1. Spiritual Blessings in Christ (Ephesians 1:1-6)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (19:39)

Ephesians 1:1-6

Christ the Redeemer (1931) by Paul Landoviski, Rio de Janeiro
Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor, 1931), designed by Paul Landoviski (French-Polish monumental sculptor, 1875-1961) and built by engineer Heitor da Silva Costa, opens his arms in blessing (100 ft. statue on 20 ft.pedestal, on the 2,300-foot peak of Corcovado Mountain, overlooking Rio di Janeiro, Brazil). Larger image.
"1:1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
2Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3Praise 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. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will -- 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves." (Ephesians 1:1-6)

As soon as Paul is finished with the preliminaries of opening the letter, he seems to break out in a psalm of praise -- "Praise be to the God … who has blessed us…." Today's lesson overflows with all the blessings that we Christians are blessed with. God's wonderful generosity is on display.

Before we begin this passage, however, let me show you the big picture, since in just a moment we'll be focusing on the details. I want you to see both the "forest" and the "trees": In this passage and the next, which together make up the introduction to Ephesians, Paul tells us that we are:

  • In Christ
  • Holy and blameless,
  • Chosen,
  • Adopted as sons and daughters of God, and
  • Forgiven

and have been given:

  • Knowledge of the mysteries of God
  • A purpose to live for God's praise, and
  • The Holy Spirit as a foretaste of future glory.

Now to the details!

Grace and Peace to the Saints (1:1-2)

Let's examine it verse-by-verse:

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (1:1-2)

I am immediately struck by three words in verse 1 -- apostle, saints, and faithful.

"Apostle" (apostolos), "messenger, delegate, envoy," denotes a person sent with a specific commission or mission, from the verb apostello, "to send."1 Paul makes it clear from the start that he speaks with apostolic authority that comes directly from Jesus Christ. Moreover, he writes according to God's will. This is no casual communication, nor is it to be taken as just man's word, but as the words of Christ through Paul.

He addresses the letter to "saints." But saints aren't a bunch of people wearing halos; they are real, fallible people. "Saint" (hagios), when used of human beings, means "consecrated or dedicated to God, holy," that is, reserved for God and his service.2 Saints aren't holy because we are perfect. We are holy because we are set apart and dedicated to God, because we belong to God exclusively. "You are not your own, you were bought at a price" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

The third word is "faithful" (pistos). The word means "trustworthy, faithful, dependable, inspiring of trust or faith."3 Paul addresses the saints as faithful ones. Then he goes on to describe their location or relationship – "in Christ Jesus." We're more used to the phrase "Jesus Christ," but Paul sometimes uses the word order "Christ Jesus" (1:1 twice, 2:20; 3:1), emphasizing Jesus' title -- "Messiah, Christ" along with his given name -- "Jesus," which means "Yahweh saves."

Paul concludes his greeting with the words "Grace" -- the characteristic Greek greeting -- combined with "Peace" (Hebrew shalom), the characteristic Hebrew greeting.

Blessings in the Heavenly Realms (1:3)

One way to look at this letter is as a spontaneous outpouring of praise to God. It certainly begins that way. But now we find that the praise consists of an enumeration of God's great gifts to his children, his blessings.

"Blessed (eulogētos, "blessed, praised") be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed (eulogeō) us in Christ with every spiritual blessing (eulogia) in the heavenly places…." (1:3, NRSV)

It’s pretty obvious that each of the three blessings in this verse are translations of closely related Greek words. The verb eulogeō means here "to bestow a favor, provide with benefits."4 The noun eulogia is "the act or benefit of blessing."5

What we have here are the blessings come full circle, beginning with God ("who has blessed us … with every spiritual blessing") and finding their culmination in God ("blessed be the God and Father…."). God blesses us graciously, without any compulsion -- just because he wants to. And we bless back, spontaneously, without any compulsion -- because we are thankful and love God.

Notice two things about these blessings:

  1. They are "spiritual" (pneumatikos) blessings. These aren’t mere physical or natural blessings, but blessings of our spirit by God’s Spirit. The blessing of knowledge, the blessing of love, the blessing of mercy, the blessing of salvation -- the list goes on and on. He gives us every spiritual blessing. God is generous, not tight-fisted, in giving out his spiritual blessings.
  2. They are offered in the heavenly realm, not the earthly realm. The Greek noun epouranios, can refer either to (1) the sky or heavens as an astronomical phenomenon, or, as here, to (2) pertaining to be associated with a locale for transcendent things and beings, "heavenly, in heaven."6 We'll consider the implications of this further in chapter 2 of this study.

In Christ

Ephesians introduces us to a phrase that we see throughout Paul's letters, but especially here -- "in Christ." In the first 14 verses of this Letter, the phrase (or its equivalent) occurs 11 times:

  1. "The faithful in Christ Jesus" (vs. 1)
  2. "Every spiritual blessing in Christ" (vs. 3)
  3. "Chose us in him" (vs. 4)
  4. "Freely given us in the One he loves" (vs. 6)
  5. "In him we have redemption" (vs. 7)
  6. "Which he purposed in Christ" (vs. 9)
  7. "To gather up all things in him" (vs. 10, NRSV)
  8. "In him we were also chosen" (vs. 11)
  9. "The first to hope in Christ" (vs. 12)
  10. "Included in Christ" (vs. 13a)
  11. "Marked in him with a seal" (vs. 13b)

Elsewhere in Ephesians it is found at 1:20; 2:6-7, 10, 13; 3:6, 11, 21; and 4:32. The common Greek preposition en seems to be used in one of two senses in the phrase "in Christ" as found in Ephesians:

  1. Local (locative):  "in close association with.7" Often the phrase seems to carry the idea of "incorporation into Christ."8
  2. Instrumental: "Marker introducing means or instrument, with, by means of."9

The preposition is used both ways in Ephesians, but I'm particularly intrigued by the local idea of incorporation into Christ, which I believe applies to most of the verses in our passage, especially in verse 11 where it talks about all creation being summed up in Christ as head. Likewise, in chapter 2 there are a remarkable number of compound verbs carrying the idea "together with," such as ""made alive with Christ" (2:5), "raised ... with Christ" (2:6a), "seated with him" (2:6b), etc. We are all "in Christ," part of him and he part of us. The primary idea of Ephesians is not Christ as the means by whom all these things come (though, of course, he is the means).  Rather the primary idea is how we are joined with him in a spiritual sense. Our whole life is "in Christ." (See also Romans 5:12-19; 8:1; and 1 John 5:11-12.)

Q1. (Ephesians 1:3) What does it mean to you to be "in Christ" -- incorporated into Christ? What are the implications of this for your life?
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Predestination and Election (1:4-5)

Now, let's jump off the pier into deep water -- predestination. This whole passage 1:3-14 is full of words that describe God purposing, planning, willing, and choosing from before the world’s beginning.

I've heard people tell me that they don't believe in predestination. What they mean is that they don't believe what some people claim are the results of predestination, that exclude people from God's grace with no opportunity for redress. But if you believe the Bible, you believe in predestination, that is, you believe in God destining things to happen before they take place in our temporal world. Predestination is in the Bible in black and white.

Of course, none of us can pretend to really fathom predestination, much less understand it. So instead of trying to wrap your logical mind around predestination or rejecting it out of hand, just let these words of God’s willing in this passage wash over you like a spring shower, reminding you that your God is greater than you and me and has planned much for us that is beyond our understanding! Look at this string of words:

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will (thelēma) of God."

1:4

"For he chose (eklegomai) us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight."

1:5

"In love he predestined (proorizō) us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure (eudokia) and will (thelēma)…."

1:9

"And he made known to us the mystery of his will (thelēma) according to his good pleasure (eudokia), which he purposed (protithēmi10) in Christ…."

1:11

In him we were also chosen (klēroō11), having been predestined (proorizō) according to the plan (prothesis12) of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose (boulē13) of his will (thelēma) …."

The gist is that God has a plan that he is bringing to fruition and you and I are part of it. Now, let’s consider verses 4 and 5 carefully:

"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…." (1:4-5)

When Paul says, "he chose us in him before the creation of the world," he is speaking of choosing the Church, now largely Gentile as the Gospel has mushroomed and spread in the Mediterranean world. Let's examine some of these words related to planning and choosing:

  • "Chose" is the verb eklegomai, "to pick out, choose," from which we get our English word "election." Here it carries a reflexive idea, "select someone/something for oneself," to make a choice in accordance with significant preference.14
  • The next word, "predestined" focuses on the time of the choosing. "Predestined" (NIV), "predestinated" (KJV), and "destined" (NRSV) is the Greek verb proorizō, "decide upon beforehand, predetermine." The word is used only six times in the New Testament: Romans 8:29, 30; Acts 4:28; 1 Corinthians 2:7; and twice in our passage: 1:5 and 1:11.15
  • Another important word in our passage is "will," used three times in verses 1, 5 and 11. The noun thelema, "will" means "what one wishes to happen, what is willed."16

Enough Greek for a moment. It's pretty clear by his vocabulary that Paul is emphasizing that the Gentile Church is not some accident of history, but part of God's carefully conceived and executed plan, begun before the ages, before the world was created, which comes to focus in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Q2. (Ephesians 1:4-5) What is scary about predestination? What is comforting? Why does Paul bring up predestination? Why do you think he is praising God for it in the "hearing" of the Ephesians?
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Chosen for Holiness (1:4)

So far we've looked at the planning and choosing process. Now let's see what we were chosen to be and do.

"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ...." (1:4-5)

What we chosen for is:

  1. To be holy and blameless in his sight

    AND
  2. To be adopted as sons

"Holy" (Greek hagios, the same word as "saints" in verse 1) means that we are consecrated to God, separated to him as his possession. God has claimed us and we belong to him.17

"Blameless" (Greek amōmos) means "without blemish" and was used of animals that were brought to the temple for sacrifice. These sacrificial animals given to God must be perfect -- not lame or diseased.18

Notice the sphere of this holiness and blamelessness -- "in his sight." Children misunderstand their relationship sometimes because they don't have enough experience to see themselves in perspective. A young teenager, for example, may feel gangly and self-conscious with physical changes that are taking place rapidly. I'm ugly, he might think or she might imagine. But in the parent's eyes, the youngster may be quite on track in development appropriate to his or her age.

God has forgiven our sins through Jesus Christ. Now he sees us as "holy" -- completely, wholly his -- and "blameless" -- one who can stand before his throne with a slate wiped clean of any sin or imperfection.

Q3. (Ephesians 1:4) What does it mean to be "holy"? In what sense can you stand "blameless" before God?
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Chosen to Be Adopted (1:5-6)

Now Paul introduces another concept that has been in the mind of God from before the beginning -- adoption (Greek hiothesia).

"In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will -- to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves." (1:5-6)
Disciple Lessons from Ephesians, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
All the lessons are now available as an e-book or printed book for your convenience.

In Paul's day, one could move from the lowest class to the highest by means of adoption. A beloved slave could be freed (manumitted) and then adopted by a Roman citizen. Upon adoption, the slave became a son, an heir, and a citizen. An adopted son now had the same rights and privileges as a naturally-born son.19

(Incidentally, Paul's term "adoption as sons" includes women Christians also, but to be culturally accurate with the analogy, the position and privileges of sons were much greater than those of daughters in the Mediterranean world. In the Kingdom of God women and men inherit fully and equally. Hallelujah!)

You can't entirely blame parents for who their children become. Kids have a way of sometimes being very different from their biological parents. But we are blessed by being adopted into God's family because God, knowing fully who we are (including our weaknesses, foibles, and sins) wanted us in particular and so adopted us. We aren't in God's family by happenstance of birth (to continue with the adoption analogy), but by God's choice. God loves you!

Q4. (Ephesians 1:5-6) Why is adoption a particularly apt illustration of God's relationship with us? Why is the concept of adoption encouraging to us?
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Prayer

Our Father, we thank you so much for the love of God that you have included us in Jesus Christ. Give us an experience of the richness of the family of God into which we have been adopted. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"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." (Ephesians 1:3)

"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight." (Ephesians 1:4)

References

  1. Apostello, BDAG 122.
  2. Hagios, BDAG 10-11.
  3. Pistos, BDAG 820-821.
  4. Eulogeō, BDAG 408. The basic meaning is eu, "good" + logia "word, speaking."
  5. Eulogia, BDAG 408.
  6. Epouranios, BDAG 388.
  7. Frederick Danker notes this usage especially in Paul and John, "to designate a close personal relation in which the referent of the en-term is viewed as the controlling influence: under the control of, under the influence of, in close association with." En, BDAG 327-328, meanings 1 and 4.c, "Marker of a position defined as being in a location, "in, among," and by extension, "marker of close association within a limit, in." See also Albrecht Oepke, en, TDNT 2:537-543. "Being 'in Christ' expresses the operation of salvation in the field of force that Christ sets up" (Walter Grundmann, chriō, ktl., TDNT 9:527-580).
  8. Bruce, 253, fn. 24.
  9. En, BDAG 328, 5.b.
  10. "Purposed" (NIV, KJV) or "set forth" (NRSV) used in verse 9 is the verb protithēmi, "set before." It can mean "set forth publicly" or to have something in mind beforehand, "plan, purpose, intend something," as in our passage (BDAG 889).
  11. "Chosen" (NIV) or "obtained an inheritance" (KJV, NRSV) in verse 11 is klēroō. The root idea of this word group is "lot," either a lot which is drawn in order to determine a decision or a portion of land assigned by lot. (BDAG 548-549. Werner Forester, "klēros, ktl.," TDNT 3:758-769).
  12. "Plan" (NIV) or "purpose" (KJV, NRSV) in verse 11 is the noun prothesis, that which is planned in advance, "plan, purpose, resolve, will" (BDAG 869).
  13. "Purpose" (NIV) or "counsel" (KJV, NRSV) is the noun boulē, that which one decides, "resolution, decision" (BDAG 181-182).
  14. Eklegomai, BDAG 305.
  15. Proorizō, BDAG 873.
  16. Thelema, BDAG 447.
  17. Hagios, BDAG 10-11.
  18. Amōmos, BDAG 56.
  19. Hiothesia, BDAG 1024.

Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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