by The Rt. Rev. Daniel R. Morse
In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after you believed, you were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:11-14
Clearly one cannot deal with the entire statement in these verses on one occasion; but before we consider the separate statements it is good to deal with the statement as a whole. It is only as we are clear about the general theme, and grasp it, that we can truly appreciate and enjoy the particulars. Here we are looking at the end of the sentence which, as we have seen, starts at the beginning of verse 3 and runs on to the end of verse 14. Obviously it does not finish at verse 10, because the Apostle goes on to say “In whom also.” The “whom” refers to someone already mentioned and the “also” tells us of something additional.
The Apostle is unfolding, let us remember, God’s eternal purpose. That is stated in the tenth verse. The world is interested in politics and in the headlines in the newspapers; but here we are looking at something beyond all that, something that is unfolding and will continue to unfold, whatever may be happening in the world. It is not that what happens in the world has no importance, but that the plan of God is bigger and more important. God’s plan and its out-working is also certain, while the world’s plans are very uncertain. The Apostle has told us that God by the Holy Spirit has given us “wisdom” and “prudence” without which the plan of God remain dark and remote. But once we become enlightened everything becomes clear to us, for we see that God is working out his plan, and that we and our whole eternal destiny are involved in it. Having told us that the plan is the restoration of harmony, the Apostle goes on to tell us how God is working it out. That is the theme which he now takes up in verse 11.
The very fact that Paul was writing this letter to a non-Jewish church in Ephesus was proof that the plan was working. It was an amazing fact that such a man as Saul of Tarsus, a “Hebrew of the Hebrews,” should be writing a letter to Gentile Christians. He is doing so because it is a part of the unfolding of God’s plan. The illustration that the world has seen so far of God’s plan to re-make all things is the Christian Church, and that is the theme of Ephesians.
Paul cannot say these things without being astonished and amazed at them. He was not merely interested in these things intellectually; he was a preacher, an evangelist, a pastor. He cannot regard these things in a merely detached objective manner. So when he says “We have obtained an inheritance” he is so amazed at the fact that he seems to wonder how it has happened to us, and he gives us the only possible explanation, which is, that it is “according to the counsel of God’s own will.”
Take note, first, of two phrases, one at the beginning of verse 11 and the other at the beginning of verse 13. “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance,” and “In whom you also”. In these two phrases Paul shows us the beginning of the carrying out of God’s plan.
The “We” is in contrast to the “You also”—We and You. It is quite clear that the “You” in verse 13 is a reference to the Gentiles, the Ephesians and the various other churches to whom this letter was probably sent. The “We” here is a reference to the Jews. He says, “That we should be to the praise of his glory who first trusted in Christ.” It emphasizes the fact that chronologically Jews believed in Christ before Gentiles began to do so. Our Lord told his apostles that they were to be his witnesses “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Historically it is the case that the Jews were the first Christians.
The Apostle emphasizes the “We” and the “You”—We Jews, You Gentiles—because of the astounding fact that they have been brought together, they have “been made one” in Christ. This, as I have already suggested, is not only the theme of this particular Epistle, it is the theme of the whole of the New Testament and particularly of the New Testament Epistles. This is seen most explicitly in the second chapter. Paul repeats it many times and is never tired of doing so. In the third chapter he says that the dispensation had been committed to him to reveal the truth “which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed”. God had now revealed “unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the same body” (vv. 2-6).
This had produced a revolution in his life. We know what a narrow, bigoted Jewish nationalist he had been, and how he prided himself on his nationality. It made him intolerant, and the Gentiles were to him but dogs, outsiders. But now he is “the Apostle of the Gentiles.” And in this Epistle to the Ephesian Gentiles, he must emphasize this marvelous thing God has brought to pass. God’s plan is already in operation; he is a part of it, and they are a part of it!
We must get rid of all racial and national ideas. It is the spiritual seed in Abraham and Christ that counts in God’s sight. There is a new nation consisting of God’s people; Christians are God’s people. God’s purpose was to use the Jews temporarily; but now he has something bigger and greater, including both Jews and Gentiles.
God’s way of restoring harmony and unity is to produce Christians, and therefore Paul tells us certain things about the Christian. He gives us a perfect picture of Christianity and, as I understand it, he tells us five things concerning it.
We are told first that what makes us Christians is that we are “in Christ.” There is no hope of unity apart from Christianity. Secondly, there are certain things that are true of us as Christians because we are “in Christ.” Thirdly, Paul gives us an explanation of the way in which we enter into these blessings. Fourthly, he shows us the guarantee of the fact that we have these blessings, and the fact that we shall never lose them. Fifthly, the Apostle stresses that the ultimate object of all things is the glory of God (vv. 12, 14).
The first thing, then, is that what reconciles Jew and Gentile—and the only thing that reconciles them—is that they should become Christians, “in Christ.” To be a Christian means to be in a new relationship to Christ, it means to be “in Christ.” It does not mean that you have been born in a particular country, or that your parents or grandparents were Christians. Christianity means being “in Christ.” In other words, God reconciles people by bringing them into a new relationship. All troubles in the world, between nations, between individuals, stem from a failure at some point in the realm of relationships.
There never will be a more perfect illustration of all this than this extraordinary picture of Jew and Gentile. The Jew prided himself on being one of God’s people, and that the divine law had been given to his nation. They did not stop to ask whether they kept the law; that did not matter, the important thing was to possess the law. The Gentiles had never had the law; they were not given the law. The Jews despised all others as dogs who were outside the commonwealth of Israel, “without God in the world.”
But this kind of attitude was not confined to the Jews. It was equally true of Gentiles, for example, the Greeks. The Greeks had a great heritage of learning, and there had been an astounding flowering period when the outstanding Greek philosophers – Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle and others – had looked into the problems of life and elaborated their theories Utopia. The Jews and all other races were to them Barbarians. So the Greek prided himself on his superiority.
Thus Jews and Greeks clashed and fought. There was this division of mankind, this “middle wall of partition” between them. We used to talk about “curtains”—iron curtain and bamboo curtain—but they are in reality walls which have been built carefully by both sides. Each one is repairing the wall on his side. This is true of the life of the world today with all its clashes and divisions and unhappiness.
What was it that brought Paul and the Ephesians together? What was it that made Jew and Gentile bow together on their knees to God and pray in one spirit? Christ is the answer. Christ came and lived and taught and died, and rose again for Jew and Gentile alike, for the Jew had not kept the law any more than the Gentile, and was condemned by the very law of which he boasted. When Paul, the Jew, saw the true meaning of the law and its spiritual character, and especially the meaning of the Cross, he saw that “the whole world was lying guilty before God,” that “there is none righteous, no, not one.” “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:9-23). The Jew is not superior to the Greek, the Greek is not superior to the Jew. They are all together groveling in the dust in utter failure, and sinners in the sight of a holy God. They are made one in condemnation and in sin. The pride is taken out of both, they are crushed to the ground. There is nothing that one can boast of as against the other; they are all equally hopeless.
But then the Gospel goes on to tell them that both can be redeemed and reconciled to God and to one another by the blood of Christ. It is only because Christ has made himself responsible for their guilt and failure, and has died for them, that they can have this reconciliation; and they both receive it in exactly the same way. It is not the law that brings anyone into it; it is not philosophy that does so; it is Christ who brings both in. They are equal at every point. Both alike also need strength and power to lead this new life into which they have been brought; so they are given the same Holy Spirit. Christ is in them and they are in Christ. It is all “in him.”
The second matter we have to consider is what becomes true of us as Christians because we are “in Christ.” Paul states this in a most interesting manner by saying, “in whom also we have obtained an inheritance.”
In the fourteenth verse the Apostle definitely and explicitly speaks about an inheritance—“Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.” Jews and Gentiles are made one, not only because they have their sins forgiven in the same way, but also because they inherit the same heritage. Were we to grasp this we would not only be the happiest people on the face of the earth, we would also “rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.”
Ultimately it means seeing God. It means being with Christ and enjoying his glory. It means reigning with Christ: if we suffer with him we shall also reign with him. The kingdom of God and of his Christ is here; and nothing can destroy it. And we who are “in Christ” are in it, and shall spend eternity in God’s kingdom with Jesus.
The nations fight because they want to spread their empires, or to take a piece of land. The same is true of individuals. It is so because of their sense of values. People fight over money, over position, over popularity, over anything. It results from their possessiveness, selfishness, greed. Those are the only things they care about and value; and as long as they look at things in that way they will continue to fight and quarrel about them, no matter how educated and “advanced” they may be. If it will suit their purposes to adopt Christian principles they will do so; nations have often used Christianity to spread empires! But that is not Christianity.
The essence of the Christian position is that the inheritance is “incorruptible and undefiled and that fades not away, reserved in heaven” by God, for them who are in Christ Jesus. One who has that heritage sits very lightly in this life and its affairs. He has “set his affection on things above, not on things on the earth,” and he knows that all others who have done so are fellow heirs with him. The only harmony this world will ever know is the harmony that is produced in and through men and women who in Christ have set their affection on the things above. “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance; in whom you also. . . .”
As John Newton says—
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure
None but Zion’s children know.