THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT:
The opening verses of this book (vv. 1-14) include a greeting from "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God to the saints who are at Ephesus" (v. 1), and a thumbnail sketch of Paul's theology (vv. 3-14). That sketch opens with a joyful response to the blessings that God has provided, and ascribes blessings or praise to God for his grace (v. 3). In vv. 4-14, Paul outlines the nature of some of those blessings: (1) Being chosen or elected (vv. 4-5); (2) Bestowed favor (v. 6); (3) Redemption and forgiveness (v. 7); (3) Revealing the mystery of his will (v. 9); (4) Inheritance (v. 11); (5) Salvation (v. 13); and (5) Redemption (v. 14).
Note: vv. 3-14 are one long sentence in the orig. Greek and vv. 15ff. constitute another lengthy sentence.
EPHESIANS 1:15-16a. I DON'T CEASE TO GIVE THANKS FOR YOU
15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, 16a do not cease giving thanks for you, while
"For this cause" (Greek: dia) (v. 15a). "For this cause" translates the little Greek word dia, which has several meanings, depending on its context. In this verse, it means "on account of this" or "for this reason." As used here, it points back to the blessings that Paul outlined in verses 4-14 (see above).
"I also, having heard of the faith (Greek: pistis) in the Lord Jesus which is among you" (v. 15b). Paul made a brief visit to Ephesus on his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 18:19-28). He returned there on his Third Missionary Journey (Acts 19:1), remained in Ephesus for three years (Acts 20:31), and founded the church there.
Ephesus is one of the seven churches addressed by Christ in Revelation 2-3. In most cases, Christ is quite critical of these churches, but his comments to the church at Ephesus are the least critical of the lot (Revelation 2:1-7). He commends their toil and perseverance-their intolerance for evil men-their endurance and not growing weary. However, he also rebukes them, because they have left their first love (Revelation 2:4). This probably means that they have emphasized toil, perseverance and intolerance of evil to the point where they have forgotten to love Christ and one another.
Paul is giving thanks for the faith (pistis) and love (agape) of these Ephesian Christians. In the New Testament, the Greek word pistis means faith-the person's response to the kerygma-the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. In other words, Paul is giving thanks here for the belief of these Ephesian Christians "in the Lord Jesus"-for the trust that they have placed in the Lord Jesus by steering the ship of their lives by his star.
In the verses that follow, Paul outlines something of the content of the faith that he is celebrating. It is faith that:
"and the love (Greek: agape) which you have toward all the saints" (v. 15c). Of the two Greek words used in the New Testament for love (agape and philos), agape is clearly predominant, appearing five times as often as philos.
Agape love is more a "doing" than a "feeling" word. It doesn't require that we approve of the actions of the person whom we love-or even that we enjoy their company. It does require us to act in behalf of that person-to demonstrate our love in some practical fashion.
Agape love is the first of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22)-and is the greatest of Christian virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13). When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus said: "The greatest is, 'Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. The second is like this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:29-31).
"toward all the saints" (Greek: hagioi) (v. 15c). The Greek word hagioi (saints) means "holy ones." The idea of "holy ones" has its roots in the Old Testament. God is holy, and all things associated with God (including God's chosen people) are holy because of their association with God (Deuteronomy 28:9; Isaiah 62:12). So in this verse, Paul uses the word hagioi to mean the followers of Christ in Ephesus.
In the context of this verse, Paul is celebrating the love of these Ephesian Christians for each other-and for other Christian brothers and sisters, wherever they might be.
"don't cease to give thanks for you" (v. 16a). Paul is giving unceasing thanks for the faith and love of the Ephesian Christians.
EPHESIANS 1:16b-19. THAT GOD MAY GIVE YOU A SPIRIT OF WISDOM
16b while making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might
"making mention of you in my prayers" (v. 16b). What would be the contents of Paul's prayers for these Ephesian Christians? For one thing, he would give thanks for their faith (v. 15), but he would also petition God to give them "a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him" (v. 17). He would pray that they might "know what is the hope of his calling"-and that they might know "the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints" (v. 18) and "the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe" (v. 19).
"that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory" (v. 17a). The word "glory" is used in the Bible to speak of various wonderful things-but it is used especially to speak of God's glory-an aura associated with God's appearance that reveals God's majesty to humans.
Christ shares God's glory. The glory of the Lord was revealed at his birth (Luke 2:9; John 1:14). His disciples, Peter, James and John, were privileged to see Christ's glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (9:28-36). Christ's cross was necessary so that he might "enter into his glory" (Luke 24:26; see also Philippians 2:5-11). The Gospel of John in particular speaks of the cross as Christ's glorification (John 12:23; 13:31-32). Jesus spoke of returning "with power and great glory" (Luke 21:27).
"may give to you a spirit (Greek: pneuma) of wisdom" (v. 17b). The word pneuma ("spirit") appears here without the definite article, and is not referring to THE Holy Spirit. Paul is praying that these Ephesian Christians will have a "spirit of wisdom."
The Greeks prized wisdom, and sought wisdom through philosophy. However, for Paul, God is the source of all wisdom. God's wisdom often manifests itself in ways that seem strange to us. For instance, God's wisdom was manifested in the birth of a baby in a small town stable in an inconsequential country. God's wisdom was manifested in the cross of Christ. Such things might appear foolish to most people, but "the foolishness of God is wiser than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25). "God chose the foolish things of the world that he might put to shame those who are wise" (1 Corinthians 1:27).
"and revelation (Greek: apokalypsis) in the knowledge of him" (v. 17c). An apokalypsis is a revelation or a disclosing or an unveiling. It suggests not only the appearance of something new, but also the ability to interpret or to understand what is seen.
Paul is praying is that God will reveal himself to these Ephesian Christians-that God will make it possible for them to know God more intimately. This would include their coming to an understanding of God's will for their lives.
The knowledge that comes by God's revelation is God's gift to us (v. 17c). Wisdom (v. 17b) is also a gift-the gift of knowing how to use that knowledge effectively.
"having the eyes (Greek: opthalmos) of your hearts (kardia) enlightened" (photizo) (v. 18a). The word opthamology (the branch of medicine dealing with the eye) comes from the Greek word opthalmos, which means eye.
Paul is using the word opthalmos (eye) metaphorically, of course. Our physical heart doesn't have an eye attached. However, we talk about the eye being the lamp of the body and the window to the soul-by which we mean spiritual sight.
Paul also uses the word kardia (heart) metaphorically. In this context, kardia refers to the center of one's being, both physical and spiritual-that which makes the individual person what he or she is-character, intellect, personality, etc.
The Greek word photizo (enlightened) is another word having to do with light. It means to illuminate or to give light to something. We get our words photograph (an image created by light) and photon (a particle of light) from photizo. In this context, enlightened is an excellent translation, because (1) it has the word light embedded in it and (2) we use the word enlightened to mean speak of spiritual insight.
So in this verse Paul is praying that God will open the spiritual eyes of these Ephesian Christians so that their very beings might be transformed by the spiritual insights that God alone can provide.
"that you may know (Greek: eido) what is the hope of his calling" (Greek: klesis) (v. 18a). The Greek word eido means to see, to know, or to understand.
The Greek noun klesis (calling) is related to the verb kaleo which means to call. Klesis means a call or an invitation. The New Testament uses klesis to speak of God's inviting us to become members of the kingdom of God-to experience adoption into God's family-to gain salvation and the hope of life eternal.
Paul's prayer for these Ephesian Christians, then, is that they might see clearly and understand fully the hope that is inherent in God's invitation to be part of God's family.
"and what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance (Greek: kleronomia) in the saints" (Greek: ho hagiois) (v. 18c). The Greek words, ho hagiois, usually translated "the saints" in the New Testament, literally mean, "the holy ones." Our understanding of holiness has its roots in the Old Testament, where the Hebrew word is qadosh-set aside for a holy purpose. To become holy, a person must separate him/herself from that which is common. To be holy is to be "called out" from the sinful world into a deep and abiding relationship with God so that the person becomes more God-like-holier-less like the sinful world-at-large.
While Christians today usually think of saints as especially holy people who have been canonized by the church, Jesus calls all who follow him to be holy-and the New Testament uses the words ho hagiois to refer to Jesus' disciples-not just to a few exceptional disciples, but to all disciples.
Paul is praying that these Ephesian Christians will know "what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints." He wants to insure that they appreciate the stunning nature of the blessings associated with the inheritance that Christ has prepared for them. He wants them not to take this inheritance lightly, but rather to take great joy in its promise.
Torah law specified the rules governing inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17). In Israel, to qualify for a share of the inheritance, one needed to be a son. God treated Israel as his son (Exodus 4:22; 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7; Romans 9:4). However, the New Testament treats followers of Christ as God's adopted sons and daughters. While "adopted" might suggest a second-rate status, that is not the case when God is the adoptive Father. Paul says that we "are all children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26)-and "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the children of God.... and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:14-17).
This is the third time that Paul has mentioned inheritance in this first chapter of Ephesians. First he mentioned Christ, "in whom also we were assigned an inheritance" (1:11). Then he told the Ephesian Christians that they "were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is a pledge of our inheritance" (1:13-14). Now he calls these Christians to take note of "the riches of the glory of (their) inheritance."
As I am writing this, a recent news story tells of two lottery winners who will share a prize of $600 million. I haven't purchased a lottery ticket, but I must confess that I am tempted when the prize is so large. I find myself day-dreaming about the good things I could do with $600 million. I can barely imagine how the winners must feel when they check and double-check and triple-check the numbers on their lottery tickets-finally acknowledging that they have won a prize that will change their lives forever. Can't you imagine their joy! Now let me bring you back to Paul, who wants these Ephesian Christians (and us) to be even more excited about our Godly inheritance than a lottery winner would be about his/her newfound wealth.
"and what is the exceeding (Greek: hyperballo) greatness of his power (dynamis) toward us who believe, according to that working (energeia) of the strength (Greek: kratos) of his might"(ischys)" (v. 19).
This verse is jam-packed with interesting words: The word hyperballo (exceeding or surpassing) is composed of two Greek words: hyper (over or above) and ballo (to throw)-and is therefore an "over the top" kind of word. We get our word hyperbole (extravagant exaggeration for emphasis or effect) from hyperballo. When we use hyperbole, we don't intend anyone to believe us literally, but instead are trying to expand their consciousness regarding the subject under discussion. When Paul talks about "the exceeding greatness of (God's) power," he intends for us to imagine power beyond imagining. And then Paul uses four power words-words that, in this context are essentially synonymous:
While I have made a modest attempt to differentiate these four words, Paul is using them to drive home in our consciousness the reality of God's power. It is as if Paul is using four blows of a hammer to speak of God's power to make sure that we "get" it.
The emphasis here is not just that God is powerful, but that he is powerful "toward us who believe"-that God has harnessed this great power for our benefit-to effect our salvation. Sit back for a moment and try to imagine the Godly power that went into the creation of the universe. Now stop and imagine all that power directed "toward us who believe"-making possible the salvation we so desperately needed.
EPHESIANS 1:20-23. CHRIST-FAR ABOVE ALL
20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
"which he worked in Christ, when he raised him from the dead" (v. 20a). In verse 19, Paul used four power-words (dynamis, energeia, kratos, and ischys-see comments above on v. 19) to describe God's power. Now he tells us that God used this power to raise Christ from the dead (v. 20a)-to seat Christ on a heavenly throne high above everything (v. 20b-21)-and to "put all things in subjection under his feet" (v. 22). Note that the actor in these events is God. Christ is the one acted upon. Paul doesn't say that Jesus rose from the dead, but that God raised Christ from the dead. The resurrection was a manifestation of the power of God the Father.
"and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places" (v. 20b). In verses 20b and 22a, Paul alludes to two Old Testament verses:
These verses celebrate the ascension of Christ to his heavenly throne (see Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9). The early church emphasized the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ as a single event with three stages. Jesus' ascension returns him to the heavenly throne at the right hand of God from whence he came to earth (John 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8). He will remain there until he comes again in glory (Acts 1:11)-a cataclysmic event that will come suddenly and without warning (2 Peter 3:10). In heaven, Christ intercedes for us with the Father (Romans 8:34).
"far above all rule (Greek: arche), and authority (exousia), and power (dynamis), and dominion (kyriotes), and every name (onoma) that is named" (v. 21a).
However, power in human hands tends to turn rancid. Lord Acton observed, "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." We have seen that manifested time after time, especially in the political arena, but also in business, academia, and even in the church. Therefore, "our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world's rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (6:12).
The word "name" (onoma) might seem out of place in this list of power-words, but names have power. We talk about name-dropping, by which we mean trying to impress others by mentioning the name of a powerful person. Onoma can also mean title-and titles such as king or president (or the Reverend Doctor) have the potential to confer power. Onoma can also mean character or reputation. Being known as a person of good character (having a good reputation) confers considerable power.
"not only in this age, but also in that which is to come" (v. 21b). The Jews of Paul's day divided time into two ages (Matthew 12:32)-the present age under Satan's rule and the age to come under God's rule.
Paul is saying that that Christ's place at the right hand of the Father (v. 20) gives him overarching power, not just in the age to come, but also in the present age. This is important to keep in mind lest we become discouraged, because it so often appears that godless forces are in control of our world. However, Christ's power will also be manifest if we will open our spiritual eyes to see it-and the day will come when his power will triumph completely over the hostile powers.
"He put all things in subjection under his feet" (v. 22a). As noted above, this alludes to Psalm 8:6, which says, "You make him ruler over the works of your hands. You have put all things under his feet" (see also Psalm 110:1; 1 Cor. 15:27; Heb. 2:8). Paul is saying that God has "put all things in subjection under (Christ's) feet." This pictures a reigning monarch sitting on an elevated throne with his subjects at his feet.
"and gave him to be head over all things for the assembly" (Greek: ekklesia-church) (v. 22b). This is another way of describing Christ's overarching authority. God has made him head over all things pertaining to the ekklesia-the church.
When reading this verse, we need to remember that Christ is Lord, not only of the church, but is also "above all all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come" (v. 21).
The Greek word ekklesia (assembly or church) is a combination of two words-ek (out) and kalein (to call)-so it means "to call out." The Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) uses the word ekklesia to translate the Hebrew word qahal, which is used to mean the congregation of Israel-the congregation of the people of God. Both the people of Israel and the followers of Christ were called out of the world to be holy-to be God's people.
Jesus used the word ekklesia only in Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 18:15-21.
While Luke doesn't use the word in his Gospel, he uses it frequently in the book of Acts (5:11; 8:1, 3; 9:31; 11:22, 26; 12:1, 5; 13:1; 14:23, 27; 15:3-4, 22, 18:22; 20:17, 28). That makes sense, because the book of Acts is the history of the early church. And Ephesians provides insight into the rich meaning of ekklesia:
Also, Paul in his first letter to Timothy, speaks of "the ekklesia of the living God," which is "the house of God" (1 Timothy 3:15).
"which is his body" (v. 23a). Christ is the head of the church (1:22), which is Christ's body (this verse). This is a rich metaphor, because we understand that our head controls our bodies. Our heads not only have the capacity for complex thought, but also generate signals that control our muscles and everything that we do. Because Christ is the head of the church, his body, he is in control of the life of the church.
"the fullness (Greek: pleroma) of him who fills (Greek: pleroo) all in all" (v. 23b). This is a puzzling phrase. What does it mean? I won't burden you with all the complexities of this short phrase, but it is challenging to exegete. Perhaps the best clue to the meaning of this verse is found in the book of Colossians, which has many parallels to the book of Ephesians. There it says that Christ "is the head of the body, the ekklesia (church).... All the fullness (pleroma) was pleased to dwell in him; and through him to reconcile all things to himself" (Colossians 1:19-20a). Then it says, "For in him (Christ) all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, and in him you are made full, who is the head of all principality and power" (Colossians 2:9-20).
If we accept these verses from Colossians as roughly synonymous in meaning to Ephesians 1:23b (as I do), then this verse means that the fullness of God dwells in Christ-and Christ fills us and makes us full of the presence of God.
Eph. 1:15-17 - Cole - Bible.org
That his readers would know God more deeply is the main theme of Paul's prayer (Eph. 1:15-23). He has just unfolded in one long sentence (1:3-14 in the Greek) that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. These blessings include being chosen by the Father (1:4-6); redeemed by the Son, who has also revealed to us God's eternal purpose (1:7-12); and, sealed by the Holy Spirit (1:13-14). Then Paul writes (1:15), "For this reason..." and goes on to tell them how he prayed for them. The logical connection is, "Because God has given us such a wealth of spiritual blessings, I pray that He would grant you a deeper experiential knowledge of Him." Paul's prayer shows us that we should pray often for one another and what we should pray when we do pray.
We should also apply Paul's prayer to ourselves. We often pray, "Lord, heal me of this illness. Give me this job. Help me to do well in school." While there is nothing wrong with such prayers, they are rather shallow. We also ought to be praying, "Lord, give me a spirit of wisdom and revelation in knowing You. Grant the same for my mate and my children, and for all of the saints in our church." Paul's prayer here teaches us that...
We should pray that God would grant that His people know Him more deeply.
It has often rightly been said that Christianity is not a religion. It is a personal relationship with the living God. Personal relationships do not run on autopilot. It's easy to have an exciting relationship when you first fall in love, but it takes deliberate effort to keep your marriage close and growing as the years go on. The same is true in your relationship with the Lord. When you first come to Christ, it's new and exciting. But, it's easy to lose that first love for Christ and to grow distant in your relationship with Him. It becomes a routine or ritual. You aren't growing to know Him more intimately. So, you need to pray with Paul for yourself and for other believers, that God "may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him" (1:17).
1. Since all spiritual blessings come from God alone, we should continually pray with gratitude for all the saints.
A. All spiritual blessings come from God, so we must ask Him for them.
We have already seen that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, but that does not mean that we automatically experience these blessings. We must desire these blessings and seek God for them, both for ourselves and for all of God's saints. Jesus said (Matt. 5:6), "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." Hunger and thirst are pretty strong desires! When a man is hungry or thirsty, he has only one thing on his mind, to find food and drink. He knows that he will die unless those needs are met soon. He is driven to satisfy those needs. That's how we should seek to know God.
In Luke 10:21-22 we read of Jesus, "At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, 'I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son will to reveal Him.'" Thus, if we want to know Him, we must lay aside all pride in our wisdom and intelligence and approach him as infants, in simple trust. We must ask Him to reveal Himself to us.
But there is more, if we want the Lord to disclose Himself to us. In John 14:21, Jesus said, "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him." Maybe you're thinking, "Doesn't God love everyone unconditionally? Then why does Jesus say that He will love the one who obeys Him? That sounds like conditional love."
There is a general sense in which God loves the entire world and sent His Son, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3:16). But, there is also a special, intimate love that is reserved for those who obey Him. It is only to those in this close, love-trust relationship, that He reveals more of Himself.
We understand this principle from our relationships. You only disclose your heart to those whom you trust. If you walk up to a stranger and start revealing personal matters, he will rightly think that you are weird. Intimate, personal disclosure is reserved for those we know well, who are trustworthy of that information. The same is true spiritually. As David wrote (Ps. 25:14), "The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant." But, Paul's prayer here gives us further instruction in how to pray:
B. Knowing that God has given us all that we are and have, we should continually thank Him.
Paul did not cease giving thanks because he had heard of the Ephesians' faith in the Lord Jesus and their love for all the saints. Some argue that this letter could not have been intended for the church in Ephesus, because it sounds as if Paul heard these things second hand. But, it had been at least four years since he had been there, and he was now in prison in Rome. So he was continually thanking God for the good reports that he heard.
In a sermon on this text (Sermons on Ephesians [Banner of Truth], p. 83), John Calvin argues that Paul would have no reason to thank God for the Ephesians' faith and love, unless these qualities came from God alone. If people can believe of their own free will apart from God's sovereign grace, as many asserted in Calvin's day and still assert, then the praise for it ought not be given to God, because He didn't have anything to do with it. Calvin attacked the Catholic Church, which (like many evangelicals today) granted that God must help us by His grace in part, "but, for all that, they will still have man exalted and to attain to faith by his own doings." But Calvin calls this a devilish opinion and shows that it robs God of all the glory that He deserves in our salvation.
So, if faith and love come from God, we should thank Him in our prayers for these things. We can commend those who are walking in faith and love, but we must be quick to divert all the praise and glory to God alone, because if we were left to ourselves, we would never be inclined to faith and love. Since all spiritual blessings come from God, we must continually pray with gratitude for all of the saints when we see them walking with God.
2. Those marked by faith and love have begun well, but we should pray that God would grant that they come to know Him more deeply.
Most of us would be quite content to hear of other believers who are living by faith in the Lord Jesus and with love for all the saints. After all, that is virtually a summary of the two great commandments. What more could you ask for? As Paul wrote (Col. 2:6), "Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him." We received Him by faith, and so we should walk daily by faith in Him. And we should love one another, as He commanded us (John 13:34).
But, even though these believers in Ephesus were walking by faith in the Lord Jesus and with love for one another, Paul prays for more. He prays that God would give them "a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him." He asks God to open the eyes of their hearts so that they would know "what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe" (1:18-19).
My point here is that it is not enough to pray for your loved ones that they come to faith in Christ. Yes, pray for that, but don't stop there. Once they're saved, there is more! Pray that they would come to know God more deeply! Pray this prayer of Paul for other believers and for yourself. If we're complacent in our Christian walk, if we're content where we're at, we're in spiritual danger. There is always more of God to know and experience. Faith in the Lord Jesus and love for all the saints is basic; so yes, pray for those qualities. But, also, pray for deeper knowledge of God.
3. Pray that God would give others and you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.
Note two things:
A. The mystery of the Trinity and the inherent glory of God preclude us from knowing Him through our own understanding.
Paul refers to God as "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory." Whether you take "spirit" in verse 17 to refer to the Holy Spirit or not, the doctrines of the Trinity and of God's glory are evident in Ephesians 1. No one can figure out who the glorious, triune God is from philosophy or reason or intuition. While creation reveals His invisible attributes, His eternal power, and His divine nature, unbelievers cannot know God through creation because they suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18-20). The natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).
When Paul calls God "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ," it does not imply that Jesus is not God. As Charles Hodge argues (Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians [Eerdmans], p. 70), Paul's words (1:15), "faith in the Lord Jesus" imply His deity. The Bible is clear that we should not put our faith in any mere man, but in God alone. Also, Paul here refers to God as "the Father of glory," while in 1 Corinthians 2:8 he refers to Jesus as "the Lord of glory." Clearly, Paul believed that Jesus is equal to the Father in His deity.
So when Paul here says, "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ," he is putting the emphasis on the humanity of our Lord. While He was on this earth, Jesus referred to the Father as "my God" (Matt. 27:46; John 20:17). In His humanity, Jesus trusted in the Father as His God and He often prayed to the Father.
Why does Paul use this designation of God here? I believe it is because Jesus showed us while He was on this earth how to live in complete dependence on the Father and obedience to His will. He showed us how to commune with the Father in prayer. Paul calls Him "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ" to show us that through Christ our Mediator, we have access to the same God that Jesus prayed to when He was on this earth. He is our great example.
But, Paul also calls Him, "the Father of glory." That phrase is almost an oxymoron. Father implies intimacy, love, and acceptance, but glory implies that He is transcendent and unapproachable. God's glory refers to His brightness, His majesty, and the awesome splendor of His presence. Whenever in the Bible anyone gets a glimpse of God's glory, the response is always fear and trembling. That God is "the Father of glory" implies that He is the source of all glory. All things have been created to glorify Him. As Paul has just shown, He chose us in Him "to the praise of the glory of His grace" (1:4-6). Christ redeemed us and revealed God's eternal purpose, "to the praise of His glory (1:7-12). He sealed us with the Holy Spirit, "to the praise of His glory" (1:12-14).
The point is, God is not "the old Man upstairs." He is not our "good buddy in the sky." No, He is "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory." We are mere creatures, and sinful creatures at that, who have rebelled against this awesome God. The only way that we can come to know Him more deeply is if He will graciously open our eyes and reveal to us a glimpse of His glory.
One of the most instructive biblical illustrations of this knowledge of the Holy One is when Moses asked God to show him His glory. Moses had already seen the burning bush and heard God speak through it. He had already seen God inflict the ten plagues on Egypt. He had seen God part the Red Sea and provide a dry path for Israel, and then destroy the Egyptian army. He had seen God provide water from the rock. He had met God at the tent of meeting, where the cloud of God's glory descended. He had spoken to God face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. He had just been on the mountain in the presence of God for 40 days and nights, where he received the Ten Commandments, written by the very finger of God.
For most of us, that would be more than enough, but not for Moses! After all of this, he dares to ask God (Exod. 33:18), "I pray You, show me Your glory!" The Lord's response is very interesting (Exod. 33:19-20):
And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." But He said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!"
Then the Lord told Moses to hide himself in the cleft of a rock, where God would cover Moses with His hand and pass by. Then the Lord said that He would take away His hand and let Moses see His back, but His face would not be seen. Did you notice that when God revealed His glory to Moses, He emphasized sovereign election? "I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." His glory is inextricably bound up with His sovereign right to show mercy to whom He wills and to harden whom He wills (see Rom. 9:15, 18).
I'm going to make a radical suggestion. If you don't agree with me, then at least give it some thought. It is: if you have not submitted to God's sovereign right to be gracious to whom He chooses and to harden whom He chooses, you do not yet know God as deeply as you should. I base that statement on Ephesians 1, Romans 9, and also on Exodus 33, which show that when God reveals His glory, He speaks about His sovereign right to be gracious to whom He wills. Also, I make that statement because human reason would never come up with the concept of God's sovereign election and at the same time assert the responsibility of men and women before Him. Human reason would accuse such a God of being unjust (Rom. 9:11-23). You can only submit to that truth and rejoice in it, as Jesus did (Luke 10:21-23) when the Holy Spirit reveals it to you.
B. Because God dwells in unapproachable light, we must ask Him for a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.
Scholars are divided as to whether "spirit" refers to the human spirit or to the Holy Spirit. Some say that "a spirit of wisdom" makes sense, but "a spirit of revelation" does not. Thus they take it as a prayer that the indwelling Holy Spirit (1:13-14) would reveal the knowledge of God to these believers.
But, while recognizing that it must be the Holy Spirit who gives such knowledge, others say that the language of God's sealing these believers with the Spirit (1:13-14) would not fit with a prayer here for God to give them the Holy Spirit. So perhaps it is better to say that Paul is praying that God would give these believers spirits characterized by wisdom and knowledge of Him that is revealed by God's Spirit. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2, God's Spirit is the One who reveals the things of God to us. As Isaiah 11:2 prophesied of Messiah, "The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord."
So Paul is praying that we would have spirits that are receptive to the truth about God that the Holy Spirit reveals through His Word. There is no new revelation about God today apart from the revelation of Scripture. If someone claims to have some new revelation that cannot be found in the written Word, run for cover! The spirit of wisdom enables us to live wisely by applying the knowledge of God through His Word to our daily lives. The spirit of revelation opens our eyes to see truths about God from His Word that natural reason and understanding cannot grasp (truths such as sovereign election, predestination, and God's working all things after the counsel of His will). Any dreams or visions about God must line up with Scripture, or they are false.
Thus Paul begins a lengthy section (1:18-3:20) in which he sets forth in great detail the sinfulness of the human race. At first, he gives a general indictment, although the sins that he mentions (Thus Paul begins a lengthy section (1:18-3:20) in which he sets forth in great detail the sinfulness of the human race. At first, he gives a general indictment, although the sins that he mentions (1:23-32) may be more prevalent among the Gentiles. He moves on (2:1-16) to indict those who think that they are moral enough to commend themselves to God. Then (2:17-3:8), Paul turns on the Jews who pride themselves on having the Law, showing how they are also guilty before God. Finally (wing that the entire human race is justly guilty before God. Only at that point (3:21-26) does he come back and pick up the theme of 1:17, that the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ is available to sinners through faith alone.
In our text, then, Paul is showing why God is justified to inflict His wrath on the sinful human race, which shows why we need the gospel. We can sum up his message in 1:18-23:
God is just in pouring out His wrath on the human race because we have sinfully rejected
His revelation of Himself and have worshiped the creature rather than the Creator.
1. God is just in pouring out His wrath on the human race because we have sinfully rejected His revelation of Himself (1:18-20).
Paul argues that God has revealed Himself to the human race, both through His wrath (1:18) and through His creation (1:19-20). But we have inexcusably rejected God's revelation and instead have resorted to inventing gods of our own (1:21-23).
A. God reveals Himself through His wrath against human sin.
There is an obvious parallel and yet contrast between verses 17 & 18. In verse 17, "the righteousness of God is revealed." In verse 18, "the wrath of God is revealed." The phrase, "from heaven" adds weight to the revelation. This isn't just an idea that popped into Paul's mind. This is a revelation from heaven, that is, from God Himself.
When we think about God's wrath, we need to get rid of any human notions of someone with a bad temper who flies off the handle over the slightest provocation. Rather, God's wrath is a part of His holy nature. It is His settled, determined, active opposition to all sin. If God loves righteousness, He also must hate evil. If God were all love and no wrath, then He would not be God at all, because He would be unrighteous. We know this even on a human plane. If a judge was all love and hugs towards cold-blooded murderers or child molesters, he would not be a righteous judge. Even though our anger easily slips from being righteous to unrighteous, we all know that anger is the proper response to certain sins. In the same way, God would not be holy or good if He did not react to evil with wrath and righteous judgment.
We only have time to look at a few of the biblical references to God's wrath. Ignoring the many Old Testament references, the New Testament starts off with the ministry of John the Baptist, who tells his audience (Matt. 3:7), "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" In Matthew 23:33, after pronouncing a series of "woes" on the Pharisees, Jesus thunders, "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?"
In John 3:16, we have the marvelous verse, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life." Oops! I left out something: "shall not perish"! Years ago, I conducted a funeral where they had printed up the little cards with John 3:16 as I just erroneously quoted it to you! I didn't let it go! To perish means to come under God's eternal wrath. In John 3:36 we read, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
In Ephesians 2:3, Paul says that we all (Jews and Gentiles) were "children of wrath," a Jewish way of saying that we were characterized by being under God's wrath. In Ephesians 5:6, he uses the same Jewish expression to say that "the wrath of God comes on the sons of disobedience" (also, Col. 3:6). In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 he says that Jesus "rescues us from the wrath to come." In 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, he writes that God will deal "out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction ...." The entire Book of Revelation shows the many forms of wrath that will be poured out on sinners both before and after Jesus returns.
J.I. Packer (Knowing God [IVP], pp. 134-135) said, "One of the most striking things about the Bible is the vigor with which both Testaments emphasize the reality and terror of God's wrath." A. W. Pink (The Attributes of God [Baker], p. 82) wrote, "A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God than there are to His love and tenderness." So we cannot shove God's wrath into the closet! R. W. Dale observed (cited by R. C. Sproul, The Cross of Christ Study Guide [Ligonier Ministries], p. 35), "It is partly because sin does not provoke our own wrath, that we do not believe that sin provokes the wrath of God."
Later (2:5), Paul acknowledges that a future day of wrath is coming at the final judgment, but here (1:18) he calls attention to the present revelation of God's wrath (the verb means, "is being revealed"). What does he mean? If we look around, we can see God's wrath in all of the effects of the fall, both on creation and on human misery and suffering. We see floods, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, famine, and disease, which cause untold suffering and death. There are the more direct links between sin and judgment, such as STD's and the AIDS epidemic on the sexually immoral, and the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol on addicts. We see the terrible effects of drunkenness and drug abuse in the home, on our highways, and in society at large. We see the devastating effects of war and terrorism. The list could go on and on.
Also, a glance through past history, both in the Bible and outside of it, shows the ongoing wrath of God. He destroyed the whole world through the flood. He poured out fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah. He punished both Israel and Judah allowing invading armies to kill many and send others into captivity.
But the greatest example of God pouring out His wrath was when He put His own Son on the cross to bear our sins, so that He cried out in agony (Matt. 27:46), "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Jesus' terrible death shows that God cannot just brush our sin aside. His righteous judgment must be satisfied. As Paul argued with the philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:31), the resurrection of Jesus from the dead proves that God "has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness...." Woe to all who have not repented of their sins and trusted in Christ before that day! God reveals Himself through His wrath. Don't miss it!
B. God reveals Himself through His creation.
Paul goes on to show another way that God has revealed Himself, namely, through His creation. Here Paul is referring to God's general revelation in the created universe, not to His special revelation in His written word. Most commentators understand "His invisible attributes" to be a summary term that is further explained by the next two terms, "His eternal power and divine nature." Anyone should be able to look at the vastness of the universe (even in days before there were telescopes!) and conclude, "God is amazingly, incomprehensibly, powerful! You don't have to gaze into outer space-get caught in an exposed area in a thunderstorm and you will appreciate God's power! Marla and I have had some terrifying experiences with that!
God's "divine nature" refers to the sum of His attributes (S. Lewis Johnson, "Paul and the Knowledge of God," Bibliotheca Sacra [Jan.-March, 1972], p. 69). This does not mean that we can learn as much about God through nature as we can through His Word. But, even so, men should be able to look at God's creation and conclude many things about His attributes, in addition to His power.
John Calvin sums it up well (Calvin's Commentaries [Baker], pp. 71-72), "His eternity appears evident, because he is the maker of all things-his power, because he holds all things in his hand and continues their existence-his wisdom, because he has arranged things in such an exquisite order-his goodness, for there is no other cause than himself, why he created all things, and no other reason, why he should be induced to preserve them-his justice, because in his government he punishes the guilty and defends the innocent-his mercy, because he bears with so much forbearance the perversity of men-and his truth, because he is unchangeable."
It is important to recognize that God's revelation through creation is not enough to save anyone, in that it does not reveal His plan of salvation through Jesus Christ, apart from which no one can be saved (Acts 4:12). But it is enough to condemn everyone. By looking even at their own bodies or at the marvel of a little gnat that can fly, eat, and reproduce, people should bow in worship before God. But they don't. They swat the gnat in annoyance and go on without a thought about the intelligence, power, and wisdom that it took to create a gnat, much less all of creation! They ignore the obvious fact that there is an all-powerful God and go full bore in their selfishness and sin, ignoring the obvious revelation of His wrath in the fact that they will soon die!
Two brief comments before I move on: First, in answer to the question that often comes up, "Will God judge the innocent heathen who has never heard about Jesus?" The answer is, there are no innocent heathen. All have sinned against the light that they have received and all will be judged accordingly (Matt. 11:20-24).
Second, I hope that you can see how utterly absurd and yet how widely destructive to people's eternal destiny the belief in evolution is. It gives sinners a supposed escape from being accountable to God, as some prominent atheists have openly admitted. Although there is more than abundant evidence of an all-powerful Creator, evolutionists cling to the absurd idea that everything came out of nothing. At the root of their belief is not science, but immorality. They suppress the truth in unrighteousness. That leads to:
C. Sinners have inexcusably rejected God's revelation of Himself, suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.
Paul says (1:18) that God's wrath is revealed "against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." Some commentators see these two words, "ungodliness" and "unrighteousness," as being somewhat synonymous, repeated for emphasis. But others say that Paul is using them quite strictly to refer to "lack of reverence for God" ("ungodliness") and "lawlessness or injustice towards our fellow man" ("unrighteousness").
Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Romans: The Gospel of God [Zondervan], pp. 355-359) argues at length that the terms refer to these two different aspects of sin and that Paul has put them in this order for an important reason: ungodliness is always the root sin and unrighteousness flows from it. Our first and basic problem is that we disregard and disobey God. This leads to our sins against one another. Ungodliness was the first sin, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. This led to separation from God, which then led to alienation between them and eventually to the sin that caused Cain to murder his brother Abel.
The word "suppress" may mean to hold on to, or to hold down, which is the idea here. It implies that men knew the truth (note that there is such a thing as knowable absolute spiritual truth!), but they want to hold it down so that they can pursue their sins. Whether it is evolution denying God as the Sovereign Creator, or philosophy speculating that we cannot really know God at all, or psychology telling us that we are not responsible for our problems (psychologists don't like the word "sin"!), these are all ways of pushing God away from us so that we can be our own lord. "So that they are without excuse" is probably a purpose clause that means, "Sinners cannot plead ignorance as an excuse" (Johnson, p. 69). God has posted huge warning signs with flashing lights, namely, His ongoing wrath and His magnificent creation. If sinners drive past them over the cliff, they only have themselves to blame.
So, Paul's first point is: God is just in pouring out His wrath on the human race because we have sinfully rejected His revelation of Himself. I can only comment briefly on his second point and its implications:
2. God is just in pouring out His wrath on the human race because we have worshiped the creature rather than the Creator (1:21-23).
Paul makes five points here:
A. People knew God generally through the revelation of Creation.
Paul seems here to be interpreting human spiritual history in light of the fall (Johnson, p. 72). Verse 21 does not mean that men knew God in a saving way, but rather that they had a general sense that He exists. In The Institutes (ed. by John McNeill [Westminster Press], 1:3:1), John Calvin asserts that all people have an awareness of God. He says, "There is no nation so barbarous, no people so savage, that they have not a deep-seated conviction that there is a God." As Paul has just shown, God's creation makes His attributes evident within all people, until they suppress it. There is also the universal presence of the conscience (2:15).
B. People did not glorify God or give thanks.
This is the root sin: Although people know about God, they do not give Him His proper glory and they do not express thanks to Him for His many undeserved blessings. We could easily develop an entire sermon or two here, but let me apply it directly: It's easy to sit here and shake our heads at the heathen, who have no concept of glorifying God or giving thanks. But do I glorify God for His goodness and mercy and grace? Do I give thanks to God for His many blessings that He showers on me every day?
C. As a result, the foolish hearts of sinners were darkened.
Paul also refers to this in Ephesians 4:18, where he describes "the Gentiles" (pagans) as "darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart." When Paul says, "their foolish heart was darkened," he is referring to their entire inner life, including their intellect, emotions, and will (Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 85). To be in the dark refers to total moral and spiritual blindness. Only God can shine His light into such dark hearts (2 Cor. 4:4-6).
D. As a result of darkened hearts, sinners profess to be wise, but are fools.
Since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10), those who do not fear God or bow before Him as God profess to be wise, but are fools (Ps. 14:1). "Fools" does not refer to mental deficiency, but to spiritual and moral deficiency. Turning from the revelation that God has given of Himself in His wrath and in creation, sinners plunge into futile speculation. As a philosophy major at a secular university, I know of no better description of godless university professors than Romans 1:21 and 22. The final result is:
E. This foolishness is exhibited by worshiping the creature rather than the Creator.
Rejecting God does not lead to atheism, but to substituting the glory of the one true God with manmade idols "in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures." Man didn't begin with idolatry and polytheism and work his way up to monotheism. Man began by knowing the one true God, but when he suppresses the truth in unrighteousness, he falls into the supreme foolishness of creature worship (Isa. 44:9-20).
I've seen idolatry of statues and sacred cows in Asia. I've observed people worship the creation here in Flagstaff. But it never ceases to amaze me, as I've said before, that here in a university town, we have a store that has stayed in business for many years by selling nothing but idols! It's as if the idols of self, sex, money, and power were not enough! We've got a store selling just about any conceivable idol that you could see worshiped in India or Nepal or Thailand! Idolatry is really stupid, but, I should add, there is real power in idolatry-but it is demonic power, not God's power.