I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way.
Although this passage thrills my heart every time I read it, it’s precise meaning – particularly that of the last sentence – is not easy to grasp; partly because Paul’s Greek text there is itself awkward and unclear.
The starting point is to recognise that this whole passage is about the church – the company of God’s “holy people” of which the Ephesian Christians are part – and that Paul’s concern is to give those Ephesian Christians a fresh vision of what the church IS. The eyes of their heart need to be enlightened because they are seeing the church wrongly. They are looking at themselves as they appear – beleaguered, few in number, surrounded by pagans, in a world dominated by the might of imperial Rome; and they are categorising themselves as a minority group: weak, marginalised, contemptible and wholly insignificant …
Oh dear! You couldn’t be more wrong, says Paul.
Take a fresh look at Christ, he says, and then perhaps you’ll understand …
Admittedly, in this passage, the fresh look at Christ that Paul offers begins with the resurrection; but I’m sure that he is implying or taking as read something that he makes quite explicit in his letter to the Christians at Philippi where he describes Christ as the one who …
“though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2.6-8).
In other words,Christ who was once filled with all the fulness of God became empty at his incarnation. He became nothing and could do nothing until, at about the age of thirty, the Father filled him with the Holy Spirit; but then, some three years later, on the cross, that Spirit too was yielded up (Luke 23.46) and Jesus was placed in the tomb as weak, insignificant, contemptible and marginal to the society of his day as the Ephesian Christians were seeing themselves some three decades later. But then the Father did something stupendous. He raised Jesus from the dead; and what happened next is of crucial importance to an understanding of what the church is, who the Ephesians were … and who we are today.
When the Father raised Jesus from the dead, says Paul, he seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms and … And what? We might expect Paul to say “and filled him once again with all the fulness of which he had emptied himself when he was made man.” But, no – that is not what Paul says. What he says (literal translation) is that God “put all under his feet and gave him the head over all to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that fills all in all.” Difficult language, yes – but in essence it says that the fulness of which Jesus emptied himself IS restored to him … but in the church of which he is now the Head.
Eugene Peterson catches perfectly the force of this when he paraphrases the last four verses of the passage like this:
“God raised [Jesus] from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.”
How we need to grasp this truth today – particularly in those of our local “churches” which are ignored and regarded as utterly irrelevant by the vast majority of the community in which they are placed. We must not buy into that “appearance” of how things are – for Paul assures us, just as he assures the Ephesians, that the appearance IS indeed deceptive. The truth, says Paul, is that in the little congregation to which I belong in Bradford and in the congregation to which you belong wherever you might be (our members invisibly joined with all other Christians on earth and heaven) IS all the fulness of God. Yes, really! However pathetic or impotent we might seem, we are in reality part of the perfect expression of Christ in all his power and glory which will one day fill heaven and earth and contain EVERYTHING within it. Little does it know it now, but the society that regards US as being on ITS edge (and therefore of no consequence whatsoever) will one day (however long it might take) be drawn into that marginalised irrelevancy which is the church as Christ, its Head, fills everything in every way.
Start believing it church – and hold your head/Head up high!