Sermon Notes: Ephesians 1:15-23, Part 3 – The Fullness of Him
These are the notes of a sermon preached by Andy Evans on the morning of the 8 November 2009 at Firwood Church. Click here to stream or download the sermon audio
15For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
a. Paul prays for a reality check
Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:15-23 is astounding because his claims are astounding. Consider how Paul prays. He prays that believers would know hope,
that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you (Ephesians 1:18)
He prays that believers would know who they are in Christ, that we would know,
what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints (Ephesians 1:18)
And he prays would know power, that we would know,
what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe (Ephesians 1:19)
Note this, however, Paul is not praying that we would receive all of these things; rather he is praying that we would know that which we have already received. In summary, then, Paul is praying that believers would know who they are, who they are made to be and all that they have received, and will receive, in Christ Jesus.
There is, I think, a practical application here. It is common in modern Evangelicalism to pray for and to pursue spiritual blessing and, if we are not careful, we find ourselves chasing that next spiritual high in order to sustain us. Paul’s prayer is entirely opposed to this mentality. Paul’s emphasis is twofold: prays against ignorance, he wants us to know who he has made us to be and he prays against complacency, he wants us to see and know more.
John Stott (in his commentary on Ephesians) makes this very observation,
What Paul does in Ephesians 1, and therefore encourages us to copy, is both to keep praising God that in Christ all spiritual blessings are ours and to keep praying that we may know the fullness of what he has given us.
Paul wants us to look at ourselves realistically and this is important because Paul’s prayer is necessary. He expects us to live in the light of this reality.
b. Paul prays that we might live out the gospel
We will see, as we move through Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, that it is necessary that we see and know and that it is necessary we live in the light of the power of the resurrected Son of God.
The starting point in understanding ultimate reality is to recognise our situation apart from Christ Jesus. Scripture clearly tells us that, apart from him, we are utterly powerless. Consider,
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot [oude gar dynatai]. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)
Apart from the Christ we are in the flesh and, while we are in the flesh, we are incapable of pleasing God. Interestingly, the phrase here translated, ‘it cannot’, literally means we are powerless. This is the counterpoint to all we considered last week. Paul wants us to know,
the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe (Ephesians 1:19)
This is why Christless morality simply will not cut it. This is why our best efforts apart from him are in vain. The glorious news of the gospel is that the resurrection power of Christ is ‘toward us who believe’. Paul depends on this and Paul wants us to depend on this.
Consider the following truths,
i. Grace is given to believers through his power
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power [dynameos]. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:7-8)
ii. Believers are strengthened with his power
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power [dynameos] through his Spirit in your inner being (Ephesians 3:14-16)
iii Believers experience his power at work within us
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power [dynameos] at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Paul wants us to know this power that brings grace, strength and power to believers that we might experience this as a reality in our lives. Paul wants us to see and know all we have in Christ that we might live the gospel out in the resurrection power of God as displayed in Christ.
Gospel centred lives are enabled by the glorious gospel truth that he has poured out every spiritual blessing upon those who are his. The question for this morning is how can we take confidence in this? Paul prays that we might have a fundamental shift in our worldview and, that from this, we might know ultimate reality.
2. ULTIMATE REALITY
a. All surpassing power
Paul describes ultimate reality and, in doing so, he places Christ at the centre of everything. Paul prays that we would know,
…what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:19-21)
Notice that Paul grounds this resurrection power ‘toward us who believe’ in Christ. We can be confident that our hope is not in vain and that the Christian walk is not futile because of all Christ is and all that he has done.
Paul wants us to see the supremacy of Christ and that this power, his power, is all surpassing. We can take great confidence in these truths,
i. That Christ reigns presently
seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:20)
The right hand is the position of supreme authority and cannot be shared. We can be confident that Christ reigns because he is seated, at this very moment, at the right hand of the Father.
ii. That Christ reigns supremely
For God seated him,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion (Ephesians 1:21)
Paul uses three distinct words to describe the extent of Christ’s presents reign and, in doing so, his point is that this reign is all encompassing. He reigns over all things: every rule, every authority, every power and every dominion.
iii. That Christ reigns eternally
For God exalted him,
above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:21)
The cross of Christ displays the heart of God. This God, our God, becomes flesh and suffers and dies that we might receive grace and praise him for that very grace. This God, our God, is raised miraculously and gloriously displaying his power that he might live eternally (and, of course, bestow life eternal upon those who believe). And this God, our God, ascends bodily that we might know and take confidence in the truth that as he lives eternally so he reigns eternally.
This is the great encouragement to those who believe. King Jesus reigns supremely now and for evermore.
But Paul wants us to see even more.
b. All encompassing power
There can be no doubt that Paul is serious in his exultation over the all surpassing supremacy of Christ. Paul continues,
And he put all things under his feet… (Ephesians 1:22)
Paul is invoking Psalm 8 which reflects back to the creation mandate in which mankind was given dominion to steward creation while anticipating the new Adam, who would institute new creation,
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honour.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet (Psalm 8:3-6)
In Christ we see the perfection of mankind. Man succumbs to temptation, Christ resists temptation. In Adam sin and death enter the world, in Christ life is bestowed upon those who believe. Through man creation is ruined, in Christ all things will be perfected. Paul points to this, ‘all things’ have been placed in subjection to him. The power of God is displayed vividly and gloriously in Christ. His power is all surpassing and all encompassing and Christ reigns over all things. Now and eternally.
3. THE FULLNESS OF HIM WHO FILLS ALL IN ALL
But Paul develops this theme of the supremacy of Christ further and we find that Paul introduces the Church of Christ.
And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
Paul begins his prayer by praying that we might know, Paul now intends us to understand the relationship between Christ and his Church and how this relates to the supremacy of Christ over all things.
Paul wants us to understand three things in particular
a. We are his body
Paul consistently pictures the relationship between Christ and the Church in the most intimate of terms. Consider Ephesians Chapter 5, for instance, in which the relationship between Christ and his Church is discussed in terms of a marriage,
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)
Paul’s thoughts here are unsurprising given his own conversion. You will recall that Paul was a persecutor of the Christians and set upon the destruction of the Church when the resurrected Christ confronted him, knocked him to the ground and challenged,
… “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. (Acts 9:4-5)
Paul understands that such is the relationship between Christ and his Church that to persecute Christians is, in fact, to persecute Christ Jesus.
Contrary-wise, Paul understands that believers similarly identify with the resurrected Lord to the extent that Paul can write,
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Colossians 1:24)
We should not be surprised, therefore, that Paul here stresses the interdependency of Christ and his Church. The Church is his body.
b. Christ is the Head
Paul goes further, however, and writes that God,
…gave him as head over all things to the church… (Ephesians 1:22)
Follow Paul’s flow of thought here. Back in verse 19 he prays that we would know ‘the immeasurable greatness of his power’ (Ephesians 1:19). Paul then sets out the nature and magnitude of this power as displayed in the resurrection, ascension and exaltation of Christ over all things. Paul wants us to know and to experience this power.
Now Paul reiterates that God has subjected (for this is the implication of headship) all things to Christ and given Christ to the Church.
We can be confident that the resurrection-Christ-exalting power described in verse 19 is ‘towards those who believe’ precisely because Christ is given to the Church. In this there is a great encouragement and great exhortation.
The encouragement is that Christ is reigning presently and supremely over all things and this Christ, our Christ, is head over all the Church (Christ’s headship of the Church, although not explicitly stated here, is strongly implied).
The exhortation is that we, the body of Christ, are made to be his hands and feet in this world. Consider Paul’s astonishing claim in Chapter 3,
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8-10)
Paul understands that one of the functions of the Church is that Christ, his character and his glory, might be seen: visibly and now. Paul understands that God’s intention is that the Church, the very body of Christ, would make Christ visible in this world and, in so doing, the character of God, his grace and manifold wisdom, might be revealed to all creation, even the angelic and demonic powers.
c. The Fullness of Him
And all of this is possible because of Christ Jesus,
…the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:23)
And all this is necessary because of Christ Jesus,
…the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:23)
Paul understands that Christ Jesus is magnificent, glorious and all powerful and is, at this very moment, filling every sphere of life and every corner of the universe just as he wills and pleases. Consider the following passages which speak to this truth,
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (Hebrews 4:14)
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:3)
And, in Ephesians,
Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) (Ephesians 4:8-10)
Christ fills all in all completely, the Church, the world and the universe. And we, his Church, his body, are called to make this fullness visible and evident.
Christ calls us to fill this Church with the fragrance and fullness of him. Christ calls us to fill our homes, neighbourhoods, workplaces and schools with the fullness of him. Christ calls us to fill this town and our city with the fullness of him.
This is possible because he reigns supremely now.
This is possible because the ‘immeasurable greatness of his power’ is ‘toward those who believe’ (Ephesians 1:19).
And all of this is possible because Christ, supreme Lord and God over all creation, is given to the Church.
Paul prays that we would know this to be true. Paul prays that we would know this in our lives. Paul prays that we might know this in our churches. Paul prays that believers, you and I, would live in the light of this glorious truth and in the resurrection power of Christ.
Paul prays that we might know because, in knowing, Christ shines and Christ is most glorified.
 John Stott, Ephesians. BST. (…), pp. 51-52
 This section is reworked from last week’s sermon notes as we did not make it this far.
 There is general agreement that Psalm 110:1, “Sit at my right hand, / until I make your enemies your footstool.” underpins Paul’s thought here, see Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos., p. 814. See also cf. Mark 12:37f.
 Here ‘fullness’ is used as a metaphor for ‘become present to, and active in respect of’ – see Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible Commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed.). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.