American Journal of Biblical
Copyright © 2011, J.W. Carter. Scripture quotes from KJV
The Great Theater, Ephesus.
On Paul's return from Macedonia on his second missionary journey, he stopped briefly in the city of Ephesus where he preached the gospel to members of the Jewish community. At the time, Ephesus was one of the largest cities in the known world. It was best known for its worship of the Greek goddess Artemis, and the temple that the people built in her honor is one of the great wonders of the ancient world. Many significant ruins of the city of Ephesus still exist today, making it a common stopping place for tourists.
Paul passed through Ephesus quickly.
Acts 18:19-21. And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. 20When they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not; 21But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will.
Paul did return to Ephesus on his third missionary journey, and stayed there for a period of three years, the longest time spent with any of his missionary churches. Certainly, during that time Paul developed many close relationships with the people of that church, so when he heard of difficulties that were being experienced by the church there, and the likelihood that he might not see them again, he was motivated to write.
When Paul returned to Jerusalem from his assistance to the Ephesian church, he was attacked by the Jewish leaders through false accusations of his guilt of defiling the temple by bringing a Gentile into its courts. He was thrown into prison, and left there by those religious leaders that had no material case against him. Paul, due to his status as a Roman citizen, appealed his case to Caesar. While in Rome awaiting his hearing, Paul wrote a series of letters, referred to as the "Prison Epistles" that later became books of the Christian New Testament. This places their writing toward the end of Paul's life. Paul writes the letter of Ephesians to encourage its Gentile members, validating its place in the faith and in Christian history, and providing significant counsel in Christian living.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:
The writer of this epistle identifies himself by the name of Paul, and declares himself an apostle. This leaves little doubt in the minds of many people that the writer of this letter is indeed Paul, the centrally documented missionary in the book of Acts. Those who challenge this authorship question the lack of personal references to a church that the Apostle Paul would have known so well. The opening to this letter is in the common language and style of first-century personal correspondence. Written on scrolls, letters were appropriately opened with the name of the writer.
Paul identifies himself as an Apostle, literally, 'to send' or 'one sent', one who was personally sent by Jesus into the ministry. Predominantly applied to those who Jesus called to follow Him at the beginning of His ministry, the book of Acts also broadens the usage of the title to refer to others who have been called to spread the gospel (Acts 14:4, 14; Rom. 16:7; et. al.).
The letter is written to the Christians who are members of the Ephesian church community , people who have demonstrated their faithfulness to Jesus Christ.
Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul opens the letter by replacing the typical secular idiom that is used here with a salutation that invokes immediately his confidence in the Lord and His concern on their behalf. Where a Greek letter often opened with "rejoice", charein, Paul replaced it with a similar sounding word, charis, or grace. He also included the typical Jewish salutation, shalom, but in its Greek form, irene. Those who have faith in God through Jesus Christ have already experienced God's grace, yet by using this play on words, Paul reminds them and us that we are God's people only by his grace, and he desires that we fully accept that grace so we can also experience God's peace in our hearts and minds. This peace refers, not only to a cessation of turmoil, but to that which is derived from spiritual wholeness, or fullness.
Paul also reminds his leaders that this grace and peace come from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. In this short statement of greeting, Paul has summarized a significant part of the gospel: God has, by His grace, offered us peace with Him through Jesus Christ. How has the knowledge of this impacted your life? What are some ways that your life has been changed because of your faith in God through Jesus Christ? When we come to realize just how awesome God the Father is, and what He has done for us, we can do little other than to praise and worship God, giving Him thanks for the great gift He has given us.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
The NIV opens this verse with the word, "Praise." Though we see the word blessed, or blessing three times in this statement, the actual text contains three different forms of the word. It is not surprising that, following Paul's opening, he would burst into words of praise. If we as readers are following what Paul is saying in this opening, such praise is spontaneous. This also follows the typical letter that would start with an obligatory blessing on the one receiving the letter, Paul replaces that with a fully developed statement that not only brings praise to God, but reminds us of how our lives are blessed because of our relationship with Him.
Furthermore, those blessings impact our lives in a particular way. Though we may find material blessing in this life, the blessings that referred to here come from, or exist in, 'heavenly places' or in the 'heavenlies,' in the literal Greek. The exact translation of this idiom is difficult, but it is certainly referring to the place in our lives that is reserved for spiritual things, rather than material things. The blessings that we receive from God serve to fill the spiritual void that we experience when God is not in our hearts. The fulfillment of who we are, spiritually, is found in Christ. Thanks to God's gift of grace, and the seal of the Holy Spirit that God has provided to every believer, we no longer have to live our lives in search of the remedy for the absence of love, peace, and joy in our hearts. For this, we can also praise God.
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
It has always been God's plan that people would be able to come into His Holy Presence through Jesus. This was not a new covenant, or dispensation, that took place at the cross, but rather was God's eternal determination, existing before time itself. It had always been God's plan that whoever would come to him through Jesus Christ would be found, like Jesus, to be holy (separated from the world for His purpose) and without blame (forgiven for those sins that separate us from God) because of His love. We may make the choice to turn to God, but God had chosen us from before the beginning of time.
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
The translation of the Greek to the English word, "predestinated," has proved to create much confusion over the years. Many people who lean on the Old English translations such as the KJV, hold to the literal English word, proposing a doctrine that people have no choice in the decision for salvation. An entire school of doctrines and rationalizations have been built around this verse to explain how one can choose, and to be predestined at the same time. The solution to this dilemma is not to find agreement between choice and predestination, it is to understand the original Greek word and its context to biblical usage. If it were true that nobody ever had any choice in the salvation decision, there would be no need for missions, no need to spread the Gospel, because God's choice of who would live and who would die is already made. Some denominations are so convinced of this that they do not support mission work or evangelism.
Some of the confusion also comes from a misunderstanding of who God is. God is the creator of this physical cosmos that we know, and when God created it, He also created time as we experience it. Time is physical property just as mass and energy are. God is eternal and is outside of the limitations of time in the same way that He is outside of the other limitations of this physical cosmos. Because of this, God knows all of what is taking place for all time as He can observe it and interact with it. He knows the choices that we will make, and consequently, we are responsible for those choices. The alternative would make us puppets on a string, and not responsible. Such a doctrine flies in the face of all other biblical doctrines, making it quite erroneous.
The focus of this verse is not on the word, predestination, but on the process of adoption that he pre-determined. Most cultures provide for the adoption of orphan children by non-biological parents. When that adoption takes place, the adopted one takes on the name of the adopter and receives the full benefits of being a member of the adopted family, including the inheritance thereof. In many American states it is not allowed to disown an adopted child. The inheritance cannot be taken away. This is the metaphor that is being emphasized in this verse. When we come to God through Jesus Christ, we are adopted by God as His child, with all of the rights of access, relationship, and an inheritance that will not be taken away. When we realize this, we have little other response then to praise God and love Him all the more.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
Though Paul has already implied this gift of God to the Jews who understood that one could not be acceptable to God without the forgiveness of sins, this statement goes a step further. First, it clarifies the issue for Gentiles, who would not recognize the need for forgiveness in the ways the Jews did. Second, the word for sins that is used here refers to all sins, including sins of choice. The Old Testament, Mosaic, system of sacrifices was set in place such that the shedding of blood could atone for sins. However, the sins that were atoned were only those that were unintentional. There was no sacrifice for sins of choice. That is why King David could not simply perform a sacrificial act and be absolved of his volitional sins of adultery and murder, and he cried out to God for forgiveness. The word for sin used here is also the same word used by Jesus when he forgave the sins of the lame man who was let down through the roof of a house (Mark 2:5). It is because Jesus claimed the authority to forgive this unforgivable sin that he was immediately charged with blasphemy by the religious leaders who then sought to have him destroyed.
God's love for us is so great that He demonstrated it by sending His Son so that through the shedding of His blood so that a way for the forgiveness of all sins could be established (Romans 5:8). Jesus has the authority to forgive sins, for by our placing our faith and trust in Him, He stands with us as our advocate before the Father. When God sees us, He then sees the Holy Spirit in us, and we are no longer condemned to the eternal separation from God that we deserve (1 John 2:1) For this we can certainly thank and praise God.
Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 9Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself,
Another gift that God has given to us is one that we might take for granted, but when considered, is a profundity that is difficult to explain in any manner other than God's love and grace. When we spend some quality time considering who God is, and as the Eternal God, Creator of all that we know, there is one question that may arise that only God Himself can answer: Why would a God so infinitely greater than mankind even bother to interact with us at all? Does any of us dedicated the purpose of our existence to have fellowship with an ant? The difference between God and us is far greater in every way than the difference between us and an ant. However, again because of God's love demonstrated by His grace, He has enacted His plan: a plan that includes revealing Himself to mankind so that we, above all other created beings, can have fellowship with Him, and through faith in Him have that fellowship last for eternity. Rather than ignore us like we ignore the passing of an ant, God has through His unbounded wisdom established communication with us for His own good pleasure. Those who place their faith and trust in God, through the authority for forgiveness demonstrated by Jesus Christ, have access to the God of creation, fettered only by the depth of our own faith, not by His willingness to have fellowship with us. When considered seriously, this gift of God is astounding. For this we can certainly thank and praise God.
That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
Here Paul gives us a glimpse of the end of the age. God has revealed himself to us in a gradual way, starting with the promise to Abraham. His revelation to us was completed with the coming of Jesus Christ. A part of God's plan that was revealed with Jesus was that concerning eschatology: the doctrine of the end times. Jesus taught that this present age would come to an end, and when that point in time occurs He would return to this physical earth to gather those who are saved, taking them with Him into eternity, leaving the remainder of the cosmos to be ultimately destroyed. When we consider this, we must realize that no person deserves to spend eternity with God, but rather we all deserve to be separated from Him because of our continued disobedience to Him. However, when God ends the age of this creation, He will be faithful to save even those whom He has adopted who are alive at that time. That can give every believer the assurance that if Jesus were to return today, that they would be saved. For this we can certainly thank and praise God.
In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:
Again, we here see the word that is translated, "predestined." This word can also be translated, 'chosen,' and such a translation is consistent with God's revealed purpose. God initially chose us, we did not choose Him. We lacked the wisdom and knowledge to find God, as evidenced by man's ignorance of God until He revealed Himself. Every cognizant civilization has always sought for God, (Romans 1-2). However, God chose us be stepping into our lives and giving us 'an inheritance," or a heritage that identifies those who have faith in God with Himself. This is God's plan, not ours. Nothing we can do can serve to obtain this inheritance. Any effort that man can put forth that would serve to reach godliness apart from God's plan will result only in eternal separation from God. God reached out to us. For this we can certainly thank and praise God.
That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
We have looked at many reasons why we have reason to praise God. Here is yet another: God created us for the purpose of praising Him. Those who trust in Jesus Christ for the salvation that comes from the forgiveness that He gives, are to praise God for that wonderful gift. God is pleased when His people praise Him (Heb. 13:15.)
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
Finally, (If for Paul there is ever a final point ...) those who have placed their faith in God through Jesus Christ have the seal of the Holy Spirit. Those who deny the existence of the trinity are missing out on the very power of God. We see in these verses that God, the Father has revealed Himself to man, and through the Messiah, Jesus, has provided a way of forgiveness for us. Then, the Holy Spirit, which is that part of the trinity through which God does all of His work, is given to those who place their faith in Him. The words used for "ye were sealed" used here refer to a seal placed upon a sacred object by the one who is authority. Only the one with authority can open that seal at the time that the purpose for that object is fulfilled. We see the opening of such a seal in John's revelation (Rev. 5:2-9). What this means for us is significant. When God imparts the Holy Spirit into the heart of the believer, He is there to stay. As we drift in and out of obedience as a Christian, the Holy Spirit is continually there to guide and comfort, and to convict of that sin that separates us from immediate fellowship with God. Because the Holy Spirit is sealed within us, He will never leave, no matter how far from God we might travel. Like Jonah, we can listen to the Spirit and return.
We have a tremendous amount to thank and praise God for. Let us never fail to do so.