What God Has Done

October 8, 2005

Read: Eph 1:3-14

Comments on Eph 1:2-14: Ephesians and 2 Corinthians are the only two of Paul’s letters that open after the initial prescript with a blessing formula that is expanded into a lengthy introduction. Paul’s other letters all open with the more personal, less formal thanksgiving paragraphs. In the last lesson it was pointed out that Ephesians may have been composed as a circular letter to be sent to Ephesus for copying and dissemination in Asia Minor. A more formal, less personal opening would fit such a purpose well.

In the Greek we have one long sentence from verse 3 to verse 14. This is not apparent in English translations. The opening main sentence, “Blessed be our God and Father,” is followed by a series of several subordinate clauses each of which is richly described by long modifying phrases. If we cut through all the modifiers and focus on the main subordinate clauses we get the following outline of the flow of thought under which we can summarize the modifying phrases:

God has blessed us in Christ (1:3), 
   with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places,
He has chosen us in Him (1:4),
   before the foundation of the world for a holy and blameless
and He has destined us for adoption as his children through
Jesus Christ (1:5),
   based on his goodwill and grace bestowed on us.  
In Christ we have redemption (1:7),
   through Christ's blood as an act of lavish grace in which
   he revealed the mystery that all things in heaven and
   earth will be subsumed under Christ as head over all.
in Him we have an inheritance (1:11; Alternative:  we were chosen 
as His inheritance),
   because of being destined by his purposeful plan, so that
   we who first set hope on Christ might live for the praise
   of God,
and in Him you were sealed with the Holy Spirit (1:13),
   when you heard the gospel and believed in him, a seal
   that is a pledge for us of inheriting redemption as God's
   own people.

This opening paragraph is modeled in many ways on Jewish synagogue liturgy, especially by the opening formula “Blessed be God.” Several O.T. covenant themes are central as, e.g., God’s activity in blessing, redemption, election, inheritance, and the call to holiness. The very Jewishness of all these expressions and motifs traditionally expressed a special relation with God. It was subsequently abused by many Jews and also Jewish Christians to express an ethnic exclusiveness that the Gospel transcends. The usage here serves to capture the original intentions of the O.T. covenant expressed in the Prophets and as such provides a platform for the themes of inclusiveness and unity to be subsequently developed in chapters two and three.

At the same time this rich passage may also reflect an early Christian hymn. One can observe several intertwined features in its plan and development. There is a chronological movement from God’s eternal plan (1:3 ff) to its actualization in Christ’s redemptive death (1:7 ff) and on to the addressee’s (note the shift from “we” to “you”) acceptance of the gospel and reception of the Holy Spirit as a seal and guarantee of inheritance (1:13-14). One could also see a trinitarian focus on the functions of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the mysterious plan of salvation. And finally, there is a general-to-specific development in which the general category of “spiritual blessing” at the beginning (1:3) is sequentially specified in terms of election, destined adoption, redemption, inheritance, and sealing by the Holy Spirit..

At the very center of the paragraph the redemption actualized in Christ Jesus is elaborated on not only in terms of the forgiveness of sins, but especially in terms of all things, both heavenly and earthly things, being summed up under Jesus Christ. In the expression “fullness of time” the word “time” (kairos) is in the plural suggesting that Christ’s act of redemption brought to completion the “seasons” of preparatory events. The summing up of all things anticipates the culmination of the plan of salvation focused on in the next section (see 1:20-23).

Questions to Think About: There is an emphasis in this passage not only on God’s initiative in the plan of salvation but also on God “destining” believers for adoption as his children (1:5) and their having an inheritance (1:11).

Both dangers and blessings attend an interpretation of what this means. What are they? If God is in control, how does human responsibility fit in? If he “chose us before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless” what about those who obviously are not holy or blameless in their lives and choices? Does God’s “destining” involve control or provision, or possibly both? Why is his plan called the “mystery of his will” (1:9)?

What does it mean to have the Holy Spirit as a seal? What implications does this explicit reference to the reception of the Holy Spirit have for the SDA interpretation of the “seal of God” in Rev 14? How does one know that one is sealed by the Holy Spirit. What does the expression “guarantee” suggest?

It is interesting to note that in the midst of all the descriptions of God’s provisions in this passage there are only two brief references to our responsibility to live as “holy and blameless” (1:4) and for “the praise of his glory” (1:12), one near the beginning and one near the end. Is this difference in the proportion of references somehow significant? Could it somehow be a guide to what we focus on that will contribute to real spiritual health and growth? On what God has done or on what we do?

Comments are closed.