Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Ephesians 1:1-2

Greeting

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful[a] in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

————————————————————————————–

Today’s post begins a brief exploration of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

It will be brief, because most of its six chapters are in the Lectionary. As such, I will include the content of the chapters in each post, because it is such a beautiful letter about the Church.

Both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur say that this letter is a handbook for the Church. Also, Paul was divinely inspired to reveal certain mysteries about the Gospel and God’s plan for the Church.

Furthermore, both commentators say that whether Paul actually addressed the book specifically to the Ephesians is in question. Some early commentaries omitted mentioning the church in Ephesus and had a blank space instead, suggesting it could have also been sent elsewhere. It could be argued that this letter was intended to apply to all the churches in Asia Minor.

Henry‘s commentary tells us how it was seen to be attached to Ephesus (emphases mine):

SOME think that this epistle to the Ephesians was a circular letter sent to several churches, and that the copy directed to the Ephesians happened to be taken into the canon, and so it came to bear that particular inscription. And they have been induced the rather to think this because it is the only one of all Paul’s epistles that has nothing in it peculiarly adapted to the state or case of that particular church; but it has much of common concernment to all Christians, and especially to all who, having been Gentiles in times past, were converted to Christianity. But then it may be observed, on the other hand, that the epistle is expressly inscribed (Ephesians 1:1) to the saints which are at Ephesus; and in the close of it he tells them that he had sent Tychicus unto them, whom, in 2 Timothy 4:12, he says he had sent to Ephesus.

Paul wrote Ephesians from prison:

It is an epistle that bears date out of a prison: and some have observed that what this apostle wrote when he was a prisoner had the greatest relish and savour in it of the things of God. When his tribulations did abound, his consolations and experiences did much more abound, whence we may observe that the afflictive exercises of God’s people, and particularly of his ministers, often tend to the advantage of others as well as to their own.

In addition to revealing mysteries of the Gospel and laying out a pattern for the Church, it is also theologically rich:

The apostle’s design is to settle and establish the Ephesians in the truth, and further to acquaint them with the mystery of the gospel, in order to it. In the former part he represents the great privilege of the Ephesians, who, having been in time past idolatrous heathens, were now converted to Christianity and received into covenant with God, which he illustrates from a view of their deplorable state before their conversion, Ephesians 1:1-3; Ephesians 1:1-3. In the latter part (which we have in the Ephesians 4:1-6) he instructs them in the principal duties of religion, both personal and relative, and exhorts and quickens them to the faithful discharge of them. Zanchy [Italian Reformer Girolamo Zanchi, 1516-1590] observes that we have here an epitome of the whole Christian doctrine, and of almost all the chief heads of divinity.

In 1978, John MacArthur said that he used Ephesians as a guide to modelling the principles of his own Grace Community Church, founded in 1969:

All that I had ever dreamed a church could be came to crystallization in my mind as I studied Ephesians. It formed, for me, the whole pattern of the church: what it is, how it operates, everything just came together in the study of Ephesians.

The result of that study was I wrote a book entitled The Church, the Body of Christ. Those months that we spent studying Ephesians eight years ago – seven or eight years ago – were the months that formed the character of Grace Church in terms of its present dimensions of ministry.

Grace Community Church is a church built on the principles of the book of Ephesians. In those days, I suppose we maybe had 400 or 500 people who studied with us all the way through the book. And now, at this point, we’ve got 5,000 people, and so the elders felt there were a whole lot of folks who ought to know what Grace Church is built on. And so, we’re going to study the book of Ephesians together.

I’m so excited about this because it’s a book that I absolutely love. I’ve taught it many, many times in other situations, and the riches of this book are unlimited. Really, more than any other book in the Bible, I feel this book was the catalyst that launched Grace Church. And, people, if you’re a part of Grace Church, you are a part of something that is indeed unusual, a church that has gone from 500 to 5,000 people in 9 years, a church where so many ministries have developed. It’s just really an incredible thing, and it isn’t due to one individual; it’s due to the will of God, but it’s due also to an understanding of the principles of the book of Ephesians, a very vital book.

When I think about how God has expanded this ministry, it just boggles my mind. We were talking the other day that the receipts, over the last two weeks, that have been given to Grace Church by you, God’s people, for the ministry here are more than the entire year’s giving of 1969. It’s incredible what God has done.

He describes the book in more detail:

If you get a handle on the book of Ephesians, you – some people have called it the bank of the believer. This is your spiritual checkbook, and every time you write a check out of this bank, your funds are non-diminished. In other words, you can write checks on all the riches of God as often as you want, for as much as you want and never diminish the account. Isn’t that nice? That’s the book of Ephesians. It’s a book about riches. It’s a book about fullnesses. It’s a book about being filled with things. It’s a book about inheritance. It’s a book that just tells us what we own in Christ. Some have called it the treasure house of the Bible

You can draw out all you want, all the time, and never diminish your account. But you don’t know that unless you understand the principles in the book of Ephesians.

So, you want to get the book of Ephesians and get it down good. It’ll absolutely revolutionize your lifeIt will teach you who you are, how rich you are, and how you are to use those riches for God’s glory

God is unloading all of His riches in the book of Ephesians. The word “grace” is used 12 times, and the word “grace” means God’s unmerited, undeserved kindness and favor. Grace is behind all of this lavishness that God pours out. So, the word “grace” is used 12 times. The word “glory” is used eight times. The word “inheritance” is used four times. The word “riches” is used five times. The words “fullness” and “filled” are used seven times. And the key to everything is because we are in Christ that all the fullness of the riches of the inheritance of the glory of His grace is ours. Do you see?

Because we are one with Christ in His Church, because we are redeemed, this incredible fullness is ours. Maybe the sum of it all is in chapter 3, “That you might be filled with all the fullness of God.” It’s just an incredible thought. That literally the believer can be filled with all the fullness of God Himself; that we would know the unsearchable riches of Christ; that we would be able to do exceeding abundantly above all we could ask or think according to the power that works in us.

You see, it’s all such magnanimous, grandiose concepts: fullness, riches, inheritance, wealth, resources – all in the book of Ephesians. There are enough resources in heaven to cover all past debts, present liabilities, and future needs and still not diminish your account. That’s God’s plan

So, the guarantee for the believer in all of this is where it says it’s in Christ. And as secure as Christ is in the plan of God and in the love of the father, and as available as the resources of God are to Christ, so available are they to you. See? Because in our union with Christ, we become, according to Romans 8, joint – what? – heirs. And as Hebrews says, “He is not ashamed to call us brother.” And, “He that is joined to the spirit” – 1 Corinthians 6:17 – or “joined to the Lord,” rather – “is one spirit,” so that we have what He has. We possess what He possesses; all His riches are at our disposal.

Peter calls it an inheritance that’s laid away incorruptible and undefiled, reserved in heaven for us. That’s Ephesians. Now, it’s all in Christ. It’s all because we’re in Christ. And if you’re not in Christ, you’re poor; you’re destitute; you’re a pauper; you’re a beggar. If you’re in Christ, you’re rich beyond all wild imagination. It’s all based on Him. It’s not anything we did; it’s not anything we earned. It’s all His.

So, this is your bankbook. This is the treasure house. This is where you check out your resources. And in the first – now watch it – in the first three chapters, he tells you what they are, and in the last three, he tells you how to use them. You’ve got to get it all. You’ve got to stay with us for the whole thing. You can’t spend them if you don’t know what they are; and if you know what they are, you got to know how to spend them.

So, the first three chapters, the theology of the rich believer; the practice in chapters 4 to 6. And there are other things that are involved, but that’s just the main thing. Now, let me go a step further and turn the corner a little bit in your thinking. Just kind of file that category of riches related to Ephesians, and I want to talk about another dimension. It not only talks about our riches, but it talks about the whole idea that all this is ours because we’re in the Church. Okay? It’s all ours because we’re in the Church …

Now, the book, then, discusses the Church. It discusses what the Church is, how the Church functions, how we function in the Church, and it discusses the riches of the Church

The book of Ephesians presents the mystery of the Church. The mystery of the Church … it’s been revealed to Paul.

And what was it? That the Gentiles are fellow heirs of the same body, partakers of the promise in Christ by the Gospel. In other words, the hidden secret of the past was revealed to Paul. And what was it? It was that the Gentile and the Jew would be in one body in the Church. Now, stay with that; we’re going to expand it a little bit.

Let’s talk about how God reveals things. This will help you to understand this. There are three ways, basically, that I want to mention to you. Number one, there are some things God never tells anybody. Okay? God has some secrets that He never reveals to anybody any time. These are secrets. You just don’t know them; I don’t know them; nobody knows them. God doesn’t reveal them. Deuteronomy 29:29 tells about these things. It says this, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but the things which are revealed belong unto us and our children forever”

Second category. God has some secrets that He reveals to special people all through history

In Psalm 25:14, it says this, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant.” Proverbs 3:32 says, “His secret is with the righteous.” Amos 3:7, “He reveals His secrets unto His servants.” So, the righteous, the servants, the people of God, those that fear Him, they know His truth. Now, who are they? Believers. You and me. The fact of the matter is there are some things that nobody knows. The second part is there are some things that only believers know. We know things the unsaved don’t know. Right? …

There’s a third category I want you to get. There are some things which God keeps secret from everybody, for a period of time, and finally reveals to His special people in the New Testament. All right? Now don’t get lost. Point one, God keeps some secrets permanently. Point two, He reveals some things to all His people through all history. Point three, He keeps some secrets through history until the New Testament and reveals them only to the New Testament people.

Do you know we know things that the Old Testament saints didn’t know? That’s right. The New Testament wasn’t written yet. The New Testament is new truth for a new age, sacred secrets revealed by God. In fact, the Old Testament saints used to look to try to see what things meant. Read it in Peter’s epistle. He says they were searching what this thing was they were writing. Do you know that the angels long to understand some of the things that we know such as the meaning of salvation? There are some things that God has kept secret through all history and finally just revealed in the New Testament. Now, these are the mysteries. These are the mustērion, the Greek word

Now, by the way, the man who was given, for the most part, the job of revealing the mysteries was Paul the apostle. He was the mystery man. He was the one to whom God revealed the sacred secrets that had been hidden from the Old Testament saints.

So, these are the mysteries. So, when you see the word “mystery” in chapter 3, verse 3, it simply means a spiritual truth never before revealed but now revealed in the New Testament. New truth for a new age …

So, when Jesus talked, He talked in a way, when He was on earth, that His people would understand it, and the unbelieving would not, and He talked in parables. Right? So, they said to Him … “Why do you speak in parables?” And He said, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” Again, the mysteries are something hidden that God reveals to His special people in the New Testament age …

Where does He reign now? In the heart of the believer. He is enthroned. In the kingdom, will there be peace? Yes. In the heart of the believer, is there peace that passes understanding? Yes. In the kingdom, Christ will dispense salvation. He has dispensed it in our lives now. In the kingdom there will be joy and happiness and blessing, and things will flourish, and so do they in the life of an obedient believer now. You see?

At this point, it is worth noting that yesterday’s Gospel reading — for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year C) — pertains to this, particularly these verses from John 14, when Jesus was giving His final discourse to the Apostles after the Last Supper:

14:23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Let us now move on to Ephesians 1, keeping those verses in mind. This is serendipitous.

Paul calls himself an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God and greets the congregation as saints who are faithful in Him (verse 1).

Henry has a splendid analysis of the verse:

Here is, 1. The title St. Paul takes to himself, as belonging to him–Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, c. He reckoned it a great honour to be employed by Christ, as one of his messengers to the sons of men. The apostles were prime officers in the Christian church, being extraordinary ministers appointed for a time only. They were furnished by their great Lord with extraordinary gifts and the immediate assistance of the Spirit, that they might be fitted for publishing and spreading the gospel and for governing the church in its infant state. Such a one Paul was, and that not by the will of man conferring that office upon him, nor by his own intrusion into it but by the will of God, very expressly and plainly intimated to him, he being immediately called (as the other apostles were) by Christ himself to the work. Every faithful minister of Christ (though his call and office are not of so extraordinary a nature) may, with our apostle, reflect on it as an honour and comfort to himself that he is what he is by the will of God. 2. The persons to whom this epistle is sent: To the saints who are at Ephesus, that is, to the Christians who were members of the church at Ephesus, the metropolis of Asia. He calls them saints, for such they were in profession, such they were bound to be in truth and reality, and many of them were such. All Christians must be saints; and, if they come not under that character on earth, they will never be saints in glory. He calls them the faithful in Christ Jesus, believers in him, and firm and constant in their adherence to him and to his truths and ways.

As ever, Paul stamps his apostolic authority on his work. MacArthur explains why he did so:

… this is the single credential that he lays out: “an apostle of Christ Jesus.” Even though he stood outside the twelve—he was maybe overshadowed by them in some sense—he wants us to understand that he is a legitimate apostle. He does this with no vanity, no self-glory. In fact, he says, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” He says, “We have received grace and apostleship,” Romans 1:5.

But what do we know about his apostolic calling? When he called himself an apostle, four things were in view; let’s look at them just briefly. First, his apostolic call. That is to say, it had to be directly from the Lord. An apostle was one called directly by the Lord Himself—as he was, on the Damascus Road. Only fourteen men were ever given this call: the twelve; Judas is out, Mathias is in, that makes the thirteenth; and Paul is the fourteenth. He had a divine calling. His life was interrupted on the Damascus Road; certainly the most dramatic calling of any apostle by Christ Himself—even the risen, exalted, ascended Christ.

The second thing that characterizes an apostle is that the notion of his identity is wrapped up in the One he represents. He belonged to Christ. He frequently refers to himself as a slave of Christ. This life was not his own; he was the possession of Christ, bought and paid for on the cross, so that he would say, “For me, to live is Christ.”

Now apostle means “sent one.” So here is one who has received a unique call personally from Christ, who belongs to Christ as a slave, for the sole purpose of fulfilling, thirdly, a commission. Apostolos means a sent one. His commission, in particular, was to the Gentiles.

The fourth element of it simply is to understand that he had power. An apostle is given delegated authority; he can speak for the one he represents. Even in the Jewish setting, the Sanhedrin was a supreme court of the Jews; and in matters of religion, they had authority over every Jew in the world. And when the Sanhedrin came to a decision about anything, and that decision as given then to the public, it was carried out by a messenger called an apostolos and taken to those who needed to hear it. When such an apostle of the Sanhedrin went out, he didn’t go with his own message or his own authority—behind him was the authority of the supreme court of Israel.

So it was with Paul. He had authority granted to him by Christ. That authority was validated by signs and wonders and miraculous things, as God validated him as a true apostle by supernatural signs. Not only is he an apostle, but he is “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” This is double authority, from the Father and the Son. God sovereignly directed the work, specially equipped the apostle called the apostle, as did Christ Himself.

Again, although many translations mention the congregation at Ephesus, that was not the case in the earliest manuscripts:

“At Ephesus”—though this letter is directed to the Ephesians, and I think that’s legitimately to whom Paul wrote it, there are no personal aspects in this letter. There are no references to local people or local events or local issues in this church. And in some ancient manuscripts there’s a blank where it says, “who are at Ephesus”—“who are at blank.” Where did such manuscripts come from, and why did that occur? We can’t be certain, but many scholars believe that this was such a general letter that it was circulated to all the churches, not only in Ephesus and close by, but all through Asia Minor—the seven churches that are listed in the book of Revelation chapters 2 and 3. In Colossians, in fact, Paul refers to a letter from Laodicea. Some feel this might be that letter; we can’t know that. But nonetheless, in some ancient manuscripts there’s a blank there so that any church could fill its own name in, and it would be appropriate to them.

MacArthur gives us more information about Paul’s imprisonment, which Henry dates as AD 61, and the other letters that he wrote during that time:

It’s written from Rome. Paul is a prisoner during his third missionary tour. It’s carried by Tychicus and Onesimus, along with Colossians and Philemon, to the churches and to Philemon.

MacArthur says that calling the congregation saints refers not only to their justification by faith through grace but also sanctification on their Christian journey:

to show you that, 1 Corinthians chapter 1. And you might say of all the people who didn’t act saintly, the Corinthians probably headed the list. But listen to how he begins 1 Corinthians: “Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth”—that’s the whole church at Corinth—“to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling.” If you’re a saint, you’re not only justified, you’re in the process of being sanctified. And the Corinthians seem like some of the least sanctified saints—and yet that is how Paul describes them

There are plenty of scriptures that indicate there’s no such thing as justification without sanctification. One more comes to mind. Acts 26:18, Paul says his commission is to the Gentiles, to whom the Lord is sending him—verse 18, “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God”—that’s conversion, and—“ that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” When you put your faith in Christ, you’re not only justified, you’re sanctified; not perfectly sanctified, but you’re on the path of sanctification.

So that, if you are a saint, you also can be designated faithful. That’s why those go together: “to the saints who are faithful.” What does that mean? Pistos, who are believers, who believe in Christ Jesus.

There [was] a movement years ago that I basically took on in The Gospel According to Jesus that said you could be a Christian and completely lose your faith, be an unbelieving believer. Not possible. True believers are justified and sanctified. They are saints who are faithful in Christ Jesus.

So Paul is writing this letter to those saints and faithful believers.

Paul wishes the Ephesians grace and peace from God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ (verse 2).

Henry explains:

The apostolical benediction: Grace be to you, c. This is the token in every epistle and it expresses the apostle’s good-will to his friends, and a real desire of their welfare. By grace we are to understand the free and undeserved love and favour of God, and those graces of the Spirit which proceed from it; by peace all other blessings, spiritual and temporal, the fruits and product of the former. No peace without grace. No peace, nor grace, but from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. These peculiar blessings proceed from God, not as a Creator, but as a Father by special relation: and they come from our Lord Jesus Christ, who, having purchased them for his people, has a right to bestow them upon them. Indeed the saints, and the faithful in Christ Jesus, had already received grace and peace; but the increase of these is very desirable, and the best saints stand in need of fresh supplies of the graces of the Spirit, and cannot but desire to improve and grow: and therefore they should pray, each one for himself and all for one another, that such blessings may still abound unto them.

MacArthur focuses on divine grace and divine peace:

First, grace—charis, the kindness of God toward undeserving sinners. Peace, eirēnē. Peace means peace with God, the peace of God, peace with each other. Those are the first blessings: grace and peace. Grace is the fountain; peace is the stream that flows from that fountain.

MacArthur summarises the next set of verses:

In verses 3 through 14, Paul gives one long sentence listing all the spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ: election, sanctification, foreordination, adoption, acceptance, redemption, forgiveness, enrichment, enlightenment, inheritance, sealing, promise, on and on and on. Everything that is ours is laid out in that opening chapter. And, of course, from there you go through the whole treasure house of God’s provision for His people: the treasures of grace, the treasures of glory, the treasures of Christ. In this chapter, running down through verse 14, you will see the work of the Father, you will see the work of the Son, and you’ll see the work of the Spirit. And all of it has one purpose: verse 6, “to the praise of the glory of His grace”; verse 12, “to the praise of His glory”; verse 14, “to the praise of His glory.”

Everything that happens in the life of the church is to the praise of His glory. It is all for His glory—and particularly, the praise of the glory of His grace, praise of the glory of His grace, as we saw in verse 6.

Henry tells us to look at the rest of the chapter as a combination of praises and prayers:

… though it may seem somewhat peculiar in a letter, yet the Spirit of God saw fit that his discourse of divine things in this chapter should be cast into prayers and praises, which, as they are solemn addresses to God, so they convey weighty instructions to others. Prayer may preach; and praise may do so too.

Here is the rest of the chapter:

Spiritual Blessings in Christ

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us[b] for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known[c] to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee[d] of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,[e] to the praise of his glory.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love[f] toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked 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 above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things 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.

Next week, I will look at Ephesians 2 and the first part of Ephesians 3.

Next time — Ephesians 3:13