Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18


Except for verses 1-2, the first chapter of Ephesians is only two sentences: verses 3-14, the main passage in the New Testament on election, and 15-23, a description of what has happened to individual Christians in time because of God's election, in Christ, in eternity.

Article XI of the Formula of Concord is devoted to election. If the preacher has time, he ought read the entire article in preparation for his sermon. We note just one passage (Tappert, p.619) which summarizes the "doctrine of God's purpose, counsel, will, and ordinance concerning our redemption, call, justification, and salvation, as St. Paul treats and explains this article (Romans 8:28ff; Ephesians 1:4ff) and as Christ likewise does in the parable (Matthew 20:2-14), namely, that in his purpose and counsel God has ordained the following:" 

  1. That through Christ the human race has truly been redeemed and reconciled with God and that by his innocent obedience, suffering, and death Christ has earned for us 'the righteousness which avails before God' and eternal life;

  2. That this merit and these benefits of Christ are to be offered, given, and distributed to us through his Word and sacraments;

  3. That he would be effective and active in us by his Holy Spirit through the Word when it is preached, heard, and meditated on, would convert hearts to true repentance, and would enlighten them in the true faith;

  4. That he would justify and graciously accept into the adoption of children and into the inheritance of eternal life all who in sincere repentance and true faith accept Christ;

  5. That he also would sanctify in love all who are thus justified, as St. Paul say in Ephesians 1:4;

  6. That he also would protect them in their great weakness against the devil, the world, and the flesh, guide and lead them in his ways, raise them up again when they stumble, and comfort and preserve them in tribulation and temptation;

  7. That he would also strengthen and increase in them the good work which he has begun, and preserve them unto the end, if they cling to God's Word, pray diligently, persevere in the grace of God and use faithfully the gifts that they have received;

  8. That, finally, he would eternally save and glorify in eternal life those whom he has elected, called, and justified.

Some summary statements about the whole doctrine of election:

  1. Election is purest Gospel, simple Gospel. If ever, in a discussion about election, doubt, uncertainty, fear, or false security is generated, the discussion has departed from what is known as election.

  2. Election is to be taught only to penitent, weak, floundering, suffering believers. If ever a doctrine teaches that final salvation is sola gratia, it is election.

Important reference works on the doctrine of election.

  1. Pp. 173-188 in Grace for Grace, Lutheran Synod Book Co., Mankato, 1943.

  2. The Formula of Concord, Article XI, S.D. Tappert pp. 616-632.

  3. Commentary on St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians by George Stoeckhardt (translated by Martin Sommer), CPH, 1952.

A copy of A. L. Graebner's Doctrinal Theology, CPH, 1910, ought be in every pastor's library. In his definition of Predestination, p. 222, he lists proof passages from Ephesians 1:1-12 eight times. We quote his definition, with references to Ephesians:

The entire work of leading those who shall constitute the church triumphant from a state of sin and wrath and spiritual death, through a state of faith and grace and spiritual life, to a state of glory and eternal life, is the divine execution of that eternal decree whereby God, before the foundation of the world and prompted only by His grace (Ephesians 1:5) in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3,4) purposed to call, enlighten, and sanctify (Ephesians 1:4,5) keep and preserve (Ephesians 1:11,12) by the means of grace (Ephesians 1:9) according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11) all those whom, by eternal election of grace in Christ (Ephesians 1:4) the Redeemer of the world, He had chosen from fallen mankind (Ephesians 1:4) and predestinated to eternal glory.

Ephesians 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Note three words in Greek which mean "bless." 

Bengel: God has blessed us in one sense, we bless Him in another.
Cremer: The difference between the human blessing and the divine blessing is this, that the first honors God with the words, the second is a blessing by deed. The blessing is a real, genuine blessing, not simply a wish.
Kretzmann: That is the attitude of the believers at all times, that God is to be praised.
Stoeckhardt: The aorist tense of 'blessed' indicates the exact time at which we Christians received God's richest blessing, which we now possess, namely, at conversion.

The phrase "every spiritual blessing" is adverbial, denoting means or manner. "Every" denotes the fullness and completeness of the blessing. (The charismatics are anti Scriptural when they distinguish "completed" and "uncompleted" Christians. "Blessing" denotes salvation in its entirety.) "Spiritual" reminds us of two things:

  1. The blessing is brought by the Holy Spirit;

  2. The blessing is not of mere man, of the flesh, of this world.

Bengel: This use of 'spiritual' is a thing peculiar to the New Testament.

That is right. In classical Greek this word was used only of the word or of the breath. the idea of "spiritual" was totally unknown to them. The phrase "heavenly realms" is an adjectival phrase explaining "with every spiritual gift." It indicates the sphere of the blessings which are related to the Spirit.

Kretzmann: The spiritual blessings of the Christians are in the heavens, have their origin in heaven, as the dwelling place of God. The blessings of the higher, of the perfect, of the future world are ours in Christ.
Bengel: The term 'spiritual' is explained by 'in heavenly places.' He mentions the heavenlies again in verse 20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12.
Stoeckhardt: These spiritual, heavenly blessings which we Christians have received are here contrasted to the sensual, passing goods of this earth.

We quote two translations which are quite good, though they paraphrase: JB reads: "the spiritual blessings of heaven" and AAT: "with every spiritual blessing in heaven." 

Now we must go back to "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." 

Kretzmann: For it is of God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that we and all believers think. Look at Romans 15:6; 2 Corinthians 1:3; 2:31; 1 Peter 1:3.
Stoeckhardt: Even in 1:7 God is briefly called 'The God of our Lord Jesus Christ.' There is a peculiar, unique relation between God and Jesus Christ . . . . in the New Testament the God whom Christians worship is called the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is also our God and Father.

God is my God and Father just as He is God and Father of Jesus. Here Paul unites himself with his Christian readers and with all believing Christians and requests them to join him in magnifying and praising God.

Only one other phrase in this verse needs comment and that is "in Christ," found way at the end. The antecedent of this phrase is the word "blessing." In Latin this word "in" would be translated per or propter. NO SPIRITUAL BLESSING COMES TO A PERSON EXCEPT THROUGH OR ON ACCOUNT OF CHRIST.

Kretzmann: It was, however, not an act of God's absolute power, but He chose us in Christ.
Stoeckhardt: Wherever the context of Paul's epistles speaks of that which God has done, what He has done in us, what He is doing in us even now, what he has granted us and bestowed upon us, there these expressions ('in Christ, in Him, in whom') refer to God's acts, benedictions, gifts, which comes to us through Christ, for example, 1:6,13,20; 2:7,13; 3:11; Colossians 1:16. God did bless us with spiritual blessings, since His work of redemption is the causa meritoria of this divine outpouring of blessings.

Ephesians 1:4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love

Verse 3 speaks of what God has done for us in time. Verse 4 gives us the reason which lies in eternity. "For" combines the comparative and causal idea. It means both "just as" and "because." Note how the translations struggle with this word. In fact AAT, TEV, JB, and NEB simply omit it.

Bengel: The blessing corresponds to the election, and follows upon it and makes it manifest.
Hoffman: He refers the act of God carried out in time back to a divine act antedating time and the creation of the world . . . it must be admitted that 'for' often indicates cause.
Kretzmann: 'He chose us' God chose us, He picked us out, He selected us, He set us aside for Himself.
Stoeckhardt: In the New Testament God Himself has coined, as it were, the words 'to chose for oneself' and 'the elect.' . . . Because God has chosen these elect for eternal life from the very beginning of the world, therefore it is impossible that they should be lost or that they should be deceived and lose the faith with finality, Matthew 24:24. Look at 2 Thessalonians 2:13. Just because God has elected them from eternity, it is impossible that they should finally lose all faith and their salvation.

One is reminded here of the words of Jesus at John 10:27-30. It is an absolute promise. Note the importance of "us." Paul is speaking of individual Christians. Note "in Christ." God did not choose me because He knew that I would become a believer (intuit fide) but only and solely because of Christ. Never equate election with omniscience. It was because of a gracious choosing IN CHRIST.

When did the choosing take place? "Before the creation." Jesus used this expression more frequently than did others. Look at John 17:24; Luke 11:50; Matthew 25:34. In Paul it occurs only here and in Peter only at 1 Peter 1:20.

Stoeckhardt: Long before we were born, before the creation of this world, God thought upon us, with a gracious purpose in His thoughts, by His counsel and design. He claimed us as His very own, His own possession; He determined that we were to be and remain His own for all eternity.

And now follows an infinitive denoting purpose: "that we should be holy and blameless."  There is an argument among theologians as to whether this refers to justification or sanctification. Kretzmann and Stoeckhardt take it of sanctification.

Stoeckhardt: In the parallel passages Philippians 1:10; 2:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:22; and Ephesians 5:27 the following expressions (he lists them) refer to the life and walk of the Christians. The same is true of Colossians 1:22. . . . Even before the foundation of the world God has chosen us out of the world and this contrast is especially evident in the walk and conduct of the Christians.

And now the problem: do the words "in love" go with verse 4, or with verse 5? If it goes with verse 4 it denotes an attribute of the Christian's living. Thus Stoeckhardt and the NEB: "to be without blemish in his sight, to be full of love." Others take it with verse 5, as does AAT: "He who loved us appointed us to made His sons." KJV and NKJV take it with verse 4, the love of sanctification. RSV, TEV, NIV, and NASB take it with verse 5, the love whereby God predestined us. If the phrase goes with verse 4, it denotes manner. If it goes with verse 5 it denotes means or cause. It is not an easy decision to make. Neither interpretation will militate against what Scripture says on these matters.

Ephesians 1:5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will--

The participle "in accordance" is causal giving the reason for the election, additional information concerning the purpose of the election.

"Through Jesus Christ" is a variation of "in Christ" in verse 3.

The Formula of Concord, S.D., Tappert 626.65: We should accordingly consider God's eternal election in Christ, and not outside of or apart from Christ. For according to St. Paul's testimony we have been elected in Christ 'before the foundation of the world was laid' (Ephesians 1:4), as it is written 'He has loved us in the Beloved.' (Ephesians 1:6)

And now the last phrase "in keeping with the good pleasure of His will." 

Rienecker: God's absolute act of free love which is grounded totally in Himself and there was nothing apart from Him which gave His will direction.
Bengel: We are not allowed to go beyond this good pleasure either in searching into the causes of our salvation or of any of the divine works, verse 9.
Stoeckhardt: 'Pleasure' here does not mean the favor of God, but, as the addition of 'of His will' shows, and as almost all modern exegetes understand it, the pleasure, the decision, the determination of His will. . . . The entire expression is to point out that this deed of God depends and is founded upon God, not on anything outside God. . . . In His act of election and predestination God regarded or took into consideration nothing outside of Himself, nothing in man.

Ephesians 1:6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

This verse contains the purpose clause which tells us why He did what He did in verse 5. On the phrase compare verses 12 and 14. In verse 6 the praising of the glory of God's grace found its purpose in His electing us to sonship. In verse 12 it's we who are to the praise of His glory. In verse 14 it's that the Holy Spirit has sealed us to redemption to the praise of God's glory. Note that only in verse 6 is the word "grace" used.

Bengel: The praise of grace takes its rise first in order in verse 7.

God has bestowed the forgiveness of sins on us according to the wealth of His grace. That same grace is praised and glorified in God's having chosen us, but it's in Christ Jesus, verse 7. Stoeckhardt speaks of verse 5 as the finis intermedius, our present condition, what happens in this life. But of verse 6 he writes:

Stoeckhardt: The finis ultimus is, even as the heavenly bliss of the elect, the honor of God and the praise of His grace. At the same time, however, these words express the motive of the election in a more pointed manner, namely, grace, the gracious mind of God, the glorification of which God intended . . . . God determined to secure us against future dangers, against all attacks of the devil, of the world, and our own corrupt flesh. This free choice of the divine will is the demonstration of the unfettered love of God and of the unfathomable, incomprehensible grace of God.
Kretzmann: 'In the One he loves.' This is the historic unfolding of the grace of God in time: He has freely bestowed upon us His grace. All merit and worthiness on our part is excluded; the bestowal of God's grace and favor is a measure of His merciful goodness alone, in His Beloved, in and with Christ Himself, Colossians 1:13; Matthew 3:17. Through the grace of God in Jesus, whose entire work is an expression of the love of God toward us, we become both the objects and the recipients of His love.

"The one he loves, the Beloved" is "the only begotten Son." 

Notice how often Jesus Christ is referred to in verses 3-14: in verse 3 twice; in 4 once; in 5 once; in 6 once; in 7 at least twice; in 9 once; in 10 twice; in 11 once; in 12 once, in 13 twice, for a total of fourteen times. If ever a person comes to you, worried about whether or not he is one of God's elect ask him the simple question: "Do you believe that John 3:16 applies to you?" If to this he answers "yes," assure him that he is one of the elect. This assumes, of course, that his attitude toward the remainder of Scripture is like that of his attitude toward John 3:16.

Ephesians 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. 11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,

As mentioned earlier, verses 15-23 are really only one sentence, one complete thought. These verses apply what was said in verses 3-14. Verses 3-14 speak about what our election in Christ in eternity has caused for us in time. Verses 15-23 direct our attention to sanctification, to our everlasting hope in heaven, and never lose sight of Christ. See how many times you can find Him referred to in verses 15-23.

Kretzmann: A long and remarkable sentence, presenting the loftiest conception, both of Christ's own supremacy and of the grandeur of that Church of His, of which the Ephesians have been made members.
Stoeckhardt: There is a decided contrast between this second half of this first chapter and the first half.

"For this reason" points back to everything in verses 3-14. Scholars debate whether Paul had or had not had first hand knowledge of and personal acquaintance with the Ephesian Christians. We don't need settle that here. What is important is that he definitely knew of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love toward all the saints (Christians). This shows that what God purposed in Christ in eternity came true in time.

Kretzmann: They were in a state of faith, of which fact they also gave proof by their love toward all the saints.
Bengel: Note in verse 15 we have faith and love and that hope is added in verse 18. These three are all the distinguishing characteristics of Christianity.
Stoeckhardt: These three, faith, hope and love, which Paul also joins in other letters, for example 1 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Colossians 1:4-5, constitute the present Christian status. The more faith grows in strength and unfolds its power in love, the more intense becomes also the hope of the Christians. The nearer the end of their faith, the soul's salvation, approaches, the more distinct this goal presents itself to the inner eye of the Christians, and thus they grow in hope and in the knowledge of their hope and of the object of their hope.

Ephesians 1:16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

Paul often speaks of thanking God for Christians and praying for them. Look at 1 Thessalonians 1:2ff; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Corinthians 1:4ff; Romans 1:8ff; Colossians 1:3ff; Philippians 1:3ff; Philemon 4ff. Why would Paul thank God for them? Because conversion and what follows is a miracle of God, the greatest thing that can happen to any sinful mortal. Why would Paul continue to pray for them? Because Christians have a sinful flesh and live in a sinful world. There is always the danger that they will stagnate. The substance of the prayer now follows in verses 17-18.

Ephesians 1:17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

Note that God is called "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ." That is said of Jesus Christ incarnate. God is God of Jesus as a true man. The real point that Paul is making is that God is my God because He is the God of the incarnate Christ. He is also called "the Father of glory." 

Kretzmann: He is the Father of glory, for glory is His essential attribute, Acts 7:2; 1 Corinthians 2:8. Perfection, magnificence, divine majesty, and excellence is found in Him.
Stoeckhardt: This God is the Father of glory, that is to say, the highest, majestic glory is His very own.

He also calls attention to Acts 7:2 and 1 Corinthians 2:8. He then goes on to explain that it does not mean heaven, the abode of the blessed, as it does in verse 18 but "the weighty content of God's total peculiar being, the comprehension of all His attributes in the undivided fullness of their revelation." 

The point that Paul is making is that our heavenly Father is the most exalted, majestic, gracious, and loving being. And now comes the substance of the prayer. We offer a paraphrase to bring out the meaning: "I pray that He give you an attitude of wisdom and revelation by greater knowledge of Him (God Himself)." 

Some take "spirit" here of the Holy Spirit. TEV: "The Spirit who will make you wise, etc." 

Kretzmann: The Holy spirit reveals to Christians an ever clearer and sharper understanding of God. They advance from truth to truth, from knowledge to knowledge.
Bengel: The same Spirit, who is the Spirit of promise, is, in the progress of believers, also the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.

AAT also takes it of the Holy Spirit: "to give you His Spirit to make you wise and reveal the truth, etc." 

Stoeckhardt: The Spirit of wisdom and revelation teaches the Christian to grasp the heavenly, divine things and reveals to them that which otherwise would remain hidden to them. By receiving true faith the Christians have with it and in it received also the Holy Spirit. The prayer of Paul requests the increase of the Spirit and His gifts.

Others take the word "spirit" to denote a spiritual attitude. Thus KJV, NKJV, RSV, JB, NASB. It really makes little difference. Where you have the Spirit working effectively you have a spiritual attitude and vice versa. In any case, all three members of the Trinity are found in verse 17. It is a glorious comfort to know that through Jesus Christ, our Father, the most majestic Being, grants His Spirit so that we grow in our knowledge of Him. The means of grace are implicit here.

Ephesians 1:18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,

This is a continuation of Paul's prayer in verse 17. It directs our attention to our everlasting inheritance. Read 1 Peter 1:3-5. Stoeckhardt translates the opening words: "that God may illuminate your spiritual vision." Good. "The eyes of your heart" is metaphorical for the very inmost perception. "Enlightened" is a knowledge which requires no further approval. It is knowledge, not acknowledgement. Notice it is God who calls, He causes the call into the Kingdom. This call causes hope. "Hope" in the New Testament is firm and confident assurance which needs no further evidence.

In this verse "glorious" denotes the glory and splendor of heaven, not an attribute of God. Note that we have three consecutive genitives. We shall try to translate them correctly: "the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints." Thus RSV and NIV. He, God, gives the inheritance. In other words, Paul is speaking of a particular kind of riches. It is a riches which amounts to a glorious inheritance which God gives. It is found among the saints now already. AAT renders this: "the riches of the glory of the inheritance he gives to His holy people." In any case it is theirs by faith and hope.

Midst the greatest troubles, sickness, trial, or affliction, a Christian is assured by the everlasting Gospel that what has happened to them in time (conversion) is the result of God's eternal plan in Christ for him, and points the eyes of his heart to the Hope to which God called him and to the wealth, the riches, which consists in the great inheritance of heaven which God gives in the Gospel.

Stoeckhardt: The hope of the Christians is fixed upon the inheritance which God at some future day is to bestow upon His children. This inheritance is, as has been noticed in verse 14, the completion of their salvation, the heavenly joy, the transcendent ecstasy and bliss, or the future glory, the participating in the blessedness and glory, of God. Glory is here a most splendid condition. It is a wonderful, beautiful, glorious inheritance, far beyond anything we can conceive at present, which awaits the children of God . . . This inheritance has its place among the saints, in the congregation of those that shall be perfected in holiness and righteousness, nowhere else . . . It is an incorruptible, undefiled inheritance that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven, 1 Peter 1:4, and thus they alone are the heirs of this inheritance who have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit. . . . As long as the Christians are still living and walking here in this world, their eyes, their senses, their thoughts are still so easily fascinated by the things and the treasures of this visible world and are thus distracted from the glorious treasures of the world to come; and therefore the Apostle prays for them, and we are without ceasing to pray and to implore God that He through His Spirit may enlighten us that we may always more and more and better and better behold the righteousness of the glory of the inheritance of the saints in light, as it is presented to us in His Word, so that our inner eye may become accustomed more and more to behold the brilliancy of eternity, of the promised heavenly glory.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A, Festival Season Sundays Epistle Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1983, pp. 20-26. Used with permission.

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