www.godswordforyou.com Bible Studies Ephesians Ephesians 1:15-23
Ephesians 1:15-23 Print E-mail

STUDIES IN EPHESIANS

Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2003

STUDY TWO: THE POWER OF GOD ACTIVE FOR EVERY BELIEVER [1:15-23]

Having identified the great and secure salvation we have in Christ Paul breaks into an exultant praise and thanksgiving, and tells of his continuing prayer that the Christians will be able to grasp the immensity of what they have in Christ through his death and resurrection. Note that this is something that he keeps on asking God to do. Paul himself is so overwhelmed by the greatness of who Christ is and of all that God has done for him in and through Christ that he urgently wants every other believer to have the same confidence in Christ and the same confident enjoyment of salvation that he himself has.

If you are using this study for group discussion use the Tasks to initiate discussion about the questions or topics referred to, and have the group fill in their answers during or after the discussion. In most instances teaching on these questions or topics is included below the Task.

A. PAUL'S PRAYER FOR BELIEVERS

Task #1: From 1:15-23 research the following and write what you find in the boxes:
Ref
What Paul prayed for
The results he desired or expected

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A.1 Paul prayed that God would give them 'a spirit of wisdom and revelation' [verse 17]

Paul prayed that God would give the believers a spirit of wisdom and revelation. [There is some debate about whether this should be 'Spirit' or 'spirit', which probably cannot be resolved with absolute certainty; the fact that he has just told them they have already been sealed with the Holy Spirit could indicate that simply 'a spirit', that is an 'attitude', is meant here. The Greek translates literally: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in knowledge of him.] The important thing is that Paul wants God to give them wisdom and revelation - he wants them to understand more and more about Jesus.

Paul prays this 'so that you may know him better'. Paul's passion is to know Christ [Philippians 3:7-11]. He holds Christ in such high esteem that he wants every other believer to know how wonderful and how great he is. [Both John and Jesus also stress the importance of knowing Jesus Christ; indeed knowing Christ is eternal life because Christ is eternal life: John 17:3; 1 John 5:20].

A.2 Paul prayed that they would be enlightened [verse 18,19a]

They have already been enlightened by the word of truth, and have responded to that enlightenment with genuine faith. But Paul wants them to keep on being enlightened by the truth; and 'the eyes of their hearts having been enlightened' [literal translation], they will ...

  • Know the hope to which Christ had called them.
  • Know the riches of the inheritance of Christ.
  • Know Christ's incomparably great power that is active for all believers.

Paul is also passionate about the salvation we have in Christ; he knows the greatness of its power and the greatness of its hope. This passion pulsates through his letters, and it was because of this passion that he fought so vehemently against any teaching that corrupted and diminished the gospel.

A.3 Paul described the power of God that he wants believers to understand [verses 19,20]

Having prayed in this way for the continual increase of their knowledge of Christ and his salvation, Paul cannot refrain from giving an exuberant description of God's power. Paul really wants the Ephesian believers to live with the reality of God's power, because only when they understand this power will they be filled with unshakeable assurance of their salvation.

Task #2: In the boxes below write out Paul's description of God's power. Think about the meaning and implications of these statements.
Paul's Description of the God's power

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Paul describes God's power as 'incomparably great ' - it is beyond comparison because there is no other power in heaven or on earth that can come anywhere near it. Like God himself there is nothing up there on that level that we can say 'God's power is like ... .'. [Read Isaiah 40:18,25]

Paul also states that God's power is 'for us who believe'. This is an amazing and totally comforting thing. This awesome, incomparable power is on our side! It is active for us. It is not against us. All that God did in and through the incarnation and life of Christ, and through his death and resurrection (which Paul is about to refer to) was done for us, with us and our eternal well-being in mind. All the defeat of sin, death and Satan that his power achieved was done for us. All the amazing work of regeneration, redemption, reconciliation and renewal - all of the power of God that brought this about ... was active for us. This is the power of Christ that Paul prays that we will continue to know increasingly.

Paul also describes God's power as 'mighty strength'. Paul wants us to know that there is nothing stronger than God's power ... nothing that can undo what he has done for us, nothing, as he says in Romans 8:28-39, that can separate us from his love for us in Christ, because there is nothing that has the power and nothing that has the authority. No strength is stronger than his - not even the strength of our sin.

Paul says that this mighty strength of God is the power and authority exercised and demonstrated in the resurrection of Christ from the dead and in God's raising Christ up to the position of authority seated at his right hand.

The resurrection of Christ is of extreme importance:

  • It affirms and validates all of Jesus Christ's claims to be the source and giver of life, identifying him as the Lord of life, the Son of God in whom all the fullness of God dwelt in bodily form [Romans 1:4; John1:1-4; Colossians 1:19; 2:9]. Without the resurrection the claims of Christ are null and void. Without the resurrection he is proven both a liar and a blasphemer: a mere man making out that he is God.
  • It confirms that his death as our substitute is valid ... verifying that he had no sins of his own for which to bear the just penalty and punishment, and, having taken the full condemnation due to us, annulled the power of the law of sin and death, and revoked its authority. Without the resurrection there is no validity in the salvation proclaimed in the Bible: no basis on which to believe that the death of Christ was a valid death on our behalf, no basis to trust that it gained the forgiveness of all our sins, no basis to believe that we are now liberated from the law of sin and death, removed from the arena of condemnation, and reconciled to God.

It is this power that Paul wants believers to understand: that God had both the power and authority to raise Christ from the dead. Knowing that this incomparable power of God that overcame sin, death and condemnation, is the same power of God that saved us and keeps us saved, is the foundational source of the believer's joy, peace and security in the presence of God. Our salvation is not in weak hands: it is in the strongest hands that exist; it is not in temporary hands: it is in the hands of the eternal One; it is not in uncommitted, variable hands: it is in hands of him who so loved that he gave his Son.

God wants us to realize how great his power active towards us and on our behalf actually is.

A.4 Paul describes the authority of Jesus Christ [verse 20-22]

Having exalted in the power of God active for us, Paul moves into a description of the authority of Jesus Christ.

Task #3: Write out Paul's descriptions of Christ's authority
Paul's description of the authority of Jesus Christ

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Paul tells us:

  • Jesus Christ is seated at God's right hand in heaven [1:20]. This indicates that he is in the position of power and authority, sharing in the power and authority of God. [For further insights read Psalm 110:1; Hebrews 1:3; Acts 7:56.]
  • Jesus Christ is 'far above' all other powers and authorities [1:21]. Paul's over-lapping list makes sure that we understand that there is absolutely no power or authority that comes anywhere near to the power and authority of Christ. This exulted power and authority of Christ is not surprising when we remember that he is both the Creator and the goal of all other powers [Colossians 1:16]. This also confirms the solidity of God's promise in Romans 8:37-39 that, among other things, no angels, demons or any powers, can separate us from the love of God is Christ. Compared to the power and authority of Christ everything else is insignificant. As we read elsewhere 'He is Lord of lords' and 'King of kings' [Revelation 19:16].
  • This power and authority is not limited by time - it is for the present age and also the age to come [1:21]. This means that the believer does not need to fear death, God's judgement, life beyond death, or the end of the world: the One in charge, the One whose authority rules then, is the One who has already triumphed over all opposing powers [Colossians 2:15]. He is also is the One who gave his life to save us from all these opposing powers.
  • God placed everything under the feet of Jesus Christ [1:22; for further reading: Psalm 8:6; Matthew 28:18; Philippians 2:9-10; Colossians 2:10]. This teaches us that all things are subject to Christ - and surely includes the law that condemns us and our sins that convict us [see Micah 7:19, where God is described as treading our sins under his foot.]
  • God has given all of this power and authority to Christ 'for the church' [1:22], that is, for the benefit, advantage and well-being of the church. This encompasses the promise of Romans 8:28, that God works all things for the good of those who love him.

Some people assume that in Ephesians 1:19-22 Paul is praying that Christians will know this power as power that they themselves exercise, that they will have this power in themselves. To assume so is to change the meaning of Paul's prayer, which is exalting the power of Christ that is active for us, and intended not to make us covet personal power like this, but to firm up our faith and confidence in Christ, our assurance of our salvation, and our confidence in the persistence and permanence of our relationship to him.

A.5 Paul's description of the Church [verse 23]

Task #4: Write out Paul's descriptions of believers as a group:
Paul's description of the Church

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[1] With the exception of 1 Corinthians, the letter to the Ephesians contains more references to 'the church' than any other of Paul's letters. The word used in the Greek is ecclesia, which means 'called out'. The church is thus those whom God has called from out of the world to be his own.

[2] Paul calls the church Christ's 'body', an analogy he uses elsewhere [Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 12:12-27; Ephesians 2:16; 3:6; 4:4, 12-16; 5:23,30; Colossians 1:18,24; 2:19; 3:15]. By using this image of the 'head' and the 'body' Paul understands:

  • That the church is under the authority, direction and leadership of Christ.
  • That the death+resurrection experience of Christ is the death+resurrection experience of the church: that the church shares vicariously in that physical and legal death+resurrection, and shares in reality, experientially, in the spiritual meaning and results of that death+resurrection.
  • That without Christ the church is nothing - it does not exist, it has no reality or life.
  • That there is an indissoluble and innate unity in the church.
  • That there is an intra-dependence within the church, a spiritually organic unity, because each individual part is connected to each other part and to the head.

This concept of the church as the body of Christ also parallels Christ's teaching in John 15 about himself as the 'vine' and believers as the 'branches'.

[3] Paul goes on to refer to the church as 'the fullness' of Christ. The word fullness - pleroma - can mean either that which fills, or, that which is filled. This leaves us with the question: 'Which does it mean here?' Does Christ fill the church? Or does the church fill Christ? Or are both accurate descriptions of the reality which is the church?

  • Is there any way in which Christ fills, or is the fullness, of the church? Yes: without him it is nothing: without his death we would all still be dead in trespasses and sins, which Paul is about to teach us; without his resurrection, his death would be useless, and we would still be in our sins; without his gift of eternal life we would not exist as God's people; his Spirit indwells and empowers the church; his word cleanses us and sets us free ... the list could continue. Christ is indeed the fullness of the church ... we are complete only in him [Colossians 2:10].
  • Is there anyway in which the Church fills, or is the fullness, of Christ? Yes. The church, the people regenerated by the Spirit of Christ, the recipients of the life of Christ, is the one place on earth where the goal of both creation and salvation is being implemented. Christ in us ... Christ filling us ... is the 'hope of glory' [Colossians 1:27; see also Ephesians 1:6,12,14; 1 Peter 2:9]. It is the believers, whose faith is focused on Christ the Lord, in whom the Holy Spirit is doing his transforming work to recreate the image of God that was shattered in Genesis 3. In addition, we were created for Christ [Colossians 1:16]; ... in the church, the result of both his creative and salvific actions, his purposes are potentialized. The very existence of the church manifests his glory and his nature.
  • It is obvious that the second is totally dependent on, and of a different nature to, the first: we, the church, can only express his glory and fulfil his purposes as he, the Lord of glory fills us. Thus Paul ends this description of the church by adding a further description of Christ as 'him who fills everything in every way'. Thus, having received the Lord Jesus Christ, being totally dependent on him, having received from him complete salvation, the church by its very nature, expresses the fullness of Christ:

It has received him who is the Light of the world: therefore it shines forth that light;

It has received him who is the Truth: therefore it expresses and exemplifies the truth;

It has received from him the forgiveness of sins: therefore it forgives ...

It is necessary to state here that this nature of the church as the fullness of Christ ... in which his glory is manifest ... is for the most part incognito. The world simply does not and cannot understand this spiritual truth that Christ is in the church and the church in Christ. It did not recognize him as the Son of God; it does not recognize Christians as children of God [John 15:18-16:4; 17:25; 1 John 3:1-2.]

B. PAUL'S REFERENCES TO GOD IN EPHESIANS 1:1-23

As we study Ephesians it is easy to miss Paul's underlying understanding of God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From time to time through these studies pause to go back and identify things Paul says, almost in passing, about who God is and what he has done.

Task # 5: In the boxes below write what you learn from this chapter about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit ... the names, titles, or characteristics of each, and also what each is said to do or to achieve. [There is only one verse that does not teach us something about God! - and even this one verse does so indirectly.]

God the Father:

 

God the Son:

 

God the Holy Spirit:

 

 


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