“What would you have chosen to describe God’s power? When you think of God’s sovereignty, to what does your mind turn?
I confess I am inclined to think of God’s power in creation. He speaks, and worlds leap into being. He designs the water molecule, with its remarkable atomic structure that ensures greater density is achieved at four degrees Centigrade than at the freezing point, so that lakes and rivers freeze not from the bottom up but from the top down, providing a blanket of ice with water underneath so that fish can survive.
I think of God calculating the mathematics of quarks, with half-lives in billionths of a second. I think of God designing each star and upholding the universe by His powerful word. I think of the pleasure he takes in the woodpecker, with its specially designed tailfeathers that enable it to peck with such force. I marvel at a God who creates emus and cheetahs and the duck-billed platypus. His power extends beyond the limits of our imagination.
But that is not what Paul turns to. After all, for an omnipotent God there cannot be degrees of difficulty. There is no one act that is ‘most powerful.’ Paul does not hunt for the most powerful or the most difficult displays of God’s power, since such categories are essentially meaningless. Rather, he hunts for the most glorious, the most revealing. As a result, he focuses on three events.
Paul mentions the power exerted when Christ was raised from death. The power that Christians must experience is like the power God exerted in Christ ‘when He raised Him from the dead’ (1:20). Paul thinks of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here is the undoing of death, the destruction of sin; Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits of the mighty resurrection that will mock the death of death and inaugurate a new heaven and a new earth. Small wonder Paul elsewhere declares that he wants to know Christ and the power of His resurrection (Phil. 3:10).
Paul describes the power displayed in the exalted Christ. The power that Christians must experience is like the power God exerted in Christ ‘when He … seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come’ (1:20–21). There are levels of authority of which we know very little, demonic powers and seraphic powers, not only in this world but in the heavenlies (see Col. 1:16). But over all of them is Christ Jesus, elevated to the Father’s right hand in consequence of His obedience to death and His victorious resurrection (see Phil. 2:6–11).
Indeed, this vision controls part of the line of argument in chapter 2. There Paul says that although we were dead in our trespasses and sins and were by nature objects of wrath (2:1), nevertheless because of His great love for us, God, ‘who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.… [and] raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus’ (2:4–6). Of course, in one sense I’m still here, not there. But because God views me as ‘in Christ,’ and Christ is seated with His Father in the heavenlies, therefore God views me as there in principle. That is my destination; that is where I properly belong, because of God’s great love for me. That is why my Canadian citizenship can never be more than secondary: I’m already a citizen of the new Jerusalem, and I am seated with Christ in the heavenlies.
Paul declares the power exercised by Christ over everything—for the church. ‘God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way’ (1:22–23). All of God’s sovereignty is mediated through Christ (see 1 Cor. 15:27; Ps. 110:1), and all of this sovereign power is for the good of the church. Christ is the head over everything: that is, He exercises authority over everything. But this ‘head’ metaphor takes a sudden shift when the ‘body’ is introduced. Although Christ is the head over everything, He is in particular the head of the church, which is His body. He is ideally placed to ensure that all of His sovereignty is exercised for His people’s good.
Not a drop of rain can fall outside the orb of Jesus’ sovereignty. All our days—our health, our illnesses, our joys, our victories, our tears, our prayers, and the answers to our prayers—fall within the sweep of the sovereignty of One who wears a human face, a thorn-shadowed face. All of God’s sovereignty is mediated through One who was crucified on my behalf.”
–D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992), 178-180. Carson is commenting on Ephesians 1:3-23.