The Riches of God’s Grace

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Ephesians 1:19-23 (NLT) I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21 Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. 23 And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.

Ephesians is one of the so-called Prison Letters (along with Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon).  Traditionally, these letters were supposed to have been written while Paul was in prison in Rome from AD 60-62, before Paul was executed around AD 64-65.  So these would be some of Paul’s final thoughts.

The church in Ephesus was one of the churches founded on Paul’s third missionary journey.  He spent some 3 years in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-41) from about AD 53-56.  Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, which is located in what is now Turkey.  It was an important port city with a population of perhaps some 500,000.  It was a Greek city, and the home to the famous temple of Artemis.  The temple of Artemis at Ephesus was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.

More than any other book of the Bible, Ephesians is filled with thanksgiving for the saving grace of God for those who believe in Jesus Christ.  One of the key themes in Ephesians is the richness of God’s grace.  Paul begins his letter with a greeting (vv. 1-2), and as is usual, a prayer for thanksgiving, but Paul’s prayer for thanksgiving seems to get away from him as he is overcome by speaking about the richness of God’s grace, so the prayer goes from v. 1:3 to the final “Amen” in v. 3:21.

In v. 18, Paul is thinking about the confident hope that believers have in anticipation of Christ’s return and his future blessings that they will share joined with Christ.  He calls us “his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.”  (v. 18)

Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus is also Paul’s prayer for us today.  He wants us to understand the richness of God’s saving grace, which is “God’s power for those who believe him.”  This power is the Spirit of God at work in and through God’s people (Rom. 6:4-14; Col. 2:12).  Paul wanted to experience this same power in his life (Phil. 3:10).

Paul says something about Christ since his resurrection and glorification.  We often think of the blessings of heaven as being something for the future.  But Paul says:

1.  Christ is presently seated on the throne in heaven.  He is currently seated at the right hand of God. To speak of Christ seated at God’s right hand is an analogy, as God is Spirit.  In Biblical times, the place of honor was always on the right hand of the person (Ps. 110:1; Acts 7:56).

2.  Christ is far above all other authorities in heaven or on earth, not only in this world, but in the world to come.  (v. 21)  Jesus’ power and authority transcend all rival powers, whether human or spiritual, in this age and in the coming age.  (Rev. 12:7-9)

3.  God has already put everything under the authority of Christ and has made him the head over all things for the benefit of the church.  (v. 22)  The text says literally that God has put everything under the feet of Christ.  Paul pictures the practice in the ANE of conquerors symbolically.  Victorious kings would demonstrate their power and authority over those conquered by forcing them onto the ground in front of them and putting their feet on their necks.  What Paul means is that Christ has already defeated all his enemies and already reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  All of God’s enemies were defeated by Christ upon the cross.  There downfall is already secured and certain.  The wedding party of the Lamb is simply the final victory celebration.  (Rev. 19-21)

4.  The church is the body of Christ.  (v. 23)  Paul speaks of the church as the body of Christ.  The body of Christ is a metaphor for the whole church, a unity of believers connected with and dependent on Christ, who is the head (1 Cor. 12:27)The first use of the Greek word for church (ekklesia) is in Matt. 16:18, where Peter makes his great faith statement, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus responds, “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means rock), and upon this rock I will build my church.”

5.  The  church as the body of Christ is the full expression of Jesus Christ in this world.  In some way, the church expresses everything about Christ (apart from sin).  The church is not perfect.  But someday the church will be perfect.  But even in its imperfection, the church is still the body of Christ.  Christ’s presence and power are still felt in and through the presence and work of the body of Christ in the world.

Many people say that they love Christ, but hate the church.  But how can you say that you love Christ and hate the body of Christ.  Certainly, the church is not perfect as it is now expressed through sinful humanity.  But the church is filled with redeemed sinners who are being made holy through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit day by day.  The church is not yet who it will be, but when the church is revealed as the bride of Christ at the end of the age, then we shall the see the church as Christ intends it to be.

 

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