The Marks of Mercy – Psalm 51

The superscription for this Psalm gives us the historical background: To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba” (Psalm 51:title, ESV). These events are recorded in 2 Samuel 11-12 when David lusted after & committed adultery with Bathsheba, covered up his sin by deceit & murder, and presumed he had committed the perfect crime with none the wiser. But God sent the prophet Nathan – “You are the man!” In contrition & repentance, David cried out to God in prayer which is recorded in this Psalm.  His spirit & heart is broken so he turns to the only One who can mend heart & soul. This Psalm shows how God is abundantly merciful on the penitent sinner. In the New Testament we read about God being “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2.4). But how rich is He in mercy? Make no mistake, the riches of His mercy are on display in the Old Testament just as they are in the New. God demonstrates the riches of His mercy in David’s life in Psalm 51.

Note: Observe that David addresses his prayer to Elohim and not Yahweh, Jehovah. It is as if he feels absolutely unworthy of voicing the proper name of God and simply prostrates himself before the Make

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

David immediately appeals to God for mercy, even before he mentions his sin. He begs/pleads for mercy as a brokenhearted sinner. This mercy comes from the “steadfast love” or “loving-kindness” of God. What a fitting word: loving-kindness. Wrapped up in it we see the certainly the love of God (that wonderful, matchless love) and the kindness/tenderness of God. And certainly it is steadfast.

By this mercy, God, “blot out my transgressions.” The first prayer is for mercy; this second is for the removal entirely of his offences from the book of God. Think India ink with a fountain pen – when you commit sin, the India ink bites into the pages of your life, mar it. Only the divine ink can blot it out, completely cover over that sin. This is according to the abundance of God’s mercy. Are you concerned about the abundance of your sins? Be advised that God has an abundance of mercy for the penitent sinner.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 

Not like a man washing his body but as a person would wash a fouled, dirty garment. The stains are not removable by human ability and work; only divine detergent, only the blood of the unblemished can wash thoroughly the offender. Wash me, the penitent sinner from my iniquity, that thing which pollutes me.

Hebrew parallelism is used to repeat the request: Cleanse me from my sin. Transgressions, iniquity, sin – in other words, cover every form of moral impurity, every offensive stain that is evil. And truly David’s sins are multiplied: adultery, fornication, lies, murder, self-deception.

3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

David, once self-deceived and refusing to acknowledge that he had done any wrong, fully acknowledges his wrongs. But truly he knew them for he committed them. They have been told him and he has been found out. I assume there is embarrassment, shame, guilt…as well there should be. Knowledge of sin will produce

But not only has David acknowledged his sins, but they are ever before him. On every face, over ever scene, in every place David looks he cannot escape his sin. It weighs on him and it is impossible to forget as long it oppresses the soul of man. Only God can remove this weight of guilt.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

While there are other parties David has offended (Bathsheba, Uriah, Israel), there is none that is higher than God. Every sin is against God! And every sin is an open offense before God and all of heaven. Nothing escapes his sight and he recognizes the evil of sin.

Hence, the perfect God is found true and right in his words and judgments. The iniquity was indisputably committed; it is unquestionably foul and wrong; and God’s condemnation of that sin is just and without blame.

5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Not that any baby is born with sin; sin must be committed and a baby can no more commit sin than it could perform arithmetic. Rather, David, in the throes of contrition over his sin, overstates the case in his confession to God. There is no good thing in his life at this point and David’s whole life is painted the hue of sin.

6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Mark 1 of mercy: Honesty with self over what you have done; truthfulness (6). The preceding 5 verses have been bringing us to this first mark. A person who receives divine mercy must first be honest about their state before a holy God. Honesty concerning your sin will enable you to recognize your sin and admit it plainly to God (that’s confession). And this recognition of sin will produce the contrition we see in this Psalm, the broken-heartedness over sin, the sorrow for his iniquity, and will lead to repentance.

David is saying he is an adulterer, he stole another man’s wife, he had that man killed, he lied about it, covered it up, he deceived people about it. What do we need to be honest about in our life? What’s your secret sin that your hiding from everyone else. You may fool the whole world, but the eyes of God are on you.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Mark 2 of mercy: Request for forgiveness (7-8). Hyssop is from the mint family of plants and was used for cleansing a person from defilement from touching a corpse or from leprosy. And surely David is defiled. So he asks to be purged (purified, removed) from his sin. Only with the complete removal of sin can David be clean/pure. Again the request to be washed (see v.2).

But if we are going to ask for forgiveness, be sure we also receive that forgiveness. God wants to hear the pleading of our hearts as we confess wrong. But don’t continue carrying around what God has forgiven. Have faith God has forgiven (and he has, 1 John 1.9) and move on to service (Heb 9.14). God can, will, and does forgive the penitent sinner.

Satan will whisper doubts in our ear; he’s been since the beginning. “Has God really forgiven you?” We need to confident and stand on the word of God – “Yes He has!” Don’t put a question mark where God has put a period.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

Request forgiveness and receive it. God wants to hear the pleading of our hearts as we confess wrong. But don’t continue carrying around what God has forgiven. Have faith God has forgiven (and he has, 1 John 1.9) and move on to service (Heb 9.14). God can, will, and does forgive the penitent sinner. Rejoice in His forgiveness!

9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

Mark 3 of mercy: Believe that God has forgotten as well as forgiven. And here is the difficulty for humans: that an omniscient God can forget sin. Nevertheless, Jeremiah 31.34b, Hebrews 8.12b. God can turn his face from our sins, blotting them out so as to never remember them. He no longer sees them. This harkens to the mercy seat (Exodus 25.17-22). The mercy seat was above the Ark of the Covenant and was the resting place of God. Every year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place and sprinkle blood on the mercy seat 7 times to make atonement for the people. The people drew near the mercy seat to receive mercy from the Lord.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Mark 4 of mercy: Allow God to work in you (v.10). See 2 Corinthians 5.17, God creates new motivation (heart) and desire (spirit). David is asking for restoration to the place he was before: a faithful and fruitful person. “Give me the fortitude to get on track and stay on track.”

11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Mark 5 of mercy: Believe in God’s presence (v.11). Does David have Saul in mind? Perhaps. But he has seen what it looks like to live without the presence of God and he does not want that. According to Ephesians 3.16-17, Christians have both the Spirit and Christ within them. Take heart that if you are forgiven, you are fit for His abiding presence.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Mark 6 of mercy: Restoration of joy (v.12). He’s back with a song in his heart and smile on his lips. Does not mean he has forgotten, but he has joy. Like Paul: he never forgot where he came from (chief of sinners) but he had joy (Philippians 4.4).

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

Mark 7 of mercy: Proclamation of salvation (v.13). Go tell someone about the God who saved you, what he has done. Was sin bad? Yes, but once on track, headed in the right direction, now we can benefit others.

In order to fully experience the mercy of God, it may be helpful to ask several pointed question to see if you are fully back.

Is the anger, hurt, & resentment still in force? Is the guilt, shame, & disappointment still overwhelming?

Are we in prayer as much as before or even more? It is not embarrassment but sweet conversation.

Can I thank God for the lessons learned & the character gained from this experience?

Can I talk about the hurt without recalling all the stuff that devastates? Can I do that without being hurt? Can I help others?

Do I accept full responsibility for my sins? Or am I still trying to blame someone or something else?

Do I still love myself or am I punishing myself?

Am I imposing some kind of consequence or penance for what I have done? By the way, that is legalism.

So long as anger, lack of prayer, blaming, self-imposed punishment remains, we hinder the full experience of God’s mercy.

We need to trust that Jesus has forgiven fully. God shows this kind of mercy to those who are merciful (see Matthew 5.8). That is the final question: it is not a question of what sort of life you are living; it is not a question of if you have interest in the kingdom of God. It is simply “are you showing mercy?” That is the test from the beatitude from Jesus. For if you do not show mercy, how can you expect God to show mercy to you? Since God has been so merciful to you, how could not show mercy to others? “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Luke 6.36). Receive His mercy.

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Growing in Your Walk with Christ, part 7

Ephesians 5.15-21 contains a verse much disputed in the church. Verse 19 is a passage used to prohibit the use of musical instruments in worship services. Intensive word studies, exhaustive exegetical articles, and not a few early church essays have been written on that single verse. Frankly, it is a tragedy that the rest of the context surrounding this verse tends to be ignored. It is rich with how to wisely navigate life in the Spirit.

A Wise Walk (5.15-21)

Living with Christ means seeking His wisdom & will.

15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,

Look carefully…walk: Then indicates that Paul is continuing his exhortation to these Christ to be what they are in Christ. They do that by walking carefully or “circumspectly” (NKJV). A careful walk is one which includes strict attention to detail & complete obedience to the standard.

To “walk…carefully” carries the idea of accuracy, precision, & diligence. It is a life lived in strict conformity to the Christian ethic. Half-hearted or lackadaisical discipleship is more in line with the unwise behavior of the world than it is with the heart & desire of God. A Christian’s walk is to careful not carefree.

Not as unwise but as wise: This is once more a contrast in cultures: the heathen culture is unwise whereas the Christian ethic is wise. Cf. Colossians 4.5

We teach our children to “Stop, look, and listen” when crossing the street. How much more is this true when living the Christian life? We must be intensely vigilant as we walk with Christ knowing that there are deadly consequences to evil actions. Armed with that knowledge, we can wisely navigate our lives.

One word of caution: There may be a threat toward legalistic rule keeping. This is not what Paul is advocating at all. He is saying, “Do not walk loosely, without fixed principles of actions; but make sure that you rules are of the true kind” (Pulpit Commentary 210). Many people are very strict & rigged but they are not wise in that rigidity. They have rules, very strict rules, but they are not good rules. So that is a key difference between what Paul is exhorting us to and legalism which Paul would never be in favor of.

16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

Making…the time: Lit. “Redeeming the time.” Several scholars see here an allusion to the marketplace: a merchant would buy up the good articles & products. So the Christian must seek the precious pearls of time and purchase those, i.e. use every opportunity for good.

And so we sing, “Your empty, wasted years/ He will restore;/ and you iniquities/ remember no more.” As Longfellow has said, “Life is real; life is earnest/ and the grave is not its goal./ ‘Dust thou art, to dust returnest,’/ was not spoken of the soul.” Life is urgent! We must consider how we spend our time, what little we have left. Paul seems to be saying, “embrace every opportunity to glorify God, save your own souls, and do good to men.” (Clarke) “How wise, then, to seek to make out of every passing moment eternal gain!” (PC 236) Why?…

Because the days are evil: there was trouble & temptation all around. These Christians lived in a very pagan world with much immorality.

The more things change, the more they stay the same – the days are still evil! In fact, as Paul says elsewhere, “evil people go from bad to worse” (2 Tim 3.13). Or as one country preacher once put it – “evil people go from worse to worser!” So in 2,000 years since Paul penned these words, our world has gone from bad to worse, worse to worser. Society progresses further into secularism. Evil is good and good is evil. Religious formalism where the letter of Law stifles the Spirit of the Law permeates much of Christendom. Philosophical skepticism which for the most part is anti-God, anti-Christian, and anti-supernatural has a choke hold on many people. So if ever there was a time when Christians need to make the best use of their time, it is now.

17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Therefore, do not be foolish: Therefore here has a summation quality of the foregoing context. Since you are to be imitators of God (1-2), children of holiness (3-7) & light (8-14), do not be “senseless” or “unthinking.” Again, this is old self & “outsider” behavior.

But…Lord is: But (Gk alla) is a strong, sharp contrast. Those “in Christ” make it their career to understand (pres. Imp.) the Lord’s will. This is more than just hearing and knowing. Involved in understanding is careful consideration and private pondering so as to take it to heart.

Here is the purpose-driven life – understanding God’s will and walking accordingly. Any other life is “foolish” & “unwise,” purposeless & aimless. But a life devoted to the pathway of God which He has marked out by His stated will revealed by His word has purpose, direction, and progress. We will spend the rest of lives seeking to “understand what the will of the Lord is.” The present tense indicates this is a lifelong pursuit, the ongoing practice of every wise saint.

18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

Do not get drunk with wine: Some pagan religious cults would become intoxicated during their worship (ex. Dionysus) in order to express spiritual elation (usually in erratic behavior). That kind of pagan revelry should not mark the Christian. In fact, we have a better way (i.e. the Spirit).

“Intoxication with wine has a degrading effect; intoxication with the Spirit (cf. Acts 2.13) can have an uplifting effect upon Christian community” (Patzia 264). We are to be filled with the Spirit not drunk on spirits. Getting drunk is not wise (Proverbs 20.1).

For that is debauchery: “Both the wastefulness and the lack of self-control implied by [debauchery] are things which should not be seen in the lives of those who have found in Christ the source and the way of wisdom” (Foulkes 158).

A word about drinking: Drunkenness is categorically condemned in Scripture (Deut 21.20; 1 Cor 5.11; Gal 5.21). Especially if you were a leader in the church it is condemned (1 Tim 3.3, 8; Titus 1.7; cf. 2.3). Granted, total abstinence is not mentioned except in the case of special vows (for example the Nazarite vow, Num 6.3). Hmm… but aren’t we people who have taken a special vow? Drinking is a habit which sends everything to wreck and ruin.

But be filled with the Spirit: In typical fashion, Paul replaces the negative with the positive. Be filled (present passive imperative) indicates 1) this should be the ongoing lifestyle of the Christ, 2) it is God (with the Holy Spirit) who fills the Christian, 3) every Christian must be filled with/by the Holy Spirit.

19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,

Addressing one another: One another indicates that this “speaking” (NASB) is an expression of our being filled with the Spirit. Though some are quick to apply this to the worship service (almost exclusively), “the meetings would seem to have been for social Christian enjoyment rather than for public worship of God” (PC 211). Context bears this out since the overall lifestyle of the Christian is what Paul has been discussing (5.1-18).

Psalms…spiritual songs: Some have found subtle distinctions between these words, however, Jimmy Jividen says, “There is no evidence in the New Testament or the writings of the early church that distinction is to be made between psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” (Worship in Song 11).

Singing…your heart: All worship (in the assembly or not) is always directed to the Lord. Jividen finds no distinction between singing and making melody, both referring to the melodic utterance of words. He does note that your heart is the only instrument for our singing (Worship in Song 11, 62).

While certainly applicable to the assembly of the saints every Lord’s Day, what is view here is any expression of worship in which saints engage in. Our whole lives are music of a specific kind to the Lord. Be it a small group study, and in-home Bible study, or just sitting around the campfire, we can address one another and worship our Lord in song from the heart. It is the heart not the harp which is the appropriate instrument for our worship.

20giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Giving thanks…Jesus Christ: Contextually, we do this by and in our singing. However, that is not the only avenue by which we give thanks to God. It is always (at all times) and for everything (all things) that we give thanks to God the Father, Who is Himself the source of all blessings. Our Lord Jesus Christ is our mediator to the Father.

“Spirit-filled Christians live in a continual attitude of gratitude for everything” (Patzia 264). At its core, sin is basically ingratitude. We need to affirm that all that we have is from God. When we truly give thanks, from that will flow ethics and right behavior. Further, thanksgiving has a transformative effect. It is nearly impossible for a person to be both spiteful (harboring resentment) and grateful, giving thanks unto God. When we realize we have been set free from our old self and have been infused with the life-giving Spirit, how could we not be thankful?

21submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Submitting…for Christ: The habitual practice of Christians is willing submission to each other. Mutual Christian submission is born out of  “fear” (Gk phobos, respect & awe) for Christ.

Here is still another key factor to living a Spirit-filled life. Pride in a Christian is an oxymoron. Pride is the heart leaves no room for the Spirit of God. Pride kills fellowship. Thinking of ourselves as better or too highly is destructive to true, authentic Christian fellowship. “In humility count others more significant than yourselves” and look “to the interests of other” (Phil 2.3-4). So humble mutual submission is the key to unlocking how to live as husband & wife (5.22-33), parenting effectively (6.1-4), and how to behave on the job (6.5-9).

Submission for all Christians is the divine calling upon our lives to honor & affirm Christ’s leadership and serve Him according to grace He has given to each one of us. The word “submit” was a military term used to describe the various soldiers under the command of their leader. It is interesting that Paul ends this epistle utilizing the military motif (6.10ff). Further, this word had a non-military usage for voluntarily giving in and cooperating to carry a burden. It is to voluntarily yield ourselves to Christ in love. This kind of mutual submission is illogical when disconnected from Christ. Only through the cross can we proper express submission. By uniting with Christ and dying to self we can submit as we ought to His lead.

Grow in the Will of God, part 1

Paul began this epistle with praise (1.3-14) and prayer to God (1.15-23) before discussing what God has done in the church (2.1-22). He will continue to pray for his readers (3.14-21). But first he explains 1) the mystery of God, 2) his role with the mystery, & 3) the church’s cosmic mission.

The Revelation of the Mystery (1-6)

Paul had the mystery revealed to him & he delivered it in this epistle, viz., the union of Jews & Gentiles into one body. The Father (ch.1), the Son (ch.2), & now the Holy Spirit (ch.3).

1For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—

For this reason: This phrase is in reference to the foregoing theological ideas just emphasized. As in 1.15, Paul starts a thought but is diverted (v.2-13) by mention, here, of the Gentiles.

I, Paul, a prisoner…you Gentiles: Not just “a prisoner” but literally “the prisoner,” as if there is no other. Paul is in Roman custody, yet he says in truth he is Christ’s prisoner. His imprisonment for (or possibly by) Christ is for the sake of the Gentiles; in fact, it was his preaching to the Gentiles which landed him in prison. He will refer to himself as a prisoner later also (4.1).

It is all in how you look at you circumstances. “One man will regard his prison as a penance; another man will regard it as a privilege. When we are undergoing hardship, unpopularity, material loss for the sake of Christian principles we can either regard ourselves as the victims of men, or as the champions of Christ. Our point of view will make all the difference” (Barclay 142).

2assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you,

Assuming that you have heard: Seems to indicate that the readers were unfamiliar with Paul personally, indicating that this was a circular letter among the churches in the Lycus River Valley. Several scholars do not see doubt, but certainty (i.e. “since…”); they heard from Paul himself.

The stewardship…for you: Stewardship (Gk oikonomian) was used in 1.10 for Christ. Paul had been entrusted with God’s grace which was a gift given to him (see v.7). He served to dispense that grace to the Gentiles through his role as apostle for you, that is, the “nations.”

In a similar fashion, we, brethren, have been entrusted with the grace of God. We have the gospel of grace. We must be faithful stewards of God’s grace by “dispensing” it to those around us (i.e. evangelism).

3how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.

How the mystery: The musterion is the eternal counsel of God kept hidden from man for generations until the times had reached their fulfillment (see p.5). Here especially in this context it is closely related to the gospel being for Gentiles as well as the Jews.

Was made known to me by revelation: The mystery was made known to Paul at some point in his past (aorist tense). Perhaps Paul is thinking of when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and Jesus revealed to him “I am sending you” to the Gentiles (Acts 26.17-18). Cf. Galatians 1.12. The nature of revelation is some truth is uncovered or disclosed by special communication.

As I have written briefly: see 1.9-10. He now expounds upon his brief comments earlier.

None of us had a bright light from heaven blinding us and disclosing some saving secret like Paul did, but we possess the saving secret of God. As the initiated and illuminated of God, we know the mystery of God and can make it known not merely to men but also to spiritual powers in the heavenly places (see verse 10).

4When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ,

When you read [this]: This is supplied in English for clarity but is lacking in the Greek. When you read what Paul has written briefly (v.3)…

You can…the mystery of Christ: The word musterion is found 21 times in Paul’s literature with 6 of those in Ephesians (1.9; 3.3, 4, 9; 5.32; 6.19). He will explain it fully in verse 6. So Paul is safe in writing that his readers can understand the mystery just as he understands it.

5which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.

Which we not…in other generations: The purpose of God has always been the same though man’s knowledge of His purpose has been limited. The revelation of that grand purpose has been gradual; while the mystery may have been revealed in part in the past, now through the apostles and prophets it has been made fully known.

There were glimpses of God’s grand scheme of redemption, but the full glory of His marvelous plan had yet to be made known fully.

As it has now been revealed: What was once concealed has now been revealed by God. Again, God’s purpose to include Gentiles was not unknown entirely in the Old Testament (cf. Gen 12.3; Isa 49.6); but the full measure of God’s toward the Gentiles was not fully known until now.

To His holy apostles and prophets: Like Paul, these New Testament messengers have been entrusted with the sacred secret of the Savior. That the apostles and prophets are holy speaks to the dedication of their lives to and by the will of God (see 1.1).

By the Spirit: The Spirit alone is able to search “even the depths of God” and only He “comprehends the thoughts of God.”  But the Spirit is also able to teach in words so that man might understand the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2.10-16).

Why don’t we have modern-day prophets? Barnes explains, “They were persons endowed in this manner [i.e. inspired of the Holy Spirit] for the purpose of imparting to the newly formed churches the doctrines of the Christian system. There is no evidence that this was designed to be a permanent order of people in the church. They were necessary for settling the church on a permanent basis, in the absence of a full written revelation, and when the apostles were away. When the volume of revelation was finished, and the doctrines of the gospel were fully understood, the functions of the office ceased.”

6This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

This mystery is: These words are provided for clarity. Paul states the substance of the mystery.

Gentiles are fellow heirs: with the Jews, that is. The emphasis here is upon receiving an unearned gift, especially the blessings God has for His people (1.3) and the same inheritance (1.11-14). Note the present tense—Gentile are the following. This is present reality.

Members of the same body:  This is a single word in the Greek (susoma) and is unique to Paul later church writers. Literally it is co-body. There is but “one body” (4.4) and both Jews & Gentiles are part of it.

Partakers…through the gospel: The promise most scholars point to is that made to Abraham (Genesis 12.3) and is confirmed in Galatians 3.7-14. “They do not get this blessing indirectly through the Jews, or by becoming Jews, but directly, as Gentiles” (PC 105).  Only in Christ Jesus can Jews and Gentiles partake of this blessing; only through the gospel are they invited and admitted.

It is still “through the gospel” that we gain access to the promise, body, and inheritance today. We must believe, accept, and obey “the gospel of your salvation” (1.13) to be incorporated into Christ Jesus. As Christians, we need to value the gospel. “If we do not value the gospel as revelation from God, it will not impact our lives.”[1] Think of the parable Jesus told about the pearl of great price (Mt 13.44-46). We have that which is of ultimate value; it was all Paul and all we have. “We must give attention to the gospel, be defined by the gospel, and solve our problems by applying the gospel.”[2] And the gospel is not merely about getting to heaven; it is about life here and now as well as over yonder. It captures our initial conversion and our daily walk as disciples. It touches on our forgiveness and how we ought to forgive others. It speaks to God’s unfathomable love for us and how we ought to love one another. With so many implications upon life right now, it is no wonder Paul calls it “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (v.8). And then we gather with the saints once or twice a week and think we’ve got it. No, we only start unwrapping the gift here; you take it home and finish the job the rest of the week.

[1] Snodgrass 169.

[2] Ibid 170.

Grow in the Wisdom of God

Following the opening doxology (3-14), Paul launches into a prayer for his readers (15ff).  Like the doxology, this text is theocentric and Trinitarian, i.e. it is all about the Godhead.

Know His Purpose (15-18)

Paul prays for Christians to realize to what God has called them.

15For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,

For this reason: The ground upon which Paul predicates his prayer (v.16) is the wealth of the spiritual blessings lavished upon these Christians by the Father (3-6), the Son (7-11), and the Holy Spirit (12-14). Based on what God has done through, for, and in Christ he lifts his heart in prayer.

Because I have heard…all the saints: cf. Colossians 1.4. The language seems to indicate that Paul had never met these saints (unlike the Ephesians with whom he lived for three years). Perhaps a larger audience than the Ephesians was the intended target. Nevertheless, Paul had heard of the fruit of the faith. Perhaps someone like Epaphras or Tychicus brought him a report of the progress of their faith and love toward all the saints.  Or their “love toward God’s people as an outgrowth of their faith in Christ” (Patzia 165). The triad of faith, hope, and love appear here (v.12, 15, 18).

16I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,

I do not cease…for you: Paul was constant in his praise and thanksgiving for these brethren. Paul was frequently and regularly giving thanks for these Christians “love with faith” (6.23).

Remembering you in my prayers: Imagine the apostle Paul praying for you! He regularly made petition (Gk proseuchon) for these Christians to God. Specifically…

17that 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,

That the God…Father of glory: Two theological principles are found here in Paul’s prayer for these Christians. First, he addresses the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His human nature God is God of Jesus (see v.3). To us Jesus Christ is Lord. Further, Jesus reveals God as Father (see John 14-17). Second, he describes God as the Father of glory. That is, He is the Author or Source of glory. Following the Incarnation, the Father glorifies the Son (John 17.5).

Concerning God…Father Lenski says: “Both terms of this double designation pertain to the blessings which Paul requests for the Ephesians. Since God is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, we may freely ask of him, as Paul does, all that God has provided for us in our Lord Jesus Christ; and since he is the Father of the glory, we may freely ask him to help us to see and to realize this glory of his as it manifests itself in our exalted Lord for our salvation.”[1]

[1] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians (Columbus, O.: Lutheran Book Concern, 1937). 392-93.

May give you a spirit of wisdom: Like “a spirit of holiness” (Rom 1.4) or “a spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6.1), this is a special manifestation of the Holy Spirit of wisdom. Apart from the Holy Spirit, there can be no distribution of wisdom and understanding. God…the Father will through the Holy Spirit give them spiritual wisdom…

And of revelation…of Him: some writers explain this as the capacity to apprehend the wisdom given by the Spirit (e.g. Blaikie 6). Most connect this verse with Colossians 1.9.  What is revealed is the [full] knowledge of Him (i.e. God). These Christians are to be marked by wisdom derived from God’s revelation of Himself.

Burton Coffman says, “There is still a need for Christians to pray that God will help them to understand the revelation of the sacred Scripture, because most of its marvelous teachings require more than a little application and serious study to be clearly understood.” We come to know God and are made wise unto salvation. We should pray that God continue to make known to us Himself by His word to us and through the Holy Spirit living in us.

18having 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,

Having the eyes…enlightened: This stand in contrast with being “darkened in their understanding” (4.18).  God does the enlightening (passive voice) and illumination occurred at the baptistery (perfect tense; cf. 1 Peter 2.9). We are the illuminated and God desires to illuminate all men (cf. 3.9, “making known”). “The eye is the instrument by which we see; and in like manner the understanding is that by which we perceive truth” (Barnes). Since this is the “heart” (sing.) of the body, we are talking about something spiritual, in the “inner being” (3.16). This enlightenment leads to knowledge of three (3) things…

That you may know…He has called you: Here is the first illuminated truth Paul desires for his readers to know: The Christian’s hope. These Christians possess the Holy Spirit as a guarantee(v.14) and are aware of God’s faithfulness. Thus, when He calls people to something, hope can be said to be “confident expectation.”  Paul wants these Christians to know the glorious enjoyment awaiting us in heaven.

What are the riches…in the saints: Here is the second illuminated truth: God’s rich inheritance. Paul prays that these Christians would have a deeper understanding of what it means to be God’s possession. As God’s heritage, walk in the wealth of His glory.

The church is a thinking community and should stand in stark contrast with our society which has largely stopped thinking. Failure to think breeds ignorance both in secular spheres and sacred. “The church should first of all be a community of thinkers – not thinking in distinction from action, but thinking as the basis for action. Ignorance is an ethical issue” (Snodgrass 88, emphasis original). We should have the reputation of people who think. Historically, this has been the case; presently, it should be. Further, we used to be known as “people of the Book.” We could give book, chapter, and verse for what we believe.  Are we still known by the moniker and if not why not?

Barnes says: The idea here is, that Paul not only wished their “hearts” to be right, but he wished their “understanding” to be right also. Religion has much to do in enlightening the mind. Indeed, its effect there is not less striking and decisive than it is on the heart. The understanding has been blinded by sin. The views which people entertain of themselves and of God are narrow and wrong. The understanding is enfeebled and perverted by the practice of sin. It is limited in its operations by the necessity of the case, and by the impossibility of fully comprehending the great truths which pertain to the divine administration. One of the first effects of true religion is on the understanding. It enlarges its views of truth; gives it more exalted conceptions of God; corrects its errors; raises it up toward the great Fountain of love. And nowhere is the effect of the true religion more apparent than in shedding light on the intellect of the world, and restoring the weak and perverted mind to a just view of the proportion of things, and to the true knowledge of God.

Know His Power (19-22)

Paul prays for Christians to know God’s unknowable power in Christ Who is head of all things.

19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might

What is the immeasurable…us who believe: Here is the third illuminated truth: God’s limitless and unknowable power. God is omnipotent, possessing all power (see Isa 45.7). It is by that power that He 1) secured the means of redemption, 2) safeguards the Christian’s future reward, & 3) secured His eternal inheritance. This power is available exclusively to the Christian community (“us who believe”), i.e. the Church.

According to…His great might: lit. according to the energy of the power of His strength. Paul uses four (4) words to express God’s power. The emphasis here is that nothing is impossible for God, specifically in conjunction with the resurrection and exaltation of Christ…

“LITTLE do men imagine what power is necessary to effect the salvation of their souls.”[1] Paul prays these Ephesian Christians would know that power; it might as well be our prayer today. Oh that we could come to know the unknowable power of God – to save, sanctify, and glorify us! Teach us, Father!

The power Christians have is not intrinsic power, something they have in themselves, but a power that comes from God. [2] The resurrection of Jesus as well as His consequent exaltation to the right hand of God are demonstrations of that fantastic power. God’s power is manifested in the various parts of a Christian’s life:

  1. In the Beginning – at conversion. Remember, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation
  2. In progress – our sanctification. See 1 Peter 1.5
  3. In Glorification – Phil 3.21

When we know the excessive greatness of this power, nothing will ever disturb our hope. Other men also hope; alas, their hopes are built on air, there is no power to fulfill their hopes, to bestow that for which they hope.[3]

[1] Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae Vol. 17: Galatians-Ephesians (London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1833). 283.

[2] Snodgrass 91.

[3] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians (Columbus, O.: Lutheran Book Concern, 1937). 397.

20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

That He worked…from the dead:  In the historical event of the resurrection of Christ God put His infinite might on display. The miraculous event included not merely the reanimation of the dead body, but the transforming of that body. That same power works in the Church.

Seated Him…the heavenly places: Paul continues by explaining that God’s “mighty strength” is on display not only in the resurrection of Christ, but in His exaltation to the right hand of God in the heavenly places. Cf. Psalm 110.1. “The right hand is the place of friendship, honor, confidence, and authority” (Clarke). Christ is exalted to a position of authority—from the tomb to the throne; from “a worm and not a man” to King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Psa 22.6; Rev 19.16).

21far 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.

Far above all…dominion: Jesus declared He has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt 28.18). The general sense of this phrase is that Jesus has been exalted to the highest conceivable authority. While there is debate about whether Paul has earthly or ethereal governments here, since Jesus’ ascension was into the heavenly realms and thereby into the spiritual realms, it seems best to understand these generally as spiritual forces (cf. 2.2; 3.10; 6.12). Specifically, rule is one order of spiritual beings, authority  is another,  power another, and dominion still another. While some scholars attempt to make a distinction between each of these classes, New Testament usage does not lend itself to noting significant distinctions between these forces and powers. What is heightened and deepened is the universal lordship of Christ.

Above every name that is named: Scholars believe this is directly connected to the Ephesian cult practices. “This particular phrase is loaded with significance for exorcism and magical incantation both in Judaism and the pagan world…Supernatural ‘powers’ were called upon by name through these means [amulets, charms, or gems] by one who desired access to their power and assistance” (Arnold 54). Paul is emphatic—no conceivable spiritual force is beyond the sovereign domain of Christ. After all, He created them (Col 1.16).

Not only…the one to come: Jesus’ Name is above all names in this world and the one to come.

Special Study – Ghosts, Ghouls, & Other Ethereal Beings

I’ve been asked by several people – young and old – about ghosts and demons. I once took a call where for an hour this man explained that he was having demons run around his house. Young people are usually asking about ghosts. I once spent the afternoon with a member’s sister who was a medium – she could contact the dead and had been used by local law enforcement to track down dead bodies.

My initial advice to everybody: stay away from that stuff. There really are spiritual forces of darkness and last time I checked we’re at war with them (Eph 6.10ff). So stay away from Ouija boards, witchcraft, spells, dark arts, etc. Indeed, Isaiah 8.19. They are consulting something, but it isn’t a dead loved one. When a person dies, their soul goes to the hadean realm, i.e. the unseen realm of disembodied spirits. But if you knock on the devil’s door long enough, do be surprised at who answers!

Here’s the point: if Jesus is greater than the whole horde of the spirit realm, why would we pursue the lesser thing? Further, if Jesus has triumphed over these spiritual forces and we are in Christ, then what have we too fear? Spiritists, mediums, witches, and the like cannot lay a finger on the redeemed of God because we have Him who has been seated “far above” all the spiritual forces of darkness.

22And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,

He put all things under His feet: cf. Psalm 110.1. Christ is the victor in His conquest of all spiritual forces. He is rule is sovereign over everything—visible and invisible, material and immaterial, animate and inanimate, hostile and friendly.

Gave Him…[to] the church: Note: this verse does not explicitly say Jesus is head of the church; it says Jesus is head over all things and He assumes this role as Head over everything for His Bride. Lenski calls this “a gift of grace to the church”  for it speaks of Christ being in control of everything for the benefit of His body.

23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Which is His body: lit. she is His body. Implied is that Christ is the head (see 5.23).

The fullness of Him who fills all in all: The church is the Filler’s fullness. He is the Onw who fills all things, everything. Yet, even as He fills everything in every way, Christ is filled (lit. complete) with His body. Physically, the head needs the body. In a similar fashion, the spiritual Head needs His body. As it was not good for Adam to be alone, so it is not good for the 2nd Adam not to have His body & bride—the Church.

“Christ is the head; the Church is the body. A head by itself is no use; a mind, a brain by itself is of no use. The head must have a body which it can direct; the brain, the mind must have a body through which it can work. The church is quite literally hands to do Christ’s work, feet to run upon His errands, a voice to speak His words.” (Barclay 108).

There is sense in which the Savior is incomplete without somebody saved, the Redeemer is lacking without someone in distress to rescue. It was Augustine who said, ““Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”” But perhaps it can also be said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and your heart is restless until we find rest in Thee.” If we properly understand this verse, it is both humbling and dignifying – humbling that we complete the Filler’s fullness and dignifying as presenting us with the purpose of our existence.

Grow in the Wealth of Christ

Composed of one long run-on sentence in the Greek, Ephesians 1.3-14 presents the gospel of grace in which each person of the Godhead plays a vital role: the Father (3-6), Son (7-12), & the Holy Spirit (13-14).

Rich in Blessings (3)

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

Blessed be the God…Lord Jesus Christ: cf. 2 Cor 1.3. The Father, being the 1st person of the Godhead, is God of the man Jesus Christ (see John 20.17, “my God”) and Father of God the Son. As the fountain-head from whom springs forth the grand purposes of redemption and salvation God is worthy of praise (see Psalm 103.1-5, 20-22). In the NT, the word “blessed” is used only of God; He alone is worthy to be blessed. People are blessed when they receive His blessings.

Who has blessed us in Christ: The Blessed One blesses “us.” “Us” are Christians, i.e. those “in Christ” (cf. 1.1). Indeed, only “in Christ” is there any spiritual blessings. This is an aorist participle, which may refer to a particular occasion in the past when those blessings were first received, i.e baptism. When we entered the Family of God by the new birth, the Father lavished rich blessings. No less than 10 times does Paul use the phrase “in Christ” or “in Him” in this opening doxology. As Lenski says, “Christ is the golden string on which all the pearls of this doxology are strung.”

With every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places:  the dominate theme of the epistle is introduced right away. Both Paul & his readers, being in Christ, have access to all spiritual blessings. They are “spiritual” as opposed to material. Several blessings will be named by Paul in the following verses: from the Father—election (4), predestination (5), grace (6); from the Son—redemption (7), wisdom (8), knowledge (9), inheritance (11); from the Holy Spirit—seal (13), guarantee (14). “Every blessing” is all that the Father can bestow, all that the Son can provide and all that the Spirit can apply. Thus, the resources of all three of the Godhead conspire to bless the church.

Rich in Love (4-5)

4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love

Even as He chose us in Him: very theologically loaded word in the Greek. It simply means, God “selected, chose, picked some out.” Hence, Christians are “the chosen-out ones.” We are chosen out of the world. Paul sheds more light on this in 2 Thess 2.13: we were chosen to be saved “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” This election takes place the same time as the calling, for Paul continues in 2 Thess 2.14: “God called you to this (The selection) through our gospel.” However, in the mind of God, this moment of selection takes place in eternity with God simultaneously in time with us. Since God lives in the present tense, there is no time difference to Him: the moment I chose Him is the same moment He chose me.

Before the foundation of the world: The foundation is the kataboles, the “laying or throwing down,” the beginning. So before God “threw down” the universe, he had chosen us inasmuch as God is outside of time. This selection took place before the foundation of the world (i.e., not after creation or the fall of man). Even before the foundation of the kosmos, mankind presented himself to God as lost; the work of redemption was planned and its details arranged from all eternity.

That we…before Him: This selection does two things for us, one stated positively the other negatively: we are “holified” is the first thing. Literally, we are chosen in Him, that is Christ, that we be holy, set apart. No longer set apart for the works of darkness, we are now set apart for the work of God (Eph 2.10). Further, we are without blemish, or blameless. We are free from faults, just as the sacrificial animals of the OT were free from spot or blemish.

Special Study—Predestination

Predestination has more to do with the thing to which we are predestined to than the person(s) being predestined to something. Hence, we are predestined for/to a thing (adoption in v.5 or an inheritance in v.11) once we have been added to the body of Christ. It can also be said that God has predestined all men to be adopted as sons by providing sinful man with the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, predestination to “divine sonship” can be and is rejected by many. Thus, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, they reject God’s purpose for their life (Luke 7.30). In Ephesians, Paul is showing us the “manifold wisdom of God” by demonstrating that God predestined the marvelous “mystery,” that is the salvation of Jew and Gentile into one body .

5he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

In love He predestined us for adoption as sons: In love is to be taken with verse 5, i.e. God’s love for mankind. Out of His infinite love, He predestined us for (or unto) adoption. See “Special Study” for predestination, but see also Acts 4.28; 1 Corinthians 2.7; Romans 2.28. Suffice it to say, in eternity past God “marked out beforehand” His eternal plan to save man. It would be through Jesus Christ (and Him only) that we would be adopted as sons. This is an idea which is found elsewhere in Paul’s writings (cf. Romans 8.15, 23; Galatians 4.5) and denotes relationship and standing, highlighting privileges and responsibilities which accompany a change in household (se 1 Timothy 3.15). God loved us and adopted us as sons. Our obedience is the loving obedience of sons.

There is a weighty discussion to be had about predestination: does God predestine people for a certain destiny or did He predestine a person and a plan? In the movie A Knight’s Tale, Heath Ledger’s character as boy is confronted with a hard decision. He lives with his father, a poor beggar, when one day a knight offers to take young William to be his apprentice. Naturally, little William wants to stay with his dad. His father explains to him, “As long as you stay with me you will always be a poor beggar. Change your stars, William.” By going with the knight, he will change his stars, change his destiny.

We are poor (spiritual) beggars. All have sinned. No good thing lies within me. We all deserve hell because of sin. So with us the knight has come with an offer to change our destinies. Our Father bids us to go with Him and change our stars. He has predestined the man (Jesus Christ) and the plan (redemption) to change our destiny (heaven).

Through Jesus Christ: and only through Him according to the foreordained plan of God.

According to the purpose of His will: “The spring or motive to the selection is solely in God, not in man” (Pulpit Commentary 3). It pleased God to act to save man (hence, “good pleasure,” NKJV, NIV).

Rich in Grace (6-7)

Through the blessing of His glorious grace God has redeemed us by the blood of Jesus.

6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

To the praise of His glorious grace: The ultimate aim of election, predestination, adoption, etc. is the glory of God as revealed in His grace (unmerited favor). As Israel under the Old Covenant was a living, breathing declaration of God’s praise (see Isaiah 43.21; Jeremiah 33.9), so the New Testament Church is a living, breathing manifestation of God’s glory and grace.

With which…in the Beloved: He has blessed is a form of the word from which we get “grace” (Gk echaritosen). Hence, the NIV “freely given.” God has graced us with grace in the Beloved (perf. Participle). This is a phrase which denotes the love the Father has for the Son from eternity. It reaches into the past and extends into today and forever. When God demonstrates His grace to us in Jesus, the beloved Son, He is putting His glory on display in us.

7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

In Him…through His blood: Behind the word redemption is the concept of slavery or bondage. In Christ (“Him”), and only in Christ, do we have (present tense) redemption for only His blood can rescue us by ransom or buy us back from slavery to sin. Christ’s cross takes care of our unpayable debt a frees us from slavery to sin, Satan, and death (cf. Romans 6.17-19). His blood, shed on the cross, purchased His church (Acts 20.28).

The forgiveness of our trespasses: Trespasses are those false steps and failures we make in relation to God’s law.  All of these serious offenses are forgiven, that is, removed and taken away (Psalm 103.12). They are sent away, never to return or be remembered.

According to the riches of His grace: How is redemption from and forgiveness of all sin possible? Because God is rich is grace beyond human ability to comprehend!  We neither deserved nor earned it, but God sent the Savior and accomplished His marvelous plan to save man and teach us to live by grace (see Titus 2.11-12).

Rich in Wisdom (8-10)

8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight

Which He lavished upon us: or “which He made to abound toward us” (NKJV). Lavished denotes “the overflow as of a fountain from a deep and abundant source” (Foulkes 59). Out of the deep spring of God’s heart comes His grace to us.

In all wisdom and insight: There is little distinction between the two words (though some commentators see some distinction). Taken together they communicate not only the genius of God in devising the grand plan to redeem man, but also the execution of the scheme of redemption in history. As one commentator notes, “The height of wisdom is shown in God’s way of making his grace abound toward us” (Pulpit Commentary 4). Even from the darkness which is man’s earliest insights into God he knew that wisdom and understanding belonged to God (Job 12.13). Much more in the sunshine of the New Testament enlightened men know that “in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2.3). It is out of the depths of His wisdom and insight that  He dispenses His grace upon His saints.

9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ

Making known…His will: cf. Colossians 1.26. The will of God which was kept secret for ages past has now been fully disclosed, revealed in the coming of Christ and the proclamation of the gospel (see 6.19). This goes hand-in-glove with God’s lavishing us with His grace (v.8). In the Old Testament, a mystery was something which was revealed by God (see Daniel 2.19). Extra-biblical writers believed mysteries prepared in heaven would be made known at the end of time. Perhaps Paul leans upon this rich Semitic history. Probably he has the mystery cults in mind when he snatches this term from them since they were so prevalent in Ephesus.

According to His purpose: or “good pleasure” (NIV). The whole reason for human history and the grand plan to redeem man is summed up here. It pleased God to save man in Christ. He is the driving impetus and force behind all things.

Which He set forth in Christ: set forth is aorist tense (snapshot in the past). When did God formulate His course of action? In eternity “before the foundation of the world.” Then He made it known in history (time). “God’s mystery would be made known on his own terms, as he in Christ had purposed and determined” (Lipscomb 23). Again, the prime mover is God.

10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

As a plan for the fullness of time: plan or “dispensation” (KJV, NKJV) is the word from which we get “economy” (Gk oikonomian).  It has overtones of stewardship. So Christ is the steward though whom is working out His plan to save man. Time is plural (so “times”) indicating “a series of epochs” (Robertson). The reason for the seemingly long delay for the revealing of the mystery is that God’s investment in Christ was not mature for withdrawal. It was not the right season so the fruit was not ripe for harvesting.

To unite…on earth: To unite or “the summing up of all things” (NASB) was used in rhetoric at the end of a speech to sum up everything into a single principle. Coupled with plan in the preceeding phrase, another term used in rhetoric to indicate “the disposition of the parts of a speech” (Nichol 259), we might understand history as God speaking at different seasons for various purposes relative to His Christological purposes until the coming of Christ in which He sums up His speech in a single Principle or Person—Jesus Christ (cf. Hebrews 1.1-2). The summation and unification of all things under the headship of Christ is God’s ultimate plan for history (see also 1.22).

Special Study—Mystery

Ancient mystery religions had secrets which were exclusive to the initiated and were not to be communicated by cult members to ordinary mortals. In Scripture (especially the NT), the musterion is the eternal counsel of God kept hidden from man for generations until the times had reached their fulfillment. With the establishment of the church came the proclamation of the gospel message to all men worldwide (Matt 28.19; Mark 16.15). Jew and Gentile both gained access to God through the forgiveness of sins in Jesus name and united in one body, the Church. This is the “mystery” which Paul speaks of in Ephesians (see 3.6). It was not known for generations, but is now revealed for all to see and hear. It was God’s purpose from before the foundations of the world, carried along in human history through the seed line and finally made known in and by the first century church.

Rich in Inheritance (11-14)

Those sealed with the Holy Spirit are guaranteed an inheritance in accordance with God’s will.

11In 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,

In Him…an inheritance: “in Him” means “in Christ.” When elected by God, adopted into the Family, forgiven our sins, and redeemed by His blood, we obtained (aorist, passive) an inheritance in Christ. God gives the inheritance to those who are in the Son. Further, we became His inheritance, Like Israel in the Old Testament (cf. Deut 4.20; 32.9).  “All that God was to Israel of old he will be to his Church now” (Blaikie 4). Christ is the reason we are the inheritance of God.

There are two (2) popular views among scholars concerning how to understand the “inheritance.”

  • We were made partakers of the inheritance.
  • We were made an inheritance.

Both fit the context however most scholars lean toward the latter though most translations render the original as the former. Both concepts are Biblical, even in this same chapter (see v.18). The double or mutual inheritance (We inherit God & He inherits us) is found in the Old Testament in the relationship of Israel and YHWH – see Jeremiah 10.16; 51.19

Having been…the purpose of Him: God’s purpose from eternity was that all who would be “in Christ” would become His inheritance and gain an inheritance. This was determined in eternity.

One idea connected with “inheritance” is that of having a portion assigned by lot (casting). In back of the word is it usage of the distribution of the land of Israel by casting of lot (Josh 18.6). So the Christians in view are being described as appointed to their position as if by lot. However, the chance element of casting lots is taken out when we consider Proverbs 16.33 – every decision of the lot is from the Lord. When I think of that, I think of the scene in Star Wars Episode 1, when Qui-Gon Jinn is bargaining for the boy, Anakin Skywalker, from his owner, Watto. To decide if Qui-God will get the boy or his mother, Watto rolls a colored die. Using the Force, Qui-Gon makes sure he gets the boy by causing the die to roll to the appropriate color. So with God, our election to our inheritance is by “the purpose…[and] counsel of His will.”

Who works…the counsel of His will: God “energizes” everything (Gk root energeo) to accomplish His purposes. God planned a work in eternity(v.9) and then worked His plan in time. Everything went according to plan and that plan continues to unfold in history.

Nothing is left to chance as God “energizes” everything to accomplish His will in history. “The God of the chosen is the God of the universe; the purpose which is the ground of our being made God’s heritage is the purpose that embraces the whole plan of the world” (Nichol 264). He was at work in everything, either front and center or behind the scenes, overriding and conspiring to bring about the fulfillment of His grand scheme of redemption.

12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

So that we…to the praise of His glory: most commentators see Paul making a distinction in verse 12-13 between Jews and Gentiles (which he will do in extended form later in the epistle, ch.2). We refers to the Jews (Pual includes himself) and they were the people to whom the gospel was proclaimed first (cf. Romans 1.16). Since the gospel was first proclaimed to them, they would naturally have been the first to hope in Christ by their obedience to the gospel (cf. Acts 26.6-7). They had the promise of Messiah and when Christ appeared and they believed on Him, they became the praise of His glory. This is the purpose of their allotment (v.11), to show forth the nature, character, and glory of God. From Abraham and throughout their history, they declare God’s praise.

13In 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,

In Him you also: Here is the pronoun shift. You are the Gentiles who also had the gospel preached to them and believed after the Jews (see Acts 13.46-48; Romans 1.16).

When you heard…your salvation: cf. Romans 10.14, 17. The word (Gk logos) of truth is the message of God’s ultimate reality in the Son. This is synonymous with the gospel of your salvation, that is the good news of salvation not only for the Jews but for everyone (universal).

And believed in Him: These Gentiles heard the word leading to faith in Christ which manifests in obedience to Him. Faith is always accompanied by action in the Bible (see Hebrews 11). Hearing and believing belong together and lead to the sealing.

Were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit: The coming of the Holy Spirit was promised in prophecy in the Old Testament (Isaiah 32.15; Ezekiel 36.27; et al) and the New Testament (John 7.37-38; 14.16-17).These Christians “heard the Word,” “believed” in Christ, and “were sealed.” This is the normative experience of every Christian. The sealing takes place at baptism (aorist tense). When a person hears and obeys the gospel, God gives him/her some of Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. This shows us He will give us our inheritance (v.14) – what a deal! “[The Holy Spirit] is the guarantee that some day we will enter into the full possession of the bliss and the blessedness of God” (Barclay 101).

In the ancient world, a “seal” was used when mailing things: the owner pressed his signet ring into melted wax to seal letter. The intention was to prevent tampering during transport – if the letter got to its destination with a broken seal, the recipient would know the letter had been tampered with. In NT times, certain religious cults would have their new initiates tattooed with the cult emblem indicating that they were sealed into that cult. Of course, the Jews had circumcision which was a seal of their covenant with God (cf. Romans 4.11).

The Holy Spirit is the Christian’s seal. By the Spirit we are kept “intact” until finally delivered into our heavenly abode. Unlike the mystery cults whose seal was physical, ours is a spiritual seal “in our hearts” (2 Corinthians 1.22). Our experience of the Holy Spirit along with the demonstration of His presence in our lives to others verify and prove that we belong to God and He will deliver on His promise to us.

Inward Effects of the Spirit

  1. Contentment with Christ as Savior
  2. Drawing out of our hearts love, joy, etc.
  3. Conforming our will to God’s Will

Outward Effects of the Spirit

  1. Contrasted change from former life
  2. Demonstration of fruit of the Spirit
  3. Active interest in the Lord’s work

14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Who is the guarantee of our inheritance: Notice the switch back to the 1st person plural pronoun indicative that Paul, Jewish Christians, and Gentile Christians are all in view here. All who hear the gospel, put their faith in Christ, and through obedience have God the Holy Spirit living in them have the promise of a home with God. Guarantee was a commercial term used of money which would act as a down payment or “deposit” (NIV). “It always implies an act which engages to something bigger” (TDNT). So the Holy Spirit is for Christians 1) a foretaste of glory divine & 2) the promise of the full future bliss of salvation. God is faithful and will complete the transaction. Our inheritance is typically equated with heaven. So renewal and regeneration of the soul is the beginning of heaven. We have some of it now, but there is a whole lot more to come. The presence of the Holy Spirit is but the firstfruits of what is to come. More is in store for Christians.

In modern Greek, the word arrabon is used for engagement rings. For the Christian, 1) Assurance of future salvation: God is faithful. Look back and look forward. “I am baptized” – Martin Luther. 2) Nothing minor: we tend to think of a down payment as a small thing. But this is very significant – God lives in us! Note the power: 1.19; 3.16

Until we acquire possession of it: Literally “unto the redemption of the possession.” While Christ has redeemed by His blood (1.7). There is a  “day of redemption” (4.30) yet future when is realized the full “redemption of the body” and soul (Romans 8.23). Again, God will complete the transaction when He comes in glory. He is the Great Redeemer who will accomplish the redemption of His possession in full someday. In the meantime, the Holy Spirit is our guarantee, our anticipatory sample whetting our appetite for more.

John Gill says the “day of redemption” “will be a redemption of them from the weakness, corruption, and mortality of the body; from their present state of absence and pilgrimage; from the body of sin and death; from all sorrows and afflictions, both inward and outward; from the reproaches and persecutions of men; from a tempting devil, and an unbelieving heart; from all doubts and fears; and from death and the grave.”

To the praise of His glory: One day we will enjoy the riches of our inheritance while the Father enjoys His inheritance in the saints (i.e. His possession). Until that time “we ourselves…groan inwardly” waiting for that day of redemption. Our very existence is to be for God’s glory (cf. John 17.4). When that day comes, “the consummation of redemption will be the highest tribute to God’s glory—his infinite excellence will be wonderfully manifested thereby” (Blaikie 6).  “Giving thanks to the Father, Who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints” (Colossians 1.12).

Fellowship with God is Rooted in the Rejection of Error

John has made known the present reality of these Christians: they are begotten of God (3.1-3). They need to understand that position, then live accordingly (3.4-10), i.e. practice righteousness and true love for one another (3.11-24). He now warms them of the the clear and present danger of false teachers (4.1-6).

1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 

Beloved—aged John’s term of address which also points to endearment. Also v.7, 11

Do not believe every spirit—This is a present imperative. “Stop believing every spirit” because every spirit is not “from God.” It would seem that some of the members of the body were following after the Gnostic teachers/spirits. Spirit: “not so much the personal teacher as the principle or tendency of the doctrine” (PC). “Every teacher claiming inspiration of the Holy Spirit” (JFB).

But test the spirits…– Also a present imperative. All believers (individually and collectively) were/are to “test the spirits.” Test: Originally to test metals and their worth, this means to test, scrutinize , prove the genuineness of a thing, in this case the message brought by the spirit. They did this either by miraculous means (see 1 Cor 12.10) or by comparing it to the apostolic revelation (Jesus has come in the flesh, v.2). In context, the latter seems best.

From God—what’s the origin? If these spirits have their origin in God, they will “speak the same word” as God about Christ (v.2). If not, they are the words of a “false prophet.”

Many false prophets have gone out—even Jesus predicted these were coming (Matt 24.24). John says they were already come and are still present in the world. Perhaps these have even come as if they are from God; John makes it clear they are not.

“Nowhere else in the NT is there so strong an emphasis as here on trust in the πνεῦμα who works in the community, who needs no official authorisation (sic), who bears witness, not by bringing new and unheard of revelations, but by bringing the old message.“ – TDNT, V.6, p.449

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 

By this you know the Spirit of God—John will give the test by which one can identify the Spirit of God. The Gnostic teachers claim to have this Spirit and even call themselves “spirit-people” or “soul people.”

Jesus Christ has come in the flesh—what doctrine would have denied this core fact of the gospel message? Gnosticism certainly, but specifically the docetic flavor which Jesus only seemed to have a body of flesh. The Spirit of God would not deny this core fact. Where would this idea that Jesus did not have a body of flesh come from? Platonic philosophy which said that matter is evil and therefore a bodily incarnation is impossible. Augustine (theologian 4th cent.) said he find parallels between Platonic philosophy and the NT in everything except “The Word became flesh.”

Has come—or “is come”; lit. having come, perfect tense participle. Past completed action with present continuing results. The effects—benefits and blessings—continue.

From God—this message/word concerning Jesus’ humanity originates in the mind of God. The personification of the mind of God (Gk. Pnuema), the Spirit, reveals it. Indeed, only in the mind of God could something so fantastic originate that God could be with us, dwell among us, put on flesh and die for us. This message is too fantastic, incredible to have its origin in the mind of man

and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 

Every spirit that does not confess Jesus—”confess” is Gk. Homologeo, (1.9) which is lit. “same word” or “speak the same word.” In this case, a spirit that does not speak the same word as God about Jesus (humanity, divinity, Messiah-ship, etc.) does not have its origin in God.

This is the spirit of the antichrist—”spirit” is supplied in nearly every translation (Darby: power). Lit. “This is that of the antichrist.”

You heard was coming—perf. Tense verb, you heard (past) and continue to hear (present) or you heard (past) and therefore know (present). Either way, they were warned of antichrists coming.

Now is in the world already—not a future prospect but an existing condition. Not a mysterious political figure rising out of the revived Roman Empire, i.e. the European Union who (even now) is yet to be revealed. John says they’re here, now (1st cent.) and they are messing up the faith of people with their heretical doctrine. The stuff these antichrists are saying does not have its origin in God.

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 

Little children—again, a favorite expression of John regarding his readers.

You are from God—”you” is emphatic and stands in opposition to “them” who are the Gnostic teachers/antichrists who propagate a message not from God. It is also plural pointing to this being a body thing. The Christian community is “from God.”

Have overcome them—perf. Tense, overcame (past) and continue to overcome (present). One writer says, “past completed victory…present state of being a conqueror.” How? Various ideas: 1) as a body, they have driven the errorists out and keep them out; 2) by their refusal to listen to the heretics heresy; 3) repudiation of the heretics doctrine. See also 2.13b, 14b where the young men overcame the evil one.

He who is in you—God the Holy Spirit. These believers have the Spirit (3.24) and He is in them, taken up his residence, fellowship language. Note that “you” is plural; this is a body thing. The Spirit is in their midst. Not only that, He is greater than that spirit that is in the world.

Is greater than he who is in the world—Spirit of antichrist, Satan. Though the Devil has some power, compared to the power of God…there is no comparison.

They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 

They are from the world—those Gnostic teachers who are promoting doctrine that is antichristian in nature. The Gnostic community is from the world, from that system that is under the subjection to the Devil (evil one, 5.19).

Therefore they speak from the world—they get their inspiration from the world; the character of what they speak corresponds to its origin. It is worldly.

The world listens to them—Hence, the world readily hears them. Contrast with Jn 15.19

We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

We are from God—apostles. The teachers of truth (inspired by the Spirit of truth) as opposed to the teachers of error (inspired by the spirit of error).

Whoever knows God listens to us—What does it mean to know God? John has already discussed this concept (2.3) and clearly defined that a person who keeps the commandments of God is one who knows God (and knows he knows). In other words, a person who listens to (keeps on listening to) the voice of God, His Word. So a person who listens to God, obeys His Word, will naturally listen to “us” (the apostolic college).

Whoever is not from God… – an example of this would be Diotrephes (3 John 9). He refused to heed apostolic address. But it begins with a refusal to hear and heed God’s revelation.

By this—lit. from this. Based on the foregoing.

We know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error—”The test of a prophet of God is not only that he recognizes that the Christ has appeared in the person of Jesus of Nazareth but that his teaching agrees in the essentials of faith and practice accepted by Christians from the beginning” (Sweet Commentary, 18:110). John says we can identify truth and error. If its truth then it lines up with God’s revelation in Christ and God’s revelation in apostolic doctrine. If it is error, it will not match God’s revelation by the Spirit.

Appearances, pt.2

It seems many Christians fail to grasp the great importance of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus – we need the appearances of Jesus. Without them, we may have an empty tomb, but the question would linger: where’s the body? Where’s Jesus? The appearances of Jesus after the resurrection answer that question firmly: He’s alive! Christians do not serve a dead guru or wise man; Christians serve a risen Savior who reigns from heaven. His tomb was found empty and He was seen by multiple eyewitnesses who were so deeply affected by seeing Jesus dead and then alive again that they were never the same. InLuke 24.36-49, we find yet another account of an appearance of the risen Jesus. It is still resurrection (Easter) Sunday, perhaps even slipping into Monday (by the Jewish reckoning of time). On this occasion, you find the Eleven with some other unnamed disciples listening to the testimony brought by the two who travelled with Jesus on the road to Emmaus without realizing who it was that spoke with them.

The Uncanny Evidence from the Savior

To demonstrate that He is indeed raised from the dead and, therefore, Lord and Savior, Jesus presents the disciples with three proofs as evidence.

The first proof is that Jesus miraculously shows up. John gives a parallel account of this occasion and describes the setting as one behind locked doors (John 20.19). The disciples from Emmaus and the Eleven are talking amongst themselves about “these things” which have happened during the course of the day, namely, all of the appearances of Jesus: to Mary Magdalene, Peter, the women, the two on the road to Emmaus. Lo, and behold, as they are talking about all these appearances, “Jesus himself stood among them” (v.36). Out of nowhere, Jesus miraculously materializes with a message: “Peace to you!” I suppsose the disciples reaction is the same as anyone of us would have: shock, disbelief, terror and fear, and they think they’re seeing a ghost (lit. spirit).

The question Jesus asks is interesting. In essence, Jesus asks, “What’s the big deal?” First, why are you excited and sitrred up? Also, why are you doubting? So to address these questions and concerns, Jesus presents still another proof: The nail scarred hands. The Greek is emphatic: “It is me, I myself.” And the proof is He bears the marks of crucifixion. He offers for them to touch them. In eight days, Thomas will do the same thing. He wants them to be absolutely that He is there in the flesh. Perhaps Luke includes these words to combat the seeds of Docetic gnosticism which would evolve into the heretical teaching that Jesus was an immaterial being who only seemed to have a body of flesh. There can be no doubt – Jesus’ resurrection was physical and bodily. He had a body of flesh.

His disciples are still a state of “believing disbelief.” But this fed not by doubt but by joy and astonishment. It’s still hard to believe and so Jesus provides on more proof: Jesus eats supper. It doesn’t get much more bodily or human than eating. “Have you anything to eat?” They have some “broiled fish,” where they obtained this fish is uncertain, but it seems to have been leftovers from their dinner. Some manuscripts add, “and some honeycomb.” Indeed, Canaan was the “land flowing with milk and honey.” Whether just fish or fish and honey, eat would completely remove any notion among His disciples that a “ghost” or phantom or spirit was before them. It really was the bodily resurrected Jesus!

Certainly questions arise about this resurrection body. Of what nature and sort is it. It must be noted that we know very little about it. Further, I would note that the resurrection body Jesus possessed during the final forty days He was here on earth is not the glorious body He now possesses as He sits at the right hand of God. To borrow the language of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, we shall be “changed.” Inasmuch as Jesus had not yet ascended to the Father, He had yet to put on the glory He possessed before the creation of the world (cf. John 17.5). This world cannot contain that kind of glory. But once back in the high halls of heaven, having assumed His position at the right hand of the Father, He “changed” from the resurrection body He had during the forty days for the glorified body He now possesses.

The Understandable Expositon of the Scriptures

 Having supplied convincing proofs that He is really raised, Jesus turns His attention to the disciples ignorance of the Scriptures. Jesus explains that He had told them that these things would happen, and indeed He had on multiple occasions predicted His suffering and resurrection. But ultimately, His suffering, His three days in the tomb, and His subsequent resurrection from the dead were all to take place so that the Scriptures (Law, Prophets, and Psalms) might be fulfilled. God had spoken and men had recorded in Scripture these prophecies of Messiah. Jesus says He is the fulfillment of those prophecies.

In verse 45, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Most want to jump to the conclusion that the way Christ did this was through the Holy Spirit. In fact, Matthew Poole writes, that Jesus “knew the Scriptures would not sufficiently give them a knowledge of him, and the things of God, without the influence and illumination of his Spirit.” It is curious, though, that in verse 49, Jesus promises the Spirit (promise and power from God) was yet to come. Either Jesus opened their mind for a purpose or He did it with a result. That is, He opened their collective mind in order to understand Scripture or He opened their mind so that they could understand the Scriptures. This is the same kind of language used by Luke about Lydia (Acts 16.14): “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” A veil is dropped and their hearts are ready and open to “understand the Scriptures.” Previously, Jesus has asked His disciples, “Are you also still without understand?” (Matt 15.16; Mark 7.18) They were darkened, as it were, in their understanding. Now, in light of the death, burial, and resurrection, their minds are ready for Christ to instruct them in the Scriptures. The same kind of language is used by Luke in Acts with Paul’s teaching and preaching ministry also (Acts 17.2-3; 26.17-18).

Their minds now open, He opens up the Word of God to them. “Thus it is written…” and Jesus highlights three prophetic points: 1) the suffering of Christ, 2) the resurrection of Christ, and 3) the preching of Christ. Jesus the Christ suffered mentally, emotionally, physically, psychologically, and spiritually for every man so that sin might be atoned for and forgiveness and redemption made available to those who might seek Him. Three days later, Jesus the Christ was resurrected from the dead by the power of God. And now, fulfilling the prophetic mandate, Jesus would commission and send forth His disciples to preach “repentance and forgiveness of sins…to all nations.” Luke closes a circle he began with near the beginning of his gospel narrative and has addressed throughout, namely, the universality of the gospel. “The gospel is for all.” All nations; all enthic groups. This is the exact same language used by Matthew in the Great Commission (Matt 28.19). But this has a starting point: Jerusalem. Just ten days following the ascension of Jesus (24.51; Acts 1.9), the Twelve, empowered by the “power from on high” (the Holy Spirit), will preach this message of repentance and forgiveness (Acts 2, esp. v.38). They are the witnesses of the fulfillment of prophetic utterance and will bear their testimony “to all nations.”

They are not alone nor do they rely upon their own power to accomplish this mission. The Father has promised to send help. John particularly highlights this promise in chs. 14-16 of his gospel account. Contextually, though, Jesus appears to be talking about a promise made through the prophetic word. In Acts, Luke gives us the rest of the story when Peter on Pentecost explains that the miraculous empowering of the Spirit is fulfillment of prophetic promise made through the prophet Joel (Acts 2.16-21; cf. Joel 2.28-32). It seems that is when the Father made the promise to “pour out His Spirit on all flesh.” Jesus says that prophetic promise will be kept, but they must “stay in the city” of Jerusalem until the “power from on high” is put on (cf. Luke 1.35 for similar language). A similar reminder will be made just before Jesus ascends to heaven (Acts 1.4).