Christopher Chelpka

Love Incorruptible in Ephesians 6:24

Paul ends Ephesians, with the following benediction: ἡ χάρις μετὰ πάντων τῶν ἀγαπώντων τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ. What does this mean?

The English Standard Version translates this verse: “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible”. And so, perhaps you’ve wondered: How can anyone love with incorruptible love? There’s a good answer to that, but it may be the wrong question. That’s because in Ephesians 6:24, “incorruptibility” probably doesn’t refer to the love given to Jesus, but to Jesus himself. As my friend, S. M. Baugh, translates it: “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ, who dwells in incorruptibility.”

Dr. Baugh gives two reasons for this in his commentary on Ephesians. First, while it’s grammatically possible, there is no reason to link the prepositional phrases ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ back to the earlier participle phrase “all those who love”. The word order suggests, however, that ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ should be connected to its most recent antecedent: “our Lord Jesus Christ” instead. Second, the incorruptibility of Christian love was not a major theme in Ephesians, but the incorruptibility of Jesus was. Through Jesus, whom God raised from the dead and seated at his right and in the heavenly places, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing. In him we receive a glorious, incorruptible inheritance of life together worshiping the Trinune God. Ephesians begins with these things in mind, and with this benediction it ends with this way too. “As [Christ] dwells in incorruptibility,” writes Baugh, “so shall all his people dwell together evermore.” This is “the central message of Ephesians.”

And we can add another reason. Throughout the Bible, we see that the purpose of God’s pronouncing benedictions on his people is to bless them with his glory and the gifts of salvation. So naturally, these blessings tend to spotlight God’s work for us, not our work for him. We have that in the ESV translation, but it’s stronger in Dr. Baugh’s.

Before God loved us in Christ, we were corrupt and corruptible, able to decay and even already dead. “But God,” Paul writes in Ephesians 2, “being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”

Ephesians also teaches us that this salvation changes us. It turns us from enemies of God into friends with him and each other. It puts peace our hearts and it teaches us a new way in Christ. It incorporates us into a new body, with Christ himself as our living head. And as such, in this salvation we learn a new way to live: a way that is marked by love and sustained by the grace of our incorruptible Lord from his incorruptible kingdom.