1. Secure in Christ our Lord (Ephesians 1:1-23)

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

Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor, 1931), designed by Paul Landoviski
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 de Janeiro, Brazil).

If we try to speed-read our way through Ephesians, we'll miss some of Paul's most precious insights. In Ephesians 1, Paul explains how wonderful are the blessings found in Jesus and God's ultimate purpose for Jesus coming to the earth. Take time to savor it!

1.1 Spiritual Blessings in Christ (1:1-6)
1.2 God's Gracious Plan of Redemption  (1:7-14)
1.3 The Greatness of Our Christian Inheritance (1:15-23)

1.1 Spiritual Blessings in Christ (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 (Ephesians 1:1-2)

Let's examine it verse-by-verse:

"1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 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 apostellō, "to send."9 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.10 We saints aren't holy because we are perfect -- as our world tends to define sainthood. 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." The word means "pertaining to being trustworthy, faithful, dependable, inspiring of trust or faith," here, with regard to the Christians it means "pertaining to being trusting, cherishing faith, trust."11 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. (We looked at the words "in Ephesus" in the Introduction, which don't occur in the earliest manuscripts.)

Blessings in the Heavenly Realms (Ephesians 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 us in Christ with every spiritual blessing (eulogia) in the heavenly places...." (Ephesians 1:3, ESV)

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."12 The noun eulogia is an "act or benefit of blessing."13

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" 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."14 We'll consider the implications of this further in Ephesians 2.

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 Ephesians, the phrase (or its equivalent) occurs 11 times:

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

Elsewhere in Ephesians it is found at 1:20; 2:6-7, 10, 13; 3:6, 11, 21; and 4:32.15 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" (Ephesians 2:5), "raised ... with Christ" (Ephesians 2:6a), "seated with him" (Ephesians 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.)

Discussion Questions

We learn by reflecting on what we have learned, processing it, and thinking through its implications. Don't skip this step, or you will have gained head knowledge without heart knowledge! I encourage you to write out your own answer to each question. If you're studying with others, discuss it. If you're studying online, click on the web address (URL) following the question and read others' answers or post your own. (Note: You'll need to register on the Forum before you can post your own answers. https://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/instructions.htm)

To help students of Ephesians to understand what they are reading I've included a number of Discussion Questions. If you are studying Ephesians in 16 lessons, I encourage you to write down an answer for each of the questions. If you are studying Ephesians in 7 lessons, why don't you pick 3 or 4 of the questions in a lesson that intrigue you the most and seek to answer those. To answer every question in each of the 7 lessons would be overwhelming.

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?

Predestination and Election (Ephesians 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. I'll include the Greek words in parenthesis, but don't let that put you off.

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 (protithēmi16) in Christ...."

1:11 -- In him we were also chosen (klēroō17), having been predestined (proorizō) according to the plan (prothesis18) of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose (boulē19) 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:

"4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will...." (Ephesians 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" has the idea of "to pick out, choose," here, especially, "select someone/something for oneself," to make a choice in accordance with significant preference.20 The next word, "predestined" focuses on the time of the choosing, "decide upon beforehand, predetermine."21 Another important word in our passage is "will," used three times in verses 1, 5 and 11. The noun thelēma, "will" means "what one wishes to happen, what is willed."22

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.

Predestination, even though we don't really understand it, is not some sterile, arms-length process Notice the phrase in the NIV and ESV "in love he predestined us." He somehow saw us all that time ago and chose us out of love. Not out of how good we might turn out because of our sterling qualities. But "in love." That's grace!

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?

Chosen for Holiness (Ephesians 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.

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

What we chosen for is:

1. To be holy and blameless in his sight,
2. To be adopted as sons.

"Holy" (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.23

"Blameless" 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.24

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?

Chosen to Be Adopted (Ephesians 1:5-6)

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

"5 In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will -- 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves." (Ephesians 1:5-6)

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.25

(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?


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)

1.2 God's Plan of Redemption (Ephesians 1:7-14)

Audio (18:30)

Thomas Eakins (American painter, 1844-1916), 'The Crucifixion' (1880)
Thomas Eakins (American painter, 1844-1916), 'The Crucifixion' (1880), Oil on canvas, 96 x 54 inches, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In the first part of Paul's introductory section we considered some of God's blessings. He has blessed us in viewing us as holy and blameless. He has blessed us with adoption and the full inheritance of his own sons. He has blessed us by predestining us to live for his glory. And now another "spiritual blessing in heavenly places" -- redemption.

Redemption through His Blood (Ephesians 1:7-8)

"7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding." (Ephesians 1:7-8)

Our culture doesn't think of redemption, since we haven't had legal slavery in the West for more than a century and a half.26 But in Paul's day slavery was very much the norm among the poor in the cities of the Mediterranean. Many of the early Christians were slaves (Ephesians 6:5-8). To them, redemption meant freedom. "Redemption" originally referred to "buying back" a slave or captive, that is "making free" by payment of a ransom. Here it means release from a captive condition, "release, redemption," figuratively of the release from sin that comes though Christ.27

The payment price to buy us back from our slavery to sin was "his blood." Some Christians seem offended by this, that Christ's blood should be the ransom price. Blood sacrifice harkens back to some primitive religion, they mutter. Some hymnals, in fact, have expurgated nearly every hymn that mentions the blood of Christ as being the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

However, this figure is based squarely on the Old Testament sacrificial system of a lamb or other animal being slain for the sins of the people. Animal sacrifice for atonement of sin was God's way of teaching principles of holiness and sin, forgiveness and grace to the early Israelites. In the New Testament, the concept is mentioned numerous times.28 Peter put it this way:

"18 It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed ... 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:18-19).

If you remove Christ's blood from Christianity, his death becomes a mere symbol, sin becomes only human frailty, the results of sin an earthly tragedy, and love and grace are present without any righteousness or justice.

I believe we must take Paul quite seriously when he says rather plainly, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Ephesians 1:7). A price has been paid to set us free from the bondage of sin,29 and that price is Christ's death on the cross. His death bought our freedom.

Q5. (Ephesians 1:7) In what sense have you been "redeemed" from slavery? What do you think your life up to now would have been like, if you hadn't been redeemed? What would your future be like without redemption, do you think?

Grace Lavished on Us (Ephesians 1:8)

The great prize was won, however, at a staggering cost. What an immense act of grace and courage and mercy! Paul completes his sentence with a paean of praise:

"7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding." (Ephesians 1:7-8)

What does it mean "in accordance with the riches of God's grace"? "Grace" is the noun charis, "a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care or help, goodwill."30 Grace, simply, is favor towards someone. Not an earned response from a superior, but favor bestowed simply because it pleases the Giver.

Paul is saying that our redemption and forgiveness are "in accordance with" or "to the extent of 31 the wealth, riches, or abundance32 of God's favor. In other words, our redemption is not just barely enough, but plenteous. Our forgiveness is not scarcely, but abundantly given.

God has not just gone through the motions, just enough to get by, but his grace has been "lavished upon us."33 The picture we are given is of overflowing love, surpassing grace, a cherishing by God that is much more than enough for us -- and certainly undeserved! Meditate on that! That, dear friends, is what Paul is saying to us in this verse.

Uniting All Things in Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10)

Note carefully the next verses which serve as a theme for the entire book of Ephesians:

"9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 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." (Ephesians 1:9-10)

Paul speaks of a "mystery," used in the sense of a "revelation of what was previously hidden but has now been disclosed by God."34 What is this mystery? In both Ephesians and Colossians the mystery refers to the ultimate fulfillment in the end times35 of God's plan of salvation in Christ that Gentiles along with Jews are being saved. The mystery is universal in scope.

Summed Up in Christ

The key idea contained in a rare Greek word variously translated "to bring ... together under one head" (NIV), "gather together in one" (KJV), and "to gather up all things" (NRSV), "to unite all things" (ESV). It carries the ideas of "to gather up, to sum up, recapitulate," and is found in the New Testament elsewhere only at Romans 13:9.36

The point is that in Christ -- not in the church nor in Judaism -- will everything be summed up. Not only the believers of God's people will be summed up in Christ, but "all things in heaven and on earth." Christ is to be the all and in all, the sum of the parts.

Q6. (Ephesians 1:9-10) What is the significance that all things will be brought under one head -- Christ himself? How does this relate to the Creator? What does it say about unity? Extra Credit: How does this verse relate to 1 Corinthians 15:24-28?

Predestined for Praise (Ephesians 1:11-12)

"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, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory." (Ephesians 1:11-12)

In verses 5, 9, and 10 we considered the words "predestined," "plan," "purpose," and "will." Here notice the purpose of this predestination: "that we ... might be for the praise of his glory." Our purpose is praise. "the act of expressing admiration or approval, praise, approval, recognition."37

Have you ever wondered why you are here? Why you were spared in some dangerous accident? Why you are still living, even though you might have been an invalid? We don't know everything God is doing, but we do know this: He has destined us to live for his praise. When people look at you, Jesus intends that they see God.

"In the same way, let your light shine before men,
that they may see your good deeds
and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)

God has placed you and me as lights. God has made us to be a mirror -- to reflect his glory and help people see a glimmer of his greatness living in human flesh. You have an important purpose on this earth, no matter how unimportant you may feel. You have been placed here to bring praise to God! 

Q7. (Ephesians 1:11-12) According to verses 11 and 12, what is God's purpose for our lives? What do we need to do to fulfill this purpose? How does this purpose relate to Matthew 5:13-16?

Sealed by the Spirit as a Guarantee (Ephesians 1:13-14)

Do you feel like Paul is talking about someone else? He is not. He is speaking of you.

"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, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession -- to the praise of his glory." (Ephesians 1:13-14)

So that you might be sure that you are included, he has put his mark on you -- the Holy Spirit. The phrase "marked with a seal" (NIV, NRSV) or "sealed" (ESV, KJV) is a verb meaning, "to mark with a seal as a means of identification, mark, seal."38 You've probably played with sealing wax and a bronze seal or a seal on a ring, so you understand the idea. We see the word again later in the letter:

"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." (Ephesians 4:30)

The seal is a mark of identification and of protection against tampering, until the day it is intended to be opened, "the day of redemption,"39 the day of Christ's return and the rapture of the church.

Paul has a two-fold analogy for the Holy Spirit: (1) as a seal and (2) as a deposit. The phrase "deposit guaranteeing" (NIV), "guarantee" (ESV), "earnest" (KJV), and "pledge" (NRSV) is the noun arrabōn, a legal and commercial technical term meaning payment of a part of a purchase price in advance, "first installment, deposit, down payment, pledge," which secures a legal claim to the article in question, or makes a contract valid.40

The Holy Spirit has a way of bringing a bit of heaven into our lives here on earth. Through the Holy Spirit, God can speak to us and we to God. In the Holy Spirit the incredible power of the Kingdom of God can work in and through us. The Holy Spirit was obviously someone of whom the Ephesian Christians were aware of in their lives. Paul says to them: This Holy Spirit that now lets you glimpse God and heaven is like a deposit on the full amount to be paid later, or, as a songwriter put it, "a foretaste of glory divine."41

You as God's Possession (Ephesians 1:14)

Look at these verses again in terms of being God's possession:

"13b Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession -- to the praise of his glory." (Ephesians 1:13b-14)

Here is another reminder, Christian friend, that you are "God's possession" (NIV), "purchased possession" (KJV), and "God's own people" (NRSV) -- as in 1 Peter 2:9 and Malachi 3:17. The Greek noun means, "that which is acquired, possessing, possession, property."42 "You are not your own, you were bought at a price" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This is another reference to the redemption of slaves.

Q8. (Ephesians 1:13-14) These verses contain two analogies: (1) seal and (2) down payment, with the balance to be paid in a lump sum at the end of the term. When does the "end of the term" occur? How do these analogies help explain how the Holy Spirit functions in our lives?

Full Citizens

Some people think that Ephesians was written to help Gentile Christians get over their inferiority complex and understand that they are every bit as much God's people as the Jewish people -- and I think I agree. As individuals, too, we can have an inferiority complex   -- a feeling that we aren't good enough. That if only God knew what we were really like he wouldn't love us. Our passage is designed to help you get over your inferiority complex.

Let the words of this passage remind you that this is no illusion, but a glorious fact -- called, chosen, forgiven, redeemed, adopted, sealed with the Holy Spirit. God's great blessings are for us who do not deserve them. That is what grace is about. That is what the Gospel is about. And that is why this grace and gospel are so amazing and wonderful. Three centuries ago a former slave trader, John Newton, penned these beloved words:

"Amazing grace,
How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I'm found.
Was blind, but now I see."


Lord, thank you for your amazing grace and love. Thank you for including us in your purpose and plan. Help me to bring praise and glory to you. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding." (Ephesians 1:7-8)

"Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession   -- to the praise of his glory." (Ephesians 1:13-14)

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

Audio (24:50)

Catacomb of St. Sebastian Rome, columbarium, fresco
A bowl of fruit, a symbol of the abundance of the Christian inheritance in heaven, decorates a third century Christian burial place (Catacomb of St. Sebastian Rome, columbarium, fresco).

My wife sees things that I don't. Understands 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.

Today's passage is a definite eye-opener. Paul pioneered the church at Ephesus, but it's been years since he's seen them. New people have joined whom he's never met, yet he prays for them. He hears of their astounding faith and love.

"15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers." (Ephesians 1:15-16)

A Great Vision (Ephesians 1:17-19a)

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).

"17 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. 18 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, 19 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..." (verse 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.

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

"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...." (Ephesians 1:18)

First, he prays that they may know the hope. Hope in this verse 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."43 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 hurt, 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!

Q9. (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?

2. His Glorious Inheritance in the Saints (Ephesians 1:18c)

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know ... the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints...." (Ephesians 1:18)

Second, Paul wants us to know about our inheritance.44 An inheritance 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. "Riches" here refers to "wealth, abundance, plentiful supply."45 It is not a meager, strained, debt-laden estate that you will inherit, but one that is abundant, overflowing, beyond counting.

In this world 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 journey, 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 a "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.

Q10. (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?

3. His Incomparably Great Power (Ephesians 1:19a)

"I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know ... his incomparably great power for us who believe." (Ephesians 1:18-19a)

First, hope. Second, inheritance. Third, Paul prays that we might know "his incomparably great power for us who believe." The idea here is of power directed (1) "into us," "toward us," or (2) "for our benefit."46 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.

  • Hyperballō means "to attain a degree that extraordinarily exceeds a point on a scale of extent, go beyond, surpass, outdo."47
  • Megethos means "greatness, a quality of exceeding a standard of excellence."48

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 and through us who believe.

What is this power (Greek dynamis), this "might, strength, force, capability"?49 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). That's what the Word says!

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

"... Like50 as his mighty strength which he (God) exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead." (Ephesians 1:19b)

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)

Q11. (Ephesians 1:19) 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?

A Great Christ (Ephesians 1:19b-23)

Now Paul gives a vision-expanding, mind-blowing glimpse of the extent of the power that resides in us through the Spirit.

" 19b That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 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. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 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.

1. God raised him from the dead (verse 20a). 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 Ephesians 2:6, prefigures our own resurrection.

2. Christ has been seated at God's right hand (verse 20b), the place of power and authority, of co-regency with God the Father.

3. 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 (verse 21)

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 triumphant, glorious!

Detail of 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.'
Detail of 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.'

This phrase "heavenly places" or "heavenly realms"51 in verse 20 we first saw in Ephesians 1:3. It also appear in Ephesians 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" (verse 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 (Ephesians 6:12) which can be overcome day by day only through God's spiritual "armor" and power.

4. God has placed all things under Christ's feet (verse 22a). 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 this victory in your corner of the world yet, but it has been accomplished. 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 Expeditionary Force to extend his victory to its logical conclusion among every tribe, people group, and nation on the face of the earth.

5. Christ has been appointed head of the church, which functions as his body (verse 22b-23).

Christ as Head (Ephesians 1:22)

We need to spend some time with this concept. 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, 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 word for "head" is the noun kephalē. It means first the physical head, and then extends to a figurative use as "being of high status, head." With living beings, kephalē can also refer to superior rank.52 Kephalē is a key concept in Ephesians that we'll consider in greater detail later.

Q12. (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?

A Great Church (Ephesians 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 verse 23 is Greek ekklēsia, from ek, "out" + kaleō, "to call," with the root idea of "the called-out ones." Classical Greek used the word to refer to a "regularly summoned legislative body, assembly."53 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:

1. The church is the recipient of Christ's conquering and headship over all things. His headship is "for the church."54 Christ values the church extremely highly, since his work is to directly benefit the church.

2. 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.

3. We, the church, are the fullness55 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" (Colossians 2:10, KJV).

No wonder Paul prayed for the Ephesians, prayed that their eyes might be opened. His prayer extends to our eyes also. And our view of the Church, which needs to be radically expanded to see Christ as Head and we in the churches, his body.

Q13. (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?


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)


Section 1.1

[9] Apostellō, BDAG 122, 1 and 2c, here, of messengers with extraordinary status, of Christian leaders designated as apostles.

[10] Hagios, BDAG 10-11, 2dβ. Here as a substantive, "believers, loyal followers, saints," of Christians as consecrated to God.

[11] Pistos, BDAG 821, 2.

[12] Eulogeō, BDAG 408, 3. The basic meaning is eu, "good" + logia "word, speaking."

[13] Eulogia, BDAG 408, 3bα.

[14] Epouranios, BDAG 388.

[15] 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" (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).) Often the phrase seems to carry the idea of "incorporation into Christ" (Bruce, 253, fn. 24). (2) Instrumental: "Marker introducing means or instrument, with, by means of" (en, BDAG 328, 5b). The preposition is used both ways in Ephesians.

[16] "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).

[17] "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).

[18] "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).

[19] "Purpose" (NIV) or "counsel" (KJV, NRSV) is the noun boulē, that which one decides, "resolution, decision" (BDAG 181-182).

[20] "Chose" is the Greek verb eklegomai, from which we get our English word "election" (BDAG 305).

[21] "Predestined" (NIV), "predestinated" (KJV), and "destined" (NRSV) is the Greek verb proorizō (BDAG 873). 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.

[22] Thelēma, BDAG 447.

[23] Hagios, BDAG 10-11.

[24] Amōmos, BDAG 56.

[25] Hiothesia, BDAG 1024.

[26] Britain's Slave Trade Act (1807) banned the slave trade. In 1833 the Abolition of Slavery Act abolished in Britain and all its colonies. In 1865 the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution banned slavery in America.

Section 1.2

[27] Apolutrōsis, BDAG 117.

[28] See Matthew 20:28; 26:28 || Mark 14:24; Acts 20:28b; Hebrews 9:14, 22; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 John 2:2; Revelation 5:9. For more on this see my book, Lamb of God (JesusWalk Publications, 2011).

[29] "Forgiveness" is the noun aphesis, "the act of freeing and liberating from something that confines, release from captivity." Here it refers to "the act of freeing from an obligation, guilt, or punishment, pardon, cancellation" (BDAG 155).

[30] Charis, BDAG 1079-1081.

[31] Kata here is a "marker of norm of similarity or homogeneity, according to, in accordance with, in conformity with, according to" (BDAG 511-513).

[32] Ploutos, BDAG 832.

[33] "Lavished" (NIV, NRSV) and "abounded" (KJV) is the verb perisseuō, "to be in abundance, abound." Here perisseuō has the causative idea, "to cause something to exist in abundance, cause to abound" (BDAG 805).

[34] Greek mystērion, O'Brien 109.

[35] "Fulfillment" (NIV) and "fullness" (KJV, NRSV) is the noun plērōma, "fullness," here refers to "the state of being full," "fullness of time" (also in Galatians 4:4) (BDAG 829-830). "Times" is the noun kairos, "a period of time" (BDAG 497-498).

[36] Anakephalaioō, from ana- "again" + kephalaioomai "bring to a head" (from kephalē, "head"). O'Brien 112-113; Bruce 261 fn. 71; Heinrich Schlier, kephalē, TDNT 3:673-682; BDAG 55-56.

[37] Epainos, BDAG 357. Purpose here is expressed by the preposition eis, 4. "a marker of goals involving affective/abstract/suitability aspects, into, to" (BDAG 288-291).

[38] Sphragizō, BDAG 980.

[39] "Redemption" is apolutrōsis, as in 1:7 above.

[40] Arrabōn, BDAG 134.

[41] The phrase is from the hymn "Blessed Assurance" (1873) by Fanny Crosby.

[42] Peripoiēsis, BDAG 804, 3. The ESV translates it a bit differently: "until we acquire possession of it," taking peripoiēsis as "experience of an event of acquisition, gaining, obtaining" (BDAG 804, 2), as in 1 Thessalonians 4:9 and 2 Thessalonians 2:14.

Section 1.3

[43] Elpis, BDAG 319-320.

[44] "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).

[45] Ploutos, BDAG 832.

[46] The Greek preposition eis often carries a sense of motion, "into, in, toward, to" and sometimes as a marker of goals (BDAG 288-291).

[47] Hyperballō, BDAG 1032.

[48] Megethos, BDAG 624-625.

[49] Dynamis, BDAG 262-263.

[50] Greek kata, "in accordance with, just as, similar to" (BDAG 511-513, 5b).

[51] Epouranios, "pertaining to being associated with a locale for transcendent things and beings, heavenly, in heaven" (BDAG 388).

[52] Kephalē, BDAG 541-542.

[53] Eklēssia, BDAG 303-304. In the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Old Testament) it means "the Jewish congregation."

[54] The text doesn't have a preposition but expresses this through the dative of object.

[55] 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 © 2024, 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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