The Purpose of God
E W Rogers, Oxford
This Epistle has rightly been described as the Mount Everest of the Bible. It gives the highest truth. Its near rival is that to the Colossians with which it has much in common. The student should compare each to discover what is common to both and how that common material is differently presented. In Ephesians the believer is regarded as "in Christ", whereas in Colossians Christ is in him. In Ephesians the believer is seated in the heavenlies, whereas in Colossians he is on earth. In Ephesians there is no mention of the coming back of the Lord Jesus, but there is in Colossians.
Both letters were written, as it would seem, from Rome when Paul was a prisoner, as was also, presumably, its companion letter to the Philippians; see Eph. 3. 1; Phil. 1.7; Col. 4. 18.
It also appears that the letter to the Ephesians was of an encyclical kind, and it may well be that this is the letter which was sent to Laodicea and which ultimately went to Colossae, Col. 4. 16. The words "in Ephesus" in Ephesians 1. 1 are of doubtful authority. The place may have been left vacant, and available for the insertion of any desired name. This seems all the more likely, since there are no names of individuals mentioned in the letter, not even at its close. At any rate we do know that "all the word of God is for all the people of God" and that this letter is, perhaps, amongst their most valuable treasures.
Its human penman was Paul, once known as Saul of Tarsus, the erstwhile inquisitor who terrified the early Christians, but now their ardent and authorized apostle. While, at times, he magnifies his office, yet at other times he is very conscious of his personal unworthiness for such an honour. In fact, in this letter he calls himself "less than the least of all saints", 3. 8. He is now learning by experience "how great things he must suffer" for the name of the Lord Jesus, yet instead of bemoaning his lot, and pitying himself, his eye is on Christ in glory, and his heart is towards the well-being of his many converts to whom he writes as he thinks of, and prays for them.
"Two men looked through prison bars; The one saw mud, the other stars".
It all depended on the way they looked. Paul looked up and saw Him whom God had set "far above all", 1. 21. Faith's penetrating eye knew no limits.
We shall adopt the following analysis for our detailed studies of the Epistle.
1. 1-2: Introductory Apostolic Greetings. 1. 3-14: The Purpose of God, which
covers all time,
embraces all parties,
engages all three Persons of the Holy Trinity,
defines an ordered plan,
imparts permanent benefits,
declares the nature of God.
1. 15-23: Paul's Prayer,
"what is the hope of his calling",
"what the riches of the glory of his inheritance
in the saints",
"the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward". The metaphor, the body of Christ.
2. 1-10: What a Change!,
what they were,
what they had become,
what they should be.
2. 11-22: An Illustration.
The position of the Jew and Gentile prior to the effective operation of God's grace towards them.
The offer which was made to the Jew first and then to the Gentile later.
The position in the case of those who have accepted the offer. The foundation of this new place.
3. 1-21: The Mystery.
4. 1-16: Ministry in the Church.
Walking worthily of the calling.
The unity detailed.
The diversity existent in the church.
4. 17 to Gathered Threads.
5.20: "In Christ". Saints.
Grace. The Spirit of promise.
"New man". One body.
5. 21 to Some Practical Lessons.
6. 24: Wives and husbands.
Children and parents.
Servants and masters.
Introductory Apostolic Greetings, 1. 1-2. The writer speaks of himself as "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God", 1. 1 R.v. There were other apostles with their own specific spheres of service. He was the apostle to the Gentiles. He was not such by personal choice or by self-assertive appointment: he was such "by the will of God". When writing to Timothy he says that he is an apostle by the "commandment (epitage) of God", 1 Tim. 1. 1. He was thus assured that he was both in line with the "will of God" and authorized by sovereign divine appointment.
For the most part he speaks of the Lord as "Christ Jesus", a title that denotes His present risen glory, and he describes his addressees as "the saints that are at Ephesus and to the faithful in Christ Jesus". Their original belief is manifest in their continued faithfulness. The title "saints1' signifies the wonderful state of holiness which is theirs consequent upon the cleansing work of Christ, while the word "faithful" indicates their present character.
His greeting in verse 2 is couched in such words as would appeal both to Gentile and Jewish converts. "Grace" would be understood by the Gentiles, while "peace" (Heb. Shalom') would be well understood by the Jewish believer. "Grace" is the source of the "peace" that flows from it, and each have their spring in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The one preposition "from" (apo) governs the two names, God and Lord, thus stressing the absolute equality of the two Persons.
The Purpose of God, 1. 3-14. These constitute one of the longest, unbroken sentences in the Scriptures, (see R.v.). It is, perhaps, the most comprehensive statement of the purpose of God, its every word being weighted down with a volume of truth. It relates to a purpose which
Covers all Time. Perhaps we should say, it goes from eternity to eternity. It looks back to the remote past and affirms that the believer was "chosen" in Christ before the foundation of the world. The age of this earth on which we sojourn is one of those things which the scientific investigations of man has not yet finalized. It may be doubted whether or not it is exactly discoverable. Maybe it is one of those "secret things" which belong to the Lord. But whensoever the world was founded (the word katabole has nothing to do with an overthrow), before then God chose "us in him" with the view to our being "holy and without blemish before him", 1. 4 R.v., a purpose which will ultimately be achieved, 5. 27. We cannot here enter into a discussion on election, but suffice it to say that God did not choose us as a class, but rather as individuals known beforehand by Him. Nor did He choose us because He knew that we would believe, but rather we believed because He chose us.
The ultimate accomplishment of this purpose will be when "the dispensation of the fulness of the times" has come, when all things are headed up in Christ, 1. 10 R.v. This appears to refer to a time beyond the millennium, for that is but one of the "times" (or "seasons" - periods characterized by something special), at the end of which man, under Satan, will rebel against the best King he has ever had. But in this eternal future, when everything is headed up in Christ, it will involve both the heavens and the earth. Its present disharmony will then have been abolished. Then all earth's "times" will have run their complete course, and after God has worked out His eternal purpose throughout such "seasons". He will bring everything to its designed climax, and Christ will be its Supreme Head. In it we believers will have our part, as verses ii and 12 show, (r.v.).
Thus God's eternal purpose had its roots in what we call a past eternity, and will have its ultimate fruit in a yet future eternity, both of which are dissected by the central event of the cross (v. 7 : "his blood"). To it all God's past activities pointed; they had it in view, and from it all His further activities have flown and are consequential upon it. This purpose, moreover,
Embraces all Parties, both Jew and Gentile. The pronouns in this section, as everywhere, should be carefully noted. The "we" of verse 12 refers to believing Jews, who nationally hoped beforehand in a coming Messiah (see Luke 24. 21). The "ye" of verse 13 refers to the Gentiles, who, having heard the word of truth, the gospel concerning their salvation, had trusted in that same Messiah and were thereupon "sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise", R.v. Their believing and sealing were synchronous: no lapse of time intervened between the one and the other, 1. 13 r.v. The incident of the twelve Ephesians recorded in Acts 19 is of a special nature into which we cannot go now.
The "we" of verse 12 and the "ye" of verse 13, that is the believing Jews and the believing Gentiles, are comprehended in the further pronoun "us" of verse 3 as also the pronoun "our" of verse 14. The all-embracive nature of the purpose of God is further developed in chapter 2 which we shall discuss later. Further, this purpose of God
Engages all Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. The Unity of the Godhead and the Trinity of its Persons is a truth which the intellect of man cannot explain but which faith accepts. Each Person has His own peculiar territory of activity; hence it is the Father who elects, v. 4, the Son who redeems, v. 7, and the Spirit who seals, v. 13. Not that these are independent actions: Each works in perfect harmony with the Other, Each doing that which is essential to the achievement of the "purpose of the ages", 3. 11 R.v. marg. This harmonious co-operative action of the Persons of the Godhead is implied in the three parables of Luke i5jini Peter 1.1-2^2 Thessalonians 2. 13-14 and elsewhere. How marvellous that God, in the fulness of His being, has been throughout the ages and is now actively engaged in bringing about the eternal well-being of such unmeritorious creatures as we had become! And at such a cost!
It will be found in reading this wonderful section that it
Defines an Ordered Plan. Note the words which are used: "love", v. 4, "will", v. 9, "good pleasure" or delight, v. 9, "purposed", v. 9,"counsel", v. n,"worketh", V. 11. The spring of all this wonderful plan lies in the love of God, which caused Him to have a "will" (or better "wish"), a wish such that He being so delighted with His One Son, desired to have heaven filled with "many sons" like Him. The thought of such a thing gave Him "good pleasure" (or better, "delight"). The very idea well-pleased His heart. He therefore and thereupon "purposed" that it should be so. He would take steps to achieve what His love had conceived, what was His delightful wish. There was however an obstacle in the way. Man was enslaved to self, and sin, and Satan. He needed to be released from his bonds; yet if this were to be done, the stern requirements of justice must be met. Hence there followed the divine "counsel" as to how to overcome the obstacles and how to meet the requirements. The solution of the problem was by the cross—redemption through the blood, and after that had been accomplished, operations have been set afoot by Him who is now working everything "according to plan".
Most of us have built our castles in the air, and it has given us great pleasure in their contemplation. The young man who espouses his bride-to-be because he loves her, wishes to settle down in a home with her: that wish gives him much delight in thinking over it j he, therefore, purposes to have his own home, though difficulties have to be met, for "the coat must be cut according to the cloth". But financial and other things having been arranged, building operations take place and he has the joy of seeing the home going up day by day. One day the happy time arrives when both settle down therein, their love having reached its goal, the wish having been obtained, the purpose having been achieved, the difficulties having been overcome, and the heart is satisfied. This purpose of God
Imparts Permanent Benefits. There is "forgiveness", v. 7, sonship, v. 5 r.v., and "redemption", v. 7. Forgiveness settles the past; redemption secures the future; and sonship secures the present (as well as the future). It is not possible here fully to examine these benefits; that would unduly enlarge our pages. But the reader should do this for himself. It will be seen that in them God has provided for every conceivable contingency. The words here used are without any restriction and should be interpreted in the largest possible manner. Finally we may observe that this purpose
Declares the Nature of God. It is "to the praise of his glory", 1. 12. Glory is "displayed excellence" and this display evokes praise. That glory will be displayed in us, so that "we should be to the praise of his glory". But we are brought in by sovereign grace; hence it is "to the praise of the glory of his grace wherewith he freely bestowed on (graced) us in the Beloved", v. 6 R.v. marg.; see also w. 12,14. God has declared what He Himself is, and this in turn has resulted in His showing grace to us, while that in turn results in a paean of praise to Him which eternity will not exhaust.