This is the first part of a new blog commentary series on the book of Ephesians. These blogs are adapted from my sermon notes. This letter was written by Paul from a Roman prison around 60AD. Let's go through chapter 1:1-14 verse by verse:
Ephesians 1:1–2 RSV
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God
• Apostle (Gk. apostolos) means ‘one sent’.
• It refers to those that Jesus commissioned to be the pioneers and leaders of the early church
‘To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus’
Ephesus not mentioned:
• Some translations include ‘who are in Ephesus’ after the word ‘saints’.
• But the oldest Greek manuscripts do not mention Ephesus.
• Originally a circular letter that went to several churches in the region. The absence of Paul referring to any local issues in this letter seems to confirm that this is the case.
Paul calls believers ‘the saints’:
• Means holy ones
• Reminds us that all believers are saints; it is not a title for a select few
Ephesians 1:3 RSV
3 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,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ = praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.
If you have material riches but no peace, no joy, no sense of purpose, no assurance of salvation, you are not blessed. We don’t only need material blessings, we also need the spiritual blessings too. And God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing… in the heavenly places.
As we are on earth, and these spiritual blessings are found in the heavenly places, how can we access them?
The answer is in Christ. Paul says that we have been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing. Christ is in heaven at the right hand of God. Through faith in Jesus, we have been united with Him spiritually, and therefore we have access to the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places, because we are in Christ.
But why are we in Christ? Why have we believed in Him?
The answer is found in the next verse:
Ephesians 1:4 RSV
4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
The reason we are in Christ is because God chose us.
And the only reason we have believed is because God called us to himself. Each of us who are saved have experienced that inward call of God which caused us to believe.
Notice that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world i.e. before the world was created.
This indicates that your existence on earth at this time is not by mere chance of coincidence. God thought of you in the context of a saving relationship with himself, before time began - before the foundation of the world.
And how did God imagine you when he thought of your before time began? It says that we should be holy and without blame before him.
God has chosen you to be holy. That means set apart to God, and set apart from sin.
God has chosen you to be without blame before him i.e. sinless.
Now, humanly speaking that is totally impossible. But there are two things we must remember:
1. God forgives. The Bible tells us that when we confess our sins to God, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
2. One day, we will be just like Jesus. When he comes again, our bodies will be transformed and made just like his glorious body (Philippians 3:21). We will be complete holy and sinless when this happens.
Paul continues in the next verse...
Ephesians 1:5–6 RSV
5 He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
When God chose and destined you before the foundation of the world, he did in love.
Because he loved you, he didn’t want you to only be holy and blameless; he wanted you to become his child - his sons and daughters.
Why did he want you to be his child? It says according to the purpose of his will. We will see what this purpose is when we get to verse 9 and 10. But let us note for now that we are part of something much bigger than any one of us. We are part of something that God planned before the foundation of the world, and God has chosen you to be part of it.
Now, let me also say that when God chose you in Christ, he already knew every mistake that you make; every time that you would fail; but he still chose you as his child.
In light of that, none of us can take any credit for our salvation. Because before we did anything right or wrong, before we even existed, before the universe existed, God chose us.
And the only reason we have been able to believe in Jesus, is because God called us.
And the only reason we are growing in the faith is because God is transforming us.
And the only reason we are still on our way to heaven is because God forgives us.
And so Paul says, that this destiny that God has for us is to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
In other words, it is because of God’s grace that we have been chosen and destined to be his sons and daughters.
And he has freely given us this grace, in the Beloved. The Beloved is a reference to Jesus, God’s beloved Son, the supreme object of the Father’s love.
Paul has the audacity to say that as God’s chosen children in Christ, we get to be recipients of the love that the Father has for His own eternal Son. And all of this is because of God’s grace.
Ephesians 1:7–8 RSV
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 which he lavished upon us.
In him - i.e. by virtue of the fact that we are united with Christ
‘we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (sins)’
Redemption is a word that refers to being set free by the payment of a price. We have been set free from the power and penalty of sin. The price God paid to secure this freedom was the precious blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Let us never forget how Jesus suffered and died in our place, so that we could be free and forgiven.
And in case we missed in the first time, Paul points out that this freedom and forgiveness is due to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.
We can never take credit for our salvation. It is be grace that we have been saved; it is by grace that we are still saved; and it is by grace that we will be saved when Jesus comes.
Paul continues in the verses 9 and 10...
Ephesians 1:9–10 RSV
9 For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
God has revealed to us the mystery his will.
The word ‘mystery’ means that the secret of his will was hidden from previous generations, but has now been revealed to us through the gospel.
The mystery of his will is said to be a plan that will happen at the fulness of time. In other words, it will happen when the time is right.
And the plan is to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth. ‘Heaven’ is here used in the sense of everything above earth. In other words, Paul is saying that all creation will brought together with Christ as the head of it (compare Good News Bible).
Whilst this will be completed when Jesus returns, this process has actually already started. And God has started this process by bringing people together under Christ’s headship.
So Paul continues in verse 11 and 12...
Ephesians 1:11–12 RSV
11 In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory.
The Greek word translated ‘appointed’ means to ‘be appointed by lot’ (BDAG (1)). The idea is that we have been appointed as God’s inheritance. I think that the New English Translation does a better job of showing what is going on in these verses...
Ephesians 1:11–12 NET
11 In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the one purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, would be to the praise of his glory.
We were predestined in Christ to be God’s own possession.
God has made us His own possession because he ‘accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will’. In other words, God ensures that what he plans happens.
Paul then states the reason God claimed us as his own possession - ‘so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, would be to the praise of his glory’.
‘we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ’ is a reference to the Jewish believers. The Gentiles, whom Paul will refer to in verse 13 didn’t come to faith until later. At the beginning, the Church consisted of Jewish believers. God’s purpose for these Jewish believers is that they ‘would be to the praise of his glory’. In other words, that their lives would bring glory to God’s name.
Paul continues in verse 13 and 14:
Ephesians 1:13–14 RSV
13 In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
‘you also’ = you Gentiles (non-Jews)
Paul is saying, when you Gentiles heard the gospel and believed in Jesus, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.
In the days of the New Testament, a person’s favourite possessions were marked with the impression of a seal, which was typically made of hard stone or precious metal, with a distinctive image engraved on it. (Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Romans to Philemon. (Vol. 3, p. 308). Zondervan)
So, when Paul says that we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, his point is that the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives marks us as God’s property.
Now, remember what Paul said about the Jewish believers in v11. He said that they had been ‘claimed as God’s own possession’ (NET). Paul’s point then is that not only are Jewish believers God’s own possession, you Gentile believers are too, because God has sealed you with his Holy Spirit.
So we see that God’s plan is already in progress. His plan to unify all creation in Christ has started with Him bringing Jew and Gentile together into the one body of Christ.
Now, in verse 14, Paul calls the Holy Spirit ‘the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory’.
Not the best translation… The LEB renders it more literally...
Ephesians 1:14 LEB
14 who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession, to the praise of his glory.
The down payment (or deposit) assures the seller that the rest of the money will follow.
But that’s not all, the down payment also gives the seller a foretaste of the complete sum of money that he will receive.
So, the Holy Spirit in our hearts is our assurance that the rest of our heavenly inheritance will follow. Also, through the Holy Spirit, we have a foretaste of our heavenly inheritance. We are able, through the Holy Spirit, to enjoy the presence of God now!
This foretaste is ‘until the redemption of the possession, to the praise of his glory’....
What does that mean?
‘The possession’ that this verse mentions is a reference to you and me. And we are waiting for the day of our full ‘redemption’, when our bodies will be set free from corruption, and will be made like Christ’s glorious body. This event will be ‘to the praise of his glory’. God will be glorified on that day when we are completely set free.
Paul wrote about this day in Romans 8...
Romans 8:23 ESV
23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
So, we who have the first installment of the Holy Spirit groaning inwardly, whilst we live in these corruptible bodies in a corruptible world.
But we are looking forward to the day when our bodies will be born again, when they will be redeemed and set free from corruption.
Romans 8:24–25 ESV
24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Let us continue to stay faithful to God as we patiently look forward to the day of our full redemption.
• All believers are called 'saints'
• In Christ, we have been blessed with every spiritual in the heavenly places
• The only reason we have come to faith is because God chose us before the foundation of the world and called us to himself
• God has chosen us to be holy and without blame before him, and destined us in love to be his sons and daughters
• As God’s chosen children in Christ, we get to be recipients of the love that the Father has for His own eternal Son
• God has set us free from the power and penalty of sin, and forgiven our sins
• All of this is because of God's grace
• God's plan is to bring all creation together under the headship of Christ
• God has started this plan by bringing Jews and Gentiles together into the one body of Christ
• We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. This seal marks us as belonging to God
• The Holy Spirit is God's down payment assuring us of heavenly glory and allowing us to have a foretaste of it
• We will receive our full redemption when Jesus returns