We have seen that the great dis course given by Paul to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. 18-35 partly forms the basis of the Epistle to the Ephesians, both regarding the counsels of God, and as pertaining to assembly leadership and the spiritual food provided for the saints.
Paul announced himself as an apostle “by the will of God”, v.l Elsewhere, he wrote that he had been called to this position, and that it was according to the commandment of God. The gifts and calling of all believers should be recognized as deriving from the divine will. As such, Paul addressed the “saints” and the “faithful”. The former designates a position that God has granted – namely, separated ones. The latter refers, not to faith itself, but to the effects of faith in the believer’s life, and hence to his responsibility. Paul was counted faithful by the Lord, 1 Tim. 1. 12, and was thus placed in divine service, able to recognize faithfulness in others.
To such believers, Paul gave his typical greetings that appear in every Epistle: (i) grace, free blessings independent of merit, and opposite to the bondage of the Jewish law, and (ii) peace, spiritual well being, and quite the opposite to the dissatisfied warring factions of men, as found in Ephesus in Acts 19. 23-41. Neither come from men, but are divinely given. Nor can unsaved men possess them, for there is no peace to the wicked.
Praise in the form of blessing (that is, being “well-spoken of) is ascribed to the Father before the blessings of the Lord’s people are mentioned, v. 3. Certainly God’s people in O.T. times
did not have this advanced understanding of divine Persons, nor could they have had any appreciation of the peculiar blessings to be possessed by the church. These “spiritual blessings” are distinct from the O.T. shadows, the “worldly sanctuary” and “temples made with hands”, though the aspirations of present-day Christendom return to these irrelevancies of a materialistic religion. The “heavenly places” (or “heavenlies") are not heaven; the term reflects on character rather than location. The word occurs also in 1.20; 2.6; 3.10; 6.12, and even the powers of darkness can intrude there, seeking to damage the true spirituality of the saints.
The word “according (to, or as)”, A.V., is often used in this passage, showing that these blessings are in harmony with the divine choice, the good pleasure, the riches of His grace, His good pleasure, His purpose, and the working of His mighty power. Dictators amongst men may exercise choice and power to further their personal pleasure and purpose, but their subjects suffer under such bondage rather than bask under the riches of grace. But God is infinitely different and superior. His choice extended to angels, Israel and to the church, but as far as the church is concerned, this choice was formulated “before the foundation of the world”. Paul could again rise to these heights at the end of his life, writing of God’s purpose and grace “before the world began”, 2 Tim. 1. 9-10. We are not asked to explain the link between God’s choice in the eternal past and our freewill in exercising faith to salvation in the present. Many suggestions have been made, none of which can be wholly satisfactory, since God’s appreciation of time in heaven is quite different from ours on earth. But the divine object is clear: being holy and without blame refers to our standing before Him, even though we may not always feel like that in our daily experience. Later in the Epistle, Paul used the words “holy and without blemish” to refer to the church.
Not only choice, but predestination, v.5. He marked out beforehand what He planned for the future, whether now or in the eternal life yet to come. In Romans 8. 29, predestination refers to His people being “conformed to the image of his Son”, but here in our verse it refers to “the adoption of children”, namely, “son-placing”. For we were not sons in the family of God before our conversion, but once we are redeemed we “receive the adoption of sons”, Gal. 4. 5, while in the future, the resurrection, or redemption of the body, is also called adoption, Rom. 8. 23. What God has purposed, that shall He do, Isa. 14. 24.
In verse 6, it is interesting to note that the verb “made us accepted” has the same root as the word “grace” occurring earlier in the verse. Thus it may be rendered, “wherein He has graced us”, or “wherein He has made us objects of grace”. Certainly, the choosing and predestinating of verses 4-5 manifest grace, for in ourselves we have no merit, and therefore we depend entirely upon “the glory of his grace”. Because of this, we praise Him for these blessings, but here praise derives from the actual outworking of His will in choosing and predestinating; in other words, His glory is enhanced by His work in us.
"The riches of his grace”, v. 7, is seen in the redemption through His blood and in the forgiveness of sins. Redemption, to acquire back at a cost, is a familiar O.T. idea. But in the N.T., our redemption is not with corruptible things, “but with the precious blood of Christ”, 1 Pet. 1. 19. Forgiveness could not be forthcoming through the O.T. ceremonies – only through His blood could there be “forgiveness of sins”. Strictly speaking, this word “sins” is properly “trespasses, offences” (the first word which occurs in Eph. 2. 1, not the second word). Their removal is wholly in keeping with the riches of His grace, which has been manifested to us exceedingly. Several times in this Epistle Paul heaps words upon words as he seeks to describe the super-magnitude of God’s work. Here, “he hath abounded”; in 1. 19 it is “the exceeding greatness of his power”; in 2. 7 it is “the exceeding riches of his grace”, while in 3. 20 He is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask”. Thus blessings have abounded to us, in all “wisdom” (enlightenment) and “prudence” (intelligence). In other words, our entering into this truth lies far beyond any natural educational attainment. “The wisdom of this world” is destroyed and brought to nothing, 1 Cor. 1. 19, but revelation is granted unto babes, Matt. 11. 25. How do the saints know anything about this blessed truth? It is because He makes “known unto us the mystery of his will”, v. 9. The tense of the verb “made known” implies a once-for-all act on God’s part. It had been made known to Paul many years before. A mystery is something hidden until revealed, and after it had been made known to Paul (and to His holy apostles and prophets) his ministry was to make all men see the fellowship of the mystery, 3.3,9. Thus God has made it known to us, using Paul as a minister – today, revelation is not given directly to the Lord’s people as it was to Paul. It was God’s good pleasure and purpose to grant this revelation and its subsequent proclamation, otherwise the devine objectives in Christ would be entirely hidden from us.
Verse 10 deals with one aspect of the revelation of this purpose and will. The word “dispensation” is derived from two roots “house” and “law”, and in the context means divine administration – how the divine purpose is dispensed. At any stage in time, there is a dispensation, but the context of this verse refers to the future, “the fulness of times”. The word “fulness” refers to the contents of a full vessel. It is used of nature, Psa. 24. 1; of the Lord, John 1. 16, where His grace and truth run over to us; of the present, Rom. 15. 29; Eph. 1. 23; and of the future as pertaining to both Jews and Gentiles, Rom. 11. 12, 25. In our verse, the “times” do not refer to eternity, but to the various periods of time on earth in which God has dealt with men under differing circumstances. The “fulness” refers to the last period, which we term the millennium. During that last one thousand years, Christ will be exalted by having all gathered in Him – those “in heaven” referring to the church, its members raised and forming His bride in that day, and those “on earth” referring to the Jews and the nations who enter into His kingdom here below. Christ will be the gathering centre of those forming the heavenly Jerusalem and the earthly Jerusalem in that day.
But Paul then goes beyond millennial conditions, v. 11. The words “in him” at the end of verse 10 are often placed at the beginning of verse 11; “in him, in whom also we have obtained an inheritance”. The son-placing of verse
5 leads to heirship and inheritance, Gal. 4. 7, and this inheritance fades not away, so is eternal in character, stretching beyond millennial conditions. In the light of the distinction between “we” and “ye” in verses 12-13, and the corresponding distinction between Jews and Gentiles in 2. 11-22, we feel that Paul refers in our verse to converted Jews, extending the same blessings to the Gentiles in verse 13.
This eternal inheritance is in keeping with the divine intentions described by the words “counsel, purpose, will, predestinated”. Overall, these form difficult concepts, since we are trying to mould timeless features into the mind’s understanding of the passing of time. In so doing, we suggest that there is a development, in the order (i) counsel, meaning divine advice taken within the Godhead, (ii) purpose, an objective in view, (iii) will, a decision to accomplish that objective, (iv) predestination, events marked out in keeping with that will. All this leads to “the praise of his glory’, v. 12, both now, and in the future, v. 14. In the context, those who “first” trusted Christ are Paul and his fellow Jews, for the gospel was unto the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles.
Paul then brings in the Gentiles by writing “ye” – the Ephesian Gentiles. They shared in the predestinated blessings, and were also to the praise of His glory. Firstly, they “heard the word of truth”, in contrast to the error in their curious arts and books that lay behind Diana worship, Acts 19. 19. As the Lord Jesus had given divine words, John 17. 8, 14, so Paul had preached “the gospel of your salvation’. This was the only suitable subject of preaching - “Preach the word”, 2 Tim. 4. 2. In other words, preachers are sent, so that men may hear; the conscience is reached by these means, and faith comes by such hearing. Then, having believed, they “were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise”. A seal denotes ownership and security (as in Dan. 6. 17; Matt. 27. 66; Rev. 20. 3). Thus the Lord’s promise in Acts 1. 4-5 reached even to the Gentiles as well as to Jews, and they became the divine possession; the indwelling Spirit shows that He has possession and control, characteristic of members of the church.
Additionally, the Spirit is an “earnest”, v. 14, namely a token of the certainty of the future accomplishment of the divine purpose. Else, how could we know, how could we be certain of something so completely and spiritually novel? The Spirit is an earnest only until “the redemption of the purchased possession’. Of course, we are redeemed now, but in the future, our bodies are redeemed at the resurrection, namely when the Lord comes for His own at the rapture. We are already a “purchased possession”, but we are still earth-bound until the resurrection. Then we shall be glorified, having bodies of glory, so this will be to “the praise of his glory.”