3) Eph 1:3–4: Ephesians, a book which dates to Paul’s last imprisonment in 62 AD,[1] reflects the height of his theological reflection.

In the first chapter of this letter, the apostle gives us a glimpse into the heart and mind of God concerning his plan of redemption. Paul also enumerated some of the many blessings we enjoy as God’s people.

During the Greco-Roman era, this type of introductory prayer occurs only in the New Testament (NT),[2] yet Paul regularly employed them in his epistles.[3] Here the apostle praised God in a torrential list of his blessings.[4]

In fact, the Greek text of Eph 1:3–14 comprises one long sentence.[5]

Reactions by scholars range from, “The most monstrous sentence conglomeration…that I have encountered in Greek” (Norden) to, “One is struck by the fullness of the language, its liturgical majesty, its perceptible rhythm from beginning to end” (Masson).[6]

Ephesians explores the wonder of our salvation with a complex summary of God’s work in Christ. Indeed, the term “in Christ” appears eleven times.

Nevertheless, this passage features the entire Trinity, with vv. 3–12 focusing upon the Father and the Son and vv. 13–14 upon the Spirit. Since we endeavor to explore God’s activity in eternity past, we shall end with v. 11.[7]

Verses 3–4 provide the theme of the entire letter,[8] for Paul expressed adoration for Jesus as the main figure in God’s plan for all of history.[9]

He wrote, “Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ, even as he chose us in him even before the foundation to the world to be holy and blameless before him.”

We can currently appropriate God’s blessing through the gift of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives (Ezek 36:25–27; Eph 5:18–20).[10]

Indeed, the NT focuses upon our present lives “in Christ,” rather than emphasizing getting into heaven.[11]

Those who have been united with Christ by faith are already “seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6).[12]

This new existence transforms every aspect of our lives, affecting how we behave as individuals, our interactions with other people of faith, and even our relationships with those outside the church.[13]

The age to come began with the resurrection of Christ and his enthronement at the right hand of the Father (Eph 1:19–23). Yet, powers hostile to God still lurk in the heavenly places (Eph 3:8–11; Eph 6:10–12).[14]

We participate in this unseen reality.[15]

That God chooses people for himself is nothing new. He did this with Abraham and then with Israel. In both cases, he desired to bless people-groups in all the world through them (Gen 12:1–3; Deut 4:5–8; Deut 7:6–8; Isa 2:1–3; Acts 17:26–30). Therefore, being chosen by God constitutes a call to serve others.[16]

God’s character, plan, and activity make us into the people of God. Our redemption has nothing to do with any of our own qualities. Sending Christ for our salvation was neither an afterthought, nor a response to an unforeseen tragedy (2 Tim 1:9–10).

The Lord has always purposed to draw people to himself,[17] calling individuals to form a corporate body.[18]

Due to the Lord’s nature placed within us, we are “holy” (hagios) and set apart, the saints of God.[19] The life we now experience in Christ fulfills the plan which he determined in eternity past (Rev 13:8).[20]

While this concept of being chosen by God before birth does not occur in the Old Testament, we do find it in intertestamental writings.

In this fictional account of the patriarch Joseph meeting his Egyptian wife, he prays:

“Lord God of my father Israel, the Most High and the mighty God, who quickenedst (brought to life) all things and calledst from the darkness to the light and from error to truth and from death to life, bless thou this virgin also, and quicken her, and renew her with thy holy spirit, and let her eat the bread of thy life and drink the cup of thy blessing, and number her with thy people whom thou chosest before all things were made, and let her enter into thy rest which thou preparedst for thine elect, and let her live in thine eternal life forever.”[21]

Joseph implored the Lord to include his wife among those chosen before birth to receive salvation.

Since God chose us before time—as we know it—began, we can remain confident that salvation depends upon his grace.[22]

Our eternal fate does not rest upon anything that we do ourselves (Eph 2:8–9; 1 Thess 1:2–5; 1 Thess 2:13).

Since this passage consists of an outburst of praise, Paul did not attempt to answer questions concerning those whom the Lord does not include among the elect.[23]

Although our salvation does not depend upon our actions, the elect do have ethical responsibilities. “We are to be holy and blameless before [God]” (1 Pet 1:13–16).[24]

In the Old Testament, God required that whatever had been separated for him must have no defect (Num 6:14–16). The Lord also demands moral purity (Ps 17:1–5, 15).[25]

When we stand before God, we must be blameless before him (Col 1:21–23; 2 Cor 5:9–10).[26] However, Jesus achieved this standing on our behalf (Eph 5:25–27; 1 Cor 1:30–31).

In Ephesians alone, Paul called his readers “holy ones” nine times (Eph 1:1, 15, 18; Eph 2:19; Eph 3:8, 18; Eph 4:12; Eph 5:3; and Eph 6:18), despite their obvious sin (Eph 4:25–32).[27]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

a) Read Eph 1:3–4. How do we know that Christ’s sacrifice of himself to redeem humanity was not God’s “Plan B”? On what does our salvation depend? How must we live as a result?

 

 

 

Go to Adopted as Sons

 

[Related posts include Adopted as Sons (Eph 1:5–6); Redemption through Christ’s Blood (Eph 1:7–8); The Summing up of All Things (Eph 1:9–11); In the Beginning of God’s Creating (Gen 1:1–2); In the Beginning Was the Word (John 1:1–2); Equality with God (Phil 2:5–6); A Summary of Trinitarian Creeds (Appendix to Phil 2:5–6); The Eternal Subordination of the Son to the Father: Orthodoxy or Heresy?; Taking the Form of a Slave (Phil 2:7); Obedient to the Point of Death (Phil 2:8); The Name Above Every Name (Phil 2:9–11); Minds on Earthly Things (Phil 3:17–19); Citizens of Heaven (Phil 3:20); The Firstborn of All Creation (Col 1:15–18); and Ancient Literature]

 

[Click here to go to Chapter 3: The Image of God (Genesis 1:26–31)]

 

[1] Victor P. Furnish, “Ephesians, Epistle to the.” ABD 2:535–42, 541.

[2]Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1990), 11.

[3]Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 43.

[4] Lincoln, Ephesians, 12.

[5] Snodgrass, Ephesians, 45.

[6] Lincoln, Ephesians, 11.

[7] Snodgrass, Ephesians, 44–5.

[8] Snodgrass, Ephesians, 45.

[9] Arnold, Ephesians, 78.

[10] Lincoln, Ephesians, 19–20.

[11] Snodgrass, Ephesians, 46.

[12]Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, 254.

[13] Arnold, Ephesians, 79.

[14] Lincoln, Ephesians, 21.

[15] Snodgrass, Ephesians, 47.

[16] Lincoln, Ephesians, 23.

[17] Snodgrass, Ephesians, 48–9.

[18] Arnold, Ephesians, 80.

[19]Danker, et al., “′αγιος” (hagios), BDAG, 10–1. Note that all three translations fit this word.

[20] Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, 254.

[21]E. W. Brooks, trans., Joseph and Asenath: The Confession and Prayer of Asenath, Daughter of Pentephres the Priest (London; New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; MacMillan, 1918), 8.9, 33, https://archive.org/stream/josephasenathcon00broo#page/32/mode/2up. Italics mine.

[22] Arnold, Ephesians, 81.

[23] Lincoln, Ephesians, 24.

[24] Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, 255.

[25] Lincoln, Ephesians, 24.

[26] Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, 255.

[27] Arnold, Ephesians, 81.