THE TRUE CHURCH Ephesians 1“You also were included in Christ when you heard the Word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13).Christ’s church is people, not buildings.
When Paul wrote his letter the harbor of the aging city of Ephesus was nearly filled with silt, and its boast as the “landing place” of Asia was empty indeed. Yet Ephesus had one claim to fame. It was the site of the magnificent temple of Artemis (Diana), four times the size of the Parthenon of Athens, and held in reverence throughout “Asia and the world” (Acts 19:27). Tourists and worshipers flocked to Ephesus to visit the splendid shrine, which also served as a bank in which cities and kings deposited funds—and from which they drew loans. Innkeepers, restauranteers, and tradesmen depended on the tourist trade that made pagan religion such an economic success in Ephesus. So to the believers in this city founded on institutional religion, Paul wrote a letter conveying a vastly different vision. The church of Christ is a body, not a building. It is constructed of living, breathing human beings, not marble. And its vitality is seen not in the cash it contributes to a city’s economy, but in the love and purity that shine through its members’ lives. In reading Ephesians we too are called to catch Paul’s vision of Christ’s church. Beside that vision even our greatest cathedrals fade to insignificance, as we realize that the building which thrills our God is the reconstruction of our lives to bear the image of His Son. TEMPLE OF ARTEMIS
Paul greeted the saints (1:1–2) and then reviewed the role in their salvation of the Father (vv. 3–6), Son (vv. 7–13a), and Holy Spirit (vv. 13b-14). Paul praised God (vv. 15–16) and prayed for the Ephesians (vv. 17–19), as he exalted Jesus, the Head of His church (vv. 20–23).
Understanding the Text
“To the saints in Ephesus” Eph. 1:1–2. The word “saints” means “holy ones” or “set apart ones.” In the Old Testament, the Jerusalem temple and all utensils used in the service of God were holy, set apart to the Lord. Paul commonly greeted believers as saints. Here there is even more meaning, for Paul was about to display the great truth that today we ourselves are temple and utensil in one. God doesn’t look for beauty in church buildings. He looks for beauty in church members. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord” Eph. 1:3–6. The Ephesians looked back in history and spoke of a meteorite that fell from the heavens, and was shaped into the form of the idol that stood in their temple. Paul looked back beyond history, into the very origins of the universe. There he saw God the Father, the Architect of our salvation, drawing up plans for the living church! Like any architect would, the Father specified the materials that would go into His construction: He “chose us in Him before the Creation of the world.” God also specified how the materials would be worked: He chose us “to be holy and blameless in His sight,” to be “adopted as His sons.” The beauty to be displayed in our worked and polished lives will reflect through eternity “to the praise of His glorious grace” (see DEVOTIONAL). People wondered at the great temple that graced Ephesus: at its design, at its pillars of marble, at its columns carved in the Doric style. Paul wants us to wonder at the church which God the Father Himself designed, carefully specifying its materials and defining just how they would be shaped to glorify Him. Always remember, you and I have been chosen by God to display His grace and wisdom. Let’s gladly dedicate our lives to exhibit the beauty of holiness. “In Him we have redemption through His blood” Eph. 1:7–13a. If God the Father was the Architect of our salvation, Christ was the Builder. He was the One who slipped into history as a Babe, grew up in dusty Palestine, taught amid noisy crowds, and bled on Calvary’s cross. In that great act you and I have “redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” That awful work complete, Christ today has a right to stand back and look at the building He has erected. And He has the right to expect us to be to “the praise of His glory.” We are a costly building indeed, and Jesus has a right to expect us to be beautiful. “Marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” Eph. 1:13b-14. The Holy Spirit has moved into the building that the Father planned and the Son built. In New Testament times a “seal” was often placed on goods to be shipped or on a completed product, as a mark of ownership. That which bore the seal was protected, its future guaranteed. The owner would take full possession in his own time. You and I, Christ’s living church, have in the Holy Spirit the mark of divine ownership. The Spirit is the sure guarantee of our future in God. And the Spirit in us enables us to live, today, to “the praise of His glory.” “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” Eph. 1:15–19a. Paul praised God for the Ephesians, living stones in the church built by God. And he offered a very specific prayer. One way to build our own prayer lives, and to direct our intercession for others, is to model our prayers on those found in Scripture. Here we see a prayer Paul offered with the intention of strengthening Christ’s church. What did Paul ask? That we might know God better (v. 17). That we might look beyond appearances, to see the church as God does—a people transformed to display His glory, unspeakably precious to Him (v. 18). That we might sense and experience the working of “His incomparably great power for us who believe” (v. 19a). I suppose it’s all right to pray for that addition to a new Sunday School wing. Or the funds to go on the radio. But if we want our church to truly be the church, the things Paul prayed for here are vastly more important. “Far above all rule and authority” Eph. 1:19b-23. If we measure the church by the members of the body seen here on earth, we might well be discouraged. We’re weak. We’re undisciplined. We squint desperately with our spiritual eyes, and our spiritual ears are dull. But the church isn’t to be measured by its members. We’re to measure by the Head. We’re to see Christ, exalted above every “rule and authority, power and dominion.” We’re to acknowledge Him as our living Head, respond to His guidance. And in His name, conquer.
Predestination and Praise(Eph. 1:3–14)
Twin themes are repeated three times in these 12 verses, which tell the story of the construction of God’s living temple, the church. The first of these themes is predestination: the idea that God marked out ahead of time those who would serve as living stones in His glorious temple. Paul said the Father “chose us in Him before the Creation” (v. 4). That “in love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons” (vv. 4–5). And that “in Him [Christ] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (v. 11). Some resent this emphasis, and some fear it. But if we look at it in the framework of Paul’s imagery, as he pictured God the great Architect planning construction of the church and specifying materials, there’s nothing sinister here. And there is nothing that contradicts the broadest application of the Gospel. As one preacher succinctly put it, ” ’Whosoever will’ is elect. ’Whosoever won’t,’ ain’t.” What’s usually lost in the debate over predestination is the other theme that is restated three times here. God the Father planned our adoption as sons “to the praise of His glorious grace” (v. 6). He drew us to Christ that we “might be for the praise of His glory” (v. 12). And His Spirit marks us as God’s own possession—“to the praise of His glory” (v. 14). You and I can’t resolve the long debate over predestination. We probably shouldn’t even try. But as living stones in a building that God intends to reflect His beauty, we can make sure that we live “to the praise of His glory.” I’m satisfied to let God resolve the paradox of predestination and free will. All I’m really concerned about is, is God satisfied with me?
Glorifying God beats debating predestination any day!
“The church of Christ is not an institution; it is a new life with Christ and in Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit.”—Sergius Bulgakov