Does the letter of Ephesians mark a new stage of development in Paul’s thought, or is it a fresh statement of the vision Paul had carried within himself, fully-developed, for many years?
T. Austin-Sparks took the latter view. He shared it in a 1962 message titled “The Greatness of Christ.”
As Austin-Sparks told the story, Paul had long seen and understood the things he shared in Ephesians. We can see this grand vision of things shine through in parts of his earlier letters. For example, Romans 8 gives us the same sweeping view of creation, and in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul seems to know a lot about the glory of the resurrection.
These are but glimpses into Paul’s spiritual vision, a vision which he had not had the opportunity to fully set forth. Austin-Sparks called them “mighty fragments”:
From time to time, in relation to specific needs and requirements here and there, to particular situations, he embodied in letters some fragments — mighty fragments — of this rich revelation which had come to him, and was all the time coming to him.
According to Austin-Sparks, it was Paul’s imprisonment that gave him the opportunity to “sit down and open up the floodgates of that spiritual store and pour it into this letter.”
So God used Paul’s imprisonment to get this vision out of Paul’s heart and into our Bibles:
“…the sovereign Lord had ordained that the physical imprisonment should make possible the release of the light for the church for the whole of this dispensation.”
This message of T. Austin-Sparks was the first in a series of messages based a line from Ephesians 4:10, “That He Might Fill All Things.” As he introduces his theme, he imagines what a great challenge the writing of Ephesians must have posed for Paul:
And then to come to our mighty fragment: “That he might fill all things”. Are we not right in saying that the apostle is too full for words, that the gates have burst and this mighty torrent of spiritual knowledge is breaking up almost beyond his control? But what is it all about? What is all this?
And the answer? No, it is not just doctrine, not just light, truth, teaching. The explanation is that for Paul Christ had burst all the bounds and bonds of this universe. All this was but his hopeless attempt at bringing Christ into view as he had come to see Him, to understand Him, to know Him.
Yes, it was an impossible task, and we would be right in concluding that no-one felt it more than the apostle who made this mighty effort to bring the greatness of his Christ to the church. Christ, Who for him had out-ranged all bounds of time, took him back into the ages of eternity past, before the world was, and carried him on — as he uses the phrase — “unto the ages of the ages” (Galatians 1:5 — R.V. margin).
Christ for him had out-ranged all time limits, had outbounded all limits of space. He ascends into the highest heavens and Christ is there; descends into the deepest depths and Christ has fathomed and plumbed them. Christ has compassed the all-above and all-beneath of space and, as Paul says, has embodied all the divine fulness: “It was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell” (Colossians 1:19).
And more: Christ has transcended all other authorities and all other rule, every principality and power and every name. Christ was above all. The greatness of Paul’s Christ led him to make this, which, as we have said, he, perhaps more than anyone else, felt to be a hopeless effort: defeating all language to bring Christ as He really is in His dimensions and fulness, into view.
You can read T. Austin-Spark’s message, “The Greatness of Christ,” here: http://austin-sparks.net/english/books/001812.html
You can listen to it here: http://audio.austin-sparks.net/TAS0082.mp3