Ephesians is Paul’s greatest work on the church, the body and bride of Christ. It was John Calvin’s favorite and F.F. Bruce regarded it as ‘the quintessence of Paulinism’ because it ‘in large measure sums up the leading themes of the Pauline letters, and sets forth the cosmic implications of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.’ Ephesians bears strong resemblance to Colossians and was likely written at the same time while Paul was in prison in Rome (Acts 28:30) and sent by the hand of Tychicus (Eph. 6:21-22; Col. 4:7-9). While the sufficiency of Christ’s work is central to Colossians, Ephesians is dedicated to Paul’s message that God’s new society, the Church, is a manifestation of the cosmic reconciliation and unity of Christ’s work proclaimed in the gospel. This is why Paul always moves from the indicative to the imperative, rooting what we are called to do in the firm ground of what Christ has already done. The very structure of Ephesians proclaims the God-centeredness of Paul’s theology
The Gift of the Father (vs.1-6)
The Father gives every blessing that belongs to the Spirit in the person of His beloved Son. To speak of the Father as the source of every blessing is to immediately draw attention to the procession and work of the Son and the Spirit. They are the glory of the Father ( John 17:6-10, 20-24). The Father gives every blessing that belongs to the Spirit in the person of His beloved Son. To speak of the Father as the source of every blessing is to immediately draw attention to the procession and work of the Son and the Spirit. They are the glory of the Father ( John 17:6-10, 20-24). The Father’s gift of Himself to His Son and to those who are “in Him” through the gift of the Spirit is His glory. This brings Jesus’ words to his disciples into sharp focus: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Why is it glorious to give our lives away? Because we bear the image of the One whose glory is to be perfectly generous with His life. Notice how election and predestination are grounded in the Father’s generosity: (vs. 4) He chose us to be holy and blameless, (vs. 5) He predestined us for adoption as sons, and both are to the praise of his glorious grace (vs. 6).
Reconciled by the Son (vs. 7-12)
The purpose of the Father’s gift of every blessing is headed toward an ultimate goal: The summing up of all things in Christ. Not only are redemption and the forgiveness of sins given to us in Christ, but He is the revelation and fulfillment of the Father’s plan to sum up/reconcile all things in Him whether on earth or in heaven. Since our first parents sin in Genesis, death has meant that everything falls apart: Our relationships, our loves, our bodies, our work, and our world. This is what the exile of death means. Yeats captures this futility well: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” The mystery of his will (vs. 9), which has now been made known to us, is the Father’s kind intention to “sum up” and put right all of the separation, alienation, and exile of our sin. But in order for that to take place, Jesus had to be pulled apart that we might be healed (Is. 53:5). Colossians 1:19-22 brings all of these elements together: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”
Sealed by the Spirit (vs. 13-14)
The first sign of this cosmic reconciliation is the gift of the Spirit who comes as a seal and a pledge of Christ’s work. In the Greco-Roman world a seal was a mark of ownership that implied a promise of protection. A master would brand his possessions with his seal to protect them from theft. In the OT, God places a sign on his people to distinguish them as His possession and protect them from destruction (Ezek. 9:4-6). In the same way, the Spirit is given to mark us as God’s inheritance (vs. 11) and to give us confidence that nothing can separate us from him (Rom. 8:31-39). At the same time, the Spirit is also a pledge or guarantee of our inheritance. He is the “down payment” who gives us a foretaste of the New Creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and who is the promise that we will obtain full possession of it.
Freedom and the Reformation
The mind-blowing truth of this opening section of Ephesians is that God has chosen us as His inheritance and He has given Himself to us as our inheritance. The freeness of God’s gift by which we are chosen, called, justified, sanctified and glorified (Rom. 8:28-30) is the gift of God Himself. All of it is found in Christ and all of it is a gift of free grace (Eph. 2:8-10). That’s the good news of the Gospel and the heart of the Reformation. Martin Luther beautifully expresses in The Freedom of the Christian Man:
“Christ, that rich and pious husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot, redeeming her from all her evils, and supplying her with all his good things. It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in Him, and since she has in her husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying: “If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is His, and all His is mine;” as it is written, “My beloved is mine, and I am his. (Cant. ii. 16.) This is what Paul says: “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ;” victory over sin and death.”
The free and generous work of the three persons of the Trinity is the sole basis for our justification, our sanctification and the certainty of our glorification. It is the ground of our confidence (Heb. 10:19) and our boasting (1 Cor. 1:31), and as Luther noted, our freedom (Gal. 5:13). We must cherish it and defend it against all attacks (Gal. 5:1).