A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians. 1:11-14. 4) The scope of the blessings.
After describing the spiritual blessings which God gives to his people in Christ, Paul adds a further paragraph to emphasize that the blessings belong equally to the Jewish and Gentile believers. The structure of the paragraph makes this plain: *in him…we (Jews) who first hoped in Christ have been destined…to live for the praise of his glory. In him you (Gentiles) also, who…believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit which is the guarantee of our inheritance…*. The apostle moves from the pronoun *we* (himself and his fellow Jewish believers) to *you also* (his believing Gentile readers) to *our* inheritance (in which both groups equally share). He is anticipating his theme of the reconciliation of the Jews and Gentiles which he will elaborate in the second part of chapter 2. Already, however, by the repetition of the words *in him* (verses 11, 13) he emphasizes that Christ is the reconciler, and that it is through union with Christ that the people of God are one. He shares with us three great truths about God’s people.
a). God’s people are God’s possession.
One would not guess from RSV that the truth of God’s people as God’s ‘possession’ was taught in this paragraph, but it almost certainly is. The apostle employs two Greek expressions whose Old Testament background strongly suggests this meaning. The first is translated by RSV ‘destined’ (verse 12). It is the verb *kleroo*, which can mean to give or to receive a *kleros*, an inheritance. The question is to what inheritance Paul is referring. It could be ours, a gift which we have received. So NEB: ‘In Christ…we have been given our share in the heritage.’ Alternatively, it could be God’s because he has taken us to be his own. RV understands it in this way: ‘in whom also we were made a heritage.’. So does Armitage Robinson: ‘We have been chosen as God’s portion.’ Linguistically, this translation is more natural. But, more important, the Old Testament background seems almost to demand it. Israel was God’s *kleros*, his ‘heritage’. Again and again this truth was repeated. For example, ‘The Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage,’ and ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage (cf. the LXX version of Dt. 32:9; Ps.33:12. cf. Dt.4:20; 9:29, 1 Kgs.8:51; Ps.106:40, 135:4; Je.10:16; Zc.2:12; etc.). Paul’s use of the verb *kleroo* in this paragraph seems to indicate his conviction that all those who are in Christ, Gentiles a well as Jews, are now God’s *kleros*, as only Israel was in Old Testament days.
This is confirmed by the second term he employs, which is also rich in Old Testament associations, and which comes at the end of the paragraph (verse 14). The AV translation is literal but unintelligible, namely ‘until the redemption of the purchased possession’ (*eis apolutrosin tes peripoieseos*). The question we have to ask about this ‘possession’ is the same question we asked above about the ‘inheritance’: is it ours or God’s? RSV assumes it is ours: ‘until *we* acquire possession of it’. But J.H.Houlden goes so far as to call this ‘a loose and tendentious translation’. It seems more probable that the possession (like the inheritance) is God’s and that it again refers to his people. So NIV: ‘until the redemption of those who are God’s possession’. The main argument for interpreting it this way is once more the Old Testament background. For the noun *peripoiesis* (‘possession’), or its cognate adjective, occurs quite frequently in LXX as a description of Israel, e.g. ‘You shall be my own possession among all peoples.’ and ‘The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession.’ (See the LXX version of Ex.19:5; Dt.7:6; cf. Dt.14:2; 26:18; Is.43:21; Mal.3:17; etc.). Certainly this phraseology is taken up in the New Testament in relation to the church which Christ purchased for himself. (See Acts 20:28; Tit.2:14 and 1 Pet 2:9).
Putting these two Greek expressions together, with their clear Old Testament background, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that Paul is alluding to the church as God’s ‘inheritance’ and ‘possession’. These words used to be applied exclusively to the one nation of Israel, but are now reapplied to the international people whose common factor is that they are all ‘in Christ’. The fact that the same vocabulary is used of both peoples indicates the spiritual continuity between them.
This teaching, though entirely hidden by RSV and obscured by most of the English versions, is nevertheless basic to what Paul is writing in this paragraph. God’s people are God’s ‘saints’ (verse 1), God’s heritage (verse 12), God’s possession (verse 14). Only when that has been grasped, are we ready to ask two further questions. First, *how* did we become God’s people? Secondly, *why* did he make us his people? Paul answers the first question by reference to God’s will and second by reference to his glory. And he states each truth three times.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 1:11-14. b) God’s people depend on God’s will.
|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.|