|Ephesians, Queen of the Epistles
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
We will study one of Pauls great epistles, his letter to the Ephesians. This is one of Pauls best-loved epistles. Read what some of the commentators have to say about this epistle to the Ephesians. One commentary calls it the queen of the epistles, another, the sublimest communication ever made to man. A third calls it the crown and climax of Pauls theology and a fourth one says that this epistle is the most comprehensive statement of the Christian religion.
What is so special about this epistle that we should spend the next 12 studies going through this book in detail? First of all, this is Pauls prison epistle. He is writing to believers who were discouraged because of his imprisonment and here he gives them in the first part of his epistle, the wonderful truth as it is in Christ. Then, he speaks, in the second half, in terms of Christian living and the fruits of our salvation in Christ. In this introduction study, we will look at the first 14 verses of Ephesians, chapter one.
It would be helpful if you would turn to your Bible and follow with me what Paul is saying to us in this wonderful epistle recorded for our benefit. In the first two verses of this letter, Paul introduces himself to the ones to whom he is writing this letter. In verse 1, he says:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God....
What is Paul saying here? First of all, Paul was not his original name. His parents gave him the name Saul, very likely after the first king of Israel since Paul was of the same tribe as King Saul, a Benjamimite. That is found in Philippians 3:5. But Paul himself, after his conversion, chose the name Paul. Why?
The word Paul in Latin means small or little. This is how he thought of himself after he discovered the wonderful gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 15:9, Paul refers to himself as the least of the apostles and yet he was a mighty instrument of God. He says, Paul, that means little, but an apostle of God. The word apostle simply means one who is sent out as an ambassador or one who is given a special task and Paul was called to proclaim the gospel in a very special way to the Gentile world. But please notice, he is not an apostle by self-appointment. He says he is an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God. There were some who opposed his message of grace alone who accused him of being a self-appointed apostle in order to undermine his message of grace alone. But Paul makes it clear here; he is an apostle chosen by God Himself.
Then, the second half of verse 1 is:
To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.
The word saints simply means holy ones. It is used nine times in this epistle and we shall see in our study that those who are in Christ are saints, not because of their performance, but what is true of them in Jesus Christ. Now that last phrase or that statement, in Ephesus, in the second half of verse one is not found in some of the older manuscripts. So it is believed that this epistle was addressed really as a general letter to the people of Asia Minor. But whatever it is, this is an inspired letter written by Paul to Christians living in his day and which has special significance even to us today.
Now having said this, in verses 3 to 14 Paul expounds to us the riches in Christ and that, of course, is the title I have chosen for this first study.
To appreciate what Paul is saying, we need to understand what that phrase in Christ means. There is a key phrase that runs through Pauls epistles. If we were to take this phrase out of these writings, there would be very little left of Pauls exposition of the gospel. This recurring phrase, which is the central theme of Pauls theology, is the expression in Christ or in Christ Jesus. Now this phrase is sometimes expressed by other similar phrases, that is, in Him or by Him or through Him or in the Beloved or together with Him or in whom. These are all synonymous terms applying to the in Christ motif or idea.
The truth behind this phrase was first introduced by Christ Himself when He told His disciples, Abide in Me. These are the undergirding words of the gospel and if we do not understand what the New Testament means by this expression in Christ, we will never be able to fully understand and appreciate the unconditional good news of salvation which the New Testament defines by the word gospel. There is nothing we have as Christians except that we have it in Christ. Everything we enjoy and everything that we hope for as believers, whether you talk of the peace in justification or the holy living in sanctification or the redemption from this corrupt body which will take place at glorification, all of that is ours always in Christ. Outside of Him we have nothing but sin, condemnation, and death.
This expression in Christ, however, is rather a difficult phrase to understand. Just as you must be born again was mindboggling to Nicodemus, so likewise the concept of in Christ is very difficult for us to understand. This is true especially of the Western mind which puts so much emphasis on the individual. The question that is often raised in our minds is, How can I, as an individual, be in somebody else? And worse still, how can I, born in the twentieth century, be in Christ who was born and lived almost two thousand years ago? This makes no sense to our Western way of thinking. But what does Scripture mean when it tells us that we were together with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection and now are sitting in heavenly places? (We will find this in Ephesians 2:5-6.) What does Scripture mean by that? Because we cannot fathom these facts, we tend to ignore or skim over that phrase, in Christ. Yet the whole understanding of the gospel hinges on our understanding the significance of these two vital words, in Christ.
This in Christ, idea or motif is based on what is known as Biblical solidarity or corporate oneness. Therefore, if we are to come to grips with this phrase, we must first understand what the Bible means by solidarity. If we look at our Bibles carefully, we will discover three facts, three fundamental truths that the Bible reveals.
The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
After God had formed Adam from the dust of the ground, He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, but, in the original Hebrew text, the word life is not in the singular like it is in your English Bibles. It is in the plural. God breathed into Adam the breath of lives. The lives of the whole human race were created in one man. In fact, going to the second text in the New Testament, Acts 17:26, we are told that God, created out of one, the whole human race that is on this earth:
From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.
So the number one fact is that all men were created in one man. In Romans 5, remember, when Adam sinned, all sinned in him and all stand condemned in him. Why? Because we were implicated in his act of sin. We were in him.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned....
Sin entered the world, the human race, by one man. Romans 5:18:
Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.
By one mans disobedience, condemnation came unto all men, the judgment of condemnation came to all men. In 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, we are told that in Adam, all die. Why? Because when Satan touched Adam before he had any children, he touched the human race in Adam.
This did not save us, but it qualified Christ to be our substitute and our representative. Now, by Gods act, we are in Him and what He did, we did in Him. In a nutshell, this is the good news of salvation. We are laying the foundation to our study which is the in Christ motif. 1 Corinthians 1:30:
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
The him refers to God the Father, the you, which is in the plural form, refers to us and, of course, Christ refers to the Son of God, the second Person of the Godhead. Paul is saying here that God took us and put us into Christ Jesus. This took place at the incarnation. By doing this through His life and death, Christ became for us wisdom, which means special knowledge from God. Christ became for us our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption. Salvation full and complete was obtained for us in Jesus Christ, beginning with the incarnation, through His life and at the cross. At the incarnation, we were joined to Christ. By His life and by His death, Christ gave us a new history, a history in which we stand perfect before God and His holy law.
With this background, let us now look at chapter one of Ephesians and see the wonderful truth that Paul is revealing to us. Ephesians 1:3:
Praise be to the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
Please notice the past tense: has blessed us. In the original, it is in the past historical tense, something that took place once and for all in the past. Then in verse 4:
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
There you have the in Christ motif: he chose us in him before the creation of the world. So your performance and my performance had nothing to do with this. It has to do with Gods choice and He chose you, He chose me, He chose all mankind to be in Christ before the creation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless in his sight. Do you know that while you and I are one hundred percent sinners by nature and terrible sinners by performance, in Christ, we are holy and without blame because in His history we have not sinned even once, in His death we have met the justice of the law which is upon us. Verse 5:
[In love] he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will....
We were Gods children by creation, but, when Adam sinned, he not only brought the sentence of condemnation upon us but he sold us to Satan. We became Satans property when Adam sinned. This is what Satan claimed in one of Jesus temptations in the wilderness. You will find this in Luke 4:5-6:
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.
Because of the redemption that we have in Christ, we are now joint heirs with Christ. We have become His adopted children. By this joining with Christ, we become one with Christ. Since Christ is the Son of God, we become, by this union with Christ, sons and daughters of God.
Now, please remember, this passage is addressed to believers who have accepted the truth as it is in Christ. You see, God redeemed all men in Christ. This is His gift to mankind. But unless you accept this gift, the privileges of the in Christ motif are not yours subjectively. But here Paul is addressing believers who have accepted Christ and he is saying to them that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ; we have been chosen to be spotless and blameless in Christ even before Adam was created and, of course, we were predestined in Christ to become the adopted children of God. In the Bible days, as it is in our country, an adopted child has all the legal rights of a natural child. Then in verse 7, we have this wonderful statement:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of Gods grace....
These are sublime words. In Christ, not in ourselves, not in our performance, not even what God does in us, but in Him, in His holy history, we have redemption through His blood, that is, through His sacrifice, the forgiveness of sins, because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin and, when Jesus died on the cross, that cup is able to forgive us of all our sins. That was what Jesus introduced in the Lords supper: This cup represents My blood, which is shed for the remission of sins. And, in Jesus Christ, we have not only positive righteousness but we have forgiveness of all sins, not because we deserve it but because of the tremendous riches of His grace.
Well, what else does Paul say? Let us go to verse 8:
[Gods grace] that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
Here is Paul telling us that this knowledge that is what the word wisdom means, the Greek word means special knowledge (Remember what Jesus said to the Jews in John 8:32: You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.) this special knowledge is the knowledge, the truth as it is in Christ, for this truth is our only hope, our only salvation. And in this knowledge we have the love and the redemption abounding from God towards us. Ephesians 1:9:
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ....
I want to pause here because there are three main pronouns that you will find in this epistle to the Ephesians. First of all, there is the you. When Paul uses the word you in this epistle, he is referring to the Gentile world. When he uses the pronoun we, he is referring to his fellow Jews, including himself. But here in verse 9, he is using the third pronoun, us, and the word us refers to Jews and Gentiles. So what Paul is saying in verse 9 is, Having made known to us, Jews and Gentiles, the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself. You see, the gospel was presented to the Jews and to the world through the Jews, in a type form through a promise and there were many hidden facts that were not fully revealed, were not understood by Gods people before the Christ event. But since the cross, the mysteries of salvation have no longer been hidden from us. It is now brought out into the open. And that mystery, of course, is the in Christ motif, the new history that God has given you and me and every man in the holy history of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What is this wonderful truth? The truth is that [John 3:16]:
...God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
But Gods desire is that nobody should perish, that all should come to repentance, that whoever believes should not perish but have eternal life. This was Gods purpose right from the foundation of the world. You see, Adams fall did not take God by surprise, but God has something wonderful for you and me and, as we see in Romans 5 what God has done for us, what God has obtained for us in His Son Jesus Christ, is something far greater than what we ever had in Adam even before the Fall. Oh, I tell you, in Christ we are not third-class citizens like we were in Adam. You see, in Adam we were number three. God is, of course, always number one; the angels are number two; and we were created a little lower than the angels. But, through the redemption of our Lord Jesus Christ which God obtained in Him, we have been raised, not back to the position that we lost in Adam but we have been raised to sit with Jesus Christ in heavenly places, which means that we are above the angels. We are joint heirs with Christ. We shall rule with Him; we shall reign with Him. That is the wonderful privilege that the New Testament brings to us, the mystery that was hidden in the past but now has been made manifest. Look at verse 10 of Ephesians 1:
...To be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
It is only in Christ that we have the blessed hope. Those who are in heaven, like Moses and Elijah, those of us who are waiting for Him and for His second coming, will all be joined together and rejoice in salvation which God obtained for us in Christ.
Listen to verse 11:
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will....
Salvation from beginning to end is all of God. We are simply the recipients of His love, His mercy, His grace, and all we can say with Paul is, Thank you, God, for Your unspeakable gift, Jesus Christ.
...In order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
We who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. Paul is writing to first century Christians and he is saying, We were the first ones who trusted in Christ beginning with the disciples, then with the Gentiles after Pentecost and, of course, the Jews, too, all of us, Paul says, praise God for His glory. Look at verse 13:
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit....
Keep in mind, this is a prison letter. Paul is not concerned about himself. He is writing to people who were discouraged, people, as we shall see when we get to chapter three, who began to think like this, If God cannot protect the great apostle Paul who is now languishing in a Roman prison, what hope is there for us? And Paul says, Look, I am in prison because God wants me there. You will discover in this epistle Paul never refers to himself as a prisoner of Rome but as a prisoner of Jesus Christ. But, above all, Paul is saying here in this first part of Ephesians 1 that our security, our anchor is in Christ and this security has been sealed by the Holy Spirit who was given to us to keep in mind the hope of our salvation in Christ who is the guarantee. Paul says in Ephesians 1:14:
[The promised Holy Spirit] who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are Gods possession to the praise of his glory.
When Christ comes the second time, salvation will become reality. It is a hope but it is a hope that is guaranteed. It is not a hope that is bothered by the maybe problem. There is no maybe in Christ. Our salvation is guaranteed in Christ for, in Him, we have a history that fully satisfied the law of God in terms of its positive demands as well as in terms of justice. In Christ, you and I have salvation full and complete and it does not matter what our situation is. Let us hold on to this truth. It is the most glorious truth in Scripture. It is the central theme of Pauls theology and it is my prayer that you shall know this truth and this truth will set you free, free from guilt and condemnation, free from distress, free from anxiety, free to live a happy, glorious Christian life. This is my prayer for you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.