Ephesians 2:11–3:21. A Dwelling Place For God. Christ's Love for Us.

Key Notes: Jews and Gentiles in the Kingdom, in the Church? Unity. A second prayer for strength to understand. An attempt to understand The Love of Christ.

After spelling out the Plan of the Ages  which entails our salvation, Paul prayed that the Ephesians might know God and His power. Then he reminded them of the moral rebellion they had lived in and how God rescued them. Now Paul goes on to explain their spiritual disadvantages, compared to Israel’s, and the remarkable plan to unite Jew and Gentile into a single unit, a holy temple. He again prays for comprehension. The passage leaves us feeling short of breath and far short of the mark.

2:11–12 Gentiles did not come with the advantages the Jews had. The Jews had a corner on the truth because of God’s special care for them. The Gentiles were

“the uncircumcised”
strangers and aliens  1:19
separated from Christ
alienated from the commonwealth of Israel
strangers to the covenant of promise
without hope
without God in the world.

In contrast, Israel, according to Rom.9:4–5, had

the adoption as sons
the glory
the covenants
the giving of the law
the worship
the promises
the patriarchs
and Christ.

2:13–19 But now ("But God" 2:4) in Christ Jesus,  He has

brought us near,
made us at peace, one with Jewish Christians,
broken down the wall of hostility,
abolished in His flesh the law,
made one in place of two,
reconciled us both in one body by the cross,
preached peace to Gentiles (afar off) and Jews (near),
given us both access to the Father by the Spirit,
made us no longer strangers and sojourners.

That is an incredible nine-piece statement of reconciliation and peace-making. Jesus' peace work was done by extreme sacrifice. There is a lesson for us.

Reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles, however, has rarely been achieved. Acts rehearses the story of determined opposition by the Jews. The church in Acts was early troubled by a division between Hellenists from the Roman Empire and naative-born Hebrews. (Acts 6:1–4). Paul was harassed throughout his missionary journeys by hostile Jewish opponents. The history of the church since Constantine is spoiled by the legacy of anti-semitism, especially painful during Martin Luther's later life. Only in recent times has the evangelical church extended the hand of friendship to Jews, especially in Israel. But Messianic congregations in the USA remain separate from Gentiles.

The question of unity within the Church is a problem that we will take up in the next chapter. It is a cause of much distress and concern. There are sixteen Christian mission agencies working in Thailand, for example. We know that it is only in Christ that unity can be realized.

2:19–22 The new household of God is a temple with Christ as the corner-stone ( the foundation stone ICor.3:11), with the apostles and prophets as pillars, and individual believers as components. Paul is describing the believers as a dwelling place for God in the Spirit. I Pet. 2 extends the metaphor of believers as living stones in the temple of God.

Have you ever been in a gathering where you felt God was present? In a Sunday morning service? In a small group prayer meeting? In a communion service?

The “apostles and prophets” would seem to combine New Testament apostles and Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, but 3:5 seems to refer to NT prophets. That is a puzzle because we know little about NT prophets, in contrast to the apostles. (Agabus, Acts 11:28; 21:10). I believe that both NT and OT prophets are intended.

3:1–13 These thirteen verses appear to be a long digression between Paul’s reminder of his imprisonment and his second prayer. Note that he is not a prisoner of the system, or of Nero, or the Romans or the Jews, but of Christ. So he does not feel unfortunate or the victim of persecutors. He sees his confinement as part of God’s plan, an encouragement for the Ephesians.

He continues in the theme of the amalgamation of Jews and Gentiles and says that it was a Mystery revealed to him as a special minister, both the least  and the greatest of the apostles. He was least because he was a terrorist and greatest because he had the largest mandate to complete. Two aspects of the Mystery are contained in this text: The Gentiles are fellow-hers of the Promise in Christ. (3:6). Seond, the Church shows forth the wisdom of God everywhere, including the spiritual powers. (3:10).
A full summary of the Mystery is given in I Corinthians 1–3 (Lesson 2).

He says the Mystery was not made known to former generations of Israelites as it is now revealed. However, there are numerous OT references to God’s glory among the Gentile nations. (Isa.66:19). It begins with Abraham, through whom all families of the earth would be blessed. Gen.12:2

“The Lord is high above all nations and His glory above the heavens.” (Psa.113:4)
“And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day and shall be My people….” (Zech.2:11)
So the mystery can be seen in retrospect, but was easily ignored by the Israelites who believed themselves to be the focus of God’s attention and love. After all, “the (other) nations are as a drop in the bucket.” Isa.40:15

3:10  “…that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”  The principalities and powers are categories of spiritual beings about which we know little. They are mentioned three times in Ephesians: here, 1:21 and 6:12. We get glimpses of them in Daniel 7,10. It is almost beyond our comprehension that God would intend that the Church, a human institution, should be a demonstration of His wisdom to spiritual powers, not all of which are friendly. A similar demonstration can be seen in Job 1, where Satan is in a contest with God for the soul of Job. God's wisdom was demonstrated and Satan was defeated.

We see the Church in quite another way. We grieve over its divisions and weakness, worldliness and apostasy. Power politics, petty grievances, quarrels over music, lack of faith and sheer deadness are endemic. That the Church could be to the praise of His glory is far from our view of it, but our sample is very small.

3:12 “…in whom we have boldness and confidence of access….”
The word boldness really means “free speech”,   a remarkable idea when we think of prayer.

3:14–18 He prays on his knees that

Comments on the prayer.
3:15 The Father from whom all human and spiritual families are named. If this means that He is the Father of all men and the Father of all spirits, then we would expect Paul to use the word “Creator”. A preferred interpretation holds that He is the Father of the whole family of believers on earth and in heaven. ( Jn.8:39–42). We are His children in a unique sense. Jesus said some of His generation had another father—Satan. Jn.8:44

3:16–18 The words strength, might and power are repeated as in 1:18, for our comprehension of the love of Christ  and that we may be filled with God.

3:17–19 "...rooted and grounded in love..." Paul prays that we may have power to comprehend the incomprehensible—the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge. This is His love for us, demonstrated on the Cross, and added to by many blessings, shared among the saints. We would love to expand on it, but it is incomprehensible.

3:19  “…that we may be filled with all the fullness of God”. We have a Greek- derived word for it — enthusiasm— (the god in him) — but it is a shadow of the reality to which we are called.

3:20 Paul concludes this section with a doxology, as he often does. Praise and glory to God who has endowed us with such power that is able to do exceedingly more that all we ask or think—glory in the church and in Christ forever and ever.

Comments:
It is a foreign concept to us 21st Century non-Jews to think of a time when the Jews were in the ascendancy spiritually and we were on the outside looking in. Now the situation is reversed. Are there other large ethnic groups now in a similar position as we Western Gentiles were, waiting to be admitted to the fellowship? We pray so.

Where would the power of God be seen? It does not seem to be in us. But when we survey our world, we can see God’s power at work in previously unimaginable dimensions. Literally millions are turning to Christ—numbers so large as to frighten governments and force changes in policies. Statistics show that the Christian West has fallen well behind the Third World in spiritual growth and vitality. We are amazed to see American churches asking to be supervised by African bishops. Israel has re-established  its place in Palestine. Korea is sending out more missionaries than the USA. African Christians are multiplying under the sword of Islam. The Dragon of China may yet bow to the Lamb of God. (Jesus in Beijing. D. Aikman. Regnery, 2006)

It is all far beyond what we could ask or think. Having heard this, one student replied “ I don’t need to know all this stuff. Jesus saved me and that’s all I need to know".


An attempt to understand the Love of Christ.

Outline

  1. The Four Loves.
  2. The eradication of eros from Jewish and Christian writing.
  3. Seven? dimensions of the love of Christ.
  4. Our part in the work of love.

1. C.S. Lewis wrote a widely-read book called "The Four Loves." The words are: family love (Gr. storge), friend-love; (philia); need-love (eros) and altruism (agape). I believe that all four loves are given to us humans by God as a package and are the basis of our common humanity, though they are not given in equal amounts.

2. To the Greeks, eros was the preferred word for love and agape was not popular.
"It is indeed striking that the substantive agape is almost completely lacking in prebiblical Greek." (Theol. Dict. of N.T. G. Kittel, G. Friedrich, edit. Eerdmans, 1971; Vol. 1, p. 37.)

The Jewish scholars who translated the OT from Hebrew to Greek around 200 BC (The Septuagint, LXX) ignored the Greek word for love and introduced a change in Greek culture. In the Greek OT, agape and its derivatives are used more than 300 times by my count. Eros is virtually absent. Storge appears twice and philia 37 times. What impact it had on Greek culture is not clear. But the Greek OT set the stage for the NT choice of agape. The Septuagint was the Bible for Paul and indeed for the Lord Jesus Himself and is an evidence of God's inspiration of Scripture in translation.

3. Agape—God's love—is a major theme of the NT. "God is love." I Jn.4:8. is emphatic—literally "The God love is." It is His nature. and it is given to us.

Our failures are stunning at every level. What an abyss lies between the gifts and our orders and our performance! The reputation of Christians is not one of love but of judgment on society and scrapping among ourselves. A recent newspaper article on the Pope begged for ‘Mercy over Law." The Puritans were criticized for "starting with the Law of Love and ending with the Love of Law."

Yet there is evidence that altruism is at work in our world. The American people give more in international aid of all kinds than the Federal Government programs which benefit 3/4ths of the world's nations. One kind Asian said " I have seen Americans everywhere in the world, and everywhere they are doing good."

The paradox is "I love the world; it's people I can't stand." Agape fails at the personal level: the drunken uncle, the fierce competitor , the tattooed, people from an aggressive cult or alien faith.

It is evident that eros drives our close relationships, so that people who do not meet our needs, who threaten, or make us angry or disgusted are not going to be loved. While we are altruistic with people at a distance—no threat to us—we cannot by ourselves deal with people nearby who offend us. Only God can change our hearts.

"Love your enemies...? "That puts us virtually in the role of martyrs. And from our sacrifices, God will work miracles.

"Make love your aim..." ICor.14:1