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Today we begin an eight week reading through St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. It’s our intention to focus our attention on this marvelous epistle through the summer both in our preaching and home devotions through the week. My intention is to develop a guide to follow at home through the week based on the epistle reading from Sunday. We’ll post these on our web-site, but if you’d prefer to receive them by mail, let me know.
A little bit of background before we begin. Ephesus was a major city in Asia where the gospel of Jesus Christ had never been heard. Paul went there on his 2nd missionary journey, and as was his practice, he went to the Synagogues. Because he was Jewish and a Pharisee to boot, he was always given to opportunity to speak. He would preach Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of what the Jews were hoping for. Some would believe and others would not. Believers would separate themselves from the Synagogue (or be kicked out) and that would be the beginning of a new congregation.
Two of the converts at Ephesus were the husband and wife, Priscilla and Aquilla who become the leadership of the congregation. Paul returned to Ephesus on his 3rd missionary journey and stayed there for three years, longer than he stayed anywhere else.
Sometime after Paul left Ephesus is when things really start heating up for him. Understandably, the Jews are getting pretty fed up with his evangelism strategy, and want to put it to a stop. They try to kill him which fails. Then, they convince the Roman authorities that Paul is a danger to society and he’s arrested and imprisoned. I’m sure that the Jews think that now, finally, they have gotten rid of their problem, but from prison, Paul writes letters to the churches – and this one goes to the Ephesians.
Paul’s letters all have a common format to them. The first half of the letter deals with Christian doctrine and the second half deals with the Christian life that flows out of the doctrine. Some of the ‘Christian life’ topics that Paul zeroes in on in this letter is ‘family life’ – ‘wives and husbands,’ ‘children and parents,’ ‘servants and masters,’ topics that we too could certainly stand to hear about.
So, let’s begin the journey through Ephesians. Would you take your bible out and turn to Ephesians 1 on page 976. Let’s read out loud together verses 3-14. (Read text)
What a grand introduction to Paul writes. If you can believe it, as Paul wrote this, it’s 200 words and all one sentence. Evidently Paul was paying attention in school when the teacher covered ‘sentence structure’ and how to avoid ‘run on sentences.’ But then again, if sentences are supposed to contain ‘one complete thought,’ maybe that’s what Paul had in mind. This is all ‘one complete thought.’
And the thought is, ‘God has plan for this world that He put into place from eternity, that is carried out in Jesus Christ and that promises unimaginably great blessings for believers.’ Let’s look at this text in more detail.
Vs. 3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…
“Every spiritual blessing…” Paul wants his congregation’s attention on God’s ‘spiritual blessings,’ as opposed to their ‘physical / material’ blessings. Both come from God – all the physical / material blessings that we have are all from God just as are the spiritual. It’s just that when it comes to the physical / materials blessings, God doesn’t give ‘every material blessing’ to anyone. To some He gives much and to some he gives little, so that those with much may love their neighbor by sharing their abundance with those who lack. This is ‘Divine economics.’
But when it comes to the ‘spiritual blessings’ that God gives through Jesus, it’s “every spiritual blessing.” Everyone receives it all, which means that the same. We all have it all.
And we have it all from the Father, through Jesus Christ. The Father always works through the Son and not apart from Him. Just in this ‘introduction’ alone, Paul repeats the phrase ‘in Christ’ or ‘in Him,’ eleven times. If you’re hoping to be “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm” apart from Jesus Christ, you’re going to be terribly disappointed.
So first, Paul clarifies where these “spiritual blessings” that we are “blessed with” come from. They come from the Father through the Son. Now he speaks to what these ‘spiritual blessings’ are.
Vs. 4-6 – “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. ”
Paul begins by directing our attention to the past. The first verse in the bible begins, “in the beginning, God…” Paul says, you’ve got to go back before ‘the beginning,’ before the world was created, before time, when there was only God and nothing else, if you’re going to understand this correctly.
Before ‘the beginning,’ God had a purpose in His mind, what Paul calls, “the purpose of His will.” His purpose is that “we should be holy and blameless before Him.” To be “holy and blameless before God” means to be ‘perfect’ as God is perfect, ‘innocent’ as God is innocent, ‘altogether righteous’ as God is altogether righteous.
So, is it the case that God didn’t see the train wreck that we would make out of His ‘very good’ creation and our lives by our rebellion against His Word and our fall into sin? Is it the case that “the purpose of His will” was frustrated by the devil who led Adam and Eve and all of their descendents from ‘holy and blameless before God’ to ‘unholy and filled with blame’ before God?
Sometimes we talk about God’s plan of salvation as if it were something that He came up with ‘after’ the Fall into sin in garden of Eden. Kind of like a ‘plan b’ now that ‘plan a’ didn’t work out quite the way He expected it to.
But no, He saw it all – His very good creation and His very good man and woman, to His utter disgust with it all because of our sin, and to the redemption of the creation and His people through Jesus Christ.
‘In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” From the eternal past before “the beginning,” God already had the atoning sacrifice of His Son in His mind. Christ’s bloody death on the cross for the sins of world was according to “the purpose of His will.” And there never has been a time, even before time, when Christ has not been crucified before the Father.
And why does He do this? Why does the Father send His Son into the world to suffer and die so that you may be “holy and blameless before Him”? “IN LOVE.” God is love. “The purpose of His will” is in perfect harmony with who He is.
Don’t look for the reason for His love in yourself or in the world or in the ‘goodness of man.’ It’s not there. Look for the reason God loves you in God.
“In love, He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” That word ‘predestined’ means that God ‘predetermined’ your destiny before ‘the beginning,’ before time began, before Adam and Eve were created. God choose you to be His ‘sons and daughters’ ‘through Jesus Christ’ before you ever had a chance to choose God or to make your decision for Jesus or to take up your cross and follow Him.
God’s election in eternity was carried out in time in your baptism. Don’t try to look into the eternal counsel of God for assurance that you have been ‘predestined for adoption.’ Look to your baptism where God gave you His name and made His child, “holy and blameless before Him.” And blessed you with all “the spiritual blessings in the heavenly realm.”
All of this is “to the praise of His glorious grace.”
And with that, Paul now moves from “the purpose of God’s will” carried out in eternity past, to the “purpose of His will” carried out in the present.
Vss. 7-8 – “In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us in all wisdom and insight.
God does not overlook or ignore our rebellion against Him. He doesn’t turn a blind eye to our utter depravity compared to the utter glory in which He made us. He sees it all and He it all grieves Him. But neither does He say, ‘here’s what you need to do to make things right.’ ‘Here’s what you need to do to undo the mess you’ve made.’
No, He says, ‘Here’s what I have done to make things right.’ ‘Here’s what I have done to undo the mess you’ve made and restore you to the utter glory in which I made you.”
“In Jesus, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.” We are, now, in the present, completely and totally clear of all of our debt to God, forgiven for all of our rebellion against His word and washed clean of all of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ, crucified for you.
We are, now, in the present, already delivered from death and the evil by Jesus Christ, resurrected for you.
We are, now, in the present, already brought through this life of sin and suffering and death, into the eternal life of pure bliss and joy and peace by Jesus Christ, ascended into heaven for you.
And all of this is “to the praise of His glorious grace.”
And now Paul points us to the “purpose of God’s will” that is working to a goal, an end, a ‘last day’ when everything that He purposed in the eternal past is accomplished in the eternal future.
Vss. 9-10 – “Making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
The goal towards which everything is moving is the reunion of heaven and earth. God is joining together again what we, by our sin have rent asunder. What is now separated one from the other will be united together in the one Christ. Whatever the union of “all things” includes, it most certainly includes the union of the believer who is alive and the believer who is dead, all the saints in heaven and all the saints on earth – all one in Jesus Christ.
God has made His will known to us through Jesus Christ. Believers live in this world alongside unbelievers. Unbelievers do their very best to understand where the world is headed and what their own destiny is. But apart from Jesus Christ, it’s like they’re missing that chapter in the book that makes all the difference in how you understand its meaning.
But when the Holy Spirit gives us that chapter about Jesus Christ and all that God has purposed through Him, it changes the whole story and we see everything so differently than without Him, so wonderfully differently that we are filled with such hope for the future and love in the present and praise to God.
Let’s conclude like this. Paul is offering us a new and glorious perspective on life. Remember, Paul is writing this letter from prison. His situation was certainly not a very good one. But peering BACK before the foundation of the world and FORWARD to ‘the fullness of time,’ Paul understands what he has ‘now,’ in the present and is compelled to give thanks and praise to God for His glorious grace.
I hope that we may share the apostle’s perspective that we may also share his praise.