Paul’s perfection epistles are emphatically the truth for the present. The Ephesian letter, being addressed to all believers in Christ Jesus, in contrast with the Circumcision, who hardly knew Him by this title, is the ranking revelation for the members of the joint body of Christ. Here first are revealed those secrets which distinguish this administration from all others. Never before has the celestial destiny of the present ecclesia been declared. All the other Scriptures deal with the elementary and immature, but here we find perfection. God's purpose had been only partially made known before and seemed confined to earth. But in this final transcendent revelation His ultimate universal goal is first revealed. These three letters are closely related to each other and should be studied together. As was shown in the outline of Paul's epistles, this may be graphically presented thus:
EPHESIANS 1-3, Doctrine–The Body: its Members
EPHESIANS 4-6 Deportment
COLOSSIANS, Doctrine–The Body: its Head
Ephesians begins by presenting a careful and comprehensive statement of the truth for the present secret economy, laying stress on those aspects which concern the members of Christ's body. Colossians is the counterpart of this, dealing with the same doctrines but presenting them in their relation to the Head of the body.
Both begin with God and with His primordial purpose. The members of the body were chosen before the disruption and now become the beneficiaries in His celestial allotment. Christ is His Image, being the Firstborn of all creation and now becomes the Head of all creation in heaven as well as on earth.
Ephesians, then, unfolds the truth of the joint body in which all the members are of equal rank. Colossians makes Him the Head over the body and the members subordinate to Him. Two secrets or "mysteries" are disclosed in these epistles. The secret of Christ (Eph.1:9, 3:4; Col.2:2, 4:3) was previously revealed but not as it is now revealed. His headship over the earth had been made known to the prophets of old. His headship in the heavens was made known to the apostles, especially Peter (l Pet.3:22). But the secret economy, the present administration of grace, was never disclosed to anyone except through Paul (Eph.3:9). It was not partially hidden, like the mystery of Christ, but was an absolute secret, hid in God. It is the function of the first three chapters of Ephesians to explain its three aspects for the believer, and of Colossians to reveal the position which it accords to Christ.
These letters should be read in this light. It is only when we apprehend their radical difference and vast advance over the epistles written by others than the apostle of the nations (Eph.3:1) that we can appreciate their marvelous message. It is only as we allow them to dominate and modify Paul's previous epistles, of which they are the ripened fruit, that we are able to entertain the transcendent nature of their contents. The title Christ Jesus, calling attention to His present place of power, is the key to the marvelous grace which came to them after the nation of Israel had been rejected, as recorded at the close of the book of Acts. As associated with Jesus Christ they would be still subordinate to the favored nation, which will rule the earth. But the title which recognizes His present glory in the heavens makes it possible for the far off "Gentiles" to be blessed in celestial realms equally with a favored few of the nation of His choice.
Paul's Perfection epistles are based upon his Preparatory epistles to the Thessalonians, the Romans, the Corinthians, and the Galatians. They are addressed to those who had received the truth taught in his earlier ministries, who were in a state of prior expectancy (Eph.1:12; 1 Thes.1:10), who had been sealed with the holy Spirit (Eph.1:13; 2 Co.1:22), which was an earnest of more to come (Eph.1:14; 2Co.5:5). They had been enjoyers of an allotment (Ro.8:17; Ga.4:7), and now become joint allottees (Eph.3:6). Once they were members of bodies in which the members were of the circumcision and uncircumcision. Now that Israel is set aside and the celestial destiny revealed, it is changed to a joint body, in which all the members are equally exalted (Eph.3:6). The nations become joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus (Eph.3:6) which once they held as guests of Israel's covenant.
All saints, during the eonian times, are under God's government, belong to His family, and become the nucleus of His worship. On earth, the nations are subordinate, for Israel must be the head. Such was the place of those who received Paul's message, before the Perfection epistles were penned. The new revelation not only changed their destiny to heaven, but made them the peers of the favored nation. We are fellow citizens. We are not merely guests, but members of God's family.
We are an integral part of the temple which God is building for His worship (Eph.2:19-22).
The Perfection epistles should be studied as a group. The truth is set forth didactically and logically in the opening chapters of Ephesians. Philippians goes over the ground experimentally, showing the truth operating in Christ and Paul and other examples. It applies the teaching of Ephesians to daily conduct. The "calling above" (Ph.3:14) is the celestial calling of Ephesians 1:3. Colossians corrects departure from Ephesian teaching, with special stress upon the glories of Christ in creation and reconciliation.
Some of the chief figures in these epistles have often been misunderstood, especially that of Christ's headship of the ecclesia. It is usually taken that all of the body except the head figures the ecclesia. This is not true. The head is reckoned as a member. The headship of Christ is not figured by the head of the body. Its parts, such as the eyes and nose, are members. Christ is not a member of the body, but Head over the ecclesia, as a husband is head over his wife (Eph.5:23). The wife has a head apart from the headship of her husband.
The new humanity (Eph.2:15) is an entirely distinct figure from that of the body. It refers to the race, giving Christ the place lost by Adam. It can be put on (Eph.5:24), or taken off. This cannot refer to our union with Christ under the figure of the body.
It should also be remembered that the "mystery", or secret, is not the body of Christ, for that had been known before. It is threefold, and includes our relationship to God as allottees, and to saints as partakers, as well as to Christ as His body. It consists in the fact that, in each of these relationships, grace has raised those among the nations who believe to equal rank, so that all are joint allottees and joint partakers, and members of a joint body.