THE EPHESIAN PRAYER JOURNAL
AN INTRODUCTION TO PAUL’S LETTER TO THE EPHESIANS
This was a circuit letter that was sent to all the churches in Asia Minor. These churches had been in existence for about eight years and were made up mostly of Gentile believers.
This is the only letter of Paul where he is not dealing with a church problem or crisis. The theme of this letter is that Christ has a body here on earth in which HE seeks to speak and to express HIMSELF, without measure. Paul is simply overflowing with HIS vision of Christ and HIS mystical body, and God’s “Eternal Purpose.” Paul sat down to write this one letter, not because he received bad news from one of the churches, or to deal with a heresy, but this letter was written out of such ecstatic bliss and joy in what he had seen of our matchless Christ and HIS peerless body on earth.
This is such a unique letter in many respects. What I want to do here is quote some esteemed brothers who speak of the sublime nature of this letter to give everyone an elevated idea of what we are about to approach in this letter from Paul.
Ephesians contains forty-two words that occur nowhere else in the New Testament and thirty-nine that occur nowhere else in Paul's letters.
Charles Williams writes:
"The language is rich, in harmony with the sublime thoughts which clamor for expression by the apostle's pen."
Henry Alford, "The Greek New Testament," writes:
"The style of St. Paul may be compared to a great tide ever advancing irresistibly towards the destined shore, but broken and rippled over every wave of its broad expanse, and liable at any moment to mighty effluences as it foams and swells about opposing sandbank or rocky cape. With even more exactness we might compare it to a river whose pure waters, at every interspace of calm, reflect as in a mirror the hues of heaven, but which is liable to the rushing influx of mountain torrents, and whose reflected images are only dimly discernible in ten thousand fragments of quivering colour, when its surface is swept by ruffling winds."
Edmond Hiebert, "An Introduction to the Pauline Epistles," writes:
"It is generally conceded that Ephesians is the deepest book in the New Testament. Its vision of the purpose of God stretch here from eternity to eternity. And it is also "by far the most difficult of all the writings of Paul" (Henry Alford). The difficulties are not so much on the surface, where at first all seems quite smooth. The difficulties are encountered in seeking to penetrate into the inner depths of the thought of the Apostle."
I have found this to be so true. I actually memorized this epistle many years ago, but never thought or prayed through the very things I had memorized. I only knew this letter on its surface and never contemplated the wealth that lay so silently in its depths.
Philip Schaff, "History of the Christian Church," writes:
"It certainly is the most spiritual and devout, composed in an exalted and transcendent state of mind, where theology rises into worship, and meditation into oration (Prayer). It is the Epistle of the Heavenlies, a solemn liturgy, an ode to Christ and his spotless bride, the Song of Songs in the New Testament. The aged apostle soared high above all earthly things to the invisible and eternal realities in heaven. From his gloomy confinement he ascended for a season to the mount of transfiguration. The prisoner of Christ, chained to a heathen soldier, was transformed into a conqueror, clad in the panoply of God, and singing a paean of victory."
Edmond Hiebert writes:
“One of he most amazing passages is the “Hymn of Grace” in 1:3-14, a three stanza hymn celebrating the salvation wrought by our triune God. (Philip) Schaff says that this one profound sentence rises “like a thick cloud of incense higher and higher to the very throne of God.”
I never knew that this first passage in Paul’s letter was a hymn. Perhaps, as we go through this, we can hear Paul singing this hymn to Christ, and to HIS body, and we too can allow this hymn to sing in the depths of our hearts as well.
Darrell L. Bock (A Theology of Paul’s Prison Epistles) writes:
“…a major focus of this letter and of the Prison Epistles in general is the corporate nature of those who a e in the body of Christ. Believers do not have a private faith; they have corporate relationship and responsibility to each other. God has taken the intuitive to form a new people through Jesus, as His plan moves toward summing up all creation in Him.”
Now this is a key point. Typically, as followers of Christ, we read these epistles in isolation from the body Christ and look in them how they apply to us as individuals. When we begin to read them in their corporate nature, as intended by Paul, it opens up whole new heavens and worlds of possibilities. We begin to look beyond the sphere of our own individual lives as the veil is lifted and we begin to see God’s Eternal Purpose in Christ Jesus. Let’s begin our journey together and pray HIS guidance in this pilgrimage of prayer into this heavenly letter. Can you hear his song to our beloved Christ and HIS bride? Let's begin singing it together.
O blessed, Living Lord,
Engage our hearts with Thee,
And strike within some answ'ring chord
To love so rich and free!
To know Thy loving heart!
To cleave to Thy blest side!
To gaze upon Thee where Thou art,
And in Thy love abide!
To walk with Thee below!
To learn Thy holy ways!
And more to Thine own stature grow,
To Thine eternal praise!
This is the introduction to A.C. Gaebelein's wonderful little book on the first three chapters of Ephesians, "God's Masterpiece." This book was written in 1913 and I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in plumbing the depths of Jesus Christ that are found in Ephesians. The entire book can be found online or ordered at Amazon.com.
The Epistle to the Ephesians is one of the prison Epistles of the Apostle Paul. Tychicus and Onesimus were sent by him to Colosse. Epaphras, that great man of prayer, who agonized in prayer for the Colossian believers (Col. iv:12), had communicated to Paul the condition of the church in Colosae, and informed him of the threatening danger from unsound teachers. Tychicus had received from Paul the letter to the Colossians, containing such wonderful revelations concerning the person and work of Christ, and the believer's fulness in Him. All the Colossian errors were met by the Holy Spirit in this Epistle and much more was added. Onesimus, the runaway slave, who in believing the Gospel had become the spiritual son of the Apostle and a brother beloved to his master Philemon, carried that beautiful little epistle of recommendation and courtesy to Philemon. The Epistle to the Ephesians* was also committed to Tychicus. Never before and never after were suchweighty and blessed documents entrusted to human messengers.
In the Epistle to the Colossians Paul makes the statement, "Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the Word of God" (Col. i:25). To fulfil the Word of God does not mean, as often stated, that Paul fulfilled his ministry and was faithful in it. It means rather that to him was given the revelation which makes full, or completes, the Word of God. The highest and most glorious revelation, which the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has been pleased to give, He communicated through the Apostle Paul. The two prison Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians embody this completion of the Word of God. The Ephesian Epistle holds the place of pre-eminence. The revelation which is given in this Epistle concerning believing sinners, whom God has redeemed by the blood of His Son, and exalted in Him into the highest possible position, is by far the greatest revelation. God is revealing His own loving heart and tells out by His Spirit how He loved us and thought of us before the foundation of the world. He shows forth the riches of His Grace and now makes known the secret He held back in former ages. How rich it all is! Like God Himself, so this revelation, coming from His loving heart, is inexhaustible. We may speak of Ephesians as the rich Epistle of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, rich in mercy, tells us of the exceeding riches of His Grace in kindness towards us through Christ Jesus. But even this definition does not tell out half of all the Glory this wonderful document contains. It is God's highest and God's best. Even God cannot say more than what He has said in this filling full of His Word.
In the Psalms we read: "The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork" (Ps. xix:1). We lift up our eyes and behold the wonders of God's creation, which He called into existence by His Son and for Him (Col. i:19). Here in this Epistle another heaven is opened. If the heavens of Creation are so wonderful and their depths unfathomable, how much more wonderful are the Heavenlies into which Christ has entered, where He now is seated, far above all principality and power and might and into which God's Grace has brought us in Him!
And this brings us to the reason for calling the opening chapters of this Epistle "the Masterpiece of God." The first three chapters of Ephesians contain the great revelation to which we referred above. What God has accomplished in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to the praise of the Glory of His Grace, how He makes believing sinners one with His Son, sharers of His fulness and His Glory, this is the revelation of these chapters. All was planned before the foundation of the world, while elsewhere in these chapters (ii:7), the eternity to come is mentioned. From eternity to eternity are the boundaries of these three chapters.
The church, the body of Christ, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all, the one body in which believing Jews and Gentiles are united, the building growing unto an holy temple, the habitation of God by the Spirit, and the ultimate destiny of that body, are further revelations of these marvellous chapters.
Now the central verse of these chapters is found in ii:10. "For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained, that we should walk in them." The word "workmanship" arrests our attention. It is the Greek "Poiema," from which our word "Poem" is derived. It is a beautiful thought in itself to think of those who are saved by Grace, and united to Christ as "the poem of God." But the word "Poiema" may also be rendered "Masterpiece." Only once more is the same word found in the original language of the New Testament Scriptures. In Romans i:20 it is used in connection with the physical creation. God has produced two great masterworks in which He manifests His power. He called the universe into existence out of nothing. What He, as the omnipotent One can do, is seen in the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the sustenance of His creation. His eternal power and Godhead are revealed in creation (Rom. i:19-20). But the creation of the universe out of nothing is not the greatest masterpiece of God. God has done something greater. He has produced a work, which reveals Him in a far higher degree. That greater masterpiece is the redemption of sinners. God took only six days to bring order out of the chaos of the disturbed original creation and to call into existence the present earth and heavens, but He spent forty daya with Moses in directing him to build the tabernacle, because the work of redemption is, more glorious than the work of creation. In this greater work He manifests "the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places" (i:17-20). God planned this great work before He ever created the universe, and the universe was called into existence in anticipation of this greater manifestation of God's glorious power. How God planned it before the foundation of the world, the work of the Godhead in the accomplishment of it, the details of His masterpiece and the mystery connected with it, we hope to follow in this exposition.
God's creation may be studied with the telescope and with the microscope. With the telescope we study the heavens and see the great constellations and millions of heavenly bodies. We take the microscope and examine the drop of water and behold there the marvels of creation. A telescopic sweep of this Epistle is insufficient. The microscopic examination brings out its wonders.
"The student of the Epistle to the Ephesians must not expect to go over his ground too rapidly; must not be disappointed, if the week's end finds him still on the same paragraph, oreven on the same verse, weighing and judging, —penetrating gradually, by the power of the mind of the Spirit, through one outer surface after another, getting in his hand one and another ramifying thread, till at last he grasps the main cord whence they all diverged, and where they all unite—and stands rejoicing in his prize, deeper rooted in the faith, and with a firmer hold on the truth as it is in Christ. And as the wonderful effect of the spirit of inspiration on the mind of man is nowhere in Scripture more evident than in this Epistle, so, to discern those things of the Spirit, is the spiritual mind here more than anywhere else required."* And the more we read and study this Epistle, the more we will be impressed with the greatness and the glory of the revelation it brings to our hearts. It is a theme for eternity. How needful the study of this Epistle is for us in these days! The truths revealed will keep us in the days of apostasy and lift us above the materialistic spirit of the times. Without earnest and continued meditation on the great truths made known in this Epistle, spiritual growth and enjoyment are impossible. May it please the Holy Spirit to lead the writer and the reader into a better and deeper heart knowledge of His wonderful Grace.
♦Dean Alford. Prolegomena.
CHRIST IS ALL IN ALL,