"Gods masterpiece" is a paraphrase of the words "his workmanship" in Ephesians 2.10, which is a description of ourselves as redeemed sinners comprising the New Testament Church considered in its universal aspect. The original word is poiema, from which our English word "poem" is derived. It points to the fact that the Church of all true believers from Pentecost to the Rapture is Gods masterpiece in all His plans of redemption for mankind. God had, has still, and will yet have further plans for His redeemed earthly people, the nation of Israel, but His plans for the Church, His heavenly people, surpass them all. The aim of these articles is to explain the true place, destiny, purpose, and practical responsibilities of believers today as members of the Church universal from a study of Pauls letter to the Ephesians. The objective of this study is to re-emphasise the importance of giving truth concerning the universal Church equal place in our thinking and behaviour with truth concerning the local churches of the saints, since the latter aspects of the truth have sometimes been given precedence over the former aspects.
Local responsibility in witness and service must certainly be fully recognised, and is fully taught in several other letters by the Apostle Paul, but the wider view of Gods wonderful purposes of love, mercy, grace, and wisdom manifested in ever saving us to be part of Christs own mystical body, temple, and bride - the Church universal - will raise our appreciation both of God Himself and of His redeemed people on to an altogether higher plane.
If we see our often-failing selves and fellow-saints in this more exalted light, we will perhaps be less inclined to criticise one another or to complain about particular local conditions and problems. Instead, we will be prepared to live and speak the truth with one another in love and with grace, and seek only the Lords glory in every matter of concern.
Pauls letter to the Ephesians contains truth concerning Gods redeeming grace that is probably higher in its spiritual level than any other contained in the rest of Scripture. And it is truth that is most directly relevant to believers today, for its main subject is the mystery of the Church universal, one of several truths which were revealed for the first time to the Apostle Paul rather than to any of the other apostles. The letter was probably intended to be circulated amongst several local churches in Asia Minor. In Colossians 4.16 Paul exhorted the Colossian believers to read a letter he had sent to Laodicea, and to send the letter he had written to Colosse on to Laodicea for that assembly to read also. It has been suggested that the letter from Laodicea may have been this one that we know as the letter to the Ephesians, especially since some manuscripts of Ephesians omit the place-name "at Ephesus" from the address in Ephesians 1.1, perhaps indicating the circular nature of the letter. Certainly, it is clear from the close similarity in content between Ephesians and Colossians that they are "sister epistles", to be read in conjunction with one another. Whereas Ephesians presents the truth of Christ and the Church more generally and positively, and does not directly address or correct any specific local church problems or errors, Colossians is designed to counter various doctrinal errors concerning Christs relationship to the Church, emphasising His absolute supremacy and all-sufficiency as the Head of the Body.
Chapters 1-3; 4.1-6.9; 6.10-24
The first half of the letter (chs.1-3) is mainly doctrinal, the second half (chs.4-6) mainly practical. The three sections of the analysis may be described in order as the Wealth, Walk, and Warfare of New Testament believers; alternatively, as their Blessings, Behaviour, and Battle; or as their Calling, Conduct, and Conflict. They represent three different spiritual positions of New Testament believers, namely: sitting with Christ in heavenly places; walking worthily of our Lord through the world; and standing strong in the Lord against our spiritual enemies. In Ephesians, unlike other letters, Paul is led to view believers as being in the heavenlies in Christ, identified through faith-union with Him in His present exaltation, and therefore involved in the spiritual conflict that is constantly taking place there between the forces of God and the forces of the evil one. Our present earthly walk in the world is therefore viewed from that high perspective.
Chapters 1-3: Our Unique Heavenly Calling as the Body of Christ
Divine purpose in our blessings in Christ (1.1-14)
These verses present to New Testament believers the vast panorama of our blessings in the heavenlies in Christ from all the members of the Godhead - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God the Father has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, not just from its foundation, as with Israel. In His love He has predestinated us to the privileges of adult sonship, and freely accepted us in His beloved Son. Christ has redeemed us by His blood and forgiven our trespasses. Then He has revealed to us the mystery of Gods will, that all things in the universe are to be headed up in the millennial Kingdom in Christ, in whom we find that we have been made an inheritance for His pleasure. The Holy Spirit has come to indwell us, thus sealing us as His own, and to be the guarantee and foretaste of our inheritance in Christ as we await the redemption of our bodies at the Resurrection and Rapture. But Gods grand ultimate purpose in all this is the praise of His own glory and grace, not simply our blessing, wonderful though that is. Consequently, our blessing has as its object that we should bless our God and Father in return.
Prayer for enlightenment to realize our blessings as the Church, the Body of Christ (1.15-23)
Pauls two prayers in Ephesians are complementary. The first, here, is that we may know what God has done for us in Christ; the second (3.14-21) that we may live up to the position in which God has put us. Here, then, Paul prays that we may be granted by the indwelling Spirit full experiential knowledge of God and Christ. The object is that we can grasp the full wonder and significance of the hope of Gods calling us in Christ, the wealth of Christs inheritance invested in us as His believing people, and the immeasurable greatness of Gods power. The latter was seen in His resurrection of Christ from the dead to an unchallengeable position of power, authority, and privilege at Gods own right hand.
It is at this point that Paul is led to introduce the truth of the Church universal as the Body of Christ, here described as His fullness, His complement, in His control over the whole universe. That is our privilege and position in Christ, our Head in heaven. We are united inseparably to Him on the throne of the universe according to Gods eternal purposes of grace and glory and by His resurrection power. Have we grasped the dignity of our calling? Do we live accordingly? Do we see ourselves and our fellow-saints in Christ, or only in the flesh?
To be continued.