Drinking Deeply

Wednesday, January 04, 2006 at 2:09 PM

Ephesians 1:3-14

Ephesians 1:3-14.

I am not addressing all of Eph. 1, but interpretation of the rest of the passage does not change the interpretation we gain from verses 3-14. I’m not going to be able to touch all of what people have said about these passages, but I do believe God has graced me with a decent understanding of this passage, enough to draw a few insights and to explain a few things. Here goes:
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
A brief note on the context: The letter to the church at Ephesus is written to just that, a church. Thus Paul is addressing the church as Christians. His treatment of non-Christians is a bit harsher and not so uplifting *grins*.

v. 3 begins with blessings. Blessed be God and Father. He has blessed us in Christ (we will soon learn what that means) with “spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Examining v. 14 we see that this “spiritual blessing” refers to the giving of the Holy Spirit, and thus we have a blessing based on the Trinity. Father, Son, Spirit.

This gives us a few hints as to how we are to understand a few things. 1) God’s doctrine brings us praise. 2) We praise God for who He is (Father of our Lord) as well as what He has done (blessed us in Christ). 3) Praise is through the Trinity. Praise God because through Christ He has given us His Spirit. Notice that v.3-14 composes of one long sentence, which is actually praising God. Theology drives worship.
4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”
The second half of v. 3 and v. 4 tell us what being “in Christ” means. 1) Given spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (the Holy Spirit) and 2) being “chosen” before the foundation of the world so that we should be holy and blameless before him.

The common free will argument asserts that God chooses us based upon his foreknowledge of our choosing Him. That God chooses Christ, and then we choose to be “in Christ.” Now, apart from the grammatical considerations (predestined seems to be an active thing rather than a reactive one), I don’t agree with that interpretation on the basis of the text itself. As we walk through the text, I will try to give an argument why I believe that interpretation is not being faithful to the text and rather “my” (the Calvinist) one is. Of course, different believers in free will believe different things, and for some of them (this includes me before God opened my eyes through passages like this), this belief is more out of assumption rather than being convinced by Scripture. If the reader is one of these, I pray God would give you a discerning mind to accept what is biblical and reject what is not.

Continuing with v. 4, we find that we have been chosen so that we should be holy and blameless before him and that this blessing is actually distinct (note the word “even”) from the spiritual blessings referred to in v. 3. What do I want to point to with this? Namely that there are two aspects of being chosen: 1) We are seen holy and blameless (this is known as justification) and 2) We receive spiritual blessings. Now the text here is not entirely explicit, but I think one could make a good argument that these spiritual blessings (given through Christ) point to molding us in Christ’s image, better conforming us to God’s commands. (sanctification).
In love 5he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Here would be my first salvo at the synergist’s (one who believes that man must cooperate with God in order to be saved, rather than a “monergist” who believes that salvation is all God) interpretation that predestination is based upon foreknowledge and is a reactive thing. The passage gives little support for that interpretation, and it is necessary to read our own understanding into the text. What does it say? God predestines us for adoption (this is a very important word, I’ll come back to it in Eph. 2) through Jesus Christ. This happens according to God’s will for God’s glory (to the praise of his glorious grace). The emphasis is purely upon God’s working actively rather than responding to us. His will, his purpose, his grace, his blessings.

He does this “in love.” I’d like to talk about how God does not actually have emotions in the same way we do, but that would probably lengthen this far beyond what I was expecting. You can ask me about it later, but I believe that when it says that God loves, hates, or is jealous, angry, wrathful, this isn’t an emotion, but rather a willing of action towards someone.
7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight
Paul continues to emphasize the blessings given to us in Christ, becoming more and more specific. Redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses. We are sinners, alienated from God. We deserved God’s wrath (this will be brought forth in Eph. 2) but now Christ has died (shed His blood) for our sins, suffered the wrath we deserved, and bought our lives. We are redeemed and forgiven in accordance to God’s grace. Once again the emphasis is on “grace.” A gift. God doesn’t see us choosing Him, but rather freely gives what we could not earn. He chooses us in His wisdom and insight, not because of our wisdom and insight in choosing Him.
9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Some people like to talk about “mysteries” in Scripture. Now, they typically mean that there are things that people as a whole do not understand, but the implication is that people cannot understand it. We may never know. The common example is “free will and God’s sovereignty.” People think that both are taught in Scripture but they contradict. Now, in order to preserve the belief that God never contradicts, this is called a “mystery.”

Now, a few issues I have with that understanding of the word “mystery.” 1) While it may be true that they may not understand how two concepts in the Bible are reconciled, there is no grounds to say that we cannot. Are they omniscient, able to know the capacities of man? Of course not. At the same time however, we must acknowledge the effects of sin upon us and say that man is sinful, so our understanding of Scripture is never complete. It never matches up completely with God’s understanding of Scripture. Rather, what some call a mystery others can (if God has granted them illumination) no mystery at all. 2) The Bible uses the term “mystery” in a far different manner. A mystery in the Bible is something that was once implied in the OT, but is now revealed explicitly in the NT. Verse 9 talks about “making known to us the mystery of his will.” What was that mystery that is now revealed? That God planned to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. This (as the rest of Ephesians points to) includes the Gentiles. This was the mystery that is now revealed.

The free will “mystery” will be addressed further on. Moving on:
11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,
Here is my second attack on the synergist’s interpretation. I will boldly state that it is impossible to understand God as responding to us because of v. 11. We have been predestined according to the purpose of God. What does God do? God works all things according to the counsel of his will. While we might be able to make the case that this "all" only refers to "all things pertaining to the elect," making God in control of one group and another power (Satan possibly) in control of another, there is strong evidence throughout the rest of Scripture that "all" here literally refers to "all." The falling of a stone. The flight of a bird. Our choices. Adam picking the fruit and taking a bite. The crucifixion of His Son. God has predestined all things according to the counsel of his will. Now, how does this fit in with the free will/ God’s sovereignty “mystery?” Simply in this way: There is no such thing as free will. Everything is planned out. Everything is in accordance to what God has perfectly planned according to His will. Now what is God’s will but “good, pleasing, and perfect” (Romans 12:2)? If we are to ask “well, that’s not fair. I want free will.” Guess what? We are questioning God. If we are to ask “wait, then why does it say that we are responsible?” The answer would be better answered by Romans 9, but simply stated we are responsible because God decided to hold us responsible. He is holding us accountable, whether or not we have free will to do what he’s holding us accountable for. To ask “why” again is to once again question God. If God is perfect, righteous, and just and all He does are the same, then it must be perfect, righteous and just for God to hold us accountable for our actions, even when we don’t have free will. It must be perfect, righteous, and just for God to predestine us (some of it for sin!).
12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
God’s predestining has a goal: "So that we might be the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory". ok, so there are questions in my mind about being “first”, but the emphasis I would like to put is the “hope in Christ” would be that for God’s glory. God predestines things for His glory. This includes us being saved. Our predestining is not because "God loves us and has a wonderful plan for us" (which might be true, but it's not the reason for it), but it's because God is working things for His glory.

As a side note, this solves completely the “problem” of evil. We simply say “God is in complete control over evil, and is using it for His glory. What problem?” When we struggle with suffering (say a parent died), we can turn and say “God decreed this to happen for His glory. Praise be to God.” When a hurricane strikes and kills thousands we can turn and say “Glory to God.”
13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Finally, we get to the working of our salvation. What happened? Notice the key words “in him.” This means that the rest of the verse is in light of what Jesus has done. It is in Christ that when we heard the word of truth (which is the gospel of our salvation) we believed and were sealed. Christ’s death purchased these blessings, and when God places us “in him” (which happens before the foundation of the world), He promises that He will bring the Gospel of our salvation and give us faith. He will seal us with the Holy Spirit, which guarantees that we will gain possession of our inheritance. Why does this happen? To the praise of His glory. We live, we move, we act, for God’s glory. Does this include sinners? Absolutely. The flip side of it will be discussed further in Eph. 2 and Romans 9.

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