Ephesians 1: 1-15
December 5, 1999
Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor, The Grantham Church
©1999 Ephesians 1:1-15
Ephesians is a wonderful book. There are depths to it, a sublimity we find in reading it. It contains descriptions of some of the most profound parts of the Christian view of life and the new life. Paul will tell us that God chose us in Christ, like He chose Abraham nearly 4,000 years ago and for similar reasons nothing in us, or in him, for we are all unlikely candidates. And then God blesses us. Paul uses one of those spiritual sounding expressions so full of meaning. Chapter 1, verse 3, "God blessed us in Christ with all spiritual blessings."
In the months I lived in Wales, almost the only Welsh expression I learned was Pob Bendith, which is a greeting that means "all blessings." That's what Paul is saying. Or if we would translate it into our commercial society, we would say, God is offering us full benefits for life. Major corporations these days are demanding co-pays for benefits. God, however, is offering us full benefits.
God not only chose us, verse 5 tells us that He predestined us to be adopted by Him. He did this by buying us, when we were slaves to sin, at the cost of Jesus' blood. The Bible's word for that is "redemption." Verses 6 and 8 tell us God lavished grace upon us, which means He gives us what we don't deserve. In verses 9 and 10, He lets us into His great secret, or mystery, that He is creating a new order. It's like and unlike the old law order. It's a new order and Christ is the head of it.
We are use to thinking a lot about ourselves, our rights, our privileges, our freedoms. There are several billboards in this area advertising health care. "It's About You," they proclaim. This self-centeredness is the great error of the 20th century. Ephesians doesn't begin with our needs, it begins with God. And what it says is designed to set our wandering hearts again on God. Somehow, we have gotten things confused and have come to take pleasure in stones rather than bread.
In Ephesians, Paul takes us by the hand and he says, "I'm going to show you the glory and the majesty of God." And we need that view. We need to know and to feel personally the power of Him who works all things according to praise of His glory. We are meant to be filled with the goodness of God, but we need help understanding all this, and so Paul prays in 1:18 "that the eyes of your hearts may be enlightened." When we become enlightened, we discover here in this small book the great riches of God's grace. We need to see those riches and so take heart. And especially at this time of indirection and pluralism in the world, we need a fresh understanding of God's great place and purpose for the world and for us in the world.
In the mid-1960s, when Nancy and I were in Princeton, John MacKay was living there. He had for many years been a missionary in South America, president of a seminary in Brazil and later president of Princeton Seminary. He was translator of the works of Unamuno, the Latin American existentialist thinker. MacKay relates how he became a Christian. It was by reading Ephesians. The year was 1903. He was 14. He was living in his home in the Scottish highlands. Here is what happened to him as he read Ephesians:
I saw a new world... Everything was new.... I had a new outlook, new experiences, new attitudes to other people. I loved God. Jesus Christ became the center of everything.... I had been quickened; I was really alive.
I want to preach through this book, a couple of sermons now, and the remainder in the spring, so we may listen for the renewing voice of God.
In these first 14 verses, we see things from our side and from God's side. On our side, according to verse 3, we bless God; or, as the New International Version translates the word, we praise God. Paul's message, in sum, is, to know God is to bless God. Someone has put it, "theology is doxology." You might use a self test. If you find it hard to bless God in your life, that may be a sign that you don't really know the God who redeems you in Jesus Christ. Verse 12 tells us that God wants this praise. "We might bring praise to his glory." ( Note that this is a different word from the word translated "praise" in verse 3.)
From God's side, there are a number of things He does:
1. Verses 4, 5, and 11, God chooses us, or elects us in Christ;
2. Verse 5, God adopts us as His children;
3. Verse 7, God redeems and forgives us;
4. Verses 3, 6 and 8, God lavishes His grace upon us, or blesses us;
5. Verses 9 and 10, God makes His will known to us, gives us the inside story.
1. Paul begins telling what God has done by reflecting in his mind on the situation before creation when God did something. Before creation, God proposed to adopt us as His children. The adoption would occur when Christ bought us with the price of our slavery, which is what the word "redemption" means. Verse 5, He predestined us for this adoption. Now there is a mystery to this. To us it looks as if we chose to believe in Jesus; but in some way our choice is connected to the decision God made in eternity to choose us. If there is a simple explanation of the connection between these two acts, no one has made a satisfactory explanation of it in 2000 years of church history.
The doctrine of predestination and God's choice were not invented by John Calvin, it was revealed by God in the Bible. In the Old Testament, we see that God chose Israel out of all the peoples of the earth to be His special possession. We find a record of this in Genesis 12 and in Exodus 19:4-6. In the New Testament, God again chooses people, but this time from a broad spectrum of people, not only Jews, but people from all languages and nations to be His saints, or, His faithful people.
In 1558 and 1559, Calvin preached through the book of Ephesians in St. Peter's church in Geneva in 48 sermons. (I am planning to do it in nine sermons which shows that neither I, nor perhaps, you are so steadfast as Calvin.) One of the things Calvin said about God's election was:
Although we cannot conceive either by argument or reason how God has elected us before the creation of the world, yet we know it by his declaring it to us; and our experience itself vouches for it sufficiently, when we are enlightened in the faith.
2. The election, the predestination, is part of God's carefully made plan to adopt us, according to verse 5. Have you ever wished someone would adopt you? You long for a better home than the one you have? What does it mean that God adopts us? There are two sides to it, what we receive and what we give. What we receive is redemption, the actual buying of us who have been slaves to sin. The price is the blood of Jesus according to verse 7. Adoption also means that our sins our forgiven. If that doesn't move you, it means you have been underestimating what a big problem your sins are. Sin affects us by keeping us from being what we were made to be. Sin distorts our perspective on what is important and true in life so people make all sorts of bad choices. Sin does that. Does it sound like you? Then you're a slave to sin.
But there are also responsibilities. Paul doesn't spell them out in these first verses, but in 4:1, he urges us to live a life worthy of our adoption. Then in chapter 4, he exhorts us to use the gifts God gave us to help others. We are to stop lying, 4:25, about ourselves, our condition, and stop lying about other people in ways that make us look better. We must work, so that we do something useful in the world. 4:28. We are to imitate God, 5:1, that is, we are to cultivate the family likeness. We are to obey our parents, and so on. Now these are responsibilities, but they don't work like the law of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, if you didn't keep the law, you needed to sacrifice one of the family sheep for your sins, and if you kept breaking the law, things happened like the Babylonian captivity, and defeat and destruction at the hands of the Assyrians. In the New Testament, if you don't keep your responsibilities, it shows something about how redemption has motivated you that you aren't living up to what God expects; but it doesn't jeopardize your salvation. It's like being a bad son or daughter with no respect for your parents or what they have given you. But your parents continue to pray for you and love you and, like the father of the prodigal son, wait for you with tears.
3. Now about our redemption. In verse 14, our redemption is in the future, so in the present God gives us his Holy Spirit which is a guarantee of our inheritance until the time comes when God redeems us. In verse 7, however, we have redemption now, or "we stand redeemed." How do we see this?
It is like marriage. Sometimes when couples come for counseling about marriage, they confess, "I'm not sure about this," or, "I'm afraid when I think of the responsibility of marriage." On the day of the wedding, when I go to pray with each of them, they often say, "I sure am nervous."
I always tell them, of course you are. If this weren't so important, you wouldn't be nervous; but it's important. If you weren't nervous I'd suspect you don't understand how momentous marriage really is.
Being redeemed is like planning to be married and standing at the wedding day, nervous. When a person trusts Jesus Christ in her or her life, what he or she trusts is that Jesus has, by his death on the cross, paid the price for his slavery in sin. But how do you know that? Often people say, when they make their commitment to Christ, but I don't feel any different. And they worry about whether anything really happened. I say, that's good. That means this is important to you, but here is how you know something happened. The Bible promises it and you believe that promise by faith. This is important and you want to be nervous and you don't want to take your adoption by God for granted.
The key promise is in verse 7: "In the Son we stand redeemed," or as the New International Version has it, "In him we have redemption." Fanny Crosby wrote a wonderful hymn, set to the tune Ada (No. 421 in our hymnal),
Redeemed how I love to proclaim it! Redeemed by the blood of
Redeemed through his infinite mercy, his child, and forever, I am.
But, as I said, the word "redeemed" has a spiritual ring to it, so if you see the thing as being bought from slavery to sin, then your hymn would go:
Bought from slavery, how I love to proclaim it! Bought from slavery by the blood of the Lamb.
It doesn't scan, but it poses a question for you? Do you believe you are a slave to sin? No one becomes a Christian without knowing slavery describes what he/she is in life.
4. In verses 9 and 10, there is a further thing God does. He makes His will known to us. God's will is a mystery. What is God doing in the world, we ask, looking around at riots in Seattle, war in Bosnia, starvation and death in eastern India, and destruction of rain forests and their unusual plant and animal life in Brazil and Guatemala? What is God doing? If only we knew. And then Paul says in verse 9, God has made known to us the mystery of His will. What is it, we ask? And verse 10 explains it using one remarkable word.
When I was in graduate school, I studied church history, but each semester I took the graduate Greek seminar that F. F. Bruce offered for his New Testament students. We read Ephesians one of those years. And Bruce translated the word in verse 10, "establish a new order with Christ as head." A wonderful translation ( though the new, 3rd edition of Bauer doesn't put the emphasis where Bruce did).
The old order was the world as we know it, with all that sickness and crime, and the effects of sin which will always be part of this world, and the law which was one way to try to control sin. If we would ever establish colonies on planets in other solar systems, or on Mars, the same selfishness and greed and sin of people would be there. The new world will be the one God sets up, and there will not be selfishness, nor greed, nor sin there. We who believe in Jesus, whether formerly we were Jews or Gentiles, we are part of this new order. The worship and rules of this new order won't be Jewish, they will be Christian, since Christ is the head. And it is coming. Do you believe that? One day you will be part of a new order where there is no longer a curse, where there is no more night, no sorrow nor crying, no more death, Revelation 21:4, "for the old order has passed away." It has passed away!
5. Then there is a final theme of what God has done for us. God has lavished His grace on us, as verses 6 and 8 put it; or, in the words of verse 3, we get full benefits, or all blessings. We see something of the scope of these blessings in verses 11-14.
· Verse 11. God is sovereignly working out the purpose of His will. His will involves us. Notice the pronouns in these verses. In verse 11, it is "we," "we who were chosen," meaning the Jews. Then in verse 12, it is again "we," the Jews, who were the first to hope in Christ. Remember that the church was formed first of Jews who had followed Jesus around Palestine and come to trust him. But then in verse 13, a wonderful change occurs, "And you also were included, in Christ." That's us, non-Jews. This happens when you hear the gospel of your salvation. This is us, non-Jews. "Having believed, you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit."
And then in verse 14, it is the two together, the Spirit "is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance."
· So all blessings includes God working out His will, and it also includes being marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, verse 13. A seal is a mark of ownership. Ranchers brand cattle with some symbol of their ranch to mark ownership. They put the brand on the rump of the cattle where it can be seen; but God's seal is internal. God puts His Spirit on us, in our hearts to mark us as belonging to Him. We recognize that mark in other believers. Sometimes when Christian people are different in their life style or their actions, we ask, is this person really a Christian? Sometimes it's hard to see that brand. But God is marking all sorts of people. People like us and those unlike us.
· All blessings include God working out His will, the marking of us by the Holy Spirit, and they also include, verse 14, the deposit which guarantees our inheritance. The word "deposit" is a term of commerce. It means first installment, or down payment. It is part of the purchase price paid in advance. Many of you are paying on a mortgage for your house. When you made the down payment, you could move into the home. You didn't have to have all the money. All you put up of your own money was the deposit. The deposit is the first installment of the purchase price. That's what God gives us when He gives us the Spirit. He is not merely promising us our final inheritance, but He is giving us a part of our future inheritance. That, too, is part of all the blessings God gives us.
Yes, Ephesians is a wonderful book. I hope we can discover in it what will help us in our Christian lives.