A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 1:15-23. 1). The hope of God’s call.
The call of God takes us back to the very beginning of our Christian lives. ‘Those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified.’ (Rom.8:30). True, we called on him to save us (Rom.10:12-13), but our call was a response to his.
The question now is: what did God call us for? His call was not a random or purposeless thing. He had some object in view when he called us. He called us to something and for something. And it is this that is meant by ‘the hope of his call’ (verse 18, literally) which in 4:4 is referred to as the ‘hope of *your* call’. It is the expectation which we enjoy as a result of the fact that God has called us.
What this is the rest of the New Testament tells us. It is a rich and varied expectation. For God has called us ‘to belong to Jesus Christ’ and ‘into the fellowship of…Jesus Christ.’ (Rom. 1:6; 1 Cor. 1:9. He has called ‘us to be saints’ or ‘called us with a holy calling’, since he who has called us is holy himself and says to us ‘you shall be holy, for I am holy’ (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Tim.1:9; 1 Pet.1:15; cf. 1 Thess.4:7). One of the characteristics of the ‘holy’ or special people of God is liberation from the judgment of God’s law. So we are not to lapse into slavery again, for we were ‘called to freedom’ (Gal.5:1, 13). Another characteristic is harmonious fellowship across the barriers of race and class, for we ‘were called in the one body’ to enjoy ‘the peace of Christ’, and must live a life that is ‘worthy of the calling to which we have been called…forbearing one another in love, (Col.3:15; Eph.4:1-2). At the same time, though we may enjoy peace within the Christian community, we are bound to experience opposition from the unbelieving world. Yet we must not retaliate: ‘For to this (this unjust suffering and this patient endurance) you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.’ (1 Pet.2:21). Besides, we know that beyond the suffering lies the glory. For God has also called us ‘into his own kingdom and glory’ or ‘to his eternal glory in Christ’. This is what Paul calls ‘the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’, for the sake of which he presses on in the Christian race towards the goal (1 Thess.2:12; 1 Pet.5:10; Phil.3:14).
All this was in God’s mind when he called us. He called us to Christ and holiness, to freedom and peace, to suffering and glory. More simply, it was a call to an altogether new life in which we know, love, obey and serve Christ, enjoy fellowship with him and with each other, and look beyond our present suffering to the glory which will one day be revealed. This is *the hope to which he has called you*. Paul prays that our eyes may be opened to know it.
2). The glory of God’s inheritance.
The apostle’s second prayer to God is that we may know *what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints* (verse 18b). The Greek expression, like the English, could mean either God’s inheritance or ours, that is, either the inheritance he receives or the inheritance he bestows. Some commentators take it in the former sense and understand it to refer to the inheritance which God possesses among his people. Certainly the Old Testament authors taught consistently that God’s people were his ‘inheritance’ or ‘possession’, and in the last chapter we found a reference to this truth in verses 12 and 14. But the parallel passage in Colossians 1:12 strongly suggests the other interpretation here, namely that ‘God’s inheritance’ refers to what he will give us, for we are to give thanks to the Father, ‘who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light’.
In this case. if God’s ‘call’ points back to the beginning of our Christian life, God’s ‘inheritance’ points on to its end, to that final inheritance of which the Holy Spirit is the guarantee (verse 14) and which Peter describes as ‘imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you’ (1 Pet.1:4). For God’s children are God’s heirs, in fact ‘fellow heirs with Christ’ (Rom.8:17) and one day by his grace the inheritance will be ours. Exactly what it will be like is beyond our capacity to imagine. So we shall be wise not to be too dogmatic about it. Nevertheless certain aspects of it have been revealed in the New Testament, and we shall not go wrong if we hold fast to these. We are told that we shall ‘see’ God and his Christ, and worship him; that this ‘beatific’ vision will be a transforming vision, for ‘when he appears we shall be like him’, not only in body but in character; and that we shall enjoy perfect fellowship with each other. For God’s inheritance (the inheritance he gives us) will not be a little private party for each individual but rather ‘among the saints’ as we join that ‘great multitude which no man can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb’ (For the New Testament teaching about our heavenly inheritance, alluded to here, see Rev.22:3-4; 1 Jn.3:2; Phil.3:21; Rev.7:9; cf. Acts 20:32).
Paul does not regard it as presumptuous that we should think about our heavenly inheritance or even anticipate it with joy and gratitude. On the contrary, he prays that we may ‘know it’, the ‘glory’ of it, indeed, ‘the riches of the glory’ of it.
Tomorrow: 3) The greatness of God’s power.
|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.|