In Christ Jesus
The Letter to the Ephesians
The very first verse contains the expression, "faithful in Christ Jesus," and the third verse furnishes the key to this epistle in one short sentence, comprising the sum of all its exalted teaching: "Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ."
This letter to the Ephesians lifts us to the very summit, the third heaven of privilege, and is especially rich in that phrase which we are now devoutly tracing throughout the New Testament. We find here at least ten separate uses or combinations of the words in Christ or in Him, as applied to the present estate of the believer, and as exhibiting His possible heavenly life even while on earth; and there is one besides which refers to coming blessing. These features of this epistle we shall find singularly true also of the companion Epistle to the Colossians.
In this epistle we are declared to be, in Christ, chosen, predestinated to the adoption of children, accepted; to have redemption and forgiveness, to be quickened or made alive, raised, seated in the heavenlies; to have been sealed and to have obtained an inheritance: these are the ten present blessings, and the one, yet future, is that in Him we are to be gathered together in one, with all saints, at His coming.
The heavenly and divine sphere
The peculiar truth thus introduced to our view in this epistle is, therefore, the heavenly nature and divine fulness of this sphere of the new life. When by faith we enter into Christ, the life we are introduced into, is not earthly, but essentially heavenly. It is not to be confounded with joys and privileges which are of this world, however pure and lawful. In Christ we are lifted above the level even of saintly communion as such. Our human ties and relations with God's own people are very precious, but that of which the Spirit here treats is something higher than the human relation which disciples sustahere to each other.
We ascend in thought above the Church on earth, with its assemblies of saints, its sacraments, ordinances, and fellowship; here we are viewed as one with Christ and one in Christ. He, indeed, in heaven, and we on earth; yet our life in Him a heavenly life because it is in Him who is in heaven. Hence the word "places," supplied by the translators, may mislead, for we are not as yet in heavenly places but in earthly places, though we may and ought to be in heavenly states of mind, heart, and experience.
The difference is not a mere verbal distinction. A devout woman whom I once visited, to condole with her on the recent departure of an aged and most saintly mother, said to me with a smile: "For forty years, my dear mother's mind has been in heaven." And I could not but recall those exquisite lines of Goldsmith:
Like some tall cliff that lifts its awful form,
Swells from the vale but midway leaves the storm,
Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
Eternal sunshine settles on its head.
Our unity in Christ
While yet in the body and on earth, the mind and heart may be in heaven; we ought to be essentially living on a higher, celestial level. This is the grand possibility and privilege to which the Holy Spirit turns our eyes. And, as all saints are, alike, in Christ Jesus, they are all in Him one. This thought of our unity in Christ runs side by side with the other, of our high privilege in Him, throughout these chapters. In fact, this unity is itself one of the most exalted forms of this heavenly life, and is more emphasized here than perhaps anywhere else, more figures being here employed to give it expression than in the whole New Testament besides.
Let us first of all glance at the teachings here contained as to this unity of saints in Christ Jesus.
To begin with, the conception of Christ, as the sphere of all holy living, implies this unity. This sphere is invisible, however real, and our entrance into it and our abiding in it are not therefore matters of sense. Our place in it has to be obtained or received through the Spirit's working, and recognized or perceived through the Spirit's teaching. We must also recognize the place of other saints in the same sphere, by the same spiritual discernment. As we come into contact with true fellow believers and perceive in them the Christ image -- as we see that they breathe the same air and live the same life, that they also belong to Christ and partake also of His Spirit, our conception of the unity of all believers in Him grows continually in vividness of impression. We cannot help our love going out to them; to whatever different sphere they may belong, in family, social, or national life, they belong with us to that supreme sphere which is celestial and eternal. And here is the only real hope of unity in the Church: it is found in the recognition of our mutual relation to Christ, and in Him to each other -- as our Lord prayed, "that they also may be one in us" (John 17:21).
The spheres of family life, social life, church life, and national life are all visible, and they impress us with a vivid sense of our unity, as brothers, neighbors, fellow church members, fellow citizens. But, to a true child of God, the invisible bond that unites all believers to Christ is far more tender, and lasting, and precious; and, as we come to recognize and realize that we are all dwelling in one sphere of life in Him, we learn to look on every believer as our brother, in a sense that is infinitely higher than all human relationships. This is the one and only way to bring disciples permanently together. All other plans for promoting the unity of the Church have failed. Let us live more and more in Christ, and then we shall and must live more and more in the bonds of a holy love and peace. It must be first of all the unity of the Spirit.
This unity in Christ is so prominent in this epistle that we must not lightly pass it by. Besides the general conception of Christ as the sphere of holy life, common to all these epistles, we shall find the following other figures used here to express the same thought:
The Holy Spirit
This unity with Christ and in Him is in this epistle made to depend on our partaking of His Spirit, and hence the prominence of the Holy Spirit, to whom the references are very frequent and varied:
1:13. That Holy Spirit of promise whereby we are sealed
1:17. The Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him
1:19-20. The Spirit of power who wrought in Christ and raised Him from the dead
2:18. The Spirit of access, by whom we have access to the Father
2:22. The Spirit of inhabitation whereby God dwells in us
3:5. The Spirit of revelation of the mystery of Christ
3:16. The Spirit of strength and might in the inner man
4:4. The Spirit of unity in the body
5:9. The Spirit of fruitfulness in all goodness
5:18. The Spirit of fullness, making all our life spiritual>
6:17. The Spirit of truth whose sword is the Word
6:18. The Spirit of supplication and intercession
Thus there are at least twelve or thirteen references to the Spirit of God.
Christ is the sphere
Here, then, is the added teaching of the Epistle 1 to the Ephesians, as compared with the preceding:
Christ is the sphere of all heavenly privilege and blessing. We have first of all fellowship with Him, so that, as He is so are we in this world. We are so in Him that God loks on us only as in Him, as having been and done and borne and achieved all that He has Himself. In Him we are God's elect, accepted, forgiven, redeemed, raised from the dead, sealed as His own, and seated with Him, in the heavenlies.
Our fellowship is thus with the Father, in Him, as close as His own fellowship.
And our fellowship is also with all saints in heaven and on earth, of time, past, present, and future. We all belong, in Him, to Him and to one another, and the more we know Him, the more we shall know and love all who are His and who are in Him.
If there be anything higher than this, it is the heavenly life involved in all this teaching. We are already in heaven, so far as this becomes real to us, and have the earnest or foretaste of the one final inheritance of all saints.
For example, take chapter 6:10 and following. In our wrestling against the powers of darkness that encompass us round in the sphere of the earthly, what a refuge to be consciously environed by the heavenly! to feel Christ as between us and all hostile principalities and powers. Observe, how ever close our foes may be, the panoply is between us and them.. And so it is of the believer. Christ is the panoply of our warfare. He is next to us and between us and all our foes. How elaborately this thought is wrought out in this chapter. The powers of darkness are here represented in a sixfold aspect, as assailing the head, the heart, the vital parts, and the feet, and as needing to be met by an all-encompassing coat of mail.
How are they to be confronted? Only in Christ. He is to be the hope of salvation, and so a helmet for the head; He is to be our righteousness, and so a breastplate; He is to be our truth, and so a girdle that holds us and embraces us; He is to be our sandals, and so alacrity for our feet; He is to be the sword of our defense and offense, and the shield that quenches all the fiery darts of Satan.
We have, therefore, Christ here presented, not only as the heavenly sphere of fellowship with God and with saints, but as the sphere of absolute security from all foes.
The word of warning
There is added one word of warning. It is amazing that the epistle which thus reveals our highest privilege should close with the most terrible caution against Satanic wiles. Here where the Spirit of God is most conspicuous as the indwelling power of the believer, the spirit of evil is the most conspicuous as the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience.
Why is this warning? Because we are never in so great danger as when we have most confidence that we are filled with the Spirit. We are just then most apt to be confident that all our impulses and leadings are divine leadings, and so we forget to try the spirits whether they be of God. There are men and women who claim to be Spirit filled, and yet are daily doing things that are uncharitable and unrighteous; who apologize for many things that are not only foolish and unwise, but unholy in tendency and selfish in spirit; running to all sorts of fanaticism and folly, perhaps into impurity and iniquity, under the plea that they are guided by the Spirit, until the reality of the Spirit's guidance is brought into contempt. Now observe that this epistle itself puts us on our guard against all this subtle error. It gives us four criteria whereby to know the Spirit's leading.
No other epistle is so emphatic in its presentation of the danger to be apprehended from hostile and demoniacal principalities and powers, even in the heavenlies. We can never get so high in our spiritual life that we are beyond the reach of satanic wiles and lies, and seductions and suggestions. Nay, it is the most mature disciple that Satan most surely assaults. While we are under the sway of fleshly appetites, and of worldly allurements, the prince of darkness may safely leave us to our bonds. But when these bonds are broken and we are enjoying the liberty of sons of God, then we are sure to be the objects of his malignant assault. It is as in human wars; no general-in-chief troubles himself about helpless captives; it is the soldier that is free to fight and strong to overcome, that he watches and seeks to vanquish and destroy.
Comprehending our privileges
If there be any one aim in Ephesians which marks this epistle as separate from all others, it is found in 3:18-19. "That we may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height," etc., to measure the immeasurable dimensions of this sphere of heavenly life, and love, and privilege. The two prayers of Paul which find record in this epistle (1:16-23; 3:14-21), find in this their great petition, that the eyes of the heart may be so opened and illumined as that the Ephesian disciples may clearly see and know what is the hope of their calling, and what the riches of the glory of God's inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward believers; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.
As believers we discredit our own privileges and possessions. The statements of the Word of God seem incredible -- they pass our comprehension and even apprehension. We cannot believe that such things are true. And except the Spirit of God shall open our eyes, illumine our understandings and hearts, and so enable us to know, we shall be blinded by the very glory of our own privileges in Christ, and shall account the whole of this, not only a mystery, but a myth -- a poem, a dream. The Holy Spirit alone can make us either to possess or to apprehend what an inheritance we have in God.
The fourfold work of the Spirit is therefore presented in this epistle as nowhere else within the same brief compass: First, anointing, which affects the understanding; second, renewing, which reaches the disposition; third, sealing, which affects the heart and conscience; and fourth, filling, which makes speech and conduct full of God. But let us observe that first of all comes that anointing, which makes apprehension of these spiritual truths possible. He must become to us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him before He can make any other of these blessings realities.
Let us then seek to reach to the greatness of this truth. Christ Jesus is essentially a heavenly sphere of life. In Him we are already exalted to the heavenlies. He in heaven as the Head imparts to the body an essentially celestial experience, the earnest of the full and final inheritance.
Among these heavenly powers and privileges we may find here suggested even if not expressed:
Chapter Five: Philippians