Praise and Prayer

October 15, 2005

Read: Eph. 1:15-23

Comments on Eph 1:15-23: Having opened the letter of Ephesians with a more formal, lofty blessing paragraph, Paul reverts to his more usual and personal thanksgiving and prayer report paragraph with which he usually opens his letters. Although it is more personal in its expression of intercessory prayer, it continues the lofty themes of God’s plan of salvation in Christ.

In the previous blessing passage the central part focused on the death of Jesus, i.e. redemption by his blood (1:7 ff ) and its consequence for forgiveness and the summing up all things in him (1:7b-10). In this thanksgiving sequel the focus is on the resurrection of Christ and its consequences for making him not only the head of the church, his body, but also the fullness that fills and completes everything in the universe (1:22-23).

This double focus on both church and cosmos is more succinctly presented in the hymn in Col 1:15-20. In Colossians, most likely written at the same time as Ephesians, Christ is presented as both the source and the sustainer of all creation (1:15-17) as well as the head of the church through his death and resurrection (1:18-20).

Here in Ephesians Christ is presented as having achieved the grand culmination of both church and also the universe through his death and resurrection. Thus, when Paul writes in Eph 1:20-21 that Christ is above all powers and they are all placed under his feet, we have the final triumph over evil both in the universe and on earth. This is the expansive vision of salvation that is so powerfully and meaningfully unfolded in this short but powerful epistle. This focus on the universal supremacy and triumph of Christ is especially emphasized by two key expressions that occur in the blessing passage in 1:10 (“to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head,” NIV) and in the thanksgiving passage in 1:22 (“appointed him to be head over everything,” NIV).

In 1:9 of the blessing passage the revelation of God’s plan with its wisdom and insight is made with reference to Christ’s redemptive death. Here in the thanksgiving passage this revelation is made with reference to God’s power in resurrecting Christ. There is an unusual piling up of three different Greek words to refer to God’s power, dynamis, kratos, and isxys, meaning ‘power,’ ‘might,’ and ‘strength’ respectively. This serves to put an emphatic focus not only on Christ’s resurrection but also his elevation over all things for the church.

The reference to Christ being “seated at the right hand” is most likely an allusion to Ps 110. This was an important Psalm for early Christians’ understanding of Christ. In fact Jesus used it to demonstrate to the Pharisees that the Messiah was someone greater than David (Mt 22:44). Furthermore, in Hebrews it is used to prove to a Jewish readership that Jesus as Messiah, the son of David, was therefore also a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, and thus that he had a priestly function even though he was of the tribe of Judah and not Levi (Cf. Heb 1:13 and 8:1; 10:12-13).

Finally, it may be noted that Paul’s triad of faith, hope, and love, particularly renown from 1 Cor 13, is found both in the blessing passage (1:4, 12, 13 – “believed” = “had faith”) and in our thanksgiving passage (1:15, 18) as well as in the thanksgiving passage in Colossians (1:3-5).

Questions to Think About: Paul prays that his addressees will receive “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” in their process of coming to know God. Also, that the “eyes of their heart” might be enlightened to know three things: the hope to which God has called them, God’s inheritance among the saints, and God’s power for those who believe. What do hope, God’s inheritance, and his power have in common? In what sense or senses would they “know” these things? and with what consequences for their lives? Are there different kinds of “knowing” involved here?

It is quite curious that apart from references to “hope” (1:12, 18), a mention of “the age to come” (1:21) and the “day of redemption” (4:30) there is not one explicit reference to the 2nd coming of Jesus in Ephesians. The perspective is predominantly vertical in terms of Christians’ experience of what God has done for them in Christ and how they participate in this “in heavenly places” in Christ. The horizontal plan is presented predominantly in terms of how they in turn should live in relation to one another. On the other hand, Philippians, thought by many to be written closely in time to Ephesians, is replete with references to the 2nd coming (see esp. 3:20-21). With the exception of one reference in Col 3:4 Colossians is much like Ephesians in this respect. Why would Paul write this way? Could it be due to the topic or topics, or to the circumstances in which the churches addressed find themselves? Has so much time passed by that Paul is now more concerned with how redemption affects how Christians live and experience in the here-and-now than with how it gets them ready for an imminent return of Jesus?

In a world where people lived in mortal fear of the heavenly principalities and powers, usually associated with the stars and astrology, Paul’s message of Christ’s triumphal supremacy would have been particularly and immediately relevant as good news. How is this still good news to us today in a very practical way in terms of our daily lives?

What are the dynamic relations that hold between faith, hope, and love?

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