The Francis Asbury Society

Ephesians 1: Holy Love

Posted on | January 22, 2014 | 1 Response

by Dennis Kinlaw, PhD

One of the delightful things about Scripture is its ability repetitively to speak new things to us from old and familiar texts. Recently I was reading again the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus. I decided to read it in the Hebrew translation by Franz Delitzsch and compare that to the Greek text and to our traditional English translations. As I read, I realized in a new way that this opening chapter is really a commentary by Paul on the why of the Genesis creation story, the divine why behind human and cosmic existence. Paul explains God’s purpose in creating our world and us as he understands it (Eph. 1:3–6). He says that before God spoke the heavens and the earth into existence God had a very definite intention in mind. The language that Paul uses when he speaks of this divine purpose is the language we use when we speak of predestination. This means that the biblical concept of predestination is not something that developed in God’s mind after he had made man. The purpose was there before. Biblical predestination is not God’s response to human sin, a divine response to man’s fall. God was predestining, according to this passage, before he started creating. The creation was the result of divine predestination. The biblical doctrine of predestination then, according to Paul, is the explanation of what God had in mind when he brought our world and its human beings into existence. Note Paul’s use of the reference to God’s concept of choice and destiny. His choice was that he would have a world in which he could find a fellowship with persons who would be, as the King James translates it, “holy and without blame before him in love.”

My conclusion from this formerly was that he was looking for those who would bear three characteristics. He was seeking companions who would be holy, blameless, and loving. Paul added further that these human creatures that God was creating were, in God’s mind, predestined actually to become members of God’s family, adoptive children of the Father through the redemptive work of God’s Son, who would come later.

As I read Delitzsch’s translation of how God has chosen us “to be holy and without blame before him in love,” I suddenly realized that Paul could possibly be speaking not of three characteristics, but of two, holiness and love, and that the reference to blamelessness might really be an adjectival expression describing the kind of love that God longed to see in his creatures whom he wants to call his children. The expression given in the Hebrew New Testament for “before” is actually a prepositional phrase that is the regular way of saying “before” in the Old Testament and which literally means “to-the-face of.” The Greek term for “before” in the Greek of the Ephesians text here is not the common Greek preposition for “before,” but it is rather a term that appears only three times in the New Testament. The term is katenopion, a prepositional phrase that comes to serve as a preposition and that speaks not of a temporal position or of a spatial position but of a relationship to a person. Note the ’-op-‘ element, which comes from the Greek word for ‘face’. It occurs only in Eph. 1:4, Col. 1:22, and Jude 24 and is used to speak of believers as being present before the face of God, in God’s sight (Col. 1:22), or before the presence of God’s glory (Jude 24). That means that the blamelessness of which the text speaks is not inherently about us as to performance or being, but it is about the love relationship that we have with the one before whom we stand. So what needs to be blameless in me is my love affair with my Lord. And if I take these texts literally, the big question is not even whether my love for him is blameless in my own eyes or not. The text says what is important is how he sees my love. The key phrase is not ‘in my sight’ but ‘before him.’ Suddenly, I found myself rejoicing in the thought that what God counts as supremely important is not perfect performance in terms of some objective absolute code but a perfection of love.

As I thought of all of this, I remembered that the great statement of Old Testament faith in Deuteronomy is supportive of such a position:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:  And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates (Deut. 6:4–9).

I also remembered that in Romans 13:10b Paul informs us that to love is to fulfil the law. In the preceding two verses, Paul insists that to love is to fulfill our obligations to our neighbor as well as to God (Rom. 13:8–10). Jesus clearly seems to understand this when he tells his disciples that if they love him they will be loved by his Father, and he and his Father will come and make their abode with them (John 14:21–23). In his first epistle, John tells us that we should love one another because love is from God, and the presence of love is the mark that one has in himself the very life of God. When one is born again, the life that is now in the person is a life of love because it is divine life and God is love (I John 4:7–8). Because this is true, the person who dwells in love dwells in God and in that indwelling finds his or her own love perfected (I John 4:12–17). It is not surprising then to find Paul telling his friends in Corinth in his first letter that faith and hope are essential elements of the Christian life, but that love is greater even than either of these (I Cor. 13:13). The reason for this for Paul and for John seems to be because the love of which they speak is not of human, but divine, origin. One wonders if this is not what Paul is speaking about when he speaks of all spiritual blessings (of the Spirit?) in the heavenly places. This means that wherever this love is found, God is there, because it is the sure mark of his presence.


One Response to “Ephesians 1: Holy Love”

  1. Rick Music
    January 30th, 2014 @ 7:38 am

    The false teachers of today seek to twist the teachings of Jesus concerning love to mean acceptance of and tolerance for everyone AND their respective beliefs and choices regarding what is and is not sin in their lives and even who is and is not God to them! We are being told, even forced, to deny that THE one true God does love the sinner but he HATES their sin, and we are to simply “love” everybody, (meaning accept) for who they are, what they believe and what they choose to do.

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