A Commentary by John Stott
On reading this passionate assault on ‘wall-churches’, one suspects that he is reacting against the smug, withdrawn and loveless attitudes of some Christians today – and rightly so. If he means only that the church must not barricade itself against the world, but rather go out into it in compassionate service and witness, we would wholeheartedly agree with him. But he goes well beyond this to a declaration of ‘solidarity’ between church and world which refuses to recognize any distinction between them except that the one has come consciously to acknowledge Jesus Christ, while the other has not.
This refusal to accept a radical distinction between church and world, between the new society and the old, really cannot be defended from Ephesians. The dividing wall which Jesus has abolished is not a barrier which separates the world *from* the church; it is the barrier which segregates groups and individuals from one another *within* the church. Besides, the Ephesians’ picture of the ‘Gentiles’ is not just that they are ignorant of salvation. Their condition is described in 4:17ff. To their ‘futility of mind’ Paul adds ‘hardness of heart’. They are alienated from God’s life, live in darkness and are greedy for uncleanness. Twice the apostle calls them ‘sons of disobedience’ (once referring to their present state, and once to their future destiny) and in both contexts he alludes also to God’s terrible but righteous wrath: they are ‘children of wrath’ now, and ‘the wrath of God’ will come upon them on the last day (2:3; 5:6).
So, returning to Ephesians 1:10, we cannot legitimately press the ‘all things’ into an argument for universal salvation, unless we are prepared to accuse Paul of theological confusion and self-contradiction. What, then, are the ‘all things, things in heaven and things on earth’ which will one day be united under Christ’s headship? Certainly they include the Christian living and the Christian dead, the church on earth and the church in heaven. That is, those who are ‘in Christ’ now (verse 1), and who ‘in Christ’ have received blessing (verse 3), election (verse 4) adoption (verse 5), grace (verse 6), and redemption or forgiveness (verse 7), will one day be perfectly united ‘in him’ (verse 10). No doubt the angels will be included too (cf. 3:10, 15). But ‘all things’ (*ta panta*) normally means the universe, which Christ created and sustains (Heb.1:2-3). So Paul seems to be referring again to that cosmic renewal, that regeneration of the universe, that liberation of the groaning creation, of which he has already written to the Romans (Rom.8:18ff.; cf.Matt.19:28; 2 Pet.3:10-13). God’s plan is that ‘all things’ which were created through Christ and for Christ, and which hold together in Christ (Col.1:16-17), will finally be united under Christ by being subjected to his headship. For the New Testament declares him to be ‘the heir of all things’ (Heb.1:2).
So NEB translates verse 10, ‘that the universe might be brought into a unity in Christ’, and J.B.Lightfoot writes of ‘the entire harmony of the universe, which shall no longer contain alien and discordant elements, but of which all parts shall find their centre and bond of union in Christ.
In the fullness of time, God’s two creations, his whole universe and his whole church, will be unified under the cosmic Christ who is the supreme head of both.
At this point it may be wise to pause a moment and consider how all of us need to develop Paul’s broad perspective. Let me remind you that he was a prisoner in Rome. Not indeed in a cell or dungeon, but still under house arrest and handcuffed to a Roman soldier. Yet, though his wrist was chained and his body was confined, his heart and mind inhabited eternity. He peered back ‘before the foundation of the world’ (verse 4) and on to the fullness of time’ (verse 10), and grasped hold of what ‘we have’ now (verse 7) and ought to ‘be’ now (verse 4) in the light of those two eternities. As for us, how blinkered is our vision in comparison with his, how small is our mind, how narrow are our horizons! Easily and naturally we slip into a preoccupation with our own petty little affairs. But we need to see time in the light of eternity, and our present privileges and obligations in the light of our past election and future perfection. Then, if we shared the apostle’s perspective, we would also share his praise. For doctrine leads to doxology as well as to duty. Life would become worship, and we would bless God constantly for having blessed us so richly in Christ.