In looking into the epistle to the Ephesians, we come to the first of those canonical and inspired letters, which were written by Paul during, or about the time of, his imprisonment at Rome. During the time of his detention at Caesarea he was apparently quiet. When at Rome he resumed his apostolic service, not by visiting churches, but by writing to certain assemblies. The letters written at that time are five in number, and called respectively an epistle to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Hebrews. A special feature in four of these is the ministry of Christ in a way not previously set forth in writing. He had treated of the gospel of God when addressing the Romans, his latest letter ere he went to Rome. He treats of the counsels of God, which concern Christ and the saints, in that to the Ephesians, which very possibly was his first letter from his prison in the metropolis of the habitable world. Addressing the Philippians, he tells them what Christ was to him, and what He should be to every saint of God. Writing to the Colossians, he expatiates on the fulness in Christ the Head for every member of His Body; and in that to the Hebrews he sets forth how the Lord Jesus Christ surpasses both Moses and Aaron, and how by His death blessings everlasting in duration are enjoyed, which never could be procured by the keeping of the law and the observance of the Mosaic ritual.
The epistle to the Hebrews was addressed to those who were of the race of Israel. This to the Ephesians was written to those who had been Gentiles, so it develops God's counsels which concern those once far off, as much as those once nigh. But whether, as some have thought, and the supposition is no modern one, it was really intended as a circular letter for assemblies chiefly composed of converts from among the Gentiles, as that to the Hebrews was designedly for those who had been Jews, is a question which, though raised, is perhaps incapable of definite solution. Those who advocate this view have supposed that, sent to different assemblies, the name of the assembly to which a copy was forwarded was inserted at the commencement; hence, though circular in character, it became in that way local in application. The omission of the words "in Ephesus" by the two oldest uncial MSS., the Vatican and the Sinaitic, favours this view; and internal evidence, derived from the pointed way in which St. Paul addresses those who had been Gentiles (1:13; 2:11, 17; 3:1) as well as writes of them (1:15; 3:2), and the absence of any local reference to the church in Ephesus, with which Paul was well acquainted, in no way, to say the least, militates against this view. Without, however, pronouncing an opinion definitely on this point, all will agree that, whether addressed really only to the saints in Ephesus, or to all those who had been formerly Gentiles, this epistle contains something like a charter of the privileges, in which they shared equally with their brethren called out from among the Jews; and this is connected with the unfolding to us of God's counsels about His Son. Now these counsels have reference to the inheritance which He will possess; the Body, which is His fulness, or complement; and the Bride, for which He died, and which He will present to Himself; viz., the Church glorious, without spot, wrinkle, or any such thing.
These counsels being dwelt on, the mystery first made known to Paul by revelation, and now, as he writes (Eph. 3), made known to God's apostles and prophets in the power of the Spirit, is necessarily treated of. The suitability of the vessel selected for this purpose we can readily perceive. Paul was the apostle of the Gentiles, and at the time of his inditing this letter he was a prisoner of Christ Jesus on their behalf. It was fitting, then, that by the apostle of the Gentiles these counsels, which related to the mystery, should be set forth. It was equally fitting that when a prisoner for the Gentiles he should place on record by divine guidance the unchanging counsels of God, in which they were so deeply concerned. By Daniel, a courtier at Babylon, and one of the seed royal of Judah, God made known the order, progress, and destruction by the Lord Jesus Christ of the four monarchies, which were to precede the establishment of God's kingdom in power over the earth. By John in Patmos, when experiencing in his own person the hostility of the fourth empire to the interests of God and of Christ, there was foretold the rise and complete destruction of that empire, in its last and apostate condition, by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ out of heaven. Paul and Peter had both fallen victims to its persecuting spirit. John, the last of the apostles, was then suffering from it. To outward eyes its power seemed irresistible. But to John was made known in a vision its crushing destruction at the hands of Him whose disciples and apostles it dealt with just as it chose. God selects fitting instruments by which to make known His will.
But before touching on the divine counsels about the Lord Jesus Christ, the saints are taught God's counsels in grace towards them; and Paul's heart, evidently filled with a sense of the grace thus displayed, overflows in praise at the outset of his letter: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ." (1:3.) Now who are the us here spoken of? He tells us, as he unfolds God's counsels in grace which concern them. They were chosen by God in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blame before him in love, and predestinated as well to sonship according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which* He fully bestowed on them in the Beloved One, "in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of offences, according to the riches of His grace." In such a manner those are described who share in that fulness of blessing in the heavenlies in Christ. And that grace has abounded toward its recipients in all wisdom and prudence, God having made known to them the mystery of His will, which He has purposed in Himself for the administration of the fulness of times (i.e. the coming age), to head up all things in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth, in Him, in whom believers from the Jews, like Paul and others, here called we (12), and believers from the Gentiles, here called ye (13), have their inheritance, to the praise of His glory. Further, all these have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, the earnest of their inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, to which Christians as yet look forward.
*This is the better attested reading, hes, instead of en he.
Into what a range of truth does Paul here conduct us! divine counsels about the saints, divine counsels about Christ. Nothing for us apart from Christ. All here for us in Him, and more than what angels have, has God purposed on our behalf. (4, 5.) Further, He has communicated to us counsels concerning His Son, which concern us most closely, since we are to share in that which God has thought of for Him. Pre-eminence and supremacy are appointed for Him as man. In that, of course, He must stand alone. All things in heaven and earth are to be headed up in Him. In that inheritance we have part with Him, and have received the Holy Spirit, being sealed by it, which is also the earnest of the inheritance. And all this redounds to the praise of God's glory.
Do we ask what motive moved Him to act in grace toward us? The answer furnished us is simply the good pleasure of His. will. Do we ask what is the measure of this grace? We read of the riches of it (1:7), of the exceeding riches of it (2:7); and how it has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence, through His making known to us the mystery of His will. Would any inquire what moved Him to head up all in heaven and on earth in Christ? We learn that He purposed this in Himself, who works all things after the counsel of His own will. It is to God, acting in the sovereignty of His will, that we are here turned. Sinners by nature, deserving only His wrath, we read of the exercise of His sovereign will, the carrying out of which none can effectually resist; and we learn how that will is active towards us in the fulness, the riches of His grace.
The divine counsels stated, the apostle next tells the saints for what he makes supplication on their behalf, of whose faith in the Lord Jesus Christ he had heard, and of whose love to all saints there was manifest proof, evidences these of their conversion, and of the dwelling of the Holy Ghost within them. With Paul the knowledge of God's truth was to have a formative power over the soul. The Greeks sought after wisdom, and might engage their intellectual powers in discussions of theories and of dogmas. Christians however, instructed divinely in truths of which the learned Greeks were ignorant, were to remember that these revelations of the divine mind should have practical power over their hearts. So Paul prays that the eyes of their heart (not understanding) should be enlightened, their affections engaged in the truth revealed, that they might know: (a) The hope of God's calling. Of this calling he had written in verses 3-5. (b) The riches of the glory of God's inheritance in the saints. On the subject of the inheritance he had already touched in verses 8-14. He calls it God's, because, as with the land of Canaan (Josh. 22:19; 2 Chron. 20:11), so with the things in the heavens and the things upon earth, God will take possession of them in and through the Lord Jesus Christ and the saints. (c) He desires that they should know the exceeding greatness of God's power to usward who believe, that power as displayed in raising up Christ from the dead, and setting Him at His own right hand in the heavenlies, far above all principalities and powers, putting all under His feet, whom He has given to be Head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fulness, or complement of Him that filleth all in all. The Lord Jesus, here viewed as a man, is seen as raised, exalted, and in accordance with Ps. 8 is to have everything put under Him. Further, and this the Old Testament does not mention, He has a Body, the Church, and that Body is His complement as the Christ who fills all in all.
This, the third subject of his prayer, is connected with that which follows. To this he now turns. The exceeding greatness of God's power, of which he has made mention - exemplified in the raising and exaltation of Christ above all created intelligences and powers - has been put forth on behalf of the saints, who have been quickened with Christ, and raised up together, and made to sit together in the heavenlies in Christ. This power he wants them to know; and the mention of it necessarily gives the opportunity for dwelling on God's ways in grace, especially with those who had been Gentiles. This forms the subject of the second chapter of the epistle, and divides itself into two parts - connected first with their moral condition, and next with their former dispensational position.
Dwelling on the former of these subjects, Paul reminds them of what they had been morally; viz., dead in offences and sins, walking according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience. That was the condition of the Gentile; and the Jew was really no better, though he had the knowledge of God. Dead in offences he too was, and had his conversation among the sons of disobedience in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and was by nature a child of wrath even as the rest. All these found on one common platform, as dead in offences and active in evil, God, rich in mercy, had quickened with Christ, had raised them up together (believers from Jews and from Gentiles), and made them both to sit in the heavenlies in Christ. How closely are believers here connected with Christ! If the Holy Ghost dwells on the exaltation of Christ, it is to tell us how God has put us in Him in the heavenlies, bringing out the motive which thus actuated Him - His great love wherewith He loved us - and the purpose of it, to show in the ages to come the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Saved then by grace through faith, and all this of God, not of works, lest any man should boast, we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before prepared, that we should walk in them. Thus we learn of the depth of ruin which we were, and of the height to which we have been raised in grace. Dead in sins, needing too a nature in which we could serve God, we are saved, and created in Christ Jesus unto good works, and are in Him now in the heavenlies, waiting for that hour to arrive when we shall be in person with Him there for ever.
But divine grace has worked for those once Gentiles in another way. Dispensational distance characterised them; for God had made a difference between His earthly people and all others. What a Gentile's position was dispensationally we read in 2:11-12. How that has been changed the apostle goes on to point out: "Now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." In His death, as making atonement for sins, those once Jews have a common interest with those once Gentiles. In His death, by which the middle wall of partition has been broken down, which separated dispensationally, by God's appointment, the Jews from the Gentiles, we have a special interest. Once far off, we are made nigh by His blood, and through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Hence all special privileges of the one class over the other are annulled, not by reducing the Jew to the level dispensationally of the Gentile; nor by raising the Gentile to the privileged platform on which the Jew had been put; but by forming in Christ of twain one new man, and by reconciling both unto God in one body through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby. Wherefore, as citizens of God's kingdom, as forming part of God's household, and as built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief corner stone, those once Gentiles are brought nigh in Christ to God, to be stones in that temple, at present building, in which He will dwell for ever, and are now builded together for God's habitation on earth in the Spirit. Such are God's displays of grace, in which we share who believe on His Son.
The necessary consequence of the unfolding of all this grace has to be pressed on the recipients of it. But before doing that, the apostle, in a parenthetic way, as it has been pointed out, dwells more at length on the mystery, or secret, kept close from every intelligent creature until revealed to him. "For this cause," he writes, "I Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for you the Gentiles" - a most touching appeal to them and to us. For the Lord Jesus Christ, as he elsewhere writes (Phil. 3:7, 8), he suffered the loss of all things. For the Gentiles, as he here reminds them, he was a prisoner at that time. Evidently Paul thought the special grace in which they shared was of great value, and to maintain the truth in connection with it he was willing to endure imprisonment and bonds. Could any one who had been a Gentile have visited Paul in his prison at Rome, and have come away satisfied for himself simply to know Christ as his Saviour, without valuing the privileges and the grace which God bestowed on those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? One could scarcely fancy that there had been such a man; one could not envy such an one if he had existed. Onesiphorus surely, as he wended his way from Paul's prison, did not think lightly of the grace and privileges in which, formerly a Gentile, he now shared, and for the maintenance of which Paul was suffering. To have the courage to stand by him was one thing; to have seen him in prison, and to have thought lightly of the privileges, to maintain which for them he was suffering, was another. Remembering that he did thus suffer, should any Christian in our day be contented to have no interest in that especial revelation of God's mind, because of which the apostle endured so much? This appeal might well challenge each one who reads it even now.
"I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you the Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God given me for you-ward." This calls us to hearken to that which, in the goodness and wisdom of God, was made known to Paul for us; viz., the revelation of the mystery. What that is he briefly tells us; viz., that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel. Nothing that God had given to His saints from among the Jews were those formerly Gentiles now to be without. Of the heirship, and of the promise in Christ through the gospel, we have already heard in chap. 1:3-14. The truth of the Body, too, was just touched on (23), practical teaching in connection with which we shall meet with lower down.
Charged then with the communication to others of this revelation, the ministry of the apostle Paul had a double character. He announced the good news among the Gentiles of the unsearchable riches of the Christ, and enlightened all (not Gentiles only) as to the dispensation of that mystery, hidden from the ages in God, who created all things,* and which is now revealed not only for the joy of saints, but also for the manifestation of the manifold wisdom of God to the principalities and powers in the heavenlies by the Church. What is revealed on this earth, so small a part of creation, as concerning the saints, is a, subject of interest, as redounding to God's glory, to all the angelic host; and this was planned by God according to His eternal purpose, which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him.
*"By Jesus Christ" should be omitted.
The mystery stated, and the double character of Paul's ministry defined, he now prays for the saints to the Father,* of whom every family in the heaven and on earth is named, that He would give the saints according to the wealth of His glory to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that the Christ, the centre of all God's ways, might dwell in their hearts by faith; that they, rooted and grounded in love, might be thoroughly able to apprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, and depth and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge; that they might be filled unto all the fulness of God. His desires thus expressed, he closes the subject with a doxology: "To Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, to Him be glory in the Church, and in Christ Jesus, unto all the generations of the age of ages; i.e. for ever and ever. Amen."
*"Of our Lord Jesus Christ" should be omitted.
Exhortations now follow: first, with reference to ecclesiastical relationships (4:1-16); secondly, as to that which became them as saints (17-5:20); and thirdly, as to their relations to one another in the family and in the household. (5:21-6:9.)
Called, as they were, with a calling which gave special privileges to the subjects of it, Paul exhorts them to walk worthy of it. And brought, as the saints were, into such closeness with each other, being God's habitation by the Spirit, and members together of the body of Christ, Christian graces would be needed to walk worthy of their calling. So Paul characterises the spirit in which they were to walk, and the end they were steadily to keep in view. On the spirit he dwells in verse 2. It was to be with all lowliness and meekness; these are characteristic of Christ, who is our life. Next the apostle mentions long-suffering, for the full exhibition of which we must turn to God's ways with man. As God's children the saints were to comport themselves in their ecclesiastical relations one with another. Then he impresses on them mutual forbearance in love; for this we need the Holy Ghost really working in us. Thus the manifestation of Christ as our life, the proof that we are partakers of the divine nature, and that the Holy Ghost is really working in us - all this would be required for saints to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they are called. Then the end to be kept in view is stated; (3) viz., to endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, maintaining practically and in peace if possible, the unity formed by the baptism of the Spirit of God. (1 Cor. 12:13.) Now unity is seen to be in harmony with the divine mind, whether we look at the Church, the Body of Christ, or whether we contemplate the whole range of profession on earth, or lift up our eyes to survey the universe. "There is one Body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all." (4:4-6.)
But in this unity, which comprises all real Christians, there is seen diversity in the gifts or graces given to each one in the Body of Christ, and in the service looked for from those who compose it. On this Paul next dwells. To every one is given grace or gift according to the measure of the gift of Christ; i.e. as He gives it. And from Him, the ascended One, gifts as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, have been given, for (pros) the perfecting of the saints unto (eis) a work of ministry, unto (eis) the edifying of the Body of Christ. The perfecting of the saints is the special end in view, and is effected through the gifts by the work of the ministry and the edifying of the Body of Christ. Thus, whilst saintship and church calling are quite distinct lines of truth, no saint could be now perfected without being part of the Body of Christ, nor fully instructed if he stopped short of teaching about the Church of God. So this ministry by the gifts will go on "till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. In order that we should be no more babes, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men in unprincipled cunning, with a view to systematised error; but holding the truth in love, may grow up. unto Him in all things who is the Head; the Christ, from whom the whole Body, fitted together and connected by every joint of supply, according to the working in the measure of each one part, works for itself the increase of the Body to itself, building up in love." (8-16.) Such is God's desire and provision for the saints in Christ Jesus. Their perfecting is the end in view, to be effected by the gifts mentioned, the need for which is detailed in verses 13-15; whilst verse 16 has reference to the corporate condition, the Body increasing by the right acting of every joint of supply, according to the working in its measure of each part.
From this he passes on to exhortations with reference to their daily walk as saints; and here nothing is too small to be noticed. The most ordinary morality the Spirit insists on, and that in an epistle which dwells on the highest truths. The moral condition of Gentiles has been described, as well as their former dispensational distance when compared with the privileged place of those once Jews. (2) Now the apostle reminds his readers of the practices of Gentiles in daily life, which these converts were henceforth to avoid. "This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye walk not as the Gentiles walk."* Such walked in the vanity of their mind, in darkness and in ignorance. On these points he dwells in 4:22-5:2; 5:3-14, 15-21, writing to those who had learned the Christ, having heard Him, and being instructed by Him as the truth is in Jesus. What that is Paul explains in verses 22-24.
*The best authorities leave out 'other.' For those written to were Gentiles no longer; they formed part of the Church of God. (See 1 Cor. 10:32.)
Coming to details, the first thing insisted on is to put away lying, and to speak every man truth with his neighbour. The reason assigned for this is in perfect character with the doctrine dwelt on in the previous chapters, "For we are members one of another." Thus church truth is to be brought into practice in daily life. Further the apostle warns us against the desires of the mind, and comes down to the mention of stealing, and of watchfulness as to speech. Against both of these the saints are warned in connection with the special teaching of the epistle. The thief is to steal no more, but to labour, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Nothing should proceed from the lips, but that which may minister grace to the hearers. The activity of grace is to characterise him who once plundered others. The profit of his hearers is to be kept in view by him who had previously given licence to his tongue. And who were these people to whom he thus writes? They were sealed by the Spirit to the day of redemption. (4:30.) They were God's children, so were to imitate Him. (4:32 - 5:1.) They had Christ as their life, and He was to be their example. (v. 2.)
Warnings against the workings of the flesh now follow. (v. 3-14.) None practising such filthiness have any inheritance in the kingdom of the Christ and God (5), and because of these things the wrath of God comes on the sons of disobedience. With such they were not to be partakers; for they were formerly "darkness, but now light in the Lord; hence as children of light they should walk: (for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) proving what is acceptable unto the Lord." Further, they were to walk not as fools, but as wise. (15-21.) Ignorance characterized Gentiles; understanding what the will of the Lord is, was to characterize them. Nor were they to seek for fleshly stimulants, but to be filled with the Holy Ghost, which would manifest itself in the joy they would possess, and the spirit of subjection which would mark them.
This introduces the injunctions concerning relative duties in the family and in the household; wives and husbands, children and fathers, slaves and masters, each receiving their appropriate word. For wives and husbands the example of the Church's subjection to Christ, and His service and care for it are respectively set forth, the closest of earthly ties being a figure of the relation of Christ with the Church. One sees at a glance the propriety of this being dwelt *upon in this epistle. It would lead us, however, beyond the limits of our space to dwell at any length on that wonderful display of love, in which, as part of the Church, we share, a love which moved Christ to give Himself for her, and which moves Him to minister to her, that He may at length present her to Himself, a Church glorious, without spot, wrinkle, or any such thing; but that she should be holy and without blame, thus answering to that which He Himself was, and is. No wonder then, if that is His desire for the Church, that such pains are taken with the different classes who compose it, exhorting them in their different positions and relationships how to walk and to act.
Relative duties in the family and the household having been dwelt on, the apostle turns back to that which concerns them all equally, and exhorts all to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, and to take each one for himself, or herself, the whole armour of God to stand against the wiles of the devil. The unceasing service of Christ to the Church we read of in chapter 5. The unceasing watchfulness of the enemy to ensnare or trip up the saints we are reminded of in chapter 6. If the saints are seated in the heavenlies in Christ, the devil is still in the heavenlies likewise. We cannot drive him out as Israel, under Joshua, were to have expelled the Canaanites and the Amorites, etc. But we are to be armed with the panoply of God to maintain our footing where God has placed us. The armour put on, and the one offensive weapon in the hand, the word of God, the sword of the Spirit, used by the Lord in the wilderness, and found sufficient, the constant spirit of dependence which is to characterize each saint is kept before us, and of the interest which all should take in the welfare of the saints, and in the spreading abroad of God's work by His word, the apostle reminds us; exhorting all to prayer at all times, and to be watching unto it with all perseverance and supplication for all saints, and for him, the prisoner as he was, that he might make known the mystery of the gospel for which he was an ambassador in chains. Who should take a deeper and a more general interest in the work of God on earth than those who are the greatest subjects of divine grace?
Now he closes. Counting on their interest in all that concerns him, Tychicus, the bearer of the epistle, was charged to acquaint them with it, and to encourage their hearts. He had inculcated a spirit of love and interest in all the saints. He would himself exemplify it with his concluding words: "Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruptness." C. E. Stuart.
There is the greatest difference possible between the ministry of Christ and the ministry of truth. The former makes nothing, but the latter makes everything, of man. As a consequence, the ministry of truth appeals to a wider circle; for the natural man can delight in the knowledge which increases his own importance; but the spiritual alone will respond to the ministry of Christ. It should never be forgotten, that while Christ is the truth, the truth is not Christ."