It is not
our intention to enter upon a general exposition of this
Letter. Our present concern is with some of the questions
which it raises in the light of history, and that history
at, and from, the time when the Letter was written.
Firstly, there was the situation at the end of the
Apostle Paul's life. Here is a man writing under the
guidance of the Holy Spirit about the greatness of the
Church; its eternal election and vocation; its Divine
unity, interrelatedness, manifold function, and spiritual
warfare. All this and much more, with a background of his
relationship with churches in Asia, and particularly with
Ephesus. We remember his extended time of ministry in
Ephesus and the wonderful response thereto (Acts 19:19).
Later he said to the elders there that he had not
'shunned to declare (unto them) the whole counsel of God'
(Acts 20:20), and when meeting those elders on his
journey to Jerusalem, we read of the very touching
farewell to them and how they wept and sorrowed at his
departure. And now, at most seven years later, he
writes to Timothy that "all they in Asia be turned
from me" (2 Timothy 1:15). If Paul died (by
execution) in the year A.D. 67 and John wrote the
Revelation in the year A.D. 95 (as is most strongly
believed) then in less than thirty years a very big
spiritual change had taken place in Ephesus (Revelation
2:1-7): "Thou hast left thy first love... From
whence thou art fallen..." etc. Paul's triumphant
ministry; Paul's departure sorrowed over; and now Paul
repudiated, discredited or forsaken. And yet, this Letter
is Divinely preserved and blessed to countless believers
through all the centuries!
But what of subsequent history? Through all these
centuries to what degree has there been in this world a
representation and expression of the Church as we have it
in "Ephesians"? Where in all the world can we
find such an expression in our day? It would seem that
the last and least company of Christians is involved in
the struggle for unity, for impact, for spiritual
ascendancy! Anything precious to the Lord is so bitterly
assailed that its fellowship and fullness are all too
soon disrupted. It is quite evident that when Paul wrote
his last Letters - to Timothy - there was an incipient
movement toward what has now become almost general - the
institutional Church with form but without organic life.
With all the books that have been written on
"Ephesians", and all the extolling of it as
"the greatest document ever penned"; with all
the acclaiming of it as the greatest revelation of
the Church, where can we find anything that approximates
to it in reality?
The questions confronting us with this Letter in hand
Is it just idealistic? Do we have to say in regard to it
what Dr. Campbell Morgan said about Ezekiel's Temple:
"It is just what God would have had if He could have
had His way"? or again: Is this Church of
"Ephesians" for the future in the "ages of
the ages", a phrase used so much by Paul? In which
case is it futile to labour and hope for it now? Are we
to accept the "total ruin" theory?
Comprehensively, with all the wonders and glories of the
beginnings of Christianity, was there ever
anything wholly corresponding to this Letter? Are you
shocked with these questions? Do you think that, after
all, it is just a comparative approximation, more or
less? That position can hardly satisfy those who have
stood for the revelation in the Ephesian Letter.
Therefore, is there some other answer? Is the answer in
the direction of a misunderstanding and misapprehension
of the Letter? It is here that we touch what will not
only answer our distressing questions, but put us into
the realm of the immense spiritual values and dynamics of
the revelation contained in this document. But let there
be no misapprehension here. It will be the greatest
challenge and test to Christendom and Christianity, while
at the same time involving in a very real conflict with
all the cosmic forces which have so bitterly fought
against the true understanding of this Divine revelation!
Far from being only idealistic or mystical, we shall see
as we proceed that it is an intensely realistic document.
There are one or two things that must be recognized
before we can proceed to consider its answer to the
Comprehensiveness of "Ephesians"
This is not
a new and different presentation of truth, but an
inclusive embodiment of all New Testament teaching. The
Gospels are here. (See our early chapters.)
"Romans" is here, for the total setting aside
of the first Adam is implicit here.
"Corinthians" is here, for the
"spiritual" man is demanded, and the
"natural" man would spoil everything here.
"Galatians" is here, for there can be no
compromise, no mid-course, no perversion or two
contraries here; and so on.
Having pointed that out, let us proceed to consider four
factors which support the present-age validity of
Standpoint of "Ephesians"
prove to be the most testing, searching, and
revolutionary factor in Church history. The point of view
certainly does determine everything. Five times in the
Letter the word "Heavenly" is used (1:3,20;
2:6; 3:10; 6:12), relating respectively to the believer's
blessings; Christ's exaltation; the believer's position;
the Church's vocation; and the Church's warfare.
Everything is viewed from above, but that 'aboveness' is
not confined to location. It means another way of
estimating, defining, judging. It is a different
mindedness from the earthly. On this matter the statement
of God is: "My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the
heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher
than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts"
(Isaiah 55:8-9). It becomes necessary, therefore, for us
to be brought to the place where we see what God is
looking for and at, as so vastly different from our own
mentality. This is the key to everything, and, as we have
said, most revolutionary. Our mentality as to the Church
is almost, if not entirely, earthly.
What are we looking for and at in this respect?
Let us sift down from what may be the largest to the
smallest. Is it a national Church, Roman, Anglican,
Greek, Dutch (Reformed), etc.? Is it denominational,
Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian,
Independent, etc.? Is it 'Free' or 'State',
Undenominational, Interdenominational? Is it 'Open' or
'Exclusive'? Is it something with certain particular
characteristics and techniques of practice, form, and
behaviour? Is it a 'New Testament Church', or churches,
with certain things taken from the New Testament to
constitute it? Is it a cathedral or a building, great or
small? Is it a place at all, whether simple, plain, or
ornate? Is God looking down from the
"Heavenlies" and focusing His attention upon,
or looking for, any of these? Is this what He
wants? Do these things interest Him at all? Is He
impressed with the regalias and adornments; with the pomp
and processions of display? Do our ecclesiastical and
ministerial attire and dress, robes, vestments, gowns,
hoods, impress the Almighty? Does He look down upon them
with admiration and wonder? Does He view them at all, or
ignore them? If He does behold them, may it not be with
pity, or even amusement? Poor little people playing at
churches and chapels, like Jesus' children in the
market-place playing at weddings and funerals! Is any
or all of this what takes the eye of "He that
sitteth in the heaven"? (Psalm 2:4).
All or any of this may be our way of viewing the Church,
and it is wholly an earthly view! If we saw from Heaven's
standpoint, how foolish so much of it would become to us.
Just as the biggest things of earth, whether people or
mountains, are all the same in elevation when we look
down from a high aerial position, so the things so
important to man down here lose their importance when we
see God's standards of values.
of history is clearly that God does not either tie
Himself up with, nor preserve things on this earth in themselves.
Tennyson, the poet, said:
little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be."
"The things which are seen are temporal
[transient]" (2 Corinthians 4:18).
History's verdict upon things which have ceased to fulfil
the essential purpose of their existence, however
greatly they may have served a Divine purpose at some
time, is that God has left them and they have either been
destroyed or left desolate. So it was with the Tent at
Shiloh, the Temple in Jerusalem, the 'Churches' in Asia,
and numerous other places and things. Nothing is sacred
to God if it does not fulfil its Divinely intended
purpose. The world, and history, are strewn with such
relics; desolation, abandonment, death, and coldness
declare God's 'No interest'. Men strive to keep something
going; try to live on a past; but the responsibility is
left with them, and the limitation of God's sponsorship
will slowly wear them out unless the Divine intention is
recovered. The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is a symbol of
history's verdict, and centuries of tears testify to
That is all very sad and tragic, and we yearn to get away
from it, learning its lesson, and to come to the answer
to it all. We ask again, what has been
Focus Through the Ages?
seen that the Letter to the Ephesians (so-called - it was
a circular letter) bounds all the ages from eternity to
eternity. Its range is from "before the foundation
of the world" (1:3) unto "the ages of the
ages" (3:21). But what is the focus of this Letter
in that eternal context? There is no missing it.
One fragment focuses all.
"Unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ
Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever"
(margin: "unto the ages of the ages").
You must read this whole Letter (which you can do in a
few minutes) with the object of seeing the place and
mention of Christ in it. (And the companion Letter,
Colossians, with it.)
This Letter goes back before Genesis, and takes up
Genesis. In both a Person is brought into view and that
Person is never again lost sight of. By personal figures;
by types, symbols, prophecies, and a thousand means; in
feasts and ordinances, that One Person is ever present,
latent or patent! By name He is the Messiah, the Anointed
One, the Christos. Every anointing points to Him. He is
the focus of the ages and the eternities. What is Heaven exclusively
looking for and looking at? Emphatically, only that which
is essentially that Person. Not now symbols, figures,
types, representations, but reality, actuality! No, not
the "Church" as something objective! No, not
the Kingdom of heaven as place and object of perception!
"The kingdom of heaven cometh not with
observation" (Luke 17:20). It is a fallacy to think
and speak of the Church without meaning Christ Himself.
They are not subject and object! They are one. The Church
is His Body, His wife; they are "one flesh"
(5:31). This is "Ephesians". It is equally
fallacious to think and speak of the Kingdom of heaven
and not mean Himself. They are the same. In the Gospels
the two are brought together. The Messiah is present both
as King and Kingdom. The very nature of the Kingdom
corresponds to that of "the Son of Man". It, as
He, is from heaven.
All this, and what it implies, was an absolute revolution in Messianic mentality.
How does it all answer the tremendous questions with
which we began, in relation to the Letter to the
Ephesians? In this way. What God and Heaven are looking
for and at is not something called the Church, nor
for local churches, as such. God and Heaven are
looking for Christ, in His nature, heavenly nature; in Spirit
and Truth; in eternal life; in conduct and
behaviour; in virtues and character; in influence and
impact; and in victory over sin, Satan and the world. It is positively not locality in terms of geography, but
"Wheresoever two or three are gathered together in
[into] my name, THERE am I." That may be on a
ship or in an aeroplane, neither of which can be fixed in
locality. Christ MAY be in Ephesus, or Laodicea,
or any other place, but it is the Christ which defines
the Church, not the place! Christ may be in the
congregation, the institution, the denomination, while
none of them - as a whole - may be in Christ. We
seek Him. We gather unto Him. He is the Ground; we
meet on Him.
There is a vast amount in "Christendom" and
"Christianity" to which we have to deliberately
close our eyes, and "not know after the flesh",
while we seek for what there is of Christ in people.
"Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His
Son." If we cannot find Him, then there is no
How well I am aware that many questions will be provoked
by what I have said, and perhaps the most difficult is
the one concerning gathering together, and what has
become the problem of local churches. The procedure of
men has been to start from the outside or from some more
or less advanced point of Christian development. To form
a church or churches. The names may vary; churches,
assemblies; congregations; meetings, etc. Some form,
either of doctrine, creed, or practice and procedure has
been conceived, often with a greater or lesser degree of
Scriptural authority; sometimes with a reading into
Scripture of an interpretation or meaning which is not
really there in truth. Sometimes there is a part of the
whole truth, so that it is a certain aspect of the truth
for which the particular group stands. The reasons and
occasions of the numerous 'bodies' or sects or companies
are as manifold as there are such bodies. Too often it is
something 'formed' by men, and something which
they set out to do. To say this is to touch the
root of most of the trouble in Christianity. But let us
approach it positively.
We are being taught by the Letter to the Ephesians, and
what is it saying? We have seen that the Church is
Christ, all its parts being parts of His Body. Is that
true? Do you believe that? Not that He has no personal
existence apart from His Body, but He is the very
personality within the Body and only death can
separate the two. If this identification with Christ is
spiritually true, as the New Testament teaches, we have
to ask: How did Christ come into being? Did He appear as
a full-grown man? Was He made with hands? Was He put
together as a composite entity? Did someone, or a group
of people, get some ideas as to what He should be and
then get to work to give them a form? Perhaps you are
smiling, or are scandalized that such things should be
asked. But is that not that which largely expresses the
mentality concerning the Church and churches? But how did
Christ come into this world? Was it not simply by birth?
There was a seed (that is a Scriptural word about Him
from Genesis onward) and that "seed" held the
life in which was all the nature, the complexion, the
capacity, the form, the purpose, and the destiny of that
Entity. That seed was born, and for reproduction was
'planted', fell into the ground and died (John 12:24).
The Church is the issue of that seed, holding the same
life and potential. The true Church - wherever found - must
follow the history of Christ spiritually. It must be
born, "not made with hands". "God dwelleth
not in temples made with hands" - a statement for
which Stephen forfeited his life. It must be begotten of
God, born of the Holy Spirit, circumcized (in heart),
baptized into His death; raised together with Him,
anointed for its ministry; led into the battle of the
ages, and joined with Him on heavenly ground. It is
Christ, always, everywhere! This is
"Ephesians". But one word more remains to be
said. It concerns
Basis of All
to the Ephesians (so-called) is a kind of culmination, a
summary. The spiritual sequence is right, if the
chronology is not in order. The Cross stands central,
universal and supreme. The Church here as the Christ
corporately expressed stands on the full ground of the
Cross. It is not just the local Cross, the historic
Cross, it is the cosmic Cross. In that super-mundane
realm Christ - by His Cross - stripped off the
principalities and powers (Colossians 2:15) and "led
his captivity captive" (Ephesians 4:8), and by His
victory placed His Church above all. But this is
inclusive of Romans, Corinthians and Galatians. See what
the Cross means in those situations, and then gather that
together and you have "Ephesians".
Our "Church ground" must be Christ, only
Christ, and this must decide everything and be the answer
to all our "Church" problems. But let us hasten
to add, that the Letter before us does show how very
great are the values of a corporate expression of Christ anywhere.
These values are to the individual believer and to the
world around. Such matters are bound up with this body
presence of Christ as protection and covering; building
up and maturing; rooting and grounding; spiritual power
and ascendency; mutual functioning and ministry; a
testimony and impact in the realms of satanic and angelic
intelligences. All this is in the Letter as related to a
true expression of Christ. If we ask: 'Can such an
expression be?' our answer is: 'Yes, if not in perfection
and completeness, it can be in vital measure.' The tenses
of "Ephesians" may help us. The past: "You
did he quicken when you were dead."
That was the beginning. There is much that is
retrospective as to their hitherto spiritual history. The
present - the continuous present - the bulk of the
Letter is concerned with growth, building up, "UNTO
the full-grown man". Future, "that he might
present to himself a glorious church". "Glory
in the church... unto the ages of the ages."
Note: The eternal and present criterion or test of
"Church", whether universal or local, is the
presence of Christ. Is He found there? If we are in the
Spirit, can we meet Him, and truly say: 'The Lord was
there today!'? The presence of Christ determines whether
that is the true Church. The measure of Christ
will determine, not basic relationship, but the
measure of fellowship, spontaneous spiritual mutuality.
standpoint - a heavenly position, not earthly.
The focus - "Christ - all, and in all."
The basis - the Cross, initial and continuous.
The dynamic - the "power that worketh in us".