Spiritual Blessings in Christ (1:1-14)
1 Paul writes this letter as an APOSTLE of Christ Jesus; he writes with the full authority of Christ. Paul was appointed to be an apostle not according to man’s will, but by God’s will. As we study this letter, we must understand that God Himself is speaking to us through His apostle.2
Paul addresses this letter to the SAINTS in Ephesus, that is, to those who are faithful in Christ Jesus. In the New Testament, believers in Christ are often called “saints.” A saint is anyone who through faith in Christ has been forgiven and cleansed of his sins (see Romans 1:7; Philippians 1:1).
Let us remember that this letter is written not only for the churches in and around Ephesus; it is written for our own church as well. This is a living letter, as important to us today as it was to the believers of Paul’s time. As we read it, let us listen to what God is saying to us.
2 Paul prays that his readers might experience God’s grace and peace.
GRACE is the mercy and love of God, which God gives freely to men. Man does not deserve God’s grace, nor can he earn it by doing good works; God showers His grace upon men and women simply because He loves them.
By this grace of God, men can find peace with God and with each other. This letter of Paul to the Ephesians could be named “Peace through Grace,” for that is its main theme from beginning to end.
3 God has blessed believers with every spiritual blessing. Paul doesn’t say that God “will bless us”; he says that God has blessed us already. God has blessed us IN CHRIST. Every spiritual blessing comes to us through Christ.
Only because we are in Christ can we receive these blessings; if we are not in Christ, we shall not receive them. To be “in Christ” means that we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, and through faith become united with Him and put our lives under His authority.
Even though God has already made these blessings available to us, we still must “reach out” and take them by faith; in other words, we must appropriate by faith what has been given. If we do not exercise faith, we shall receive nothing.
What are these spiritual blessings? The first blessing is that God chose us (verse 4) and adopted us (verse 5). The second blessing is that God has freely given us His grace (verse 6), by which grace we receive redemption and the forgiveness of sins (verse 7). The third blessing is that God has made known to us the mystery of his will (verse 9). Fourth, we have heard the word of truth, the gospel (verse 13); and fifth, we have been marked with the Holy Spirit (verse 13), which Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance (verse 14). These, then, are the spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms, which we obtain through faith in Christ.
4 God chose us before the creation of the world. Think about that! Then there was no earth; there was only God. At that time, in accordance with his pleasure and will (verse 5), God made an eternal plan; and part of that plan involved “choosing” us who believe in Christ. According to verse 5, God predestined us to be His children; this is what being “chosen” means. This is an important truth. First, before anything else happened, God chose us. Sometimes we think that it is we who have chosen God first; but this is not so. He has first chosen us; and only because of this can we then turn to Him and “choose” Him. And we have no cause to take pride in God’s having chosen us in this way. We did nothing to deserve it; God chose us long before we were born! We didn’t earn our place in God’s family; it is according to God’s own pleasure and will (verse 5) that He has predestined us to be His children. Therefore, we are in fact “debtors” to God. Instead of taking pride in ourselves, we should humbly thank and praise God for the great grace He has shown to us.
In some religions there is a belief that when a child is born, a spirit comes and determines the child’s future. But this is not true. From before the creation of the world, the one true God has determined the future of every human being.
Many Christians take this verse to mean that God “chooses” some people to be His children, but not others. The reason why God should choose some and not others is very difficult for people to understand and accept. In 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul writes that God wants all men to be saved; and yet, according to many other verses, not all men will automatically be saved. The important thing to remember here, however, is that every person who believes in Christ is chosen by God (see Romans 9:14-21 and comment; General Article: Salvation—God’s Choice or Man’s Choice?).
The question arises: Why did God choose us? He chose us to be holy and blameless. Let us never think that because we have been chosen by God we can now do anything we please; this is not so. There must be no sin or impurity in our lives, because God has called us to be holy and blameless (see 1 Peter 1:15-16).
5 God has predestined us to be adopted3 as his children. In a spiritual way, believers in Christ become the sons and daughters of God.
On the one hand, as adopted children of God we receive forgiveness, salvation, an inheritance in heaven, and many other great blessings. But on the other hand, as children we have been given a great responsibility: to be holy and blameless (verse 4).
We have been adopted as children through Jesus Christ. It is only when we receive Christ as our Lord and believe in His name that we are adopted by God and become members of His family (see John 1:12; Galatians 3:26; 4:5 and comments).
6 As Paul thinks of the marvelous grace of God in making us His own children, Paul’s heart is filled with praise. God has done all this, Paul says, to the praise of his glorious grace. God has freely given us this glorious grace; we didn’t do anything to earn it. And God has given us this grace in (through) the One he loves—that is, Christ.
7 The main reason God sent His Son Jesus Christ to earth was to make possible our redemption,4 or salvation. Jesus was sent to earth to save men and women. Without redemption, we cannot be God’s adopted children. God’s work of redemption is even greater than His work of creation, because to create the world all God had to do was speak, but to redeem men God had to die; He had to give His own Son Jesus as a sacrifice for our redemption.
In him we have redemption, says Paul. How often Paul writes “in Him,” or “in Christ,” or “in the One He loves” (see verses 2,3,4,6,7,8,10,11,13). This is one of the main teachings of Paul: namely, that our lives are centered “in Christ.” Every kind of spiritual blessing is in Christ. All power is also in Christ. And here, according to verse 7, our redemption is also in Him. Our redemption is through his blood, that is, through His death as a sacrifice. Jesus Christ died on the cross in order to take upon Himself the punishment for our sins; He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins (see Mark 10:45; Romans 3:23-25; 1 Peter 1:18-19 and comments).
One aspect of our redemption (or salvation) is the forgiveness of sins. Again, from this verse, we can see that we receive forgiveness through God’s grace, even though we ourselves are not worthy of it.
8 When God pours out His grace upon people, He doesn’t send it in small trickles. God has lavished on us the riches of His grace. Let us never fail to praise Him for his glorious grace (verse 6).
9-10 God has made known to us the mystery of his will through the teachings of Christ. God’s will is to bring all things … together under one head, even Christ (verse 10). That is, God’s purpose is to bring everything in heaven and on earth under the lordship and authority of Christ (see Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:15-20).
When will this happen? It will happen when the times will have reached their fulfillment—that is, at just the right time selected by God. No one but God knows when that time will be.
How great is Paul’s vision! It extends from before the creation of the world (verse 4) right up until the fulfillment of the times. Everything in heaven and on earth is included in Paul’s vision. Yet when Paul wrote this letter he was sitting in a jail cell. With his physical eyes he could see only the four walls of his cell. With his spiritual eyes, however, he could see the entire will and purpose of God!
Sometimes our lives become like the inside of a jail. We need to open our spiritual eyes and see the mystery of [God’s] will. The mystery is this: God sent His only Son Jesus Christ into the world that we might receive redemption and forgiveness of sins and become holy and blameless adopted children of God. That such weak and sinful people as we should receive these glorious blessings is a mystery indeed!
11-12 In these two verses Paul speaks about the Jews.5 Paul was himself a Jew. Paul says in verse 11: In him (Christ) we (the Jews) were also chosen.6 Then in verse 12, Paul explains that the Jews were chosen in order that they … might be for the praise of his glory. From long before Christ’s time, the Jews had been waiting for a Savior to come; the coming of a Savior had been foretold by the Jewish prophets of the Old Testament. This is why Paul says in verse 12 that the Jews were the first to hope in Christ.
13 Now Paul turns his attention to the Ephesians, who were not Jews. Paul writes: And you also were included in Christ. That is, the Ephesians also had been given the chance to receive salvation through faith in Christ. The Ephesian believers had been included in Christ because they had heard the word of truth, the GOSPEL of [their] SALVATION, and had believed it.
The proof that the Ephesians had been included in Christ is that they had been marked in him (Christ) with a seal. That “seal” is the promised HOLY SPIRIT. Paul says the Spirit is promised, because Jesus had promised His disciples that the Spirit would be sent from God (see John 14:26).
What, then, is the seal of the Holy Spirit? In New Testament times, a king would stamp his seal on his letters, so that a person receiving the letter would know without doubt that it was indeed the king’s letter. Any letter stamped with the king’s seal had the king’s authority. In the same way, when any person has been “stamped with the seal” of the Holy Spirit, we can know that that person belongs to Christ and has Christ’s authority.
Also notice here that in order to be a Christian and to receive the Holy Spirit (to be “stamped with the seal” of the Spirit), two things are necessary. First, we must have heard the Gospel. Second, we must have believed in Christ.
14 The Holy Spirit is both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. It can be said (in simple terms) that the Holy Spirit is one of God’s forms.7 It is in the “form” of the Holy Spirit that God enters our hearts and changes our lives. Through the Holy Spirit we can experience a foretaste of heaven; that is, the Holy Spirit is like a deposit, or advance, on the full inheritance that awaits us in heaven. In this world we do not receive our full heavenly inheritance; but we do receive an advance on it, a deposit guaranteeing that we shall receive the rest of it in heaven. Having received the deposit—the Holy Spirit—we can know without doubt that we shall one day receive our full inheritance (see Romans 8:16-17; 2 Corinthians 1:22).
As Paul speaks about our heavenly inheritance, he once again reminds us that the blessings we have already received and the blessings we will yet receive in heaven are to the praise of his (God’s) glory. Paul has repeated this expression three times in this chapter (verses 6,12,14). Paul has also repeated three times the expression “according to His (God’s) pleasure, will, or plan” (verses 5,9,11). In emphasizing these points, Paul shows us that everything begins with God’s pleasure and will, and everything ends in God’s glory. Here, too, we can see the entire meaning and purpose of our lives. According to God’s pleasure and will, we have believed in Christ and have been brought into God’s family. And now, therefore, we must live to the praise of his glory.
Worldly men8 say: “I will live my life according to my own will and for my own glory.” But believers in Christ say: “I will live my life according to God’s will and for His glory.” How different is the mind of the worldly man and the mind of the Christian!
Thanksgiving and Prayer (1:15-23)
15-16 Even though Paul has written this letter to the Ephesians almost two thousand years ago, it is also written for us today. Here Paul’s prayer is not only for the Ephesians; it is for us too.
If Paul were alive today, what would he have heard about our faith and about our love for all the saints? Would he be able to give thanks for our faith and love?
17 In this prayer for the Ephesians (and for us), what does Paul pray for? He prays that we and the Ephesians might be given the Spirit9 of wisdom and revelation. This wisdom is needed so that we might know God better. Spiritual wisdom and revelation always come from God, not from man.
Paul further prays that through this wisdom, we and the Ephesians might know three things: first, the hope to which God has called us (verse 18); second, the riches of his glorious inheritance (verse 18); and third, his incomparably great power (verse 19).
18 What is the hope to which we have been called? Our hope is in the things which Paul has already mentioned in this chapter. We hope to be free of sin; we hope to be children of God; we hope to be holy and to remain in Christ. We have been called to all of these things, and thus we can place our hope in them.
What is the glorious inheritance which God has promised us? We have already received the deposit of this inheritance—that is, the Holy Spirit (verse 14). The remainder of our inheritance is waiting for us in heaven. The most wonderful part of our heavenly inheritance will be living forever with God and Christ. In addition to that, we will be like Christ (1 John 3:2), and we shall reign with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12).
19 At the beginning of our Christian lives, we were called. At the end of our Christian lives, we shall receive a glorious inheritance. And between the beginning and end of our lives, we are sustained by God’s incomparably great power … his mighty strength. God’s power has no limit, and this power is available to us throughout our Christian lives.
20-21 How great is that power! By that power God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. By that power Jesus reigns in heaven over all rule and authority, power and dominion (verse 21). He reigns over Satan, and all his spirits and demons. He reigns over evil and over death. He reigns over all things, both of heaven and of earth, both present and future. He is reigning today, and He will reign forever—all through the power of God.
Can any human power bring a dead person to life? No. But God’s power can. For God, nothing is impossible (Mark 10:27). And that same power that raised Christ from the dead is available to us who believe. Through that same power, we who were once dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1) have now been made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5) and have been seated with Him in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6). And that power is available to us day by day through the Holy Spirit; therefore, let us not fail to ask for it.
22-23 All things have been placed under his (Christ’s) feet—that is, under His authority (verse 22). When we feel overwhelmed by sin, by weakness, by fear and anxiety, let us remember that all these things have already been put under Christ’s feet. And if they are under Christ’s feet, they are under our feet too!
Paul says here that Christ is the head over everything for the CHURCH. In Ephesians 5:23, Paul calls Christ simply the head of the church. If Christ is the head, then the church is His body (verse 23). And if the church is Christ’s body, then we believers are members of His body (see Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12,27 and comments).
The church is Christ’s fullness. Just as a kingdom can be called the “fullness” of a king, so the church is the “fullness” of Christ. But it is not the church that does the “filling”; it is Christ Himself who fills everything in every way (verse 23). From the fullness of his (Christ’s) grace we have all received one blessing after another (John 1:16). This should not surprise us, because Christ is God Himself (see John 10:30; Colossians 1:15-20; General Article: Jesus Christ).