Prayer, Power, Plenitude, 1. 15 to 2. 10
John Heading, Aberystwyth
Having dealt with the elevated truth of the counsel, purpose and will of God, stretching from the eternal past to the eternal future, Paul writes, "Wherefore". Such truth must lead to the practical exercises of thanksgiving and prayer. For Paul wanted his readers to enter into the power and fullness of this truth, because he had heard of their faith and love. Of course, Paul knew of the faith and love of the Ephesians themselves, since he had been with them for three years. But there were others in Asia who had also heard the word of the Lord Jesus, Acts 19. 10, living in places that Paul had not previously visited; see Col. 1. 4. He was also interested in them. This should lead us to examine our own interests in the spiritual wellbeing of other assemblies.
Hence Paul ceased not "to give thanks for you", v. 16. How typical of the apostle, whether in prison or when at liberty! Note the words "always" and "without ceasing" in 1 Thess. 1. 2-3; 1 Cor. 1. 4; Col. 1. 3; 2 Tim. 1.3. The exercises of Paul in his prayers and thanksgivings can provide much material for prayer meetings which sometimes may become dull and hesitant. The first prayer in Eph. 1. 17-23 is that the readers might understand the power of God; it ends with a rehearsal of doctrine, vv. 20-23. The second prayer, found in 3. 16-21, is that the readers might understand the love of Christ: it ends with a doxology.
Paul prays to "the Father of glory", namely the Source of glory; this title should be compared with the Name that Stephen used, "the God of glory", Acts 7. 2. The former relates to the church, the latter to the commencement of the nation of Israel.
The First Prayer, 1.17-23. The apostle prays that the spiritual knowledge of the Ephesians should rest only in "the spirit of wisdom and revelation" granted by the Father. The highest truth cannot be acquired by means of the flesh; the saints must grasp it by spiritual means. Its fulness is not received at the time of conversion, but results from subsequent development into maturity. Enlightenment is granted to "the eyes of your understanding", or to "the eyes of your heart" more accurately. The inner personality takes in the spiritual light of truth revealed in the Word. This light falls upon them, unlike the Pharisees who remained blind, John 9. 39-41. Paul then writes of three aspects of this enlightenment.
(i) "The hope of his calling"-the "hope of your calling" in Eph. 4. 4. In other words, the Father is the Source, and we are the recipients. The calling derives from the past, and the hope extends to the future.
(ii) "His inheritance in the saints", 1. 18. This is similar to Acts 20. 32, "an inheritance among all them which are sanctified", and to 26. 18, "inheritance among them that are sanctified".
(iii) To know the divine power in resurrection, Eph. 1. 19. This is not just pious doctrine, as ch. 2 will show, for this same power is available to the Lord's people. Before speaking of the divine power in the resurrection of Christ, the apostle clearly states that this power is "to us-ward who believe".
Paul piles on words to show this exceeding greatness. The four different words "power, working, mighty, power" in verse 19 all carry specific shades of meaning which can only be grasped when a dictionary is used, and when the usage of these words elsewhere in the N.T. is assessed with a concordance. But here are words that express the totality of divine ability, superior to all opposition and all resistance. Thus, for example, the word for "mighty" is used in Acts 19. 20, when "mightily grew the word of God and prevailed" in Ephesus.
In verse 19, this power is to "us-ward", but in verse 20 it refers to the resurrection and ascension of Christ- from the lowest point in death to the heights of the throne in the heavenlies; cf. Phil. 2. 8-11. No man saw this power in operation; in the resurrection accounts witnesses saw only the results of it; they saw that the stone had been rolled away, they felt the earthquake, they saw the Risen Lord, they saw the cloud receive Him out of their sight. The "right hand" signifies a place of dignity, authority and exaltation. In keeping with Psalm 110. 1, He "sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high", Heb. 1. 3. This latter verse refers to an actual position, but "the heavenlies" refers to its character, namely, a heavenly throne in contrast to an earthly one.
This status and authority of Christ far exceeds "all principality, and power, and might, and dominion". In Colossians 1. 16, Paul adds "in heaven ... in earth, visible and invisible". So these four ideas can refer to good and bad, human or spiritual beings, present or future, making perhaps 64 possibilities in all. A few suggestions must therefore suffice. A principality (usually translated "beginning" and a few times "first" in the N.T.) denotes a being of the first rank, such as "Michael the archangel", Jude 9, "arch" being the root of this word "principality". Such principalities were also chief of the fallen angels, Col. 2.15. The same sense of rank is carried in the usurped title "arcAbishop" today, although such a title and status are completely outside N.T. church order.
Again, the word "dominion" implies lordship. The Scriptures recognize the existence of many beings exercising lordship. There are "lords many", 1 Cor. 8. 5; the coming King will be Lord "of lords", while in the O.T. "other lords beside thee have had dominion over us", Isa. 26. 13. And to make sure than none is excepted, Paul adds "and every name", indicating that Christ has the pre-eminence. In fact, all things were lower, "under his feet", Eph. 1. 22. This is a reference to Psalm 8. 6, where Messiah has been made "to have dominion over the works of thy hands". This is also quoted in Hebrews 2. 6-8, and refers to the future, for "now" not yet all things are put under Him. For in the present, the sinful and rebellious heart of man refuses to be subject unto Him, and much of the animal world fails to come up to the millennial standard of Isaiah 11. 6-9. But when Paul writes, "all things under his feet", clearly he does not refer to the church, for this is His body, and can perhaps be described as "under His head", for it is attached to Him with living cords of love and life, unlike anything under His feet. He is "head over all things to the church", referring to the hearts, service, conduct and loyalty of His members.
Paul concludes this high point of doctrine (which in turn concludes his prayer) with "the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all". When the Lord was here, men saw Him physically: a few believed but the majority did not believe. But now that He is not here, men can see only some of the members of His mystical body the church. Alas, they may not be impressed by what they see, for they can but observe the state and not the standing of these members. The church, or His body, is "the fulness of him", namely, a vessel that is filled up. In a physical sense, a human body is rilled up with nerves that emerge from its head or brain, and these control every part of the body. So, too, the church is filled "all in all", namely, with His infinite Self. Amongst all groupings amongst men (the church, the Jews, the Gentiles), the church is unique in being this fulness. It possesses His presence, His love, His salvation, His eternal choice and His authority. Expositors explain the words "all in all" in different ways. We feel that the first "all" refers to His infinite Self, while the second "all" refers to every part of the church, its members, characteristics and service, though we cannot be dogmatic about this suggestion.
Power in Life after Death,2. 1-10. Paul is now going to explain the great truth that this same power has been made available to believers. "And you" forms an incompleted sentence: indeed, the whole of verse 1 forms the object of an unstated verb. The A.V. translators have supplied this verb "quickened" by looking forward to verse 5, but we feel that the mind of a reader would look back in the search for a verb, and there is only one, namely "raised" in 1. 20. As unconverted, the Ephesians had been dead- spiritually dead, however active they may have been in Diana worship. Trespass involves deeds known to be wrong, while sin involves deeds that are not necessarily known to be wrong; see Rom. 2. 18-23; Acts 3. 13.
The cause of this state is described in verses 2-3. Temptations arise from promptings originating from men, Satan and self; (in the Lord's case, temptations never arose through promptings from His inner Self). Spiritually-dead men are entirely taken up with events in the world around, whether religious (as Paul had once been), political (as Herod and Pilate), or moral (as the Corinthians, 1 Cor. 6. 9-11, and the Ephesians, Eph. 4. 17-22). All this is under the control of "the prince of the power of the air". For that is the sphere of his operations now. Originally, Lucifer had sought to ascend to the throne of God, Isa. 14. 12-14, but he fell as lightning from heaven, Luke 10. 18. Later he will be cast into the earth, Rev. 12. 9, then to the bottomless pit, 20. 1-3, and lastly to the lake of fire, v. 10. The air is what we breath, and men's minds are just as open in absorbing this "spirit"; these sons of disobedience and "children of wrath" are opposite to the children and sons of God. Both Jew and Gentile are thus fallen in sin, Rom. 3. 9; in our verse 3, the "we" applies to Jews, and "as others" to Gentiles. Paul supplies a dark list of the out-workings of disobedience. "Flesh" describes a rational intention to trespass, such as in the case of the prodigal son, and also Ananias and Sapphira; "nature" implies what is opposite to spiritual.
"But God" introduces the contrast, v. 4. Love provides mercy and grace, so that the wrath is forever avoided. Mercy withholds what we do deserve, while grace provides what we do not deserve. Note that "mercy, grace, love" also appear together in 1 Timothy 1. 13-14. The extent of this divine love is shown in Ephesians 5. 2, 25, where the sacrifice of Christ is stressed. Once again, Paul mentions "dead in sins (or rather, trespasses)", 2. 5, so as to emphasize our state, with which the Lord came to deal. "The exceeding greatness of his power", 1. 19, has changed death into life. In Christ's case, He died for our sins, and was then raised physically. In our case, we died spiritually because of our own sins, and we have been raised spiritually (our physical resurrection is yet future). These were once-for-all acts on God's part; it is not a continuous process in our experience, but a quickening with Christ at our conversion.
The prefix "together" occurs three times in verses 5-6. In "quickened together", we are united with Christ, but in "raised together" and "sit together" the thought is that Jew and Gentile are brought together in fellowship into these blessings in Christ. This shows not only that sins have been dealt with at conversion, but why the church is so other-worldly minded. If believers recognize that they are together with Christ and with other believers, then they would not engage in so many unsanctified occupations of the world. These blessings in the heavenlies do not imply that we are now in heaven, rather that we are in a heavenly environment, as "the days of heaven upon the earth", Deut. 11. 21. Note that Christ is seated by right, Eph. 1. 20, but we are seated by grace.
There is a future object of this divine grace, 2. 7. For "the ages to come" go beyond "the fulness of times", stretching into eternity. All in heaven will see this display of grace, love and power. Paul insists that all such positive work is of God, v. 8. "By grace" is the agent, and "through faith" the channel. Water (grace) flows from an infinite reservoir, along a channel (faith), the turning of a tap being the moment of conversion. There is uncertainty amongst expositors as to what "that not of yourselves" and "it is the gift of God" refer. Certainly nothing of grace, salvation and faith is self-manufactured! Some suggest that the reference is to "through faith", since it is given unto us to believe, Phil. 1. 29. But we feel that the reference is to the means of salvation, attaching "that" and "it is the gift" to the verb "saved". However, both suggestions are correct, even if we cannot be quite sure what was in Paul's mind when he wrote these words.
To recognize the gift of God is to own that salvation cannot come by works, else this would give the opportunity to boast; boasting is excluded, Rom. 3. 27. God does not ask us to add anything to the work of Christ, for this is complete in itself. Elsewhere, Paul wrote, "not according to our works", 2 Tim. 1. 9, and "not by works of righteousness which we have done", Titus 3. 5. Rather, the "work of faith" is a product of a converted life, 1 Thess. 1.3, and not the product of an unconverted person seeking salvation. For believers are "his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works". That is, we have been made according to His design so as to be able to function properly, as were tabernacle and temple of old. The first creation was similarly made by God, not to be static, but to be active, with all living things bringing forth after their kind. Similarly with spiritual life; we are formed and moulded so as to walk according to His will. Everything Christlike in the saints has been prepared by God, for there is nothing in the flesh that can please Him. This leads to the "works of faith". Thus Paul laboured, knowing that it was the grace of God that worked in Him, 1 Cor. 15. 10, and that Christ living in him enabled him to walk in the truth, not building again the things that he had destroyed, Gal. 2. 18-21.