A Commentary by John Stott
The opening section of Ephesians (1:3-2:10), which describes the new life God has given us in Christ, divides itself naturally into two halves, the first consisting of praise and the second of prayer. In the ‘praise’ half Paul blesses God that he has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing (1:3-14), while in the ‘prayer’ half he asks that God will open our eyes to grasp the fullness of this blessing (1:15-2:10). We shall be concerned in this chapter with the apostle’s expression of praise.
In the original Greek these twelve verses (1:3-14) constitute a single complex sentence. As Paul dictates , his speech pours out of his mouth in a continuous cascade. He neither pauses for breath, nor punctuates his words with full stops. Commentators have searched for metaphors vivid enough to convey the impact of this opening outburst of adoration. ‘We enter this epistle through a magnificent gateway’, writes Findlay. It is ‘a golden chain’ of many links, or ‘a kaleidoscope of dazzling lights and shifting colours’. William Hendriksen likens it to ‘a snowball tumbling down a hill, picking up volume as it descends’, and E.K. Simpson – less felicitously perhaps – to ‘some long-winded racehorse… careering onward at full speed.’ More romantic is John Mackay’s musical simile: ‘This rhapsodic adoration is comparable to the overture of an opera which contains the successive melodies that are to follow’. And Armitage Robinson suggests that it is ‘like the preliminary flight of an eagle, rising and wheeling round, as though for a while uncertain, what direction in his boundless freedom he shall take’. A gateway, a golden chain, a kaleidoscope, a snowball, a racehorse, an operatic overture and the flight of an eagle: all these metaphors in their different ways describe the impression of colour, movement and grandeur which the sentence makes on the reader’s mind.
The whole paragraph is a paean of praise, a doxology, or indeed a ‘eulogy’, for that is the word Paul uses. He begins by blessing God for blessing us with every conceivable blessing. More particularly, he makes what seems to be a deliberate reference to the Trinity. For the origin of the blessing is ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is also ‘our Father’ (verse 2); its sphere is God the Son, for it is *in Christ*, by virtue of our union with him, that God has blessed us; and its nature is spiritual, *every spiritual blessing*, a phrase which may well mean ‘every blessing of the Holy Spirit’, who as divine executive applies the work of Christ to our hearts. As Charles Hodge put it, ‘These blessings are *spiritual* not merely because they pertain to the soul, but because derived from the Holy Spirit, whose presence and influence are the great blessing purchased by Christ.
It is partly this trinitarian reference which has made some scholars comment on what they call the ‘liturgical’ feel of the paragraph. It is a ‘great benediction’, writes Markus Barth, ‘an exclamation of praise and prayer, resembling those pronounced in Jewish synagogues and homes’, and it ‘may…have come to Paul from the living stream of oral, probably liturgical, Christian tradition’. Some commentators have gone further and detected in the paragraph a trinitarian structure like that of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds – the Father electing (verses 4-6), the Son redeeming (verses 7-12) and the Spirit sealing (verses 13-14), each stanza concluding with the refrain ‘to the praise of his glory’ (verses 6, 12, 14). Although this is rather too neat to be probable, yet the trinitarian content of the paragraph remains obvious.
First, God the Father is the source or origin of every blessing which we enjoy. His initiative is set forth plainly, for he is himself the subject of almost every main verb in these verses. It is he who ‘has blessed us’ (verse 3), who ‘chose us’ (verse 4) and ‘destined us…to be his sons’ (verse 5), who ‘freely bestowed on us’ his grace (verse 6, literally ‘graced us with his grace’), indeed ‘lavished’ his grace upon us (verse 8), who also ‘made known to us’ his will and purpose which he ‘set forth in Christ…to unite all things’ (verse 9-10). Further, he ‘accomplishes all things according to the council of his will’ (verse 11). Turning from the verbs to the nouns, Paul refers in quick succession to God’s love and grace, to his will, his purpose and his plan. Thus the whole paragraph is full of God the Father who has set his love and poured his grace upon us, and who is working out his eternal plan.