied in a doctrinal sense, forgiveness means release from the sin that binds man. Redemption is the release of man from that which God’s law imposes upon him, i.e., the guilt and penalty of sin, so that our liability to punishment is removed. The remission is full and includes all past sin and makes provision for all future sin. The verb we have is present tense, meaning we are continually having it. Every day sees it applied in the life of the one who is in
Christ. That which we always need is what we always have.
As used by Paul, redemption is an objective accomplishment of the death of Christ. It assumes the guilt of all men and the effectiveness of Christ’s death in dealing with that guilt. It is always a divine provision, never a human attainment.
Redemption is grounded solely in Christ (Romans 3:24), and has nothing to do with the merits or demerits of man. It has been put this way: “The offended died to set the offenders free.” Our release from the penalty of sin is to our advantage but is not due to our merit. This redemption is so deeply rooted in Christ that He not only is the provider of redemption but He Himself is our redemp- tion (I Corinthians 1:30).
The words in Him at the beginning of verse 7 mean that only those who are in union with Christ have had made effective in them the redemption that Christ provided for them.
The word riches (ploutoß = ploutos) is a word Paul loves to speak when referring to the assets of the believer (1:7, 18; 2:4, 7; 3:8,
16). The verb lavished expresses a profound truth: The Lord’s for- giveness is as rich as its procurement was costly. The infinite cost of salvation brought equally infinite results. God’s unspeakable gift responds to our bankrupt state with wealth that knows no limits.
The Revelation 1:8b-10
“In all wisdom and insight 9He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth.”
The word mystery (musth÷rion = mustarion) introduces a major thought in Paul’s teaching. It occurs here for the first time and is repeated in 3:3-4, 9, 5:32, and 6:19. The same word is found in Colossians 1:26-27, 2:2, and 4:3. Its meaning in the New Testament is clear: A mystery is something hitherto concealed but now revealed. It is not something unknowable but something unknown until revealed. It shows that God has his own “pace” in biblical revelation. It was not until Paul that God chose to give full revela- tion concerning the church. Paul summarizes his thought here and gives details later.
The fruition of God’s gracious plan is in Christ, which will lead to an administration (oijkonomi÷a = oikonomia). This word is found nine times in the New Testament. Its basic meaning refers to house- hold management, as in Luke 16:1-2. It extends beyond this to the idea of the divine arrangement of things in the universe. It repre- sents the culmination of God’s program of history. The centrality of Christ extends beyond the human race, beyond the earth, and assumes cosmic dimensions. All things are to be put under the Lordship of Christ (I Corinthians 15:24-28, Philippians 2:10-11). The verb summing up comes from a noun that means a summary or a grand total.
The Inheritance 1:11-12 “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.”
The words in Him point once more to Christ as the source of salva- tion. John Owen once spoke of the love of God that “flows from the heart of the Father through the blood of the Son.” The literal translation “we were made a heritage” is more accurate. It brings out the meaning of the passive voice of the verb showing the subject is acted upon. The verb is from the word lot, which is used in Deuteronomy 32:9 where we read, “The Lord’s portion is His people….” In verse five believers are said to be foreordained to the adoption as sons, and now we are said to be foreordained to be part of the Lord’s lot—His inheritance. It was part of God’s eternal purpose to gather a people for His name who would be His special possession. That God works all things after the counsel of His will means what He decrees He brings to pass. Because of His sovereign control of all things, God is able to cause all things to work together to accomplish His purpose. This includes sin and evil, even though they stand in total contrast to His perfect holiness. The supreme example of this sovereign ability is displayed by the cross of Christ where the most heinous of man’s sins, the crucifixion of Jesus, was the instrument of God’s glorious plan of salvation.
It should be noted that those spoken of in verses 11-12 are Jewish Christians. The words first to hope in Christ refer to the truth that it was the Jew who was first given the Messianic hope, with Gentiles entering the picture later. The noun Christ is preceded by the definite article the. This points specifically to those Jews who recognized Jesus as the Messiah prior the the conversion of Gentiles. Paul uses the pronoun we in these two verses but in verse 13 reaches out to gentile believers with the words you also. How the Jew and Gentile are now united in one body is explained in chapter two.
To the Praise of the Spirit 1:13-14
The Message of the Gospel 1:13a “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation…”
You also is intended to remind Gentiles that they are fully part of the body of Christ. These have heard the message of truth, literally, “the word of truth.” This refers to the integrity of the message; it is a message that tells truth because it is derived from the source of all truth. The word of truth is the means of the new birth (James
1:18), the means of sanctification (John 17:17), and the expression of hope (Colossians 1:5). The words gospel of your salvation can also mean the gospel that effects salvation as in Romans 1:16.
The Guarantee of the Gospel 1:13b-14 “…having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.”
Hearing, believing, and salvation were followed by the immediate work of the Holy Spirit expressed by two colorful metaphors.
THE “SEAL” METAPHOR
A seal was used to accomplish several purposes. First, it was affixed to a document to guarantee its gen- uineness. Second, it was placed on goods in transit to indicate own- ership and insure protection. Third, it represented a designation of office in state service. Summarized, a seal guaranteed, protected, and designated.
Our union with Christ is secured by the sealing of the Holy Spirit. We are placed in Christ and then sealed in Him—a kind of double security.
THE “PLEDGE” METAPHOR
The mention of a pledge (ajrrabw¿n = arrabon) gives further expression to the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation. Genesis 38:17-20 provides an excellent example of the meaning of the word. Judah gave Tamar, his daughter-in-law, arti- cles of personal property to guarantee a delivery of “a kid from the flock.” Verses 17, 18, and 20 use the word pledge to describe this guarantee. The LXX uses the same word as that in Ephesians 4:13. The term is borrowed from the commercial world and means a deposit or first installment. It is the modern Greek word for an engagement ring. It was a token payment made to assure the ven- dor that the purchase would be completed. It placed one under legal obligation to complete the purchase. The Holy Spirit is the first installment guaranteeing our inheritance.
The word possession (peripoi÷hsiß = peripoiasis) refers to some- thing acquired for oneself and thus kept safe and secure. The Septuagint uses it in Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2, 26:18; Psalm 134:4, and Malachi 3:17.
INTERCESSION FOR THE SAINTS 1:15-21
Its Cause 1:15-16
“For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints, 16do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers…”
The words for this reason are often used by Paul in transitioning to a new paragraph and a new idea. It always looks back to previous statements. We could translate “with all this in mind” (the words of 1:3-14). Here it is used to introduce his intercession for the Ephesian believers. Two great facts move Paul to prayer. First, Paul is motivated by the divine expenditure of grace spoken of in 1:3-14. Second, his intercession was triggered by the work of God’s grace in the hearts of the Ephesian believers as was being evi- denced by their faith and love.
The words I too (kajgw¿ = kago) seem to imply that someone is joining Paul in his prayer. However, one searches in vain for who this might be. Therefore, Paul may well mean he too, even though a Jew who might be inclined to protect the privileges of his people, finds a delight in gentile inclusion in these great privileges.
Paul consistently manifested a concern for his new converts that was relieved only by news of their continued spiritual progress. I Thessalonians 3:5-8 is a detailed statement of this concern. Paul was never satisfied with the present spiritual attainments of his converts or his readers—or of himself, for that matter. He always prays them on to new heights. The first quality of the growing Christian is faith. The expression faith in the Lord Jesus is specific in its meaning. The preposition in (ejn = en) refers to the believer’s moorings, his roots, his anchor. It is this faith that causes Paul to give them the appellation faithful in verse 1.
The second quality of the growing Christian is love. Faith and love are often associated together in the writings of Paul (Colossians 1:4, Philemon 5, I Thessalonians 1:3). This love is not general, as in love to all men, but specific, for all the saints. Common faith begets common affection
Thanksgiving is a moral quality. We tend to view expressions of thanksgiving as a matter of etiquette. However, passages such as Romans 1:21 name the two great moral flaws of man: Man does not honor God or give thanks. Both characteristics are missing in man’s nature; whenever they appear, it is due to the working of God’s grace. Paul’s thanks for them looks back in time; his intercession looks forward in time.
When Paul uses the expression making mention of you, he reiterates a recurring theme at the beginning of Paul’s letters (Romans 1:8, I Corinthians 1:4, Philippians 1:3, Colossians 1:3, I Thessalonians 1:2, II Thessalonians 1:3, and Philemon 4). The expression suggests that those for whom Paul interceded were actually named before God. Paul bore the names of believers on his heart in fervent and repeated prayer.
While this type of expression has been found in secular contexts, referring to a desire for the physical health of another, Paul elevates it to the highest point—desire for the spiritual growth of others.
Its Content 1:17-19a
In General 1:17
“…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” The term Father of glory has no direct parallel anywhere else in Scripture. It bears some resemblance to “Lord of glory” (I Corinthians 2:8) or “King of glory” (Psalm 24:7). The genitive of glory stresses the characterizing quality of the Father. We could paraphrase for meaning by saying “the Father with whom glory is always present.”
Wisdom is insight into the true nature of things—a spiritual depth perception. It means one has a sense of what is fitting; the ability to coordinate and use knowledge properly. The word revelation is a correlative of the word mystery in verse 9. See Ephesians 3:3, 5 where this fact is made clear. The mystery has been revealed, and Paul is going to explain the revelation in this letter. The revelation of God’s word is the material that makes wisdom possible. The Bible, God’s revelation, is wisdom inscripturated. The word knowledge is an intensive form that stresses full and accurate knowledge. It is an understanding acquired through personal acquaintance. The verb may give shows that the discernment that Paul desires for his readers to have does not depend on their own innate capabilities but is rather a free gift of God.
In Particular 1:18-19a “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.”
The expression eyes of your heart is a metaphor for inner awareness. Hope, as often understood in English, refers to that which we anticipate having but possess no assurance that we will get. In the Bible, hope does not refer to that which is uncertain but to that which is future. Hope is the future aspect of our salva- tion viewed as a certainty. It involves a completion (Romans 8:23); and a conformity (I John 3:1-2).
The believer’s calling has past, present, and future aspects. The call has already taken place (II Timothy 1:9); and yet at the same time, it is an ongoing call (I Thessalonians 2:12; 5:24). It has a future aspect since the return of the Lord is called our blessed hope (Titus 2:13).
The words riches of the glory occur four places in the writings of Paul. In each instance the riches of His glory are extend- ed to the totally unworthy. In Romans 9:23 they are extended to vessels of mercy; in Ephesians 1:18 to saints; in 3:16 to you; and in Colossians 1:27 to Gentiles.
Paul is the only New Testament writer to use the word surpassing (ujperba÷llw = huperballo). Literally, the word means to cast beyond, to go beyond and thus to outdo oneself. It is used three times in Ephesians to describe the power extended to us in Christ (Ephesians 1:19), the grace extended to us in Christ (Ephesians 2:7), and the love extended to us in Christ (Ephesians 3:19). Paul uses the word two other places (II Corinthians 3:10, 9:14). Not content to use this superlative word, Paul presses on with synonym after synonym to describe the greatness of God’s power.
Its Explanation 1:19b-21
“These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all
rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come.”
Paul ransacks the Greek vocabulary for synonyms for power. In our translation, power (du÷namiß = dunamis) means capability or potential; working (ejne÷rgeia = energeia) means effective or operational power; strength (kra÷toß = kratos) means resistance and control; might (ijscu÷ß = ischus) means inherent or vital power.
Paul is not satisfied with the use of words to describe the great- ness of God’s power for he moves on to the great event wherein the ultimate demonstration of power is manifested. When New Testament writers wish to express the greatness of God’s love, they point to the death of Christ (Romans 5:8); but when they wish to express the greatness of His power, they point to His resurrection and exaltation into the place of highest authority. And it is very important that believers should understand this power because it is also the power that works within us (Ephesians 3:20). The believer needs to know the resources at his disposal. The power available is not a bubbling stream but a surging river of life capable of sweep- ing away all things that would hinder its flow. Paul prays that he himself might come to know Christ and the power of His resurrection (Philippians 3:10). It is not the power of a clenched fist but that of a pierced hand that rules the universe.
The imagery used here is spatial—at His right hand, in heaven, and far above. These expressions focus on the ideas of exalted authority, not physical location or outer space. God not only raised His Son from the grave but exalted Him to the throne. Likewise, far above indicates superiority. The word name in verse 21 includes descriptive titles and thus could be interpreted “every title that can be given.”
This forms a theme in the preaching of Peter in the book of Acts. On the day of Pentecost, Peter proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus to be the fulfillment of Psalm 16:10 and His enthronement as the fulfillment of Psalm 110:1. He then concluded that this was irrefutable evidence that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 2:25-36).
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