Paul was merely following the customs of his day when he wrote his letter to the Ephesian churches. Those first verses in chapter 1 string together a huge image, and in most English translations, it’s poorly rendered. That’s because it’s written by a Hebrew mind trying to stuff mystical truth into the Greek language, and this passage is one those where English just fails completely. You have to read it over a dozen times and toss it around in your head for a little while.
It helps if you avoid any translation that uses “dispensation” in verse 10. That is an inexcusable mistranslation, exposing a serious anti-Hebrew bias. Here’s the deal: Paul chose the Greek word oikonomia to capture the image of a very large Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) feudal sheikdom. You really need to move as far away as possible from words that permit Western notions to leak back into this picture. His words draw the image of a very powerful ANE nomad potentate living in tents. Someone like that doesn’t think in terms of real estate; he has the power to protect his turf and keep out folks who aren’t welcome. But it’s not a permanent occupation; intruders can have it once he moves on.
Rather, his true wealth is his people. It’s not even the flocks and herds, because that’s the means to keep his people alive and healthy. But his people are the real treasure, because good people can always produce more material goods. Being nomads, their needs are pretty simple in the first place. His whole focus in life is their social stability and welfare. His sole claim to greatness is his success in those terms. Wherever they travel on his business, they flaunt the richness of his provision. That’s his glory.
Paul’s point here is that we need that image to understand how God does things. His primary objective in what He does in this world is just like any ANE nomad sheik. He has His one Heir who has entered His co-regency apprenticeship, having performed the heroic act of winning back the rightful inheritance consisting of many souls. So there’s this transition period where He demonstrates His rightful place on the throne by carrying on His Father’s business. At some point that apprenticeship will be complete and the Father will call in all His vassals and settle up, ensuring that the Son knows precisely the magnitude of what He inherits.
Meanwhile, this is feudalism; the Son has called into His service all kinds of folks and adopted them as kin so that they can inherit their own share of interest in this sheikdom. People with a shared investment tend to act together with an eye to increasing value. And their whole business is to carry His fame throughout the world and attract more investors, people who will in their turn become vested family members, too.
All of that is in those first few verses of Ephesians, folks. This isn’t about you finding your personal peace and keeping it inside. It’s about showing off the glorious treasure of our Divine Sheik, flaunting His rare and fascinating symbols of wealth. We are so loaded up that we can afford to leave our loose change and small bills on the counter when we leave. In other words, we see no great need to correct people’s minds on some objective truth. Rather, we display our casual attitude about concrete reality in favor of what really matters — moral discernment. They can keep all they want of this world, but that means we know they aren’t moved by the implication that they could have something far better. If they want that better stuff, they’ll have leave this world behind, same as each of us have done.
Again, we are raiders of souls. We don’t intend to colonize; we don’t want this world. Let the dead keep their dead world. We’ll sneak in and flash His glory around until someone reaches out for it. Then we’ll hook them up with our Rich Daddy Sheik and keep fishing for more. Eventually our mission will end and we’ll go back home to our own noble household within the Sheik’s domain.
And somewhere way down the road will come that Final Day when the Son is finally paraded before the world as the Heir, and He’ll take possession of everything. Those who cling to this world and their moral blindness will be forced to stand in His Holy Presence with no protection of kinship. God alone knows what that will be like, but for the rest of us, it’s a whole new dawn into some blissful eternity none of us can imagine.