God the Father in Ephesians

EPHESIANS

presents us with a beautiful glimpse of the glories of God the Father. It is a truly Trinitarian letter, and as such it shows the father for the unique person of the trinity he is. Of course, God the father is distinct from the spirit and the son because he is the father. It is this idea of God's father-ness in Ephesians that will be examined.

God's fatherhood nearly jumps off the pages of Ephesians. It first appears in 1:2, and is immediately repeated and expanded in 1:3. He is first called upon as “our Father” (1:2), and then blessed as the father of Jesus Christ (1:3). To say he is the father of Christ is to say he is (and has been) eternally father. The implication is clear: being a father is a part of who he is. The implications of his eternal fatherhood include: he has always been loving an other, he has always been acting toward another as his son, and he has always been a life-giver, for this is the basic idea of fatherhood. Each of these ideas can be seen in Ephesians as well.

God loves persons outside himself; he is others-focused. He blesses others (1:3), and has kind intentions toward them (1:5). He seeks to glorify his son by subjecting all things to him (1:22).1 He makes, conceals, reveals, and carries out plans for others (3:9). He creates life (2:5; 4:18, 24), and gives it to Christ (2:6). In fact, another theme in Ephesians that could be explored is the activity of God. He is constantly doing, giving, planning, receiving, blessing, even exercising wrath, throughout the epistle. All of this points to his outward orientation. God, because he is eternally a father, is social. This is also evident in the language Paul uses to describe people as they relate to God throughout the letter. Ephesians 2 speaks about gentiles being welcomed into his family; Ephesians 1 speaks of his relationship to the church and to Christ; Ephesians 4 refers to non-believers as excluded from the life of God, and so on. God is relational, and it comes back to his father-ness.

Paul makes the father-ness of God clear in 3:14-15 when he writes: “. . . I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name . . .” Stott argues: “it seems better, therefore, to translate pasa patria 'the whole family' [or] 'his whole family' . . . then . . . the church [past and present is] . . . the one great family of God” (emphasis original).2 He goes on: “It may be, then, that Paul is saying . . . that the very notion of fatherhood is derived from the Fatherhood of God.”3 Regardless of how far Paul intends us to take this section, the language of fatherhood is replete throughout Ephesians, and fits with the major theme of family we see throughout as well.4 As one begins to see all of the familial and father language of Ephesians, it becomes clear that God relates to Jesus, and in him the church, as a father.

Finally, as a father, God is the source of life. This is a logical implication as well as something hinted at in Ephesians. It is seen in references to the resurrection of Christ (1:20 and 2:6). It is implied in the creation language used several times (2:10, 2:15, 3:9, and 4:24). It is also explicitly referred to in 2:5 and 4:18. God is the source of life drawn upon as the body “builds itself up in love” (4:16).

For God to be one's father is plainly better than for him merely to be one's cosmic emperor, or worse, one's universal judge. Our attitude toward God should be shaped by familial words and thoughts. The Christian must learn to trust God like a human child trusts his father: implicitly. The Christian must learn to lean on God, and to seek his wisdom, his input, and his guidance. More than this, in the Christian's efforts to please God, he must strive as one pleasing his father, not only his employer. This should all combine to mold our communion with God into one of rich and personal affection, as a son for his father. This should also spill out into our practice.

Ephesians 5:1-2 implies God's father-ness, and makes the connection between the idea and our everyday lives. He exhorts us to imitate God – that is, God our father! We should imitate his love, his compassion, his kind intentions, his forgiveness, his lavish mercy, etc. We should imitate his others-oriented happiness that has been shown throughout the letter. More than this, we must imitate him in the manner a child imitates his father: with awe-struck admiration and desire to become like him. As we see how and who God is, we should be filled with a desire to copy him because he is who we want to be like. Paul doesn't need to give a detailed explanation, because everyone understands how a son desires to be like his dad.

The implications of this are far-reaching. As God has shown himself to be a selfless giver, full of life, joy, and grace, so should we be toward others. If god is rich in mercy, eager to forgive, how much more should I, his child, quickly forgive others? If God has intricately planned, executed, and revealed the glorious Gospel of grace for our good, how much more should I seek to love others actively in my own sphere of influence? Needless to say, this imitation of God will be fleshed out more and more as we learn to understand what it means to be his child.

Bibliography

Stott, John R. W. The Message of Ephesians. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1979.

1 An implication of 1:22 is that the father is above Christ in some way – for he is the one who will subject all things to Christ, meaning: all things are the fathers to give. The simplest way for him to be above Christ is as a father is above his son – the source of and authority over his life.

2 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 133.

3 Ibid., 134.

4 God is called father at least 8 times in 6 chapters, and referred to in other familial ways as well, such as in 2:19 when paul speaks of "God's household."

For a great book on the Trinity, see Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves.