Our former meditations enabled us to see the general course of truth pertaining to the Spirit in the Scriptures. In giving attention to the Epistle to the Ephesians, we become selective; moreover, the Spirit permeates its teaching. In the ‘Twin Epistle’, as Colossians is called, Christian action is viewed as the outcome of the power of the Word in the heart; in Ephesians, it is through the presence and power of the Spirit. The Spirit and the Word are always associated for the guidance of the believer, as were the pillar of cloud and the silver trumpets for the Israelite pilgrims in the desert (see Num. 10. 1-11). The prominence given to the Spirit in this distinctive church Epistle is very suggestive. Firstly as we have already seen, the rapid growth of the church was due to the ministry of the Spirit. Secondly, the church is made to realize its dependence on the Spirit throughout the age (see also the reference to the Spirit’s voice to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3). The rich blessings for the saints individually, and of the church in its union with the risen exalted Christ, can be enjoyed only through the Holy Spirit of God.
We are taught in the context of this sublime passage something of the divine purpose and the process of its accomplishment. Ultimately the whole creation will fulfil God’s thought, and reach its complete unity and ideal perfection in Christ, v. 10. Being ‘in Christ’, the believer is already God’s eternal possession. The blessedness of this spiritual position is not exclusive to the Jews, but Gentile believers are also God’s inheritance. They had ‘heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation’, and having believed in Christ, in Him they ‘were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise’. Because of controversy over these verses we must note the cause of the sealing, ‘having also believed’, R.V. There is not the slightest hint of chronological sequence or time interlude in the text. Faith alone brings the blessing, therefore every believer is sealed. The sphere of the sealing, ‘in whom’, makes it eternal in character. This is God’s triumphant attainment, and is connected with His eternal purpose. The meaning of the agelong custom of sealing is manifold. The leading idea is that of security; ‘so they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch’ (see Matt. 27. 65, 66). Sealing also implies a finished transaction; ‘The Lord knoweth them that are his’ (see Jer. 32. 6-12). Then again the thought of value and preciousness is included (see Deut. 32. 34). One of the revelations of this Epistle is that we belong to God in a special sense through the redemption of the Son (see Eph. 1. 14). The presence of the same Spirit, who is the seal impressed upon us by God to make us forever His own, is also described as ‘the earnest’ of the inheritance that is to be ours. The presence of the Spirit in us is the pledge of the glory which is our ultimate destiny.
Paul’s request in this ‘Prison Prayer’ (see vv. 15-23), that the saints be given ‘the spirit of wisdom and revelation’ is one of the rich subjects embraced in his intercessions for the saints. The occasion, object and outlook of this prayer deserve full consideration since it deals with the believer’s spiritual illumination. A believer can never leave the place of a learner. ‘Our knowledge at best’, wrote another, ‘is but inceptive here below; and the more wisely we have appreciated the riches of the grace in which we stand, the more conscious we shah be of the deficiency of our knowledge, and the more eager in our desire for its increase’. Heavenly principles must then find practical expression; ‘The truth … in Jesus’, 4. 21, must become operative, but this is possible and effective only as the believer knows the operation of the ‘spirit of wisdom and revelation’. The Spirit of revelation must be given to enable us to know our hope, and the Spirit of wisdom is requisite for right application of that knowledge. The believer must resort, not to wild fancies of imagination, blind impulse, nor even natural intellectual discernment, but to the Spirit’s light for true progress of soul.
The moral confusion and religious desolation of the Gentiles is described in this part of the Epistle. The sevenfold description of their state is humiliating (see 2. 11, 12). For many centuries, due to this state, the Jews viewed the Gentiles with utter contempt. They developed a spirit of exclusive pride and religious bigotry in their distinctive privileges. Yet Paul, a one-time ‘Hebrew of the Hebrews’, after the straitest sect of his religion a Pharisee and a man once within the grip of all the strong traditions of the nation, now joyously instructs Gentile believers that they are heirs of ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’. The cross has removed all barriers, and brings believers of both peoples to the same spiritual level, ‘for through him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father’, v. 18 r.v. The liberty of approach to God is now the privilege of both peoples. Both have one Lord to be their ground of acceptance, and their Conductor into the innermost chamber of the spiritual home. ‘Both find one Father there, welcoming and embracing all His people with equal love, in the name of His one Beloved. Wonderful unification, deep and living as the heart of man, and the heart of God; rooted in the atonement, and made to live in us, and grow, and bear the fruits of Paradise, by the indwelling Spirit’ (Moule). Are we using our privilege of approach to God?
The grandeur of the privileges of grace are still in view. There is rising a nobler and more majestic temple than any
known before by Jew or Gentile. Into this one temple the Gentiles were builded (see v. 22, ‘In whom ye’). The apostle views the work of building not as finished but in progress. This building, the inner temple, in its every stone is what it is by the immediate action of the Spirit of God. This work of the Spirit will not cease at the completion of the Church’s calling, but in His power it will be a vessel of the manifestation of God’s glory eternally. What a rebuke to the divided and sectarian condition that exists nowadays! Let us cast away as worthless the institutions of men which cannot be the Spirit’s work, and humbly recognize that Christian unity is not a matter of intellectual agreement, but of spiritual obedience to God’s truth.
The divine thought that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, fellow-members of the same body, and fellow-partakers of God’s promise in Christ through the Gospel, is now revealed in the Spirit. What a flood of light upon the great dispensational dealings of God with men! The wonder of God’s prophetic programme is now seen through the ministry of the Holy Spirit who came to guide God’s servants ‘into all truth’. Have we seen the meaning of this ministry? Are we advancing in the light of divine revelation? Have we the passionate enthusiasm that characterized Paul who first made it known? The Spirit is our helper in these exercises.
The first request in the second prayer of the Epistle reveals at once the necessary preparation for a believer’s experience of the fulness of God, namely, ‘to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man’. In the first prayer, spiritual illumination is seen to be necessary; but in this prayer, spiritual strength. Both are required; one leads to the other. We cannot know the hope unless its glories are revealed to us by the Spirit, and the spiritual energy necessary to receive it and to hold it firmly comes from the same blessed Person. The constant recognition of our spiritual need to be strengthened by the Spirit is vital. We may have great thoughts of evangelization, ardent yearnings for perfection in the Christian life, keen perception of doctrine, even high religious emotion, yet be wanting in spiritual power. Although the Christian has eternal life, what weakness is often manifested. Both the individual believer and the Church have need of power. Learning, wealth, prestige, organization, and far-flung activities can be no compensation for lack of this.
This appeal, which opens the practical part of the Epistle, involves three things. (1) A right attitude of heart to the divine callings v. 1. A review of the former part of the Epistle shows the features of this calling. In meagre outline: the election of the saints by God in the eternal past; their redemption through the blood of Christ; their formation into one body of which the Risen Exalted Lord is Head; their heavenly position, unique and destined for the display of God’s kindness throughout the future ages. All this calls for grateful response of praise to God. In some earthly professions, high standards of conduct are expected, otherwise the calling would be disparaged. How much higher should conduct be in this calling of eternal character. (2) A right attitude towards saints. ‘With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love’, v. 2. Relative tolerance in regard to idiosyncrasies is meant and not compromise of truth. (3) A right aim in difficulties, v. 3. ‘The unity of the faith’, 4. 13, has to be attained; ‘The unity of the Spirit’, is to be maintained. The latter already exists, for the Spirit unites each member of the body to the Living Head. This unity cannot be impaired or improved, but its practical expression is our responsibility. Pridham well wrote of this unity, ‘When extricated from the overlying rubbish of human tradition, it shines still in its own undying brightness, and re-asserts its rightful claims on our obedience. Christian faith can own no standard of conformity but Christ’s own word. If, therefore, the existing Church on earth is found to vary from that standard, truth is none the less to be confessed, though confession may be to sever those who seek its own claims from that which still bears professedly the name of Christ’.
Being in the unity of the body of Christ produces a new character of life. The apostle is bringing to bear upon the conscience of the saints this practical implication of the former doctrine of God’s grace. Lying breaks the fellowship of the members of the body; anger disrupts harmony; theft must give way to honest work; the power of the tongue is to be used for edification and not to the injury of another, and bitterness and malice are to be subdued as unbecoming to those who are in the same body. These sins of the old man grieve - ‘put to pain’ – the Spirit, and the consciousness of His grief is that which leads to self-judgment and repair of the spiritual damage in the soul. The response of the believer to these reactions of the indwelling Spirit manifests the measure of his appreciation of grace – the unconditional dealings of God with him. Let us give heed to the exhortation, ‘grieve not the holy Spirit of God’, and walk in holiness of life as He is holy.
In the development of heavenly character the believer must avoid the snares of other means of exhilaration. The natural stimulus of wine is one among many others which can captivate the energies of an unsuspecting believer. The context shows that heart-melody, thanksgiving, mutual consideration, and features of the Christ-life arise through the Spirit’s possession of the saint (see vv. 19, 20). To ‘be filled in the Spirit’, Newberry marg., means not only our possessing the Spirit, but the Spirit possessing us – just as a bucket lowered into a well is in the water, and the water in the bucket. The Spirit’s full control of us means that life in all its relationships can be exalted, spiritual and meaningful (see 5. 22 to 6. 9).
‘Take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’. This is part of the Christian’s equipment provided for spiritual conflict; it is the sixth item, and the only offensive weapon in the list. The spiritual enemy is to be assailed and silenced by the ‘word’ with sword-like qualities. The sword is of the Spirit’s forging, and it is He who puts it into the warrior’s hand. The believer can say of this sword what David said of Goliath’s sword, ‘There is none like that; give it me’, 1 Sam. 21. 9. Fighting equipment is incomplete without the Word which is committed to our handling by God. We shall be skilful in its use in conflict according to the measure of our obedience to the divine Instructor. Negligence or loose handling is fatal, for the enemy ever seeks to take this sword from our grasp.
Each word is significant in the exhortation. ‘Praying always’ implies a mind always ready through habit for communion with God. ‘With all prayer and supplication’ – every kind of prayer; deliberate, ejaculatory, public, private, secret, confessing, asking and praising. ‘In the Spirit’ will be according to the measure of our response and obedience to the former exhortations. Sound prayer will be the result of the Spirit’s direction and instruction. ‘Watching … with all perseverance’ – spiritual indolence is disastrous. Sleeping warriors are ever in danger, but the wakefulness of importunity in prayer is protective. ‘And supplication for all saints’ – the Spirit-led prayer will ever have in view the unity of the body of Christ. Never should the thinking of the saints be guided by political, natural or national affairs, but by the revealed eternal purposes of God’s grace to all saints.