Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Friday, 31 August 2012

What did Paul pray for? (Eph. 1:18)

Paul prayed for divine help that we might know God increasingly. What does that mean? Here are four aspects of it. 

First, knowledge of God is the height of Christian experience, for Jesus tells us in his prayer in John 17 that such knowledge is the essence of eternal life. 

Second, knowledge of God is personal in that it is a relationship. Paul is not referring to bare intellectual knowledge but to the kind of knowledge that exists between two or more persons. 

Third, knowledge of God is progressive. We begin with little knowledge but then we increase in our understanding and in our experience of God. 

Fourth, knowledge of God is provided by the Holy Spirit. Paul prays that the Spirit would give wisdom and revelation to God’s people in Ephesus.

So Paul is praying that believers would know God in a continuously intimate, forward-looking and life-changing manner.

Paul reminds us that this knowledge of God is not confined to those with an outstanding intellect who are equipped to grasp profound realities. Rather this knowledge is found among those who pray continually for God to enlighten them in his purpose for them, his passion to them, and his power in them.

This knowledge of God will not only equip us for life’s hurdles, but will compensate for all the troubles that come our way.

The question is not do we pray, but what do we pray for?

Thursday, 30 August 2012

To whom did Paul pray? (Eph. 1:17)

Here Paul prayed to the Father. But it is helpful to note how he addressed him: he calls him ‘the God of our Lord Jesus Christ’. We are so familiar with this that we can fail to sense the wonder of it. Paul had been an ardent Jew, who had prayed to God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because he had made a covenant with Israel. As a Jew Paul had despised Jesus Christ, but on the Damascus road he realised that Jesus was Lord. No longer was Paul under the covenant that God had made with his forefathers; rather he was a member of the new covenant community made up of those who had been saved by Jesus. He was praying to the same God, but praying in a manner suitable to how God had revealed himself in Christ.

Paul also describes him as ‘the Father of glory’ or ‘the glorious Father’. Stephen used a similar title for God when he described his appearing to Abraham (Acts 7:2). Glory has the idea of perfection, of that which is worthy of praise. It describes God’s abilities. In Romans 6:4 Paul writes that Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, a reference to the Father’s power. In Romans 1:23, idolatry is described as an action that replaces the glory of the incorruptible God with images of corruptible things. Again there, Paul has God’s abilities in mind, such as his pre-existence and his power to create, when he refers to God’s glory. So Paul reminds himself of the Father’s abilities as he proceeds to pray.

Glory can also refer to the place where God lives, his environment. Jesus in John 17 prays that the Father would give him the glory that he had known before creation. It is a word that describes Heaven, the perfect world. So Paul reminds himself of the Father’s location as he proceeds to pray.

Glory also refers to the divine character. Paul tells believers that the process of becoming Christ-like is one in which a person is changed from glory to glory as he or she becomes further conformed to the image of Christ, as his features of love, mercy and grace are produced in them. So Paul reminds himself of God’s holy and gracious character as he prays.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Two Encouragements for Intercessory Prayer (Eph. 1:15)

The prayer life of the apostle Paul was remarkable. Right at the beginning of his Christian life it was stated, ‘Behold he prays.’ He tells the churches to which he wrote that he interceded for their members every time he prayed. For the Thessalonians he prayed night and day. He prayed for all the churches and he prayed for the restoration of Israel. He knew the importance of the prayers of others on his behalf. Paul was a man of prayer who encouraged others to pray in all situations, even in ones in which they did not know what to ask, because the Holy Spirit made intercession for them.

Paul here begins his section on prayer with the phrase ‘for this reason’. He is referring back to the previous section, maybe to the immediately previous clause, ‘to the praise of his glory,’ or perhaps to the previous subject, which is the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians, or most likely to the passage as a whole. He could pray for the Ephesians because he knew that God’s purpose was to bless them. 

But Paul also says that his prayers were influenced by what he had heard about his readers. It was ‘when’ he heard the report of their ongoing development as Christians, particularly in the areas of loyalty to Jesus and love to all his people, that he was encouraged to pray for specific things.

So Paul’s prayer here was marked by two features: first, he knows God’s purpose in general for his people and, second, he is informed about the actual situation of those for whom he is praying. We can imitate him and pray for one another.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Possession of the Spirit (Ep. 1:13-14)

Paul reminds his friends in Ephesus that they have the Holy Spirit. This relationship can be described in different ways. Here Paul refers to it as the sealing of the Spirit. What does he have in mind?

It was common at the time Paul wrote for persons to put a seal on property to indicate ownership; a seal was also used to authenticate the genuineness of an object as well as for providing security. By the sealing of the Spirit Paul means that the presence of the Spirit is the identifying mark of genuine discipleship because he never leaves any of his people.

Paul also uses another illustration to depict what it means to have the Spirit. He says that the Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance. He borrows this idea from the language of trade where it describes a down-payment for an object, with the remainder to come at a later date. It is more than a mere pledge or promise because it consisted ‘of a sample of that which afterwards would be paid in full’ (John MacPherson). The difference can be seen in this illustration. Suppose I owe £5 to another person. As a sign that I will repay I give him an object I own such as a book or an ornament. That is a pledge because there is no connection between the book and the money I owe. But if I give the person 50 pence or £1, then I am giving an earnest because the deposit is part of the full payment. 

The Spirit as the earnest is also the guarantee to each believer that he or she will receive the fullness of the inheritance, or as Paul calls it here, the purchased possession. But he is a guarantee in kind or in sample, which means that he will bring into their current experience foretastes of eternal blessedness. The Spirit’s work in our lives as believers is a sample of how he will work in us in the eternal world.

‘As days of heaven enjoyed on earth enliven the Christian’s thoughts of heaven, and quicken his desires after meetness for it, while at the same time they deepen the conviction that such an inheritance is in store for him; so the earnest of the inheritance, afforded by the Spirit impressing Himself upon the believer’s heart, intensifies his longings and renders his conceptions more vivid, while it increases his assurance that at last he shall enter upon the full possession of that spiritual inheritance of which he has received a sample’ (John MacPherson).

Heaven is the place where Jesus Christ is central, and it is the goal of the Spirit’s work in believers today to make Jesus central in their lives, to increase their love for him and devotion to him.

So we see from this verse how crucial the Holy Spirit is in the lives of Christians. He is the Source who empowers their Christian living from the start, he is their Strength along the journey, and he is the Sample of the glory that is yet to be. No wonder Paul says in Ephesians 4:30, ’Grieve not the Holy Spirit, by whom you were sealed until the day of redemption.’ 

Monday, 27 August 2012

The purpose that will be realised by God (Eph. 1:7-10)

...according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

We see in these verses Paul’s continued sense of wonder at God’s eternal purpose, a wonder that all the Lord’s people should develop. 

It is not clear to whom ‘all wisdom and insight’ refers. It is possible that it refers to how God’s grace works, that is, it is wise grace, and if this is the meaning it refers back to the previous clause. Or it could refer to the following clause, how believers ‘know’ the mystery of his will, that is, they are enlightened about it. I suspect the latter is meant, because Paul prays in verse 17 that further wisdom would be given to them. So we are equipped by God to understand his purpose. That is something to be grateful for!

Paul describes God’s eternal purpose as a ‘mystery’. This term ‘mystery’ does not mean something that is mysterious or secret; rather it refers to something in the plan of God that was previously hidden but which is now revealed in the preaching of the gospel.

There have been two interpretations of ‘a plan for the fullness of time’. One is that the New Testament period is meant, and that the unity referred to is the unity of angels (things in heaven) and humans (things in earth) in the church. It is difficult to conclude that all Paul refers to by ‘all things’ are the angels and the church. 

The other interpretation, which I think is the correct one, is that the state of perfection at Christ’s second coming is intended here by Paul and describes the renewal of the cosmos after the day of judgement. The day is coming when universal harmony will be restored by Jesus Christ when he brings the new heavens and new earth into existence, in which he will dwell with his people. That is something to look forward to!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

What is redemption? (Eph. 1:7)

The concept of ransom or redemption was familiar to both Gentiles and Jews at the time Paul wrote this letter. In everyday life, redemption took a person from a state of slavery upon the payment of a price into a state of freedom.

There are also Old Testament backgrounds to the concept of redemption – mainly the goel or kinsman-redeemer. In Israel it was the duty of the goel to redeem land and possessions that was lost by a relative; we see this situation in the story of Ruth where Boaz had to purchase Naomi’s territory. The context here in Ephesians includes the idea of inheritance, so it is likely that Paul is depicting Jesus as the kinsman redeemer of his people.

Another Old Testament example is the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt by the blood of the Passover lamb. The Israelites were slaves to the Egyptians under Pharaoh, but were delivered by a sacrifice as well as by God’s power.

The benefit of redemption that Paul mentions is the forgiveness of sins. This is not a reference to inward deliverance from sin but refers to the new standing that each believer has in the sight of God, which we also know as justification.

Paul tells us here that that the price of redemption was the ‘blood of Christ’. This is obviously a reference to his death as a payment of a penalty, a costly sacrifice. We are aware that Jesus bore the judgment of God against sin. Peter, in 2 Peter 1:19, tells us that the blood of Jesus is precious because it was the blood of a holy and perfect Saviour who died on our behalf, and therefore saves us. The writer to the Hebrews says that the blood of Christ purges the consciences of believers from sinful actions and enables them to serve God (9:14). Paul in Ephesians 2:13 tells us that the blood of Christ makes us secure because through it we are brought near to God. In Hebrews 10:19 we are given access to the presence of God by the blood of Jesus. And John, in 1 John 1:9, tells that through the blood of Jesus we are cleansed from our sins. 

It was the sacrificial death of Jesus that liberated believers from the prison in which their sins had placed them.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Accepted in the Beloved (Eph. 1:6)

The name 'Beloved' is a reference to Jesus and it is a beautiful title. The word does not say precisely who loves Jesus here; it is most likely a reference to the Father, although it could also be a reference to the attitude believers have to Jesus. 

What can be said about the love the Father has for Jesus? It was the attitude of the Father for the Son throughout the eternal ages before the creation of the universe. As the Father looked at the Son he saw perfection and beauty and glory. His love was fully reciprocated, his thoughts were fully understood, and his peace was enjoyed. In each of these aspects the Father loved the Son. Yet the scriptures indicate that the primary reason for the Father’s love to the Son was his willingness to die for his people: ‘For this reason the  Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again’ (John 10:17). The love of the Father for the Son, and the love of the Son for the Father, was at its height as they contemplated the salvation of sinners.

We are ‘accepted’ in this Beloved. In order to discover what this means, we must take a journey to the past eternity to see the Father and the Son joyfully preparing the plan of salvation, particularly in the decision that the Son would lay down his life for those the Father gave him. Then we must travel to Calvary where the beloved Son suffered in our place. Then we move on to discover what happens to us when we believe in Jesus – all our sins are forgiven and we are accepted into the divine family. All this, and much more, happens to us because of Jesus.

Of course, Jesus is not only God’s beloved, for he is also the Beloved of his church. They love him with a grateful love, with a penitent love, with a deepening love. And they look forward to the day when they will meet their Beloved. With Samuel Rutherford, they exclaim, ‘Oh I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.’ 

The occupation of heaven throughout the eternity to come will be to praise God for the wonder of his grace. In verse 6 Paul mentions the glory of his grace, in verse 7 it becomes the riches of his grace, and in 2:7 it becomes the exceeding riches of his grace. What a God we have, and what a salvation he has provided! To his great name be the praise for ever!

Friday, 24 August 2012

The Father’s glorious grace (Eph. 1:6)

In this verse Paul comes to the end of his references to specific actions of the Father, for in the following verses he mentions actions of the Son (v. 12) and of the Spirit (v. 14) Each of these sub-divisions closes with a similar statement of praise for God’s rich display of grace.

We have considered the two actions of the Father, which are election and adoption. Of course, these are not the only actions that the Father performs; for example, there is action in justification and there is his action in calling sinners to salvation. But it is not possible to mention every action on each occasion one prays.

There is an important lesson here concerning prayer: we should use God’s actions in salvation as the framework for our prayers. They will be a source of comfort to us (if God chose us and adopted us, he is not going to abandon us) and they will remind us of the potential blessings that he has in store for us (as his children we have a wonderful inheritance, some of which we can have now).

In this statement about God's grace, we have the reason why God elected and adopted sinners; it was so that he would be praised for his revelation of himself as a gracious God.

Sometimes the impression is given that God’s eternal plan is a gloomy thing which we should not think about very often. But Paul writes that this plan involved God’s pleasure. The limitless love, joy and wisdom of God were involved in the devising of his plan and in the detailed steps in it.

The glory of God is that which makes him great, be it his power, knowledge or beauty. It describes that which makes him unique and superior to all else that exists. His glory was revealed in creation; in it we see his power, his wisdom and his concern for his creatures. His glory is revealed in his response to sin, for there we see his justice and displeasure at what is evil. His glory is seen in human history as he governed and over-ruled the ambitions and decisions of humans. In these aspects God is to be praised for his glorious actions. Yet marvellous as they are, they are not the greatest display of glory; what makes God great is his magnificent grace shown to sinners. As John MacPherson, writing in 1892, put it: ‘It is the highest praise of God that He finds His chief glory in the display of His grace.’ At the end of the day the Father will not be praised primarily for his work of creation but for his work of salvation.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Entering the Family (Eph. 1:5)

When thinking about the doctrine of adoption we should remember that the practice Paul refers to is not modern adoption. Today, it is children who are adopted whereas in the ancient Roman world adults could be and were. Further, it is usually orphans who are adopted today whereas in the ancient world it was usually slaves who were adopted by wealthy patrons, and it involved the transfer from one family to another. When we realise these factors, we see how appropriate the practice was for illustrating entrance into God's family. Those who do not believe in Jesus are slaves to sin and outside the family of God.

Some Bible passages indicate that a sinner becomes a child of God by regeneration and other passages teach that he becomes a son of God by adoption. This does not mean that there are two different ways of becoming a member of God’s family. Rather, regeneration gives a sinner the nature of a son of God whereas adoption gives him the status of a son.

It is worth realising the distinction between justification and adoption. Justification deals with our failure to serve God perfectly. When we are justified, it means we are restored to the relationship of servants of God which we had at the beginning. That of course is a great privilege. But it is not as great a privilege as adoption. We can imagine God justifying us, forgiving us our sins, but not bringing us into his family. It was an additional act of grace to do so. Adoption is a higher blessing because of ‘the richer relationship with God that it involves’ (J. I. Packer). Or as James Buchanan put it,  ‘This [adoption] is a higher privilege than that of Justification, as being founded on a closer and more endearing relation.’

It is also important to remember that adoption is not the same idea as God being the father of his creatures. The universal fatherhood of God is a teaching that is common in liberal Christianity. The Bible does teach that God is father by creation in the sense that he is the originator of humans, as Paul declared to the philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:29). But he is not their Father in the sense that they belong to his family. To appreciate this, we need to remind ourselves of what occurred at the Fall of Adam. Adam was made both a servant of God and a son of God. When he sinned, he became a rebellious servant and a prodigal son. ‘A man does not cease to be a subject, when he becomes a rebel; and no more does he cease to be, in some respects, a son, when he becomes a prodigal’ (Buchanan).

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Five features of divine election

Yesterday we mentioned some general details about the doctrine of election. But what does the doctrine mean for us as individuals? Here are five features.
First, election links us with Jesus Christ. Paul writes that God’s people were chosen in Christ. This means they were chosen because of Christ and for Christ.It was the Father’s will that his Son would have a permanent relationship with saved sinners, including us. In a sense, divine election was the basis of the mission of Jesus, as he said in his prayer recorded in John 17, when he referred to those who the Father had given him to save. We were given by the Father to the Son, and the Son was delighted with the gift and willing to do what was required to bring about the fulfilment of this relationship between him and us. This led to his becoming a man and paying the penalty for our sins. All the while we were united to him, and this union continued as he ascended back to heaven and will remain always. Election was with a view to us finding our security in the Son, and to be satisfied by the Son in this permanent relationship.
Second, election is the first stage in God’s eternal purpose for us. This is a reminder that God is a God of order. There is nothing haphazard about God’s purpose of mercy, for he works to a plan. Because election was first, we can describe it as the foundation from which all other acts of mercy towards us arise. Everything that the Father does, that the Son does, and that the Spirit does flows out from this election of the Father. This is true not only of ‘spiritual’ activities, but also for all other events that occur. The whole of providence works because of the election of God.
Third, election is worked out through means. This is true both as far as we as individuals are concerned and as far as the church as a whole is concerned. Sadly some respond to election with a fatalism or with indifference. But election does not remove either our human rationality or our human responsibility. For example, election enables evangelism to be successful. The man who wrote this letter, and who was fully convinced of the truth of election, was an enthusiastic evangelist. A true grasp of this doctrine will also enable us to witness about Jesus with confidence.
Fourth, God’s election links us with one another. We are in our congregation at this stage in our lives. While there are many secondary causes for our being together, there is one primary cause. It was God’s plan, which is marked by wisdom and love, that we should be together. Of course, this should make us love one another and appreciate one another.
Fifth, the goal of election’s goal is a community of perfect beings who will love God freely and eternally for his grace. God's election will result in holiness and not in licence. This goal has a partial accomplishment in this life in the ethical change that occurs in the lives of believers. There is a sense in which we live our lives even now in his presence, which of course is the major reason why we should be holy and loving. Election brings responsibilities as well as privileges. As John MacPherson, the nineteenth-century Free Church scholar who wrote a very helpful commentary on Ephesians, summarized: ‘The elect are chosen, not to the possibility, but to the realisation of holiness.’ But the total fulfilment of God’s intention will not occur until all his people are in his presence for ever. That is our destination.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

God's Choice (Eph. 1:4)

The action of God that we are going to think about today is one that is difficult and requires delicate handling, and I certainly feel very inadequate to deal with the subject of election. Nevertheless it is part of the whole counsel of God, and one of the spiritual blessings given to us, and when we appreciate it in a biblical manner it gives stability to our lives. We need to feed our souls on strong meat as well as on milk. As we approach the doctrine of election we are to remember certain things about it.

First, the doctrine is a divine mystery, which it is impossible for us to solve by human reason. One common attempt to rationalise it is this. God knows, because of his foreknowledge of what people will do, the response individuals will make to the gospel and therefore he resolved to elect those who would believe in Jesus. This is the Arminian interpretation, and what it does is reverse the order. They make it like this: a person believes, and God then elects him or her; but the true order is God elects, so people then believe.

Second, we are not to accuse God of being unfair because he has elected some and not others. I know it is a very poor illustration, but humans function on the principle of election in the way they interact with others because at times they give something to one person that is withheld from others, not because they are being unfair but for other reasons. A biblical example is Joseph and his brothers. Was Joseph obliged to show them favour after they had sinned against him? The answer is no. It was within Joseph’s sovereign control to show mercy to as many of them as he wished. The difficulty we often have is that we assume that sinful humans have rights, and that the Lord is bound to respect those rights. One of the real problems in the church today is that we no longer really believe that no-one deserves salvation.

Thirdly, we are not to regard God as being arbitrary or indifferent in his method of election. The fact that we cannot see a reason for God choosing some and not others does not mean that there is not a reason. God does everything after the counsel of his own will, and all that he does is marked by love and wisdom. According to Harold Hoehner, the verb is in the middle voice, which indicates personal interest, and so points to God’s choosing ‘with great personal interest rather than a random impersonal choice’. It is evident, since they are chosen to be holy, that they were regarded as unholy when they were chosen. Therefore, says Hoehner,‘the real problem is not why he had chosen some, but why he chose any.’

Fourth, we are not to imagine that God has only elected a small number. At the end of the day, heaven will be populated by a number that no-one can count (Rev. 7:9).

Fifth, we are not to think that there is an inconsistency between divine election and the gospel offer of salvation. Election guarantees the success of the gospel.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Responding to God's Blessings

Ephesians 1:3 is one of the most amazing statements in the Bible. Read it slowly: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.’ In this statement Paul summarises the meaning of salvation. How should we respond to his words? Do they help us grasp something of what it means to be Christians?

First, the statement has something to say about our concept of God’s praise. Christian praise is Triune. We praise the Father through the Son by the Spirit. This is not to deny that we should worship the Son and the Spirit. But we worship primarily in the context of salvation, and in so doing we join with Jesus Christ, the leader of God’s praise. Jesus leads us in worship as he praises the Father.

Second, the statement has something to say about our concept of God’s people. Many of them are not significant by earthly standards, but in heaven’s estimation they already possess immense spiritual blessings. Each of them is united to Jesus Christ, and that is significance!

Third, the statement has something to say about our concept of God’s purpose. We are living in the period between the inauguration and the consummation of his kingdom. This means that already we have foretastes of the heavenly world. But it also means that we join with the exalted Jesus in fighting his enemies, the powers of darkness, with the weapons he has provided.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Heavenly Places (Eph. 1:3)

This title only occurs in this letter where Paul uses it on five different occasions. We need to consider each of them in order to see what it describes. The title could suggest that it refers to heaven, and some of the occurrences would support that idea. But other places indicate that it means more than heaven. The places where Paul uses the title are these:

1:3: Paul says that the heavenly places are where spiritual blessings are enjoyed. This description points to the meaning not being heaven because Paul says in the verse that believers already have these blessings even while they live on earth.

1:20-21: Paul writes concerning God’s power ‘that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.’ This verse indicates that Jesus is the supreme authority in the heavenly places, and he was exalted to that position after his resurrection and ascension.

2:4-6: ‘But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.’ In these verses Paul is describing the new life that believers have, an aspect of which is that they are united to Christ and share in his exalted position.

3:10: ‘so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.’ Paul refers here to angelic powers who live in the heavenly places, that these angels learn about God’s wisdom as they watch the people of God. It is not clear if these angels are good angels or evil angels, although I suspect it refers to good angels.

6:12: Here Paul says that believers engage in spiritual warfare with evil angels in the heavenly places: ‘For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’

So the ‘heavenly places’ is the location where we enjoy spiritual blessings, where we live out the new life Christ gives, where angels learn about God’s wisdom, where we fight our spiritual foes, and over which Jesus reigns. What Paul means by the term ‘is the unseen world of spiritual activity’ (John Stott).

Paul calls this unseen world ‘the heavenly places’ because he is reminding Christians again that they live in two worlds simultaneously. At one level they live on an earthly plane, eating and drinking and working as everyone else. But at a more profound level they also live in a spiritual world in which they are united to Christ.

But since the heavenly places include spiritual warfare this is a reminder to us that we have to fight the powers of darkness in order to enjoy our spiritual blessings. I suspect we have an important clue here as to the nature of spiritual warfare: the devil works to prevent us appreciating what the Triune God has done for us.

A biblical example of having to fight to maintain our enjoyment of the benefits of these blessings is the children of Israel coming into Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. God had given to them all the blessings of the land as their inheritance. But there were giants there determined to prevent them and they had to destroy them in order to maintain the state of blessing. Similarly, the church has been given these blessings (note the tense), but they will have to wage spiritual war to continue enjoying them.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3)

‘who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.’

Ruins of a main street in Ephesus –
perhaps Paul walked along it on his way
to meet with his fellow-Christians 
Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus that they have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. The blessings that Paul has in mind are the ones he details in the following verses (vv. 2-14). He is not referring to blessings such as answers to prayer or even to progress in holiness because these are blessings that vary between believers. Rather what he has in mind are blessings that each Christian has at all times.

There are certain things worth noting about these blessings. First, they run from eternity past to the eternal world yet to come, which is a reminder to us that we should view the Christian life from the perspective of the big picture.

Second, different blessings are linked to each person of the Trinity. The Father is linked to election and adoption, the Son to redemption and restoration, the Spirit to sealing and earnest of the inheritance. We should rejoice in knowing that each person of the Godhead provides blessings for us. Yet Paul also indicates that in a particular way we receive all spiritual blessings from the Father because it was his purpose that we should have them.

Third, every blessing is given in Christ, that is, in union to him. This is an aspect that should lead us to worship. It is easier for us to imagine being united to Christ after believing in him, but it is beyond our understanding to work out how we could have been united to him before creation. But that is what Paul says here.

Fourth, the purpose of the donation of these blessings is to enhance the glory of God. Three times in the following verses Paul mentions this important aspect. God will be magnified through each and through all of his people, including us.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Praise of the Father (Eph. 1:3)

‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

It is Paul’s common practice to begin his letters with thanksgiving and intercession for his readers. The order in which he does this is important: first, he praises God for who he is and what he has done, and then he asks him for specific needs to be met. Verses 3-14 of Ephesians 1 are one sentence in the Greek text. Paul was dictating these words and as he spoke ‘his speech poured out of his mouth in a continuous cascade’ (John Stott).
In an encounter at a well near Sychar Jesus had told a lonely woman that the time was coming when real worshippers would worship the Father in spirit and in truth. He told her that the Father was seeking people to worship him (John 4:23-24). Therefore Paul’s manner of address to God here is both a fulfilment and an example of what Jesus had taught about worship.

Paul addressing the Father is also an example of how to practise the teaching of Jesus that he gave in what we call the Lord’s Prayer. We are to say, ‘Our Father,…’

Paul’s prayer breathes the spirit of adoption. In Romans 8:15 Paul reminds his readers of the way the Holy Spirit leads believers to say ‘Father’ in all kinds of circumstances.

It is also important to note how Paul describes the Father; he addresses him as ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’. According to Leon Morris, ‘The first term [God] expresses the majesty and remoteness of him who we worship and the second [Father] his love and nearness.’ We need to maintain this balance when we approach the Father.

Here are three other reasons why we should address God in this manner? First, this is how God is now identified. In the Old Testament he was the God of Israel or the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now he is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Second, Paul’s method is a reminder that we can only approach God through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Mediator between us and God, he is our Advocate with the Father.

Third, when we link the Father with Jesus we are reminded that through Jesus we know what the Father is like. On one occasion Jesus said that any who had seen him had also seen the Father (John 14:9).

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Source of Grace and Peace (Eph. 1:2)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ 

Both grace and peace come from the same source, with the source being God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a reminder to us of the equality between the Father and the Son. At the same time they remind us of two different relationships that Christians enjoy. First, they are children in the family of God and, second, they are servants in the household of Jesus.

In the ancient world the father of a family and the master of a household were responsible for meeting the needs of those who belonged to them. This is also the case with God the Father and with the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, they also have the capability and the willingness to bless their people, which is a great encouragement to us.

Further, the fact that there is only one Father and one Lord Jesus Christ is an encouragement to unity of heart among believers. When we disagree, we do it with fellow sons of God and fellow servants of Christ, and that is not at all commendable unless there is a valid reason for the disagreement.

So Paul’s greeting is a prayer that the believers would be equipped for living the Christian life. I suspect that here he is speaking from experience: it was God’s grace that prepared him for his imprisonment in Rome, from where he wrote this letter, and it was God’s peace that enabled him to endure the imprisonment. And we can experience such grace and peace wherever we are today.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Paul's greeting (Eph. 1:2)

‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’

Ancient Christian Symbol in Ephesus
We often regard the introductions to Paul’s letters as mere formal preliminaries to which we do not pay much attention. This is a mistake, and is one which we must avoid. Lloyd-Jones pointed out that Paul’s greetings here are ‘an extraordinary description and definition of what it means to be a Christian’.

So Paul’s greetings are not merely expressions of good will. Instead they are statements containing important aspects of what he considers are the main needs of believers. In the greeting he identifies two such needs. The first is grace. Grace is God’s undeserved favour and all Christians need grace for their spiritual lives to develop. Elsewhere in the New Testament James tells us that God continues to give more grace (Jas. 4:6). Peter wishes for his readers that grace and peace be theirs in abundance (1 Pet. 1:2). He also tells his readers to ‘set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed’ (1 Pet. 1:13). So it is grace at the beginning of the Christian life, grace throughout the Christian life, and grace at the end of the Christian life.

Secondly, Paul tells his readers that they need peace. Often when we think of peace we mean the absence of hostilities such as may exist between two parties that previously were against one another. Obviously there is a cessation of hostilities between God and his people, for when they believe in Jesus they cease to be the objects of God’s wrath. But the concept of peace includes more than reconciliation; it also involves the experience of divine peace in their hearts, which will result to living in peace with one another. Although we have peace with God at justification, we can have also the peace of God as the protector of our hearts during our Christian lives. Peace was last legacy of Jesus to his disciples before he died (John 16:33) and that peace is conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit. The peace of Christ is to rule in our hearts today (Col. 3:15).

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The church in Ephesus (Eph. 1:1)

Library of Celsius in Ephesus (or what is left of it)
A great change had taken place in the lives of these people. Before the gospel had come to Ephesus the Gentiles living there had been worshippers of Diana, with her temple being one of the wonders of the world. They had practised magic and other forms of evil. There was also a large number of Jews living in the city. Converts from both groups formed the church.

Now Paul calls them saints. The word ‘saint’ in common usage refers to a person of outstanding devotion who shows dedication in some form of social activity. But that is not the biblical meaning of the term. Biblically, a saint is a person set apart to God. An interesting feature of the word is that in the New Testament when used of believers it always occurs in the plural, pointing to the fact that Christians are saints in a community. They were set apart to God when the Holy Spirit came to indwell them after they believed in Jesus.

The readers are also described as the faithful. The meaning of this word includes both the ideas of trust in Christ and loyalty to Christ. They depended on Jesus and they were devoted to him.  

Paul’s description also indicates that the readers lived in two worlds simultaneously: they were in Ephesus and they were in Christ. The first describes their physical location, from which God has separated them, and the second is their spiritual location into which God has placed them. Everyone who is a Christian lives in two locations: one is at times hostile to him but the other offers him riches beyond calculation.

The latter phrase, ‘in Christ Jesus,’ indicates union with Jesus Christ. In Christ, we are given everything that belongs to him including eternal life and acceptance with God. In a sense, the entire letter is an explanation of what it means to be in Christ.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The author of the letter

Paul in prison (Rembrandt)

Paul is obviously a crucial person in the New Testament. He is writing this letter about thirty years after his conversion, during which time he has been very active in spreading the gospel. He has seen the Lord do great things through his ministry, with one of these achievements being the formation of the church in Ephesus. It was the apostle’s practice to plant churches in major urban centres such as Ephesus, and then teach these churches to evangelise the surrounding area, which is what the church in Ephesus did with regard to Colosse, for example. But as we think of Paul just now, I only want to mention two factors.     

The first is that he is now a prisoner in Rome. His journey to Rome is described in the closing chapters of the Book of Acts. In chapter 3 of this letter he describes himself as a prisoner of the Lord. This is a reminder to us of how to view our circumstances. For Paul, going through imprisonment was an opportunity to serve the Lord. He could still help other Christians, as he does in this letter, and also evangelise his guards, which did take place, as he tells us in Philippians, another letter written at this time. In a real sense, there are no prison walls that prevent the growth of spiritual life.

The second is that Paul had a definite calling to be an apostle. The word itself means ‘messenger’ and it is used that way at times in the New Testament. But in its precise sense it refers to a particular group of men, each of whom had three qualifications: they had been personally selected by Jesus, they had been given authority by Jesus to be his representatives, and they had been eyewitnesses of his resurrection. They were not to serve Christ in one particular place but were to travel throughout the world spreading the gospel and establishing churches. In addition, some of them wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and these writings are included in the Scriptures. Paul in this book describes apostles as belonging to the foundation of the church (2:20), which means that they were there at its beginning. There are no apostles today.

It is important for us to recognise the authority of the apostles. As John Stott reminds us, Paul is not writing as ‘a private person ventilating his personal opinions, nor as a gifted but fallible human teacher, nor even as the church’s greatest missionary hero, but as “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”, and therefore as a teacher whose authority is precisely the authority of Jesus Christ himself, in whose name and by whose authority he writes.’ Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ.

In both these aspects of Paul – as a prisoner and as an apostle – we see God’s grace at work. It was God’s grace that rescued him from sin and gifted him to be an apostle. Paul, who had been a persecutor of the church, became one of its most fruitful servants. Grace not only saved him, not only enabled him to serve Christ, but also sanctified him so that he endured adverse circumstances for Christ.

God’s grace is also seen in the way he overruled to bring Paul and the Ephesians together. If it had not been for grace Paul would not have gone to Ephesus with the gospel. But grace created a bond that geographical distance could not diminish.