The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.

—Ephesians 1:18

The Church will come out of her doldrums when we find out that salvation is not a lightbulb only, that it is not an insurance policy against hell only, but that it is a gateway into God and that God is all that we would have and can desire. Again I quote [Lady] Julian: “I saw that God is to us everything that is good and comfortable. He is our clothing; His love wrappeth us and claspeth us and all encloseth us for His tender love, that He may never leave us, being to us all that is good.”

Christianity is a gateway into God. And then when you get into God, “with Christ in God,” then you’re on a journey into infinity, into infinitude. There is no limit and no place to stop. There isn’t just one work of grace, or a second work or a third work, and then that’s it. There are numberless experiences and spiritual epochs and crises that can take place in your life while you are journeying out into the heart of God in Christ. AOG003-004

Lord, whether we’ve been Your children for five months or fifty years, many of us are just beginning our journey through the gateway of Christianity. Open my eyes to all that You are and can be to me. Amen. [1]

Understanding the Greatness of God’s Plan

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, (1:18)

In most modern cultures, the heart is thought of as the seat of emotions and feelings. But most ancients—Hebrews, Greeks, and many others—considered the heart (Greek kardia) to be the center of knowledge, understanding, thinking, and wisdom. The New Testament also uses it in that way. The heart was considered to be the seat of the mind and will, and it could be taught what the brain could never know. Emotions and feelings were associated with the intestines, or bowels (Greek splanchnon; cf. Acts 1:18, where the term clearly refers to physical organs, with Col. 3:12; Philem. 7, 12, 20; and 1 John 3:17, where it refers to affections and feelings).

One cause of immaturity in the church at Corinth was reliance on feelings above knowledge. Many believers were more interested in doing what felt right than in doing what God declared to be right. Paul therefore told them, “Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart [kardia] is opened wide. You are not restrained by us, but you are restrained in your own affections [splanchnon]. Now in a like exchange—I speak as to children—open wide to us also” (2 Cor. 6:11–13). The apostle said, in effect, “I can’t take God’s truth from my mind and give it to your minds, because your emotions get in the way.” Instead of their emotions being controlled by God’s truth, their emotions distorted their understanding of His truth.

Paul therefore prays for the minds of the Ephesians to be enlightened. Emotions have a significant place in the Christian life, but they are reliable only as they are guided and controlled by God’s truth—which we come to know and understand through our minds. That is why we are to “let the word of Christ richly dwell within [us]” (Col. 3:16). When the Holy Spirit works in the believer’s mind, He enriches it to understand divine truth that is deep and profound, and then relates that truth to life—including those aspects of life that involve our emotions.

While Jesus talked with the two disciples on the Emmaus road, their hearts (that is, their minds) burned within them; but it was not until “their eyes were opened [that] they recognized Him” (Luke 24:31–32). Before the Spirit enlightened them they had the information but not the understanding; what they knew was true, but they could not in the power of their own minds grasp the meaning and significance of it.

The first thing for which Paul prays is that believers be enlightened about the greatness of God’s plan. In the most comprehensive of terms, the apostle asks that they be given understanding of the hope of His calling and the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. He prays for God to enlighten them about the magnificent truths of election, predestination, adoption, redemption, forgiveness, wisdom and insight, inheritance, and sealing and pledge of the Holy Spirit about which he has just been instructing them (vv. 3–14).

Those truths summarize God’s master plan for the redemption of mankind, His eternal plan to bring men back to Himself through His own Son, thereby making them His children. Now that they belonged to Christ by faith (v. 13), Paul’s supreme desire was for the Ephesian believers to fully’ realize what their new identity meant. “You were no afterthought of God:” he says. “God not only chose to save you, but He chose to save you eons before you existed, eons before you would have opportunity by His grace to choose Him. That is who you are!”

Until we comprehend who we truly are in Jesus Christ, it is impossible to live an obedient and fulfilling life. Only when we know who we really are can we live like who we are. Only when we come to understand how our lives are anchored in eternity can we have the right perspective and motivation for living in time. Only when we come to understand our heavenly citizenship can we live obedient and productive lives as godly citizens on earth.

It is God’s great plan that every believer one day “become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). That is the hope of His calling—the eternal destiny and glory of the believer fulfilled in the coming kingdom. The fullness of that hope will be experienced when we receive the supreme riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. It is truth too magnificent for words to describe, which is why even God’s own revelation requires the illumination of His Spirit in order for believers even to begin to understand the marvelous magnitude of the blessings of salvation that exist in the sphere of the saints.

Our being glorious children of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ of all God possesses is the consummation and end of salvation promised from eternity past and held in hope until the future manifestation of Christ. There is nothing more to seek, nothing more to be given or received. We have it all now, and we will have it throughout eternity.[2]

18 Continuing the same theme, Paul changes the metaphor to capture another component of his prayers for his readers: he prays for the enlightenment of the “eyes of [their] heart.” This captures what Paul expects the Spirit of wisdom and revelation will achieve. Unbelievers live in ignorance with darkened understanding (4:18). How tragic if believers revert to living as unbelievers do (5:8)! “Heart” (kardia, GK 2840) refers to the seat of the physical, spiritual, or mental life (cf. BDAG, 508). It represents the hub of a person’s being, the foundation of understanding and will, the center of one’s personality (see other uses at 4:18; 6:5, 22). Paul prays that God would shine a light into the command center of their lives so they would have understanding. The use of the perfect tense of the participle “enlighten” shows that Paul prays not for a moment’s insight but that they live enlightened lives. The following clauses explain the threefold content of the enlightenment for which Paul prays. The clauses should be read as parallel to each other.

Paul first wants his readers to know what is “the hope to which he has called you.” Paul used the cognate “first to hope” in v. 12 as a synonym for salvation. Employing a similar sense in 4:4, Paul refers to the readers’ being “called to one hope when you were called.” Hope represents an important concept for Paul (Ro 5:2–5; 8:24–25; 15:4, 12–13; 2 Co 1:10; 3:12; Gal 5:5; Col 1:5, 23, 27). In biblical usage, “hope” (elpis, GK 1828) always conveys the sense of confident expectation of God’s presence and saving actions, even despite the adverse realities of the current situation. In our text Paul wants the readers to know that God called them to live in hope—the confident, not tentative, expectation of God’s presence, power, and victory. Their lives should reflect this hope. “Call” (kaleō, GK 2813) and its various cognates are rich Pauline terms that in virtually all uses connect in some way to salvation (see the important article by K. L. Schmidt, TDNT 3:487–536). Jesus made a distinction between the “called” and the “chosen”; only those who responded to God’s invitation (calling) receive salvation (Mt 22:14). But for Paul all the saved are “called,” an element in the chain that culminates in glorification (Ro 8:29–30). In the act of calling people, God names them as his own (Ro 9:24–26). And that new status enables a new manner of living—in hope. Though Paul does not specify the content of the hope, its use here depicts the tension in which believers live—between the already and the not yet. They live in confident hope that what they already have in Christ will be consummated on the day of fulfillment.

Second, Paul prays that they will know the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in or among the hagioi (“saints,” “holy ones”). This supplies some insight into the content of their hope: they are assured that they belong to God, paralleling the declaration in v. 11. In v. 14 Paul spoke of our inheritance. Believers possess an awesome inheritance in heaven, where already they now sit in Christ. Now Paul asserts the reverse: God has taken possession of them as his own glorious inheritance (as he redeems his possession; v. 14). God has placed a high value on his people, and they need to live with that assurance, despite their circumstances (Bruce, 270; O’Brien, 136).

Who are these “holy ones”? Paul may be speaking of believers—“saints” (v. 1 and frequently in Paul’s writings). An intriguing alternative reflects the uses of “holy ones” to describe angels (cf. Job 5:1; 15:15; Ps 89:5, 7; many Qumran and intertestamental texts; debatably 1 Th 3:13; 2 Th 1:7, 10; Eph 3:18). Taking this view, believers will be God’s inheritance among the angels, another way of speaking of heaven. Nothing definitively disqualifies this second option, though Paul’s and the other NT writers’ predominant uses of “holy ones” probably warrant that these be seen as believers. The NT has several references to believers’ inheritance among the “saints,” clearly referring to people (e.g., Ac 20:32; 26:18). And since the “holy ones” are God’s inheritance, most likely they are his people. The readers find assurance here that they participate in God’s company of saints.[3]

1:18 We have seen that the source of spiritual illumination is God; the channel is the Holy Spirit; and the supreme subject is the full knowledge of God. Now we come to the organs of enlightenment: the eyes of your hearts (NKJV margin6) being enlightened.

This figurative expression teaches us that proper understanding of divine realities is not dependent on our having keen intellects but rather tender hearts. It is a matter of the affections as well as of the mind. God’s revelations are given to those who love Him. This opens up wonderful possibilities for every believer, because though we may not all have high I.Q.’s, we can all have loving hearts.

Next Paul specifies the three particular areas of divine knowledge which he desires for the saints:

  1. the hope of His calling
  2. the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints
  3. the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe

The hope of His calling points forward to the future; it means that eventual destiny which He had in mind for us when He called us. It includes the fact that we shall be with Christ and like Him forever. We shall be manifested to the universe as sons of God and reign with Him as His spotless Bride. We hope for this, not in the sense that there is any doubt about it, but rather because it is that aspect of our salvation which is still future and to which we look forward.

The riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints is the second tremendous vastness for believers to explore. Notice the way in which Paul stacks words upon words in order to produce the effect of immensity and grandeur:

His inheritance

His inheritance in the saints

The glory of His inheritance in the saints

The riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints

There are two possible ways of understanding this, and both are so meaningful that we present both. According to the first, the saints are His inheritance, and He looks on them as a treasure of incomparable worth. In Titus 2:14 and 1 Peter 2:9, believers are described as “His own special people.” It is certainly an exhibition of unspeakable grace that vile, unworthy sinners, saved through Christ, could ever occupy such a place in the heart of God that He would speak of them as His inheritance.

The other view is that the inheritance means all that we will inherit. In brief, it means the whole universe put under the reign of Christ, and we, His Bride, reigning with Him over it. If we really appreciate the wealth of the glory of all He has in store for us, it will spoil us for the attractions and pleasures of this world.[4]

1:18 the eyes of your heart may be enlightened. A spiritually enlightened mind is the only means of truly understanding and appreciating the hope and inheritance in Christ and of living obediently for Him.[5]

1:18 hope The Greek word used here, elpis, refers in this context to the fullness of salvation that believers will experience at Christ’s return (see Eph 1:14 and note). Paul highlights three blessings the believers can expect: hope for the future, God’s claim on them as His inheritance, and the great power of God Himself at work on their behalf.

among the saints Throughout the Bible, God sets apart people for Himself (Exod 5:1; Hos 1:10; Heb 8:10). Here, Paul again adopts language commonly used for Israel and applies it to Gentiles (see note on Eph 1:1, 4).[6]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 44–46). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 58–59). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1913–1914). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Eph 1:18). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[6] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Eph 1:18). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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