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Paul's epistle to the Ephesians is, in some ways, a continuation of his epistle to the Romans. It enlarges upon Romans 1-8 in regard to the believer's position and right standing with God. We are "seated" with Christ, so we must "walk" according to our calling, and "stand" in the full armor of God against those who would oppose us.
Category - Bible Commentaries
Paul wrote two prayers in his epistle to the Ephesians. The first is in Eph. 1:18-21, where he prayed that each would “know what is the hope of His calling.” In other words, he prayed that they might know what to expect as the result of Christ’s success in fulfilling His calling. Their expectation, of course, was that Christ would subject all things under His authority from His exalted position at the right hand of the Father in heavenly places.
Paul’s second prayer is in Eph. 3:14-21, where Paul prays that they would be strengthened in spirit to be able to comprehend the love of Christ. Because “God is love” (1 John 4:8), love is the essence of His nature. Therefore, no one can come fully into the image of God without being an expression of love. As John puts it,
8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
So Paul prays that the church will experience the fullness of love, so that it will comprehend the extent of God’s plan for creation itself.
Eph. 3:14, 15 begins his prayer,
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father [Patera], 15 from whom every family [patria, “fatherhood, that which is derived from a father, a family”] in heaven and on earth derives its name…
God’s love is the foundation of a family relationship. In other words, God’s relationship to creation is not impersonal. God is “the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” His use of the term “every family” defines what he has already told us—that His love extends to all ethnicities throughout the earth, and that His love compels Him to subject all things to Himself.
At the present time, all of these individual families are largely divided into competing factions, each fighting for its own self-interest. But God intends to make them all into a single family under one Father. An earthly family member may be named “John, son of Andrew,” while his brother may be named, “Peter, son of Andrew,” each being named according to a family name, Andrew.
The problem is that other family names are generally different, because they have different fathers. On a tribal level, there are families of Judah or Ephraim, or Benjamin, each of a different tribe whose name is derived from a past patriarch.
But Paul contemplated the day when these different families will derive their name from their heavenly Father: “John, son of God” and “Peter, son of God.” To accomplish this, of course, they will all have to be begotten by the Spirit, even as Jesus was (Luke 1:35).
The unification of these earthly families is the underlying purpose of the Abrahamic calling to be a blessing to “all the families of the earth” (Gen. 12:3). In Paul’s prayer, he seems to clarify the purpose of the Abrahamic calling. As to the families “in heaven,” it is unclear what Paul meant or how those families will be included in the family of God. It is generally assumed that Paul was referring to those family members who have died and whose spirits have returned to God. Some, however, think Paul was referring to angelic families—or even alien beings.
We can be certain that the families in heaven—whoever they are—need reconciliation, because the reconciliation of all involves “those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10). This is repeated with different wording in Col. 1:20, where all of creation is reconciled, “whether things on earth or things in heaven.”
Polycarp, the first-generation disciple of the Apostle John himself, wrote in his Epistle to the Philippians (about 117 A.D.), “to whom are subjected The All things, celestial and terrestrial, to whom all breath may offer divine service.” While this is consistent with Paul’s statement, Polycarp seems to assume that his audience understood that he was speaking of angels (“celestial”) and men (“terrestrial”).
Clement of Alexandria (150-213 A.D.) wrote in his commentary on 1 John 2:2,
“‘And not only for our sins,’ that is, for those of the faithful, is the Lord the Propitiator does he say, ‘but also for the whole world.’ He, indeed, saves all; but some He saves converting them by punishments; others, however, who follow voluntarily He saves with dignity of honour; so that ‘every knee should bow to Him, of things in heaven, of things on earth, and things under the earth’—that is, angels and men.”
It is clear, then, that Clement considered “things in heaven” to refer to angels who were destined to bow their knees to Christ. Again, Didymus the Blind (308-395) wrote in his commentary on 1 Peter chapter 3,
“As Mankind, by being reclaimed from their sins, are to be subjected to Christ in the dispensation appointed for the salvation of all, so the angels will be reduced to obedience by the correction of their vices.”
Even Jerome himself (before he prostituted his teachings to the Roman pope in the year 400), once wrote in his comments on Eph. 2:7,
“Christ will, in the eons to come, show, not to one, but to the whole number of rational creatures, His glory, and the riches of His grace, by means of us… The saints are to reign over the fallen angels, and the prince of this world…even to them bringing blessing.”
The greatly revered Gregory of Nyassa, in his commentary on Psalm 150:5 (“Praise Him with loud cymbals”), wrote in a very long sentence:
“One cymbal is the heavenly nature of the angels. The other is the rational creation of mankind; but sin separated the one from the other, which, when at last the goodness of God shall have united, then shall both, made one, chant forth that hymn, as the great Apostle says: ‘Every tongue, of things in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, shall confess that Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’: which done, the cymbals shall chant their song of victory… all enmity being extinguished… ceaselessly shall be rendered by every spirit alike, praise to God without end.”
The common interpretation of Paul’s statements regarding “things in heaven” in the early church was to apply it to angels—specifically, fallen angels, for the other angels needed no reconciliation. Yet because Paul himself does not explain the meaning of this phrase, I will refrain from further comment on this.
Paul prays for the church in Eph. 3:17-19,
17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
“God is love” (1 John 4:8), and Christ is “the exact representation of His nature” (Heb. 1:3). Therefore, if Christ dwells in our hearts, then we too will manifest love. 1 John 4:16 says,
16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
Love is evidence that we have been begotten by God and that God abides in us. So Paul bowed his knees and prayed that believers would be “rooted and grounded in love,” as “trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord” (Isaiah 61:3). If we are so grounded, we can then begin to know and comprehend the measure of the love of Christ, which is incomprehensible to the carnal mind (soul).
Recall what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 2:9, 10,
9 but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.
Paul’s point was that fleshly eyes and ears of the soulish man are incapable of comprehending the things of the Spirit, but the new creation man of the Spirit is indeed capable of receiving the things of the Spirit. The new man which is begotten by God has spiritual ears and eyes that are ready to receive “the depths of God.”
Therefore, when Paul prays that we would be able to comprehend the love of God, he was praying specifically for those who had been begotten by God. They alone are able to measure, or survey, the love of God. To comprehend pictures a person surveying and taking the measurements of that which he is trying to understand. We see this illustrated in the negative in John 1:5,
5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
Darkness is incapable of comprehending light, because it cannot surround it or take its measurement or define its boundaries. Darkness cannot survey light. But we who have the light of Christ in our hearts are able to know and comprehend the love of God, because the Spirit reveals these things to the new creation man.
I began to understand this more than 40 years ago when I first noticed something unusual going on inside of me. I discovered that I knew something that I did not believe. In other words, I knew something was true, but my soul (mind) did not believe it. This was my first awareness of the difference between soul and spirit and that each had a distinct conscious mind.
As I pondered this and prayed further about it, this awareness continued to grow, and I began to comprehend this great truth. Ultimately, I expressed this as “the two I’s” (or “eyes”), which I found in Romans 7.
This is also how I came to understand 1 Cor. 2:14-16 in terms of the soul and the spirit,
14 But a natural [psuchikos, “soulish”] man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual [the spiritual “man” within, or the inner conscious mind of one’s spirit] appraised all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
Every man has a spirit, a soul, and a body (1 Thess. 5:23). Each part has a mind (conscious awareness) of its own. The body has a brain, the soul has a fleshly mind, and the spirit has a spiritual mind. The soulish mind (as Paul calls it) lacks the ability to comprehend deep spiritual truths.
Those who are dominated by the soulish mind are born of the flesh from the mortal, corruptible seed going back to Adam, who was made “a living soul” (Gen. 2:7, KJV). But those who are dominated by the spiritual mind are those who have the mind of Christ, for their identity (their “I AM”) has shifted from the “natural” (soulish) man to the “spiritual man.” So Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:45,
45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
Those who continue to identify with the first Adam are yet soulish and fleshly. Either they have never been begotten from above or perhaps they have failed to shift their identity to this new spiritual man. So they remain rooted in the old man and its soulish mind and are unable to comprehend the things of the Spirit.
Paul’s prayer in Eph. 3:14-21 is for those who have an “inner man” (vs. 16) to be strengthened. The apostle presumes that they have been begotten by the Spirit and therefore have an inner man that is distinct from the soulish man of flesh. Paul was not praying as an evangelist to see more people converted to Christ. His prayer was for those already converted, that they would grow spiritually, be rooted in love, and survey the love of God so that they “may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”
This “fullness” (pleroma) was what Paul contemplated earlier in Eph. 1:22, 23,
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 [pleroma, “fullness, completeness, full development”] of Him who fills all in all.
Believers are the first among creation to be filled with the fullness of God. When they complete their work in the calling of Abraham, all families of the earth will join them in this fullness, because God “fills all in all” according to the promise in Psalm 8:6. Paul applies the pleroma on both levels: individual and universal, one forecasting the other, as we see in Rom. 8:19.
Having presented his prayer request to God, Paul then gives a benediction in Eph. 3:20, 21,
20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power [dunamis] that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever [aionos ton aionon, “age of the ages”]. Amen.
It is interesting that Paul prays that the church would comprehend the love of Christ and then reminds us that He “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.” It sounds like it will take a long time to fully comprehend the works of God. Perhaps this is why Paul said earlier in Eph. 2:7,
7 so that in the ages to come, He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
No matter how much we learn or comprehend spiritual things in this present age, our learning experience will continue into “the ages to come.” We will not be bored in the coming ages. There will always be new things to surprise us about our infinite God. We will have to wait until later to discover most of these aspects of God.
Meanwhile, in the here and now, God is able to do more than we can ask or think, because of “the power that works within us.” This power is dunamis, which Jesus promised just before His ascension. Acts 1:8 says, “but you will receive power [dunamis] when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
Paul closes his benediction in verse 21 by giving glory to God, noting that this glory was expressed in the Person of Christ and also in the church when it received dunamis from the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. This dunamis was not merely for the first century believers, nor was it to expire with the death of the last apostle. It was to continue “to all generations to the age of the ages.”
The age of the ages is a climactic age to come, just as the Song of Songs is the greatest of Songs and a King of Kings is the greatest of kings. We understand that there are at least two ages yet to come: first the Millennial Age between Christ’s second coming and the Great White Throne judgment; and secondly, the Age of Judgment which ends with the Creation Jubilee.
The common Jewish terminology in Paul’s day spoke of the 7th thousand-year period as “The Age,” by which they meant, the Messianic Age. Paul may have been referring to this age, which was the climax of the first “week” of man’s history. Yet perhaps he was referring to the age of judgment that was to follow. This age (I believe) is to last another six “weeks” (i.e., 42,000 years) until the Creation Jubilee after 49,000 years of Adamic history.