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Ephesians 1:1523; 2:110; 3:1621comment (0)

March 20, 2008

By James R. Strange

Related Scripture: Ephesians 1:1523; 2:110; 3:1621

Living 3:16 — Alive With Power

Ephesians 1:15–23; 2:1–10; 3:16–21
The idea of divine power frames the letter to the Ephesians. The author begins by talking about God’s power to accomplish His plans for the world (Eph. 1:3–23) and ends by saying that this same power is available to those who follow Christ (Eph. 6:10–17). Such confident talk stands out in a letter reputedly written by Paul from prison.

ost people would assume that a prisoner does nothing except at the whim of those who, by all appearances, have the power. But the author is remarkably unconcerned about his own situation and does not even claim that his jailors have no real control over him (see Eph. 3:1, 13; 4:1; 6:20). Rather he shifts the talk of power to the spiritual realm. 

Power of Wisdom (1:15–23)
This passage comprises the thanksgiving section of the letter, a feature present in nearly every one of the Pauline letters. Paul talks about God’s power working on behalf of believers. Despite all appearances to the contrary, God has already placed Christ over all other rival powers. Yet if this victory is not evident, how can believers tell that it has occurred? Paul prays that they come to understand it through “wisdom and revelation” that are available to all believers. Such wisdom is a sort of spiritual vision that opens believers’ eyes to this truth: their divine calling is to hope, not to despair. The authors of ancient Jewish texts say something similar: it is a sin for Israel to despair, for to do so shows Israel’s lack of trust in God’s power. Paul says it this way: God calls the church to hope, but God also grants the power to hope. That power comes through God’s gift of wisdom.

Power of Love (2:1–10)
Readers will be drawn immediately to Ephesians 2:8–9 because Martin Luther’s legacy is still alive among Baptists. Salvation is a gift from God, says Paul. This means that salvation is not given because of the number or magnificence of a person’s works. But don’t miss what comes before this verse. Unlike other Pauline letters, which emphasize what humans cannot accomplish through “works of the law” (see especially Rom. 3 and 4; Gal. 2), the emphasis here is on what God has accomplished through His work of mercy, for God offered salvation while humans were still pursuing their own desires rather than living as God requires (see Rom. 5:6–8). The other option was for God to have left humans dead in their trespasses, but God did not take that road. On the contrary, God’s love is so great that God raises believers for the purpose of showing them more grace and kindness “in the ages to come” (v. 7).

And read on. Believers are not saved by works, but they are created for them. According to Paul, both salvation and believers’ good works are intended by God from the beginning and both stem from God’s love. Just as God makes believers alive in order to show them yet more kindness, so God raises them to commit acts of grace and kindness of their own. This is the “way of life” that God “prepared beforehand” for believers (v. 10). Don’t miss the word play here: this “way of life” is both a “way of living” day to day (see Eph. 4:1) and a “way” taken by those “made alive” in Christ.

Power of God (3:16–21)
In this section, Paul prays again for his readers but the focus is now on God’s power to transform believers’ inner selves. Paul prays that the Spirit strengthens them and that Christ makes His dwelling in their hearts, just as together they constitute a temple for God’s residence (see Eph. 2:21–22). He also returns to the theme of God’s gift of divine wisdom (mentioned above), asking that they be given the power to comprehend the love of Christ. (Readers should note that the phrase “the love of Christ” is as ambiguous in Greek as it is in English: is Paul talking about our love for Christ or Christ’s love for us?) Paul’s final request completes the idea of God’s internal transformation of believers. As the Spirit strengthens their inner beings and as Christ dwells in their hearts, so may they be “filled with all the fullness of God.” The implication is that being filled with God leaves no room for anything opposed to God.

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