Knowing who you are in Christ
Part One: Understanding God’s Word
Bible commentary on Ephesians 1
Prior to choosing a Bible chapter for this month’s theme, “Who l am in Christ”, a dear friend recommended that l read Ephesians 1 during my private time with the Lord.
I am so glad l took his advice, for this chapter was a beautiful reminder for me of God’s declaration of love. We are cherished, set apart, and fore-ordained to be in a relationship with our Father, full of blessings, grace, and purpose. I knew l had to take the teachings of this chapter and share it on our blog with all of you.
Ephesians 1 explains how not only have we been forgiven and redeemed, but we have been chosen by God to be adopted as His sons and daughters. On the occasion of this adoption, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, identifying us as belonging to Christ and who is a down payment of our eternal inheritance.
Additionally, Ephesians 1 provides us with revelation about the church, which is the Body of Christ with Jesus at its head, as well as our calling to teach and proclaim the Gospel.
However, before we begin with studying this pivotal chapter of the Bible, let us find out more about who wrote it.
A brief Jacob’s Ladder history lesson – Who wrote the Book of Ephesians?
The book of Ephesians was written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Ephesus. Ephesus was an ancient Greek city on the coast of Ionia, in present-day Turkey. Ephesians is one of 13 epistles, or letters, that he wrote to various churches or followers of Christ.
Whereas some of the Pauline epistles were written to address issues that had arisen in certain churches, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written to give revelation to the most important themes of Christianity – kind of a grand summary of what it means to be a Christian.
Hence, scholars have referred to the Book of Ephesians as “the Queen of Epistles” or “the crown of Paulism”, just to mention a few terms. It is also known as a “prison” epistle, as Paul wrote this book while under a 2-year house arrest, as he awaited trial in Rome for spreading the Gospel.
Upon studying this epistle, some scholars believe that Paul’s intended audience was not limited to the church in Ephesus, as a few of the ancient manuscripts show a blank space instead of the location of Ephesus.
Instead, they surmise that this letter was actually written as a circular for various churches across different cities.
Despite this postulation, Paul’s affiliation to the city of Ephesus is rather evident: He had come to Ephesus as an apostolic missionary and established the Church at Ephesus, which became head of the Seven Churches in Asia minor. Ephesus became the third renowned Christian city after Jerusalem and Antioch.
The first 14 verses of Ephesians 1 are important, as they set the tone for the rest of the book.
Paul wrote the Book of Ephesians in Ancient Greek, so l will be referring to the odd Greek term that Paul used in the ancient manuscripts, as it gives a vivid portrayal of his sentiments and provides us with an insight into the tone of that time.
Greetings to the Church at Ephesus (Ephesians 1:1-2)
Paul begins this epistle with his customary greeting to God’s people. In his salutation, he establishes his only two worthwhile credentials:
1) He is an apostle of Jesus Christ, sent out in His service
The word “apostle” is derived from the Greek verb apostellein, which means to be sent out.
2) Any authority that Paul possesses has been delegated to him through Divine appointment
Paul is an apostle through God’s will, blessed to be a vessel to spread the Word of God by God’s grace and mercy. From the time he first gave his life to Christ (Acts 9:1-19), Paul was in constant amazement at the mercy and grace of God to use him as a vessel to spread the Gospel.
Paul continues his greetings to the Ephesians by wishing that “grace” and “peace” be theirs. These two words hold great significance in Christian faith.
The word “grace” is derived from the Greek word charis, which means charm. Grace is a gift that is only available from God, man cannot attain this for himself by earning it or deserving it. Therefore grace is the underserved merit of God.
The word “peace” comes from the Greek word eirene, but a Hebrew translation of the word is shalowm. In the Bible, peace does not necessarily mean the absence of trouble. It is a state that is independent of your surrounding circumstances. Hence, the only true peace a Christian can find is through God.
Blessed and chosen by God (Ephesians 1:3-6)
Paul wants to accentuate some major points in these Bible passages:
God’s blessings are ours
God blessings are ours through Christ and His sacrifice on the Cross at Calvary. We receive them when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. These blessings are spiritual, which far outweigh any material blessing or temporal joy that we can experience.
Gods wants to, nay, He seeks to bless us abundantly with everything available in the Heavenly realm, for we are His children.
God has chosen us
God has chosen us, though we are undeserving of His benevolence, for we are sinners. God’s reasons for choosing us are beyond our ability to comprehend, but what we do know is that God chooses according to the purpose of His will (Ephesians 1:5) In the Amplified version, this explanation is extended in brackets – (because it pleased Him and it was His kind intent).
God’s plan of adoption
Paul explains that it has always been God’s plan to adopt us as His own into the Body of Christ, before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) to be a part of His family.
In Rome, where Paul wrote the Book of Ephesians, there was a strict law for adults adopting children, as it was considered a serious responsibility. The process of adoption was ceremonial and exact, involving a “father” selling his son twice through the use of a symbolic scale and then buying him back twice. For a third time, the father sold his son, but instead of buying him back, the father had to go the local praetor, a principal Roman magistrate, and plead for his son’s adoption.
Once the praetor had agreed to the adoption, the child gave up his rights to his old family and received all the rights of his new family, being recognized as a legitimate son. Any debts or obligations that were connected to his old family were wiped clean.
In the same way, God’s adoption of us wipes us clean of our old sins. Our old lives are no more – we can start a new life as new creations in the Body of Christ.
Foreordained for salvation and holiness
God has foreordained our adoption as His sons and daughters so that we may not only know salvation, but that we may be holy and blameless before Him. The Greek word for “holy” is hagios, which carries the meaning of difference and separation, like a temple is separated in its categorization from other buildings through its purpose of holiness. To apply this to today, a Christian needs to be identifiable as a vessel of Christ in today’s broken world.
Paul wonders that God should choose man and not the other way around. This grace is a further blessing from God, given freely to us and one which we should give God praise and honor for.
Deliverance as an ultimate expression of God’s grace (Ephesians 1: 7-8)
Paul reminds us that it is God who has delivered us from our sins, by sending his son Jesus to pay a ransom for our transgressions with His precious blood.
The word deliverance comes from the Greek word apolutrosis, which originates from the verb lutroun, meaning “to ransom”. This implies the liberation of a man or an entity from a situation he was powerless to free himself of, by means of payment.
Redemption is only possible through the Father; it is impossible for man to earn through his own works or earn by his own merits. It is an expression of God’s ultimate grace and a reflection of His loving, merciful nature.
God’s secret plan for mankind is revealed (Ephesians 1:9-10)
In these verses, Paul reveals God’s secret plan for mankind that had been previously kept hidden. Now, God wants to reveal His secret to us, or as the Apostle puts it, “He has made known to us the mystery of his will. (Ephesians 1:9)”.
It is a plan that God has been setting into motion throughout the course of history; the passage of time has been used to arrange and guide events, so that God’s plan can come to fruition at His designated time. Paul uses the Greek word oikonomia to describe this, which means “household management”. In Ancient times, the oikonomos was the steward of a household, whose duty it was to organize the family’s affairs.
Yep, God has an end plan for us and He has been working on it for a long time!
Would you like to know what God’s secret plan for mankind is? To bring together all things of the world and unify them under Christ.
This means a few things. Most importantly, God wants us to know that His Gospel of love, hope, and salvation is available to everyone, Gentile and Jew. Until the coming of Christ, the teachings of the Bible were restricted to the Jewish nation. As a consequence, all tensions between the nations, regardless of their backgrounds, are to be resolved in Christ so that there is unity amongst mankind. Additionally, all rights are to be wronged and every dispute is to be resolved under Christ’s jurisdiction.
God’s plan is a plan that will glorify Him and set His children free from the bonds of decay and futility (Romans 8:18-22).
Sounds like a good plan, right?
Such unity was unheard of during Paul’s time. Now, Jesus wants the church, as His bride, to do their part in contributing to this unification process by spreading the good news of the gospel.
Signed, sealed, and stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:11-14)
Beneficiaries of God’s inheritance
Paul tells the Ephesians in this part of his letter that they (and us by extension), have an inheritance in God when we receive His salvation.
God has chosen and appointed us as the beneficiaries of His heritage and portion long before we were even aware of it. In Jeremiah 1:5 it states,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah 1:5 (NRSV)
As Paul has stated previously in verse 5, God’s reasons for choosing us are His own and are centered around the purpose of His will.
Ultimately, those who have chosen to trust God, have been destined and appointed for the praise of His glory (verse 12)!
Stamped with the Divine seal of approval
For those who have heard God’s Word and received it into their hearts by calling upon Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, God literally confirms the deal by stamping us with the seal of the Holy Spirit.
Just as a seal or a stamp denotes ownership, so too does the seal of the Holy Spirit on us denote us as belonging to God.
This is especially important when considering that we live in a broken world that tries to lure us away from God with the temptation of material and superficial goals, as well as giving in to our flesh. In such times, we need to remember that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world (1 John 4.4). It is also important when considering spiritual warfare, as Satan constantly attacks us with lies and tries to deceive us into thinking that we are not worthy to God (John 8:44).
So, what does it mean to be stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit?
It means that the Holy Spirit comes to reside in us (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) and does the following:
- He baptizes us into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13)
- He gives us gifts (2 Corinthians 1-11)
- He teaches us (John 14:26)
- He intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27)
- He helps us to pray (Jude 1:20)
- He gives us fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
- He helps us to lead righteous lives (Galatians 5:24-26)
The Holy Spirit does more, but this gives you a working idea of how the seal of the Holy Spirit over us changes us into a new creation in Christ.
In the Ancient Greek business world, the term arrabon, meaning “earnest”, was the term for a down-payment or installment. On purchasing goods, this pledge was considered part of the purchase price. It was paid in advance as a guarantee that the full price would be paid in due course.
In the same way, Paul is stating that the experience of the Holy Spirit we receive on earth is a pledge of our total inheritance, a down-payment of the fullness of God blessings we are to receive in Heaven (2 Corinthians 1:22).
Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians reflects God’s wishes for us (Ephesians 1:15-20)
Paul acknowledges the Ephesians love of Christ and His saints. This mention of the word saints is a reference to Christians as being “set apart” through their vocation of leading holy lives in the presence of God.
Although Paul had lived with the Ephesians, it seems that news of their continuing faith after his departure had reached him in his confinement in Rome. Greatly encouraged by these glad tidings, Paul wants to assure the Ephesians that he continues to hold them in his prayers.
Paul lists three desires in his prayers over the Ephesians. These desires can also be seen as a reflection of what God wishes for us to also experience:
- Paul prays for a spirit of wisdom and revelation of God which will lead to a deep and more intimate knowledge of him (Ephesians 1 1:17)
- Paul wishes that the Ephesians have a revelation of their vocational calling in Christ “with the eyes of your heart enlightened”. Additionally, he prays that they are aware of how blessed they are by being recipients of His divine inheritance (Ephesians 1:18).
- Paul desires that the omnipresent and immeasurable power of God is comprehensible to the people of Ephesus, which not only shows itself in us, but is available for us, as God mightily demonstrates to us in our lives (Ephesians 1:19).
Paul wants the Ephesians, and by extension – us, to know that we are so precious to God and that His power is great and available to those who believe in Him.
It is this same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead and has raised Him above any earthly and spiritual rule, authority, power, and dominion for now and all eternity. And this same power works in us as God’s believers.
Jesus Christ as the Head of the Church (Ephesians 1:21-23)
As a continuing expression of the magnificence of Christ’s power, Paul tells us that all things are under Jesus’ feet and that God has appointed Him as the universal and supreme Head of the Church (Psalm 8:6).
If Jesus is the head, then we as a community of Christians make up His body.
What does this mean?
God’s plan of reconciliation for all the nations was through the life and death of Christ. However, God requires followers to spread this message of love and unity.
Each part of a living organism has a function. The head is the cerebral center of the body, whereas the legs have their own function, as do the hands etc. And yet, together, all the individual parts work cohesively as one unit.
The same applies to us in our function as the Body of Christ. Jesus is the Head, the spiritual center, however, He requires us to be His voice to minister, His hands to pray, and His feet to go out and spread the gospel. Together, we unleash the full potential of Christ’s glory out into the world and fill the voids of this world wrought by brokenness and disunity.
This concludes the first part of our Jacob’s Ladder Bible Study series on Ephesians 1 – “Knowing who you are in Christ”.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
If so, feel free to join us next week Thursday, when l post the second part of the series.
Until then friends, be blessed!
https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary, “Ephesians 1 – God’s ulimate plan”
https://www.studylight.org, “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible
www.jcblog.net/ephesians/summary, “Summary of the Book of Ephesians”
https://www.gty.org/library, “What Does It Mean to Be Sealed With the Holy Spirit?“
https://www.ephesus.us/, “St. Paul in Ephesus”
https://www.gotquestions.org, “What does the Holy Spirit do?”
https://www.bibleref.com, “What does Ephesians 1:15 mean?”