Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 3:14c “. . .unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,”
Christians were not the first to call God “the Father.” The Romans named their chief god Jupiter, which means “Deus pater,” God the Father. Non-Christians called God Father in the sense of paternity, as being the Creator, the First Cause. Not until Christ came did men begin to include in their concept of Father-God the traits of love, intimacy, fellowship, and care. Only in Jesus do we see what kind of Father God really is.
Jesus showed we could approach “the Father” with intimacy. H. L. Gee told of a little boy whose father was promoted to the exalted rank of Brigadier. Hearing the news, the lad was silent a moment, and then asked, “Do you think he will mind if I still call him daddy?” Our God is awesome. He is “the Father,” Creator and First Cause. He is also “the Father,” our lover and provider. Thus we can say, “Abba, Father” (RM 8:15).
The Bible often uses family relationships to picture spiritual relationships. Family is the most universal unit of society. One can find families anywhere on earth. This is no coincidence. God instituted the family in Eden, and arranged its existence everywhere, thereby providing a universal picture of spiritual relationships. Family is a dewdrop fallen from heaven, mirroring on its tiny surface the whole scope of spiritual relationships.
The imperfect physical images point to perfect spiritual ideals, which in turn serve as examples to help us improve the earthly images. Husbands should love their wives to show how much Jesus loves the Church, and in contemplating Christ’s love for His bride men become even better husbands. Wives are to submit to their husbands to picture the Church’s reverence for Christ, and in considering the latter, women become even better wives.
Siblings should love one another to picture how brothers and sisters in Christ are to treat one another, and in seeing church members act kindly toward one another, we should become better siblings. Children are to obey their parents in order to facilitate transferring a spirit of obedience unto God; obeying God in turn makes us even better children.
Parents should love their children to picture God’s love for His children, and as our appreciation of the latter grows, we become even better parents. Our text presses this truth particularly upon fathers. Our role is to picture for our children God “the Father.” God is the pattern for all us earthly fathers. Our position is ennobled by the comparison. We have a tremendous responsibility. We teach our children to call God “the Father,” and the only conception of fatherhood they have in their early, formative years is the one we show. Ever endeavour to be as good a father as God.
Eph. 3:15a “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth. . .”
The Greek employs a play on words here. “Father” (v. 14) is “patera”; “family” (v. 15) is “patria.” We almost need to coin a word to express the idea. As we call descendants of Ham Hamites, we could similarly say believers are “Fatherites,” people who share “the Father” as a common ancestor.
“The whole family” does not include everyone. The Bible clearly teaches two spiritual fatherhoods, God’s and Satan’s (1 J 3:10). Believers “are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (GL 3:26). Unbelievers are of their “father the devil” (JN 8:44). Being a “Fatherite” hinges upon oneness with Jesus. He is the only begotten child, but is not ashamed to recognize adopted children as His brothers and sisters (HB 2:11). Upon accepting Him as our elder brother, we acquire the same Father He has, and thus become “Fatherites,” or to use the more familiar term, “family.”
“Family” is a precious title for God’s people. When the Church is described as a “building” (EP 2:21), the emphasis is unity of design; “flock” (1 P 5:2) denotes a common owner; “citizens” (EP 2:19) bespeaks privilege; “army” (RV 19:19) indicates a common objective. “Family” highlights relationships, and denotes a community whose members share a special oneness.
“The whole family in heaven and earth” denotes the Christian Church in its entirety, beginning with righteous Abel, the first to die in faith, and continuing till now. The members of the Church ever shift their location, but their fellowship remains unbroken, even by the change of worlds. The Church Triumphant, believers in heaven, and the Church Militant, saints on earth, are not two different churches. We are all one Church, a “whole family.” All saints of all times in all places belong to the same Church.
In Paul’s mind, the Church was a “whole family,” not divisible by anything, including death. This does not mean it is wrong to grieve the loss of our saved loved ones. It would be unnatural and inhuman not to grieve, but we must ever be mindful our loved ones in Heaven are nearer than we often think. We readily admit the dead and the living have no direct contact. We cannot see them nor speak to them, they cannot come to us or speak to us, and yet a oneness exists between us. We are knit forever by a common parentage. Our focus continues to be their focus. Our worship enters the Father’s ear blended with the praise of those in heaven. When young Spurgeon moved away, his grandpa gave advice to ease homesickness, “Son, every time you look at the full moon, imagine I am also looking at it. I will think the same about you. As our eyes rest on the same object, we will feel close.” Spurgeon’s grandpa said, “Look at the moon.” I say, “Look at the Father,” and thereby feel close to all in heaven.
If the gap between earth and heaven seems vast, remember “space is but the house of God; nay, God comprehends all space, and space, therefore, is but the bosom of the Eternal” (Spurgeon). We live in “heavenly places” as truly as in an earthly place. Thus I am actually as close to my Grandma Marshall in heaven as I am to my Grandma Hill in Poplar Bluff MO.
Believers “are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (HB 12:22). The temple stood on Zion, one of the hills of Jerusalem. God lived on Zion, His people lived in the surrounding city, Jerusalem. This geographical arrangement pictured a spiritual truth. Believers live around, and close by, God the Father.
Saints in Heaven surround the Father’s throne immediately. We of earth, having already come to “the heavenly Jerusalem,” are in essence the next door neighbors. The Church Triumphant constitutes the inner city, separated from the suburban Church Militant by only a narrow stream. At death believers cross this chilly tide of Jordan. The alteration is slight–“absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 C 5:8). We slip off the mortal to don immortality (1 C 15:54), and once we cross the river, we transfer our membership to another local church.
Death makes no breaches in the Church. God’s family is perfect and entire. “The Father” grieved the death of only one Son. He has viewed the deaths of all His other children as a happy homecoming. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (PS 116:15). The household is undivided still, however many graves crowd the cemetery. Our forebears evoked strong symbolism when they situated graveyards around their church buildings. The living and the dead in the Church are knit in “the Father.”
Wordsworth the poet once met a girl of eight years old and asked how many children were in her family. She said seven, four who lived far away, two who were buried in the churchyard, and herself. Wordsworth replied, “Then there are five of you.” The little girl disagreed, saying, “Seven.”
“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
‘Twas throwing words away; for still
The little maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”
Jacob’s eleven sons thought Joseph was dead, but in Egypt they said, “Thy servants are twelve brethren” (GN 42:13). I knew only twelve of my dad’s generation, but never heard him say he was one of twelve. He always says one of thirteen, thereby including the baby which died threescore years ago. No pictures of her exist, and the exact site of her grave is unknown, but she still counts to Dad. We cherish the memory of those gone on. We sense oneness with them, and cannot escape them. They are part of us, we are part of them. This is the idea Paul is conveying in the text before us. Oneness among church members is so great that not even death alters it.
In actual fact, we are nearer to Christians of other ages than to unbelievers of our own day. We are fellow citizens with believers who have died. The living lost are aliens to us. In his dungeon cell, Paul probably chit chatted often about weather and politics with the Roman soldier on duty. However, when Paul spoke of Christ, the soldier probably thought only of getting away to a drinking bout or a game of craps. Sensing no real communion, Paul would finally draw up in a corner alone. However, 1900 years later, I take his writings in hand, and there is communion. Paul lives in heaven, I live here, but he and I are closer than he and the soldier were.
This ongoing, never ending, ever abiding momentum left behind by those already in heaven is a vital and precious part of the Church’s oneness. Death can take breath, blood, and sinew, but not influence. In the ashes of the godly, fire continues to glow. I told my dear, gentle, saintly, dying friend, “Freeman, as long as I live, a part of you will continue to live in me.” Would anyone say Paul is less influential today than when he was alive? The arrows he shot and the javelin he threw are still flying through the air, piercing the armor of the foe. The cannonball fired by Paul continues to wreak havoc in the enemy’s ranks. The Apostle continues to spit at Satan from the grave. The devil would stop Paul if he could, but he can not, for ongoing influence is part of the oneness enjoyed by the Church. Though absent in the body, believers gone on are present in their influence.