A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians. 1:4-6 1). The past blessing of election.
Paul reaches back in his mind *before the foundation of the world* (verse 4), before creation, before time began, into a past eternity in which only God himself existed in the perfection of his being.
In that pre-creation eternity God did something. He formed a purpose in his mind. This purpose concerned both *Christ* (his only begotten Son) and *us* (whom he proposed to make his adopted sons and indeed daughters, for of course the word embraces both sexes). Mark well the statement: *he chose us in him*. The juxtaposition of the three pronouns is emphatic. God put us and Christ together in his mind. He determined to make us (who did not yet exist) his own children through the redeeming work of Christ (which had not yet taken place). It was a definite decision, for the verb *he chose (exelexato)* is another aorist. It also arose from his entirely unmerited favour, since he chose us *that we should holy and blameless before him*, which indicates that we, when in his mind he chose us, were unholy and blameworthy, and therefore deserving not of adoption but of judgment. Further (Paul repeats the same truth in different words), *he destined us in love (1) to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (verses 5-6).
Now everybody finds the doctrine of election difficult. ‘Didn’t I choose God?’ someone asks indignantly; to which we must answer ‘Yes, indeed you did, and freely, but only because in eternity God had first chosen you.’ ‘Didn’t I decide for Christ?’ asks somebody else; to which we must reply ‘Yes, indeed you did, and freely, but only because in eternity God had first decided for you.’
Scripture nowhere dispels the mystery of election, and we should beware of any who try to systematize it too precisely or rigidly. It is not likely that we shall discover a simple solution to a problem which has baffled the best brains of Christendom for centuries. But here at least in our text are three important truths to grasp and remember:
a). The doctrine of election is a divine revelation, not a human speculation.
It was not invented by Augustine of Hippo or Calvin of Geneva. On the contrary, it is without question a biblical doctrine, and no biblical Christian can ignore it. According to the Old Testament, God chose Israel out of all the nations of the world to be his special people (e.g. ‘you shall be my own possession among all peoples. Ex.19:4-6; cf.Dt.7:6ff.; Is.42:1 and 43:1). According to the New Testament he is choosing an international community to be his ‘saints’ (verse 1), his holy or special people (cf. 1 Pet.2:9-10). So we must not reject the notion of election as if it were a weird fantasy of men, but rather humbly accept it (even though we do not fully understand it) as a truth which God himself has revealed. It seems natural that at this point we should seek help from Calvin. He preached through Ephesians, from the pulpit of St Peter’s church, Geneva, in forty-eight sermons beginning on 1 May 1558. Here is one of his comments: ‘Although we cannot conceive either by argument or reason how God has elected us before the creation of the world, yet we know it by his declaring it to us; and experience itself vouches for it sufficiently, when we are enlightened in the faith’.
—————————– Note ————————-
(1). AV, RV, and NEB put the expression ‘in love’ immediately after ‘holy and blameless before him’, because they understand it as referring to the love which God wants to see in us. Thus holiness is defined in terms of love. This may well be the correct translation since the words ‘in love’ occur in five more contexts of Ephesians and in each case describe Christian people (3:17; 4:2, 15, 16; 5:2). RSV, however, attaches the words to the verb ‘destined us’ because it understands them as referring to God’s love, not ours. I myself favour this interpretation because the context appears to be emphasising love as the source rather than the result of our election.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 1:4-6. b). The doctrine of election is an incentive to holiness, not an excuse for sin.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|