3. The Greatness of Our Christian Inheritance (Ephesians 1:15-23)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (24:50)

Fruit bowl and partridge? in a columbarium of the catacomb of St. Sebastian, 3rd centruy
A bowl of fruit, a symbol of the abundance of the Christian inhertiance in heaven, decorates a third century Christian burial place (Catacomb of St. Sebastian Rome, columbarium, fresco).

"15For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (Ephesians 1:15-23)

 

I've found that I need my wife to see things that I don't, to understand people's emotions better. I can be so dull sometimes, so blind. Then she'll say something about watching their body language and listening to their heart, and I'll say, "Oh."

We can be just as dull when it comes to Christianity. The limits of our own personal participation in how God works may be small. People in our local fellowship may be limited in faith or love or experience. And so our understanding of the gospel can be constrained, tiny, narrow.

The passage we're studying is a definite vision-expander. Paul helped pioneer the church at Ephesus, but now it's been years since he's seen them. Many new people have joined the congregation, but he prays for them. He hears of the astounding faith and love of people in this church (1:15) and rejoices. "I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers" (1:16). He prays and rejoices, and then asks for a special revelation to come to them. He prays that God will take off their blinders and expand their minds so that they can understand the hugeness of the faith, "so that you may know him better" (1:17b).

A Great Vision (1:17-19a)

"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe." (Ephesians 1:17-19a)

The content of Paul's prayer for their enlightenment is three-fold. As I read his prayer, I see a big, three-dimensional Valentine with eyes (and maybe eyelashes, I don't know). The big eyes on this red heart are closed. Not closed tightly, but closed. "I pray," Paul says, "that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…" (1:18a). One eye begins to open a little, and then another. The big Valentine winces a bit as it gets adjusted to the light that is now starting to come in through squinted eyes. Wow, I can see things out there I didn't even know existed. The other eye opens as Paul prays for a specific aspect of revelation. The heart with closed eyes has now become an excited heart, beating wildly with joy and anticipation as it begins to see new things, understand new truths. "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened" (1:18a).

Hope to Which He Has Called You (1:18b)

First, he prays that they "may know the hope to which he has called you." Hope in this verse (Greek elpis) is not some wishy-washy "hope so" desire, but a firm expectation -- "the looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment, hope, expectation."1 This is eager watchfulness. We can become bored, lazy, hopeless, listless. Jesus Christ is the "hope of glory" for us (Colossians 1:27b). Christ's return is our "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13). Jesus provides the expectation that he will work through our prayers and our hands. Jesus Christ provides the hope that motivates us that the future with him will be better.

We have been called to a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11). It is our calling to look forward, to anticipate, even to hasten Christ's coming in power and in glory (2 Peter 3:12). Paul prays for our hope to expand and embrace a big future, rather than shrivel in pain, bitterness, and discouragement or die in a parched desert of spiritual starvation. To a grand view of our future in Jesus Christ we have been called, brothers and sisters. Our hope -- when we catch this view -- is truly glorious!

Q1. (Ephesians 1:18b) What do we Christians have to look forward to? How should this hope be a major motivation in our present-day lives? How should this hope affect our decisions and our lifestyle? How does our great hope differ from the hope of the average non-believer?
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His Glorious Inheritance in the Saints (1:18c)

Second, Paul wants us to know "the riches of his glorious inheritance2 in the saints." What is an inheritance? It consists of the carefully accumulated possessions of another, set aside and preserved to pass on to one's heirs. Ours is a "glorious inheritance," Paul says -- an inheritance which is attended by glory, which consists of glory in his presence, and which makes us rich beyond all comparison.

We are to comprehend the degree of the riches of his inheritance. Greek ploutos means "wealth, abundance, plentiful supply."3 It is not meager but abundant, overflowing, beyond counting.

We live lives of struggle and hurt, of love and of reaching out, but we fall so short. Paul prays that we will be able to comprehend that which we have ahead of us as a reward above all measure -- a precious redemption purchased at great cost by our Brother, Jesus Christ. Someone described GRACE as an acronym -- "God's Riches At Christ's Expense." An inheritance. But more than that, it is an inheritance "in the saints." Ours is not a solo award, but one we will share forever and ever with all God's people, living and dead. Oh, don't worry, there's plenty for all. But it is shared with the family.

Sometimes we are tempted to isolate ourselves from others. We've suffered too much rejection, we have some "history" that makes us love-shy, and so we practice our own form of hermit-Christianity. But our inheritance is "in the saints," as part of a corporate body.

Q2. (Ephesians 1:18c) If you knew that in a few years you would inherit $10 million, would it affect your life now? How should our expectation of an inheritance in God's presence temper our present-day concerns? Since this inheritance will be shared with "the saints" -- our Christian family -- how should that affect our fellowship with them?
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His Incomparably Great Power (1:18d)

First, hope. Second, inheritance. Third, Paul prays that we might know "his incomparably great power for (eis) us who believe." The Greek preposition eis often carries a sense of motion, "into, in, toward, to" and sometimes as a marker of goals.4 The use here could carry the idea of power directed (1) "into us," "toward us," or (2) "for our benefit." While it's difficult to say which it is precisely, the idea is still wonderful!

In this case, God's immeasurable power is into and unto us believers. It is "incomparably great" -- a pair of Greek words. Huperballō means "to attain a degree that extraordinarily exceeds a point on a scale of extent, go beyond, surpass, outdo."5 The second word is megethos, "greatness, a quality of exceeding a standard of excellence."6 Paul heaps one word upon another to impress upon us the extreme, humongous, immeasurable nature of the power. God's full horsepower at our disposal, working in us who believe.

What is this power (Greek dunamis), this "might, strength, force, capability"?7 Jesus said,

"I tell you the truth: It is good for you that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you." (John 14:6-7)

He promised, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you" (Acts 1:8a). And because this Counselor, the Holy Spirit, now lives inside of us, with us at the very deepest level, we will do greater things than even Jesus' miracles (John 14:12).

You see, the very same power that empowered Jesus' ministry on earth dwells in us. The very same power that called Lazarus to come out of the tomb lives in you in the presence of the Third Person of the Trinity. The power in the hands that touched blind eyes and made them see, that broke bread and fishes and fed 5,000 is in you.

But I don't see anything of the kind, you say. I feel powerless. Perhaps, but the scripture says that you are filled with incomparably great power toward us who believe, "like (Greek kata, "in accordance with, just as, similar to"8) as his mighty strength which he (God) exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead."

I don't see it, you contend. Exactly. Laying hold of this power today is a function of our faith. It is a function of seeing the truth in our hearts and then acting upon it. That is why Paul is praying diligently that the eyeballs of your heart may be opened, that your blindness be cured, that your faith be broadened. And mine too.

In the past we have lived far below our hope, our inheritance, and our power. But we need live there no longer. God is opening our eyes and stirring up our faith. "'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him' -- but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit" (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

Q3. (Ephesians 1:18d) Why are we powerless sometimes? Is it an inadequacy with the source or with our faith? Why do some congregations and movements produce disciples with miracle-believing faith and others produce disciples with wimpy faith? How can this be changed?
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A Great Christ (1:19b-23)

"That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (Ephesians 1:19b-23)

Paul's prayer for the Ephesian Christians -- and for us -- runs into praise for his Jesus. His Christ is not but a pleasant memory, a hallowed tradition, or a sacred icon. His Christ is a living Victor.

First, God raised him from the dead. God broke the power of death which held Christ, and set him free forever, the first-fruits of the resurrection. Jesus' resurrection, as we'll see in the next chapter of our study, prefigures our own.

Second, Paul's Christ has been seated at God's right hand, the place of power and authority, of co-regency with God the Father.

Third, this "realm" (NIV) of the "heavenlies" (KJV) is a place of spiritual authority over every created being -- animal, vegetable, mineral, demon or angel, saint or sinner, over every other pretentious name or title or position of honor in this world or the next. You may be impressed by your boss's title and position. Christ is far over him. The glamour and glitter of this world catches our eyes and sometimes our hearts. Christ is exalted over all of this. All this will come and go and turn to dust and ashes, but Christ will remain.


Stele of pink sandstone commemorating the Victory of Naram-suen/Naramsin "Grandson of Sargon" over the "Lullubi people" (2230 B.C), Lourve, Paris. See how the necks of the enemies are "under his feet." Full stele.

We see the term "heavenly places, realms" (Greek epouranios)9 again in vs. 20b, which we first saw in 1:3, and which appear again in 2:6 and 6:12. It refers to the unseen spiritual realm in which dwell God, angels, and various members of a kind of evil demonic hierarchy: "rule, authority, power, and dominion" (vs. 21). The secular world, and especially the scientific community, used to deny the existence of the spiritual realm. But then came Star Wars which popularized "the dark side of the Force." There has been a string of TV shows touching on spiritual phenomena -- angels, mediums, necromancers, etc. -- which have helped our society to become aware of the reality of the spirit world, no matter how far these shows may have departed from a Scriptural understanding. The heavenly realm is a place of struggle with evil (6:12) which can be overcome day by day only through God's spiritual "armor" and power.

Fourth, God has placed all things under Christ's feet. This is a military expression in which the victor in battle demonstrates his superiority over his defeated foes. They are not only under his feet in spiritual authority, but he has conquered them and become head over them. You may not see it in your corner of the world yet, but it has been done. The decisive battle was fought and won at Calvary and the Empty Tomb. The rest is just a mop-up operation to secure the victory to every realm and place on this earth. In a sense, you are part of the Occupation Force for Jesus where you live, work, study, and play, and part of an Expiditionary Force to extend his victory to its logical conclusion among every tribe, people group, and nation on the face of the earth.

Christ as Head (1:22)

In Ephesians we see the idea of "head" or "head and body" four times.

1:10

"… When the times will have reached their fulfillment -- to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head (anakephalaioō), even Christ."

1:22-23

"And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body…."

4:15-16

"… We will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body … grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."

5:23

"For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior."

The Greek noun for "head" is kephalē. It means first the physical head, and then extends to a figurative use as "being of high status, head." With living beings, kephalē refers to superior rank.10 Kephalē is a key concept in Ephesians that we'll consider in greater detail later.

Q4. (Ephesians 1:20-22) Why do we so often take a "pass" when it comes to spiritual warfare? Why is Christ's exaltation, demonstration of complete victory, and superior rank over all spiritual powers important enough for Paul to mention it to his readers? Why do we tend to feel powerless in the face of spiritual enemies? What was Paul assuring the Ephesians of? What does this encourage us to do?
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A Great Church (1:22-23)

"And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (Ephesians 1:22-23)

This passage concludes with a marvelous vision of the Church. The word "church" used in vs. 23 is Greek ekklēsia, from ek, "out" + kaleo, "to call," with the root idea of "the called-out ones." Classical Greek used ekklēsia to refer to a "regularly summoned legislative body, assembly."11 In the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Old Testament) it means "the Jewish congregation." This is not a "mystical church" idea so much as an assembled group of people. The book of Ephesians has a very high view of the local congregation, much higher than both the world and church members who act as if the church were merely a human institution.

"Pooh! The church," I hear people say. "That sorry institution? Pooh!" Yes, your church, maybe. But notice three things about Christ's church:

First, the church is the recipient of Christ's conquering and headship over all things. It is "for the church."12 Christ values the church extremely highly, since his work is to directly benefit the church.

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.

Second, the church is his Body. He is the head, we are the body, the hands and fingers, the voices and feet. We are Christ's music and spokesmen, his messengers and workers, his lovers-of-humanity and his clear eyes of acceptance and forgiveness and love. We are his representatives. Don't tell me the church is obsolete! We have a great calling as Christ's body, and we've just begun to learn how to be little christs ("Christians") in his world.

Third and last, we, the church, are the fullness (plērōma)13 of Christ, who fills and fulfills everything. We are to be the full expression of Christ. We are to be so filled with Christ that our content becomes Him, that our love becomes blended with His love, that our laughter echoes his own joy, that our sacrifice mirrors his. We are to be the fullness of Christ. Indeed, we are "complete in Him" (plērōma, KJV, Colossians 2:10).

No wonder Paul prayed for the Ephesians, prayed that their eyes might be opened. His prayer extends to our eyes also.

Q5. (Ephesians 1:22-23) When we neglect to be an active part of a local congregation, what particular blessings do we miss out on according to Paul in this verse? How do we, by our absence, withhold this blessing from others?
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Prayer

Lord Jesus, open our eyes, too! Help us to be deeply dissatisfied with our own meager level of Christian understanding and practice. Help us to seek you, yearn for you, long to see and experience and enter into more. Help us to see and follow in the fresh footprints of the Victorious Christ as he walks in our world. Lord, open our eyes and hearts to you. Amen.

Key Verses

"And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (Ephesians 1:22-23)

References

  1. Elpis, BDAG 319-320.
  2. "Inheritance" is klēronomia, the common word for "inheritance," then "possession, property." Here it is used of our possession of "transcendent salvation," as the inheritance of God's children (BDAG 547-548).
  3. Ploutos, BDAG 832.
  4. Eis, BDAG 288-291.
  5. Huperballō, BDAG 1032.
  6. Megethos, BDAG 624-625.
  7. Dunamis, BDAG 262-263.
  8. Kata, 5b, BDAG 511-513.
  9. Epouranios, "pertaining to being associated with a locale for transcendent things and beings, heavenly, in heaven" (BDAG 388).
  10. Kephale, BDAG 541-542.
  11. Eklēssia, BDAG 303-304.
  12. Dative of object.
  13. Plērōma, can refer to "that which fills" as well as "that which is full of something," which is the idea in our verse. A century or two later, plērōma was a Gnostic technical term. In Paul's day the term was used in the mystery religions, but not with the full Gnostic meaning. It is used four times in Ephesians (1:10, 23; 3:19; 4:13) (BDAG 829-830).

Copyright © 1985-2017, 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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