In The Heavenlies;
Practical expository addresses on the Epistle to the Ephesians
There is nothing redundant in God’s Word. Men write books and very frequently pad them in order to give quantity as well as quality, but there is nothing like that in the Bible. God’s words are tried—“as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times”—and therefore we may well give our most careful attention to every item and every expression used.
What is the outstanding theme of the Epistle to the Ephesians? It opens up the truth of the privileges and responsibilities of the church as the body and bride of Christ. It brings before us our position as believers who have been quickened, raised, and seated in Christ in heavenly places.
There are very remarkable similarities between certain Old Testament books and New Testament Epistles. The Epistle to the Romans, for instance, corresponds to the book of Exodus; the letter to the Hebrews is the counterpart of Leviticus; and the Epistle to the Ephesians is the New Testament book of Joshua. In Joshua we have the people of Israel entering the possession of their inheritance. In Ephesians believers are called to enter now by faith into the possession of that inheritance which eventually we shall enjoy in all its fullness. We are far richer than we realize. All things are ours, and yet how little we appropriate!
It is said in the prophecy of Obadiah that when the Lord returns and His kingdom is established, the people of Israel shall “possess their possessions.” This is a challenge to us. Do you possess your possessions? Or are your heavenly estates like castles in Spain about which you dream, but never really possess? I trust the Spirit of God may lead us into the present enjoyment of our inheritance in Christ. For our purpose the Epistle may be divided very simply, without breaking it up into many portions that would be difficult to carry in our memories. We shall divide it into two parts, the first three chapters giving us the doctrine, and the last three, the practical outcome; the first division gives us our inheritance, and the last, the behavior that should characterize those who are so richly blessed. Often that is the divine order of Scripture: instruction in the truth first, practice in accordance with the truth afterwards.
As we look at the opening verse of Ephesians we are struck at once by the name of the writer, Paul. Thirteen New Testament Epistles begin with the word Paul. Another one is undoubtedly from Paul, but begins with the magnificent word God. I refer to the Epistle to the Hebrews. Do we stop to inquire as often as we should how this man ever came to be called Paul? That was not his name originally. His name in the first place was Saul. He was a Benjamite, and bore the name of the first king of Israel, who came from the tribe of Benjamin. For many years Paul was a haughty, self-righteous Pharisee, proud of his genealogy and his religious zeal, until one day he had a meeting with our Lord Jesus Christ. Have you had such a meeting? From that moment on everything was changed for him. He could say:
I was journeying in the noon-tide,
When His light shone o’er my road;
And I saw Him in the glory,
Saw Him, Jesus, Son of God.
Marvel not that Christ in glory
All my inmost soul hath won;
I have seen a light from heaven,
Far beyond the brightest sun.
That vision of Christ changed Saul the Pharisee, into Paul, the humble servant of Christ. He did not use his new name immediately, you remember. It seems to have been taken after he won his first outstanding Gentile convert, Sergius Paulus, in the Isle of Cyprus. It appears to have been given him in recognition of his apostolic ministry. It means “the little one,” a wonderful name for one who once thought himself so great; but that is what Christ does for one. As Paul wrote
What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).
All that Saul gloried in, Paul flung away for Jesus’ sake. He was content to be little, “less than the least of all saints,” that in him Christ Jesus might exhibit His boundless patience.
I remember going to a camp meeting, and the dear folk were singing a little chorus that went like this:
The quickest way up is down,
The quickest way up is down;
You may climb up high, and try and try,
But the quickest way up is down.
How long it takes some of us to learn that lesson! We are always trying to become somebody, and forgetting that Jesus said, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life, for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25). Blessed is the princely Saul when he becomes the little Paul, bowing at the Savior’s feet.
Paul called himself an apostle. Just what is an apostle? The word might be translated “a messenger,” “a sent one,” “one sent on a mission,” and so there is a certain sense in which every missionary is an apostle. But there is a higher sense in which the wordapostle refers to those who were specially commissioned by our Lord Jesus Christ to go out to the world and carry the truth through which the church was instituted. Paul was not among those who knew the Lord on earth, but he was ordained an apostle to the nations by His personal appointment when the risen Christ appeared to him that day on the Damascus road. He said to him, “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee” (Acts 26:16). And so Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, could go forth saying:
Christ the Son of God hath sent me
Through the midnight lands;
Mine the mighty ordination
Of the pierced hands.
I do not like to touch on critical questions in these studies, and yet I must do so here. Some people do not notice divine names carefully, and this is the reason why those who copied the manuscripts were not always particular whether they wrote “Jesus Christ,” or “Christ Jesus.” Peter, James, John, and Jude spoke of our Lord as “Jesus Christ.” But in Ephesians 1:1 Paul spoke of “Christ Jesus.” Why? Because Jesus is His human name and in resurrection He was made Lord and Christ. The disciples knew Him on earth as Jesus, the self-humbled One. But Paul never knew Him in that way; he never knew Him as Jesus on earth. He had his first sight of Him in the glory, and his soul was so thrilled with what he saw that he never thought of Him as other than the glorified One. So he invariably wrote in the original text, “Christ Jesus,” and his message is in a peculiar sense called “The gospel of the glory.” The other disciples walked with Him on earth and delighted to remember Him as He was when here, and so they spoke of Him as “Jesus Christ.” Any critical version will make this distinction clear.
Paul was a messenger, a sent one of Christ Jesus “by the will of God.” It was no mere idle thought of his that sent him on this mission. It was not that he concluded it would be the best way to spend his life. He who saved him commissioned him, and sent him forth to be a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. So he insisted on the divine character of his commission, “An apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.”
A simple cobbler was being introduced to a rather dignified clergyman, and when the cobbler said, “I didn’t get your name,” the clergyman replied, “The Reverend Doctor Blank, by the will of God.” The cobbler said, “And I am John Doe, cobbler by the will of God. I am glad to meet you, sir.” It is a great thing, whatever your station in life may be, to recognize it as “by the will of God.” Am I a preacher of the gospel? It should be only because I have heard a divine call urging me and thrusting me out. Am I a merchant? Have I been called to make money for the glory of God? Then let me remember that I am a merchant by the will of God. I should be sure that I am where God’s will has placed me, and should seek to be faithful to Him.
The apostle addressed himself, “To the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” One might suppose that he was addressing two classes of people: saints, that is all believers, and the faithful, that is a spiritual aristocracy. However, this verse might better be rendered, “To the saints which are at Ephesus, even the believers in Christ Jesus.” In other words, it is faith in Christ Jesus that designates a person a saint. Are you a saint? You say, “I wouldn’t like to go so far. I am not sinless yet.” A saint is not a sinless person; a saint is a separated person, separated to God in Christ Jesus. People have an idea that if you live a very saintly life, eventually you may become a saint. God says, “Do you believe in My Son? Have you trusted Him? Very well, then, I constitute you a saint; be sure that you live in a saintly way.” We do not become saints by saintliness, but we should be characterized by saintliness because we are saints.
In verse 2 we have the apostolic salutation, “Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” He is not referring at all to saving grace. These people were already saved. He tells them, “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is a great thing to have your salvation settled.
The lack of positive conviction and definite assurance comes out in a great many of the hymns we sing. How hard it is to find hymns that are absolutely Scriptural. In a meeting some time ago I was giving a message on “The Indwelling Holy Spirit.” At the close of the service, the dear pastor stood up and said, “In the light of this splendid address, let us sing, ‘Holy Spirit, faithful Guide, ever near the Christian’s side.’“ I felt my heart sink as I thought, After I have spent forty minutes trying to show them that the Holy Spirit is not merely at our side, but dwells in us, they haven’t got it yet. Then they came to that last gloomy verse, and I said, “Please don’t sing that verse”:
When our days of toil shall cease,
Waiting still for sweet release;
Nothing left but heaven and prayer,
Wond’ring if our names are there;
Wading deep the dismal flood,
Pleading naught but Jesus’ blood.
What a mixture! I refuse to sing it. I know my name is there! I do not understand how it is that Christians are so slow in laying hold of divine truth.
Here in Ephesians 1:2 the apostle means grace to keep and preserve us, not grace to save. For the believer, salvation is already settled for eternity, but we need daily grace for daily trials.
How does one obtain this grace?
We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).
We were saved by grace, we began with grace, but we need grace every step of the way that we might triumph over the world and over the natural propensities of our poor hearts. As Christians we have the nature of the old man in us still, and it will readily manifest itself if not subdued and kept in place by grace divine.
“Grace be to you, and peace.” This is not peace with God, which was made for us by the blood of Calvary’s cross. Every believer in the Lord Jesus should know what it is to “have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). But this is the peace of God, occupying and protecting our hearts as we move along toward our heavenly home—the same peace that filled the heart of Jesus when here on earth.
May I use an illustration from the life of Jesus to illustrate this peace? In Luke 8 we read that one day Jesus said to His disciples in the ship, “Let us go over to the other side.” Where were they going? To the other side of the lake. When they got into the boat, He went to sleep in perfect peace, and in the middle of the night the elements raged, the devil stirred up a terrific tempest, but it could not drown Him. It was impossible that the boat in which He sailed should founder. But the disciples were terrified and they aroused that holy sleeper and said, “Master, Master, we perish!” Jesus, wakened from His sleep, looked at them and said, “Where is your faith?” In Matthew 8:26 we read that He said to them, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” He called them men of “little faith,” with the thunder roaring, the lightning flashing, the wind blowing a gale, and the sea raging around them. You surely could not blame men for being afraid under those circumstances! But you see, Jesus had not said to them, “Let us go out into the middle of the lake and get drowned.” He said, “Let us go over to the other side,” and they should have rested on His word. They would have had the same peace that He had if they had believed His word.
Do the trials of life sometimes test your soul? Do you wonder what will become of you? This is what will become of you: If worst comes to worst and you starve to death, you are going home to Heaven! Thousands of people are dying and going to a lost eternity, but no matter what comes to you, if you are saved, you are going home! As we realize that we are in His hand, the peace of God, like a military garrison, keeps our hearts and saves us from all doubt and fear.
“Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father” (Ephesians 1:2). Do you love to dwell on those words, “From God our Father”? The Lord came to reveal the Father, and the Holy Spirit enables us to know the Father, and one of the first evidences that a man is born of God is that he lifts his heart to Heaven and says “Father.” This is not the doctrine of the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. That is not what the apostle was writing about. He was addressing saints, believers in Christ Jesus, and when he wrote to them, he said, “God our Father.” It is only by regeneration, only by the second birth, that we enter into this blessed relationship. Scripture declares that those who have never been regenerated are of the flesh, they are not the children of God. Our Lord Jesus said to certain ones, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do” (John 8:44). That does not sound very much like the universal fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man! People tell me that is what Jesus came to teach. I defy anyone to find any such thing anywhere in all the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. He said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In that verse He denied the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. I know all men are brothers in Adam and we are one in sin, but it is only by a new birth that one can become a brother of the saints and a child of God.
“Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Holy Spirit delights to give our Savior His full title, “the Lord Jesus Christ.” He is Lord of all, and therefore all men are called to subject themselves to Him.
Notice Ephesians 1:3, for in this we properly begin the study of the Epistie: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He has said before that God is our Father, and now points out that in a peculiar sense God sustains that relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ because Jesus became man, and as man He looks up to the Father as His God. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because Christ is God the Son from all eternity. What a wealth of instruction is bound up in that expression, “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It was not until the resurrection that He revealed this unique relationship. He said to Mary, “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father, and to my God, and your God” (John 20:17). He does not say, “I ascend to our God and our Father.” His relationship is different from ours. He was not simply a man brought into union with God, but He was the Son of God, come down to earth in grace, who became man for our redemption.
Farther on in this Epistle there are two prayers—one in the last part of this chapter, and the other in chapter 3—and they agree in a very striking way with these titles. In chapter 1:17 Paul prayed that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” may do certain things. Then when we turn to chapter 3:14 we read, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Why the difference? Because in the first prayer he spoke of the divine counsels and power, and so he addressed himself to God. In the second prayer he considered our relationship to God and addressed himself to “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Scripture is wonderfully accurate.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” Notice, “He hath blessed us.” The apostle was not writing of something that may be ours when we get to Heaven, but right here and now I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. People often ask me if I have obtained the second blessing yet, and I generally say, “Second blessing? Why, I am somewhere up in the hundreds of thousands as far as that goes, if you refer to experience. But actually I obtained every blessing that God has for a redeemed sinner when I put my trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.” He does not just give us a little now and a little later, but gives us everything in Christ. It is all yours. Enter into it and enjoy it.
It is one thing to have the blessings and another thing to make them yours. I read about a man in Montana for whom authorities had been searching for a long time. Some years ago a British nobleman died, leaving an estate which, as he had no children, would go to the next nearest relative. This man away out west was the nearest heir, living in poverty, and just eking out a struggling existence when they found him and gave him the news that the estate was his. It was his all the time, but he did not know it. What did he do when he found it out? Did he say, “Well, it is a good thing to know that I have something to fall back on and some day I will go and look at it”? No, he went downtown, and on the strength of the good news bought himself a new suit and a ticket, and left for Great Britain. I read an interview that the reporters had with him. They asked, “Where are you going?” He answered, ‘To take possession of my estate.” You and I are richer far than he was, but do we really take possession by faith of the things that are ours in Christ?
You may say, “But name some of these things that are ours.” He has blessed us with the blessing of forgiveness of our sins, with justification from all things, with sanctification in Christ, with a robe of perfect righteousness, with a heavenly citizenship, by giving us a place in the body of Christ, and making us heirs of His riches through Christ! And yet how some of us struggle along, eking out a poor, wretched, miserable existence! We act as spiritual paupers when we ought to be living like millionaires. God has made Christ Jesus to be our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and yet for six years after I was converted I was still seeking righteousness and sanctification. But one day I woke up to the fact that it was all mine in Christ Jesus, and that I had simply to appropriate and enjoy it.
Now notice that Paul wrote that my blessings are secure in Heaven, and He calls me in the Spirit to rise to my heavenly citizenship and live in this world as a heavenly man should live. I may draw from God all the resources I need to be more than conqueror day by day, as I pass through this world.
Notice how carefully you have to read Scripture: “Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” What a mistake it would be to translate that, “with Christ.” Do you see the difference? How often we hear people misquote Ephesians 2:6, and say that God has “made us sit together in heavenly places with Christ Jesus.” Nothing of the kind. We are not seated together with Christ; we are seated in Him. He is there as our representative, and that is an altogether different thing from being seated with Him. This does not mean that we are only privileged and seated together in Christ when we have a real, good, happy, spiritual meeting. Sometimes when we have a good meeting and the people think they have been helped, some well-meaning brother closes in prayer and says, “O Lord, we thank Thee that we have been sitting together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus this morning.” I say to myself, The dear brother hasn’t got it yet. He thinks because there is a glow in his heart, because he feels happy, that means he is sitting in heavenly places in Christ. But I am sitting in heavenly places in Christ just as truly when I am oppressed with the trials of the way, as I am when I am flourishing and have everything that my heart could desire. It is a question of fact: Christ is in the heavenlies, and God sees me in Him. I am blessed in Him, and all the treasures of Heaven are at my disposal, and I am to draw on them as I have need in order that I may be strengthened and able to rejoice as I go forth in His service down here.