1:1-2 Sender and Destination
We write a letter, put our signature at the end, and then post it in an envelope with the address. As was common in the Roman world, Paul is writing on a papyrus roll. He begins by naming himself, gives his title, and indicates where the letter is to be delivered by the messenger.
1:1a As in seven other letters (but not in Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon) Paul identifies himself as an apostle. This is not an ecclesiastical title, nor does it connect Paul with the twelve apostles. The word merely means someone who is sent to do a job for the sender. In classical Greek it was used to designate an Athenian admiral who was leader of a naval expedition. In Paul's case it indicated he was sent by the Messiah Jesus.
The Greek word Christos is translated as "Messiah" in Matthew 1:1, 18-19, and throughout the Gospels. In Acts both "Messiah" ( 2:36, 3:17, 5:42 , 8:4, 9:22) and "Christ" ( 3:6, 10, 8:12, 11:17) are used. But for some reason the translators reverted to "Christ" for the Epistles, as in this case (and 1:3, 4, 5, 17, etc.). The Hebrew word "Messiah" means anointed (as in Psalm 2:2), and throughout the Psalms and Prophets the eternal Son of God is referred to as the King (sovereign) who is reigning among the nations. So the term Messiah reminds us that Jesus was already the Messiah King of the Old Testament spoken of by the prophets. What went wrong among the Jewish people was that when prophecy died out for 400 years after the prophet Malachi, they began honoring and studying the torah, and forgot that the Messiah had reigned throughout the Old Testament period. Jews still hope, as many Christians do in our day, that the Messiah will come some day to begin reigning. But in fact he is King of kings and Lord of lords reigning among the nations right now. \
When Paul calls himself an apostle he is indicating his function as the leader of a church planting team. The church planting gift of an apostle is listed first among other gifts of the Spirit (4:11, as in 1 Corinthians 12:28). Using the category of the man with five talents (Matthew 25:15), we might say that to do what Paul did in church planting requires at least a five talent person (evangelist, teacher, prophet, healer, interpreter of tongues). Most of us exercise one talent (gift), or maybe two, in the body of the Messiah in our city. Rather than being a local church person, an apostle belongs to what I call the moving bloodstream of the world-wide church (see The Church: An Organic Picture 14).
In his testimony before King Agrippa Paul said that he was called to this task by Jesus the Messiah the very day of his conversion. "I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles (other nations) - to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (Acts 26:17-18).
When he went to a new city, his first task as an evangelist was to open people's eyes to God's good news. This resulted in people turning from the darkness to the light of God (John 1:5-9, see Acts 17:27). By baptism they moved from the kingdom of this world (2:1-5) into the Messiah's kingdom (2:12-13, 19) , where they were assured of God's acceptance and forgiveness, began to understand God's plan (1:10), and were to be transformed and empowered by the Spirit.
1:1b As indicated in the Introduction, the words "in Ephesus" are not found in the earliest manuscripts and Christian writers. As the letter was copied and sent by messengers to the various house churches of the one church in Ephesus, to Laodicaea (Colossians 4:16), and to the churches of Macedonia and Greece, the destination would have been written in at this point..
Our word "saint" is a translation of the Greek adjective agios, which means set aside for a special purpose. As a result it can mean dedicated, holy, sacred (as in people, and buildings, and vessels for a temple). It does not refer to the pious or sacred character of the person or thing that is set aside for that purpose. In this sense all Christians are saints as soon as they are enrolled by baptism to be taught and begin to perform a function in the church.
1:2 A letter in the Roman world would greet the recipients with chairein ("greetings"), as in the letter from the Jerusalem Council addressed to the Gentile (non-Jewish) believers (Acts 15:23, and in James 1:1). Among Christians chairein was changed to charis (grace) and shalom (peace) in every one of Paul's Epistles and the two Epistles of Peter (Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Philippians 1:2, Colossians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 3, 1 Peter 1:2, 2 Peter 1:2).
In classical Greek, the word charis (grace) was hardly distinguishable from chara (joy). From the time of Homer it meant the joy of attractive speech. In Christian writing it was used for the gracious words and good intentions of God. It was the unmerited (undeserved) favor of God expressed towards all people. There is nothing we have to pay or earn (1:6, 2:8). A definition is "the giving of love without limit to those who do not deserve it." And it is illustrated in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Which is why our message is called "the good news of God's grace" (Acts 20:24).
The word is celebrated in John Newton's hymn Amazing Grace. Virginia Molllenkott expressed it as "there is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you could ever do to make God love you less" (in a lecture at Queen's University in Kingston, February 1984). This suggests that grace is love expressed in action. And we should add that genuine love cares about the freedom of the other (as with loving parents, loving couples, and costly service). Which means that grace does not enslave or make us dependent, but rather makes us free (John 8:36).
By combining grace and peace in the greetings that head his letters Paul makes clear that shalom (peace) is the result of knowing that God will keep loving us regardless of our sin and failures. And when we grasp this we begin to exercise grace the way God does. But we admit many failures. In his What is so Amazing about Grace Philip Yancey said "I rejected the church for a time because I found so little grace there. I returned because I found grace nowhere else."
1:3-14 Five facets of God's blessing
The Epistle to the Ephesians was sent out some time after Paul had written his Epistle to the Romans. So we can imagine people complaining "Paul, you wrote a very impressive theological treatise, but it is very hard to understand." As Peter said, "Our beloved brother Paul wrote according to the wisdom given to him, speaking of this (the need for patience) as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures" (2 Peter 3:15-17). People probably also wanted to ask "and what difference does all that theology make to us?"
So here Paul begins by listing some of the very practical blessings which they had learned (or should have learned) by the Spirit in their churches. They were chosen to be perfected in love (1:4, as in "You will be perfected, as your heavenly Father is perfect," Matthew 5:48). They had been adopted as children of God (1:5-6, as in John 1:12, Romans 8:15-17, 11:25-26). They were freed from condemnation (1:7, as in Romans 8:1-2). They had been given an insight into God's perfect plan (1:9-12, as in Colossians 1:15-20). And they were already experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit as a foretaste of much more to come (1:13-15).
At every point Paul reminds them that it is only through Jesus the Messiah (see notes on Christ and Messiah under 1:1a) that these blessings are made known to them and the world (1:4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, see Acts 4:12).
1:3 The Greek verb eulogeo originally meant to speak well of. It can be used in prayer for persecutors (Mathew 5:44, Luke 6:28, Romans 12:14, 1 Peter 3:9), speaking well of children (Mark 10:16), speaking well of the communion cup (1 Corinthians 10:16). But it is also used in the sense of praise when we speak well of God (Luke 2:28, 24:53, James 3:9), including speaking well of the giver of the food we are about to eat (Matthew 14:19, Luke 24:30). Paul uses both these senses in this one verse. We speak well of God because he spoke well of us in the Messiah. God's blessing of us is pneumatiky (by the Holy Spirit) in heaven (as in 1:20). This refers to the three Persons of the Trinity speaking well of us, as in "Let us make humankind in our image" (Genesis 1:26).
1:4 The decision to bless humans was made "before the foundation of the world." And it includes the decision that humans are going to be perfected in God's kind of perfect love. Some theologians have made predestination (election) into a doctrine that all we do is already settled for us by God's decree (speaking well or evil of persons as he chooses). What is settled is that God intends to perfect in love as many as can be made willing to enjoy the perfect love of heaven. That still leaves open the possibility that some will prefer the darkness of eternal death (John 3:19-21).
1:5 But the perfecting in love is not just like a professor and his students. It is done in the much closer relationship of a parent and child. Which is why Jesus called the Father "Abba" and taught us to use the same name in the Lord's prayer. Paul said that grasping and enjoying this relationship is a sure sign of the Holy Spirit working in us (Romans 8:15-17). Apart from the Spirit, it is unthinkable for people of any other religion to view themselves as children of God.
1:6 Grace has been discussed in the Introduction. Two qualities which are admired (praised, seen as glorious) by good people in all nations are grace and truth. And when we see either of these qualities evidenced, we want to speak well of (praise) the person. Having been at close quarters with Jesus, John declared "we have seen his glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). In each case in this section our blessing is "in the beloved" (in the Messiah, as in 1:3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13).
1:7a The word "redemption" is used of the freeing of a captive (taken by kidnaping, slavery, or war). He was spoken of as "redeemed" after someone had done what it took to free him. The Jewish people still remember their freedom when they were redeemed from slavery in Egypt.
The word "blood" is a shorthand for the death of someone by murder or execution (Matthew 23:35, 27:4, 25, Revelation 6:10, 16:6, 17:6, 18:24, 19:2). This is why the New Testament writers speak of "the blood of the cross, the blood of the Lamb" (Hebrews 9:12, 1 Peter 1:2, 19, Revelation 5:9, 7:14, 12:11)
One result of Jesus' execution by crucifixion is that it made the church possible. "Shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son (Acts 20: 28). Gentiles (non-Jews) were "brought near by the blood of the cross" (2:13). The wine at communion is the new covenant in Jesus's blood (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20), which was new in relation to the covenant with Moses (Exodus 24:7-8). There is also a mind-boggling cosmic dimension: "God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:20, Hebrews 13:20).
1:7b A first result of grasping what happened on the cross is that we become certain of being accepted and forgiven (Romans 3:23-25, 5:9, Revelation 1:5). We know that no amount of sin, human evil, injustice, can prevent God loving us. When humans have done their worst, God can still forgive. Criminals can be assured of a place in paradise (heaven) the moment they die. Some theologians have argued that Jesus' blood on the cross was a payment to satisfy the wrath of God so we can be forgiven. But in this commentary we assume that our loving God does not need a payment before he can forgive us. The love of God resulted in the sending of the Son (John 3:16), but we should not say that it was the death of the Son that enabled God to love us.
We also know that those who love are likely to be hurt. Parents hurt their children, children hurt their parents, lovers hurt one another, those who serve get hurt by those they love. And of course the Son's love ended in his crucifixion. Bearing the hurt of crucifixion is part of loving, not a way to make the love of God possible.
1:8-10 Until we are given to know God's loving plan for humanity, the ultimate purpose of our world is a dark insoluble mystery. We might believe in love and look for love, but we certainly did not invent it or make it possible. It is only by the coming of the Messiah that the source and outworking of love becomes clear.
1:11-12 An inheritance only comes into force after the death of the one who gave it to us. In that sense all that the Messiah has for us is already ours because he has died for us, but we will enjoy it to the full with him in heaven. For "having been destined" see note on verse 5.
1:13-14 That is why hearing the good news is important. Nobody can possibly be resurrected except by the Son of God (John 14:6), but we should not add that cerebral understanding of how he does it is essential. Obviously a large part of humanity (babies, the retarded, those brainwashed by a false religion) never get to understand, and we cannot imagine a loving God excluding them for ignorance. But by hearing and welcoming the good news we are "sealed" by the Holy Spirit who gives us assurance of adoption into God's family and forgiveness, 1:5-7). That means people are not excluded from heaven by not getting the chance to hear the good news, but they lack the clarity of assurance that only the Holy Spirit can give them.
1:15-23 The content of Paul's prayer
We have suggested that the original copy of this letter was the one sent to Laodicaea (Colossians 4:16). Paul had never actually visited the churches in the twin cities of Laodicaea and Colossae (Colossians 2:1) which were established by Epaphras (Colossians 1:7). It is always good to begin prayer with thanksgiving, which reminds us of what God has already done for us. As Paul says in other epistles, "Give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:18). "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6). Here Paul gives thanks for what he had heard of the fruitfulness of the church in that place (Colossians 1:6).
1:15-16 Paul had heard from Epaphras of the faith of the church in Laodicaea, and their great love for all Christians in the area (for "saints: see 1:1b). And this is a great cause of thanksgiving. Sadly this church later became luke-warm (Revelation 3:14-15).
1:17-18 These Christians are already "sealed" by the Spirit (1:13), now he prays for them to have a spirit of wisdom and revelation (as in Colossians 1:9) by the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit (see 1:8-11, more fully explained in 1 Corinthians 2:6-13).
1:19-20 Now he prays that they will experience "the immeasurable greatness" of that power. This was the power of the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus the Messiah from the dead (As previously defined in Romans 8:11).
1:21 It is one thing to bring a dead body back to this life, as in the case of Lazarus (and in some cases reported in our day). But when Jesus died his corpse was left hanging on the cross, and before it was taken down from the cross the power of the Spirit had already given him his resurrection body and seated him at the Father's right hand in heaven.. Matthew makes clear that he went down to empty sheol of its contents (as Jesus had predicted in John 5:28-29). The Old Testament believers who had been freed from sheol appeared in Jerusalem (Matthew 27:52), and that was even before Joseph of Arimathea got permission for the burial (Matthew 27:57-60). This suggests that what happened early on the first Easter Sunday was that the already reigning Son of God came to dispose (disintegrate) the body he had used on earth (to prevent it becoming an object of veneration). He then kept appearing in his resurrection body for forty days to assure the disciples that he was indeed alive - the same person they had known in his earthly body.
In the Old Testament period the Lord King Messiah was already reigning among the nations. Now he also has authority over the powers of evil. Death is not yet terminated, but death has certainly lost its sting (1 Coronthians 15:26, 55) . As Paul had explained to the Corinthians, the Messiah is the firstfruits from dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). And the moment we die "in the twinkling of an eye" the trumpet sounds for us personally, and he welcomes us triumphantly into heaven (1 Corinthians 15:52). Paul did not expect to go into sheol (the abode of the dead, as in cold storage) for the next two thousand years, but to be with the Lord the moment he died (Philippians 1:23).
This makes the Messiah's death and immediate resurrection a pattern for ours. We go immediately to be with the Lord, but our corpse is left behind to be disposed of (disintegrated in the ground or by cremation). This is why death has lost its sting for us (1 Corinthians 15:55). The idea of the last judgment was part of Old Testament faith (see 1 Peter 3:19), and it became part of the faith of Islam, but God is not interested in judging us (John 3:17, Romans 8:1). There is a continuous process of assigning consequences (wrath) in this life, and some of what we do may not survive our day of the Lord (when our work is tested in this life, as in 1 Corinthians 3:13).
1:22-23 Since the resurrection and ascension the Messiah has been reigning in two different modes. As in the Old Testament he continues to reign and assign wrath consequences among the nations. That is what keeps our world from disintegrating into chaos. But his delight is in his church. It does not function as an earthly hierarchy, or by the methods of earthly kingdoms (Mark 10:42-45) but as a body permeating and exercising its ministry through its members in each city (see 4:4-12).