God's plan of unity

God's plan of unity (1:3-23)

God's plan (1:3-14)

Blessed be (1:3)

Paul begins with a praise song offered to God (1:3-14). This is a doxology, a song praising the saving grace of the triune God—the Father (v3-4), the Son (v5-12), the Spirit (v13-14). Notice the phrase “to the praise of his glory” being sung 3 times (v6, 12, 14). Everything is planned and accomplished for the purpose of bringing the glory of God to light.

All spiritual blessings (1:3)

Some of the spiritual blessings God has given us include:

  • God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world (v4)
  • God has predestinated us to be adopted children by Christ (v5)
  • God has made us accepted in Christ (v6)
  • We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, through Christ (v7)
  • God has made known to us the mystery of his will (v9)
  • We have obtained an inheritance in Christ (v11)
  • We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (v13)

All these spiritual blessings (and many others) are stored in heavenly places and are granted in Christ. Why? Because the Father has given the Son everything.

John 3:35 “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.”

John 13:3a “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands.”

He hath chosen us (1:4)

God chose us first, not that we chose God. God chose us to be “holy and without blame before Him in love.” (v4) God is the one who has planned everything ahead of time. He has planned to found a holy and blameless “church” before him even before the world existed. This church will be founded in Christ, as further explained by Paul in Ephe 5:26-27:

Ephe 5:26-27 “That he (Christ) might sanctify and cleanse it (the church) with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”

This magnificent plan will not be accomplished until the end of the world.

Having “predestinated” us (1:5)

“Predestination” is a difficult word to understand because it has to do with a controversial theological issue: predestination (預定論) vs freewill (or freedom of choice) (自由意志論). The word “predestinated” (預定) appeared twice in this passage (v5 & 11). We are predestinated to be adopted as children of God and are predestinated to obtain an inheritance. As adopted children, we have the right to claim the inheritance God has reserved for his children, similar to the birthright that Esau sold to Jacob. Jacob obtained God’s blessing with the birthright that Esau lost (Gen 27:36). The argument lies in the question as to who is qualified to be chosen by God to be His adopted children. A whole bunch of questions then follows:

  • Does God have a criteria to choose the persons to adopt?
  • If God chooses who to adopt, do we still have the freedom to choose to believe in Jesus or not?
  • If human beings do not have the freedom to make the choice to accept Christ, does it mean that human beings have no freewill at all regarding salvation?
  • If they have no freewill to accept Christ, why do we Christians still need to preach the good news to mankind since God has predestined who can be saved?

It is without doubt that God predestinates according to his own will and purpose (v5 & 11). His predestination does not involve our choice or decision at all. However, as mentioned in 1:4, God “hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.” He has chosen and predestinated us even before we existed in this world. God has planned and chosen a group of people to be his children and to receive the inheritance he reserved for them. A person without children can devise a plan to reserve his inheritance for his adopted child before he even adopts a child. He does not know who will be adopted but the plan is already made. He predestinates that whoever becomes his adopted child will receive his inheritance. That’s similar to God’s predestination for His adopted children. He has chosen His adopted children “in Christ” since He has planned for His Son to die for His adopted children before the foundation of the world. All who believe in Christ are His adopted children.

However, doesn’t God know who is going to be his adopted children? Yes, that’s the difference between God and the above “person” in assumption. The above “person” does not know who will become his adopted child when the plan is made. On the contrary, God knows who is going to be his adopted children and, thus, who is going to be saved because of his omniscient (全知) nature. God knows but God does not choose who to adopt. The choice leaves for us to make if we are willing to be his adopted children. This is where our freewill lies. God invites everyone to make the choice by himself or herself—“for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God’s invitation is universal—“not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9).

Even though God knows in advance who will choose to believe in Christ and be saved, we do not know. And God does not give us the name list. So, we still bear the responsibility to share the good news with everyone. God wants us to approach everyone. Why? Because He wants to give everyone a chance to exercise his freewill to choose. So, when the person who rejects Christ is condemned, he/she has no excuse! As said in John 3:18, “He that believeth on him (Christ) is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” This is the way God has planned even before we come into existence.

The sinners lose God’s blessing (salvation) not because they are chosen by God to lose salvation. They lose salvation because they choose to be sinners permanently and not to repent from their sinful ways. On the other hand, even if we make the choice to repent and receive salvation, we have not made any effort or done any work to gain salvation. The work of salvation still remains with God’s merciful grace and Christ’s work of fulfilling God’s will and plan. We are only given the choice to exercise our freewill. “By grace ye are saved” (Ephe 2:5 & 2:8a) and “it is the gift of God” (Ephe 2:8b). “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephe 2:9) Therefore, regarding the work of salvation, we have nothing to boast of ourselves. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (I Cor 1:31, NRSV)

Made us “accepted” in the beloved (1:6)

1:6 says “To the praise of the glory of his grace, he has made us accepted in the beloved.” When we say that we are willing to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, don’t forget that it is God who has accepted us by His grace according to His plan. And He accepts us based on the condition that we are in His beloved Son, because, as we said, He has planned for His Son to die for us before the foundation of the world. There is nothing for us to boast of our decision to accept Jesus. 1:5 says that God adopts us to be His children. “Adoption” implies that God grants us a new status with some special privilege.

We have “redemption” (1:7)

The Greek word for “redemption” contains 3 meanings:

  1. to buy at the marketplace,
  2. to buy for one’s own use,
  3. to liberate by paying a ransom in order to set a person free.

The word “redemption” in 1:7 here carries the 3rd meaning above. It can mean buying a slave out of slavery in order to set him free. We are slaves to sin and Jesus saves us from the slavery of sin. Several important points need to be attended here in 1:7 :

1. Jesus paid a price to redeem us.

Mark 10:45 says, “the Son of man…to give his life a ransom for many.” Here in verse 7 says “we have redemption through his blood.” Jesus paid a high price, a price that nobody can afford to pay. He paid the price to fulfill God’s righteous demand by law. The righteousness of the law demands that a penalty must be paid. Jesus paid the penalty so that our sins can be forgiven.

2. Jesus paid the price to set us free.

John 8:36 says, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” Jesus paid the price so that we have “the forgiveness of sins”. We no longer carry the heavy debt of sins. You might ask, “Doesn’t Jesus save us for the purpose of serving Him?” Yes, we should serve Him after being saved from sin. But God saves us by grace and without any condition or requirement of work (only the requirement of faith). We serve Jesus only because we enter into a new relationship on the basis of “love”. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” We respond to His sacrificial and saving love with our love and, therefore, we are willing to serve Him.

3. Jesus paid the price—it is God’s rich grace.

1:7 says, “…according to the riches of his grace.” God is rich in grace but He doesn’t give out just a little bit of grace. He is not a mean God. He can sacrifice a little bit to forgive our sins but He sacrificed his only begotten Son. He is generous indeed! He gives us His grace in full.


Having made known to us the “mystery” of his will (1:9)

When Paul said that the mystery has revealed to us, he means that the mystery remained a mystery and something unknown to the Israelites in the Old Testament period. Now God has revealed this mystery to the Christians in the New Testament. The mystery obviously refers to the statement in verse 10: everything will be gathered together in one and that kind of unity will be accomplished in Christ. Hebrews 2:8 says, “Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.” So, everything gathered in Christ implies that everything will be brought under His control. Of course, we do not see this happen yet today but it surely will happen one day. That instance is what Paul describes as “the fullness of times.”

Gather together in “one” (1:10)

The word “one” is a key theme used by Paul in this Epistle to mean a unified state of harmony-- in contrast to disharmony created under all sorts of struggle. There are struggles in our own flesh, struggles between the power of God and the power of Satan, struggles in our battling with Satanic powers in spiritual battles (struggle of flesh and spirit). In the midst of these internal and external struggles,

  1. Jesus has made Jews and Gentiles “one” (2:14), and this is happening now as both are saved in Christ.
  2. Christ and the Church are “one” (5:31-32) and this is the kind of relationship that we have with Jesus now.
  3. Paul in 4:4 mentions “one body” to refer to the Church as a whole.
  4. But there is a “one” relationship of all things that will happen in “the fullness of time” when everything is united in Christ. (1:10)

The word “unity” has the same implication as “one” in the sense of a state of harmony.

  1. Paul encourages us to keep the “unity” of the Spirit in the bond of peace, since we are one body in the Church. (4:3)
  2. Paul says one day we will have the “unity” of the faith when our body of the Church grows into the full stature of Christ like a “perfect man”. (4:13)

In whom also we have “obtained” an inheritance (1:11)

This phrase has two different translations with two different interpretations:

  1. We have the privilege to receive inheritance, as predestined by God, because we are His adopted children.(1:5) Romans 8:17 affirms this statement: “And if children [of God], then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;” Since Christ is to inherit everything from God and we are joint-heirs, we have the privilege to inherit what God has predestined for us.

  2. Another version reads “In whom also we were made a heritage” (ASV). This translation carries a different meaning: we became God’s possession. This meaning is in line with our being God’s “purchased possession” in 1:14. Since we are God’s children purchased with the blood of Christ, we are God’s possession or inheritance.

Ye were “sealed” with that Holy Spirit of “promise” (1:13)

The moment we put our trust in Christ, we are “sealed” with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is the instance when the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs. John the Baptist said, “I indeed baptize you with water upon repentance; but he that cometh after me…he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (Matt 3:11). Sealing functions like applying a stamp on a document to make it official and legal. The Holy Spirit is our seal. One day when we are led to God in heaven face to face, “the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” (Rom 8:17) With the seal of the Holy Spirit, we are acknowledged as the legitimate children of God and thus have the legal ownership of what God has promised and in store for His children. Our ownership is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. God’s promise is further guaranteed by His implanting of His Spirit on us.

God’s “promise” is explained in 1:14 as our inheritance that we will obtain at the time of full redemption. Romans 8:23 says, “And not only they [the creation], but ourselves [God’s children] also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit (similar to the concept of the sealing of the Spirit)…waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” Here in Romans 8:23, Paul is referring to the obtaining of a resurrected and uncorruptible life like the resurrected Jesus, free from any pain or bondage of our fleshly body. In other words, redemption is a process that will be fully completed in “the fullness of times” (1: 10).

So, sealing of the Holy Spirit at least serves two purposes:

  1. Acknowledgment of the status of sonship (fulfilled already in the first phase of redemption, 1:7).

  2. Guarantee of ownership of God’s promise of inheritance, i.e. an uncorruptible life (to be fulfilled in the second phase of redemption, 1:14).

Pray for saints to know His plan (1:15-23)   

Your “faith” in the Lord Jesus, and “love” unto all the saints (1:15)

Our faith is put in the Lord, not in men. On the other hand, our love of the Lord is given to our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Faith in the Lord is proven by love toward people. I John 4:20 says, “for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” You see, love or faith in God is not something of talking by mouth; God requires that we have action to support what we claim to be. Paul believes the Church of Ephesians has faith because they can prove it by their loving acts toward each other.

The Father of glory may give unto you “the spirit of wisdom and revelation” in the knowledge of him (1:17)

Praying matters when you study the Bible. God is very much willing to give you wisdom to understand Him through the Bible. He is willing to give you the spirit of understanding with the Holy Spirit as our Bible teacher. Don’t just listen to man’s voice. Listen to the voice of God’s Spirit. Why? “For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” (I Cor 2:10b) When speaking of wisdom of God vs wisdom of the world, Paul experienced pretty much of God’s revelation. He had the unique experience of being taken to the third heaven and hearing of the hidden things in paradise (II Cor 12:2,4). He concluded with I Cor 2:10a, “God hath revealed them (the deep things of God or the hidden wisdom) unto us by his Spirit.” He did not expect each one of us to be taken to the third heaven like him. Still his prayer indicates to us that we can ask for the spirit of wisdom and revelation. We believe that this is a practical way of understanding the Bible. Why? Because Paul has used this method all the time and now he introduces it to us. James, the brother of Jesus, also teaches us this method. In James 1:5 says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not (NRSV, 'who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly'); and it shall be given him”. God may speak to you through another person, such as Sunday sermon speaker, Bible study teacher, and even Bible commentaries, but He is very willing to give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you can read between the lines behind His word. Don’t you want to possess the spirit of wisdom like the preachers and the Bible teachers? Just humbly pray and ask our generous God.

The “eyes of your understanding” being enlightened (1:18)

Another version (NRSV) reads, “with the eyes of your heart enlightened.” The eyes of your mind enlightened will make you take pride in yourself, but the eyes of your heart enlightened will let you take pride in God’s mighty and glorious work. I Cor 8:1 says, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” That’s exactly one of the main problems Paul found in the Church of Corinth. Interestingly, Paul also thanked God in the letter beginning for that church: “that in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge.”(I Cor 1:5) Then he went on picking their problems one by one throughout the entire epistle. They have knowledge of God but they take pride in themselves, causing all kinds of problems in their own church. That makes me wonder if the Corinthians really understand the spiritual truth behind the biblical knowledge they are proud of possessing. You can have sound biblical knowledge but no love toward the saints. In such case, you have already missed the main purpose of God’s enlightening you of the truth of the Bible. God’s knowledge is for expressing His nature of love. The more you know God through the Bible, the more you should understand how to reflect His nature of love, not less! Then you can claim that you have true knowledge of God’s truth through Bible reading.

When the eyes of our hearts are enlightened, what does Paul want us to see with our spiritual eyes? (1:18)

1. the hope of his calling (v18)

The hope of God's calling is mentioned before—to be holy and without blame, to be adopted as His children, to be accepted in His son, to be redeemed by Jesus’ blood, to be gathered in one unity in Christ, to obtain inheritance as promised, etc.

2. the riches of the glory of his inheritance (v18)

The riches of the glory of God's inheritance—The spiritual blessings mentioned above are only a few of all the blessings He has granted us. Others are mentioned as follows.

3. the might of his power to those who have faith in Him (v19) 

The might of his power—God’s mighty power is further elaborated in verse 20 and onward.

  • God has the power of resurrection to raise Jesus from the dead (v20)
  • God has the power of taking Jesus up to heaven and putting him at his right hand (a symbolic seat of power) (v20)
  • God has the power of putting him above all forms of power (v21)
  • God has the power of putting all things under Christ’s feet and hence making him head of everything (v22)
  • God has the power of making our dead bodies alive together with Christ (2:4)
  • God has the power of resurrection to raise us up and make us sit in heaven (2:5)

Which is his body, the “fulness” of him (1:23)

“Fulness” appears 4 times in the epistle (1:10, 1:23, 3:19, 4:13). Paul uses this word to reveal the glory of God’s plan to be fulfilled in Christ. We play an essential part to make this plan fulfilled.

  • 1:10 says in the fullness of time, everything is gathered in one unity in Christ.
  • Here 1:23 says the church is Christ’s body and thus is needed to complete the fullness of Christ.
  • 3:19 says we will be filled with the fullness of God by knowing the love of Christ
  • 4:13 says we will one day grow into the stature of the fullness of Christ.

In a sense, fullness of Christ is what God plans to achieve in the fullness of time. That is indeed an expression of the fullness of God himself in a state of completion or perfection.

Notice that God in His plan of achieving fullness has performed and ordained the following (meaning the things either have occurred or will surely happen) in Christ--

  • in the past, raised him (1:20)
  • at present, set him at his right hand (1:20)
  • in future, put all things under him (1:22)

God did a similar thing on us--

  • in the past, raised us together (2:6)
  • at present, made us sit together in heaven (2:6)
  • in future, share the control and management of everything as body of Christ (1:22-23).

Still remember the list of God’s doing “in Christ”? Refer back to the heading--“in” Christ Jesus (1:1). The list reveals God’s plan.

The scene is like what God originally desires when He created man and put him in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 1:26, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over…upon the earth.” In Genesis 1:31, “And God saw every thing that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” God’s plan of “fullness” seems to restore the perfect state of the God-man relationship in “paradise.”