Reading: Ephesians 1:1-14
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To God’s holy people in Ephesus,[a] the faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Praise for spiritual blessings in Christ
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he[b] predestined us for adoption to sonship[c] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he[d] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen,[e] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory
So folks we are about to embark on a series on the book of Ephesians, and with the help of a few others on the teaching team we are going to travel through this very exciting letter of Paul’s. 6 chapters and they have been chapters that have brought many to faith, showing them their places in the purposes of God. A book that I believe is really important for the time we are in, as we emerge from several lockdowns, and our need to rediscover who God is, and who we are in him, what our purpose is.
I want to begin by telling you about the impact that this letter had on one person, and I therefore hope it wets your appetite for the next number of weeks as we too delve into it. The man’s name was John Mackay. He was born in Inverness in 1889 and later became the president of Princeton Theological Seminary. As a 14 year old boy he was reading Ephesians while he was out walking on the Scottish highlands. In John Scott’s commentary on Ephesians which I would highly recommend if you want a more in-depth study of the book, he refers to Mackay’s encounter as something that completely changed his life around. Mackay says “To this book I owe my life. I experienced a boyish rapture in the Highland hills. 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 centre of everything, I had been quickened; I was really alive’. He went on to say ‘this letter is pure music, what we read here is truth that sings, doctrine set to music’. What beautiful words. He got it, he wanted to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. It is indeed my prayer for you that you too encounter a newness to your life as you study along with me, and for a time coming out of a pandemic we need to be renewed. Folks this is 6 chapters, it won’t take you long to read through it, in fact if you have a phone you can listen to it on one of the bible apps, but I would encourage over the weeks ahead to allow this book to seep into your minds. Read it through often. The reason why this is good is that if you don’t get an overview and feel for this book but instead dive straight in, I am convinced it won’t be too long before you will get stuck, maybe in verse 4 & 5 of our reading today around predestination and election.
So please invest a little of your time reading Ephesians as I know it will help with this series. The other thing to note at the outset is that you can draw a clear line down the middle of Ephesians between chapter 3 and chapter 4. The first 3 chapters Paul emphasises what God has done for us in Christ, and then beginning in Chapter 4 Paul describes all that we should do and become because of what God has done for us in Christ. But he takes 3 chapters to explain the wonder of God’s provision and dealings with his own, and until that is clear there is a real danger on us starting on all the doing stuff in the later chapters. And this is why I personally think this book is so important for us at this stage in the life of our church family right now. So often the teaching of churches can be centred on what we need to do, so often in a growing church, people will be asked to become involved in the doing aspects of church life, so often in committee meetings I hear reports about this thing that we’ve done and that thing that we are doing. But if we don’t first grasp what John Mackay discovered about God’s richest blessing to us through Jesus, then our hearts will never be stirred to overflowing in our deep desire to please him in what we do. There’s a danger that all our efforts come from a human desire to be active, rather than driven from a heart that pours out from its love of God. What the Bible does here through Paul in Ephesians is explain the wonder of God and what he has done for us. Listen again ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight’. He’s saying to us, see what God has done. It’s only once we grasp that, can we begin to consider how to live as a Christian, how to be a husband or a wife etc.
So the recipients of this letter are the Christians in Ephesus. Ephesus is the capital of the Roman province of Asia and a busy commercial port. It was also the headquarters of the cult of the goddess Diana or Artemis whose temple you can still see today as it is one of the 7 wonders of the world. We can read in Acts 19 how the success of Paul’s mission to Ephesus has threatened the sale of silver models in the temple so much, that the silversmiths had stirred up a public protest. So in verse 1 he’s writing to believers who are holy because they belong to God, they are faithful because they have trusted Christ, and they have two homes, because they reside equally ‘in Christ’ and also ‘in Ephesus’. We are all the same if we are Christians – we have an identity. We live both ‘in Christ’ but also in this secular world, even though this place is not our home. In today’s world there’s the whole issue of identity, what people identify as and there are numerous terms that now people are able to use. It’s become so confusing as people begin to identify themselves in other ways. However Paul is absolutely clear where his readers’ identity is and should only be, and that is ‘in Christ’.
Paul knows where he stands. He begins, and in the Greek the whole paragraph is actually one sentence with no breath, when he says ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ’, and so he keeps going and going and going. He knows in his own life where he has come from, his heart is overflowing with his deep appreciation of what Christ has done for him, he knows that at one stage he, like all of us were dead in our trespasses and in our sins. That’s actually how he will begin chapter 2. He was once lost but now he’s found. Do you know something, there is nothing more transformational than when you see someone who really understands where they have been in life and where they now are. It’s so real and so attractive. I remember the day when someone on our last Alpha course told me that they had surrendered their life to Christ, I nearly had an accident in the car, but what was so revealing was seeing the burden of the issues that had been holding that person back, to now through the grace and love of God, be lifted. There was such release and freedom, the old had gone. Something had awakened.
So how does that happen? Have you experienced that in your relationship with God? If not then this series may be the start of something very exciting. You see it doesn’t happen in the big events or the clever words that we might put on as a church. It can only happen when a person hears the Gospel. It happens through the truth of the Gospel when it is faithfully presented and the Holy Spirit convinces us of its truth. And as we recognise the truth of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit convicts us and moves in us at a personal level. It’s not reading about some historical events 2000 years ago, it’s not just something that happens to someone down the row from you, but we then see the truth stirring our own lives. Then the Holy Spirit convicts us that there is a solution to the gap that exists between our human nature and a Holy loving God, and that is the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross. None of this is done by our own doing; Yet not I but through Christ in me as the song says. And in the realisation of the transformative work of Christ on the cross, the believer, like Paul praises God by saying in verse 3 ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’.
All this originates with God through his word. That’s where the bible actually begins. God takes the initiative and it is God who blesses us. The verbs in this passage just show how important this is in the life of the Christian to praise God for his blessing on us. Let’s look – verse 3 he blesses us, verse 4 he chose us, verse 5 he predestined us, verse 7 he forgives us, verse 8 he lavishes his grace over us. God has done this. And these blessings became ours because, verse 4, he chose us before the creation of the world.
Have you thought enough about that? Our election to be sons and daughters of his didn’t happen as some kind of afterthought. He didn’t elect us once he was happy with us. He desired to choose us before even time began – such was his desire to have a relationship with his creation. Isn’t that amazing, that in the wretch that you and I are today, in the disobedience and rebellion in our lives, he still chooses us. And that makes our decision to choose him even more important folks, because if he has put so much into wanting this eternally lasting adoption with us, then why would we ignore it. But some of you might say, well how do we reconcile this in our minds? How can he choose us for adoption before creation, and yet we have the choice to make as to whether we want him or not? Well I’m not going to ever be able to answer this, this side of eternity, it’s way above my intellect, and Stott himself says in his book, ‘It is not likely that we shall discover a simple solution to a problem which has baffled the best brains of Christendom for centuries’. Folks, we must simply bow down in wonder at the grace of God and marvel at his deep affection for us.
I heard it explained like this. Imagine you as a boy have grown up from an early age on a street where other kids are playing. One day as a child you spot a girl helping her daddy, and even from a young age you think in your mind how nice she is. Then years go by, and as an adult you meet a girl at an event you are at, the relationship grows, love blossoms, and eventually you marry her. The girl you have married happens to be the same girl that you spotted when you were very little. Your affection for her has been there well before she ever noticed. And so the point is this, do you have a problem that the God of the universe loved you before the foundation of the world, before you would have even known? Is there any problem with that? Why would it be a problem therefore to understand that he chose us. You see the reason why God chose us was because he loved us. And why does he love us? Because he can’t do anything else. God doesn’t know anything other than love.
So you might say so what. The so what is about how you respond to this incredible character of God to you. It means that when you and I choose to step out of God’s will through sin, and you deeply consider in these verses that the God of the Cosmos has chosen you, then you stop and take your sin seriously. Why do I say that, well look at verse 4, ’he chose us to be holy and blameless in his sight’. Alistair Begg remarks here that we haven’t been chosen because we are holy, but it’s that we have been chosen to be holy. And therefore what this means is that if we recognise that choice of God in his love for us, then we cannot live whatever way we want. It’s not that we can suddenly sit back and relax thinking we’ve got the ‘get out of jail free card’. No. Your salvation cannot be considered as secure irrespective of what you then get up to in life. If you consistently live in sin, you cannot claim holiness. The evidence of our election is seen in our daily holiness; he chose us to become more holy and blameless; it’s seen in the constant growing of our walk with God as we every day conform more and more to him. So folks if our life is not changing to conform more to God, if it’s not striving to go deeper in our relationship with the one who chose us, if we choose to make ambition and success more our focus than a life dedicated to God, if we choose to ignore or reinterpret what we want scripture to say to suit our way of living then we cannot claim that election. Our reading says, ‘For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight’. And with that hope, 1 John 3 teaches that ‘we purify ourselves, just as he is pure’.
So let’s bring this to a conclusion for now. What does this mean for how we are to live, in this chapter of our Christian lives, as our churches open again, as we ease back on restrictions? Well I believe we are moving into a new phase as a Church where we should move the focus away from what we are doing, we should focus less on what will big us up as a church, but instead our collective faith should be pointing to what Christ has done in us – that’s what counts. It’s not about what I have done but it’s about what he has done. ‘Yet not I but through Christ in me’. Consider right now what it was in your life that drew you towards Jesus. Was it the beach mission, was it that Sunday School teacher, was it an event in your life, what was it that drew you into that living relationship? And as you journey back through your life, I guess all of us who realise just what has happened in our lives with all the mistakes along the way, will fall to our knees in worship at how God reached into your life, and took hold of you. Reflect like Paul who knew like us that at one stage we were dead in our trespasses and in our sins, but God pulled us out of the slimy pit and placed our feet on the rock. And then reflect on what clearly filled Paul’s heart as he declared, ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves’. Hallelujah, thanks be to God.
Father, we bow in reverence before your majesty today. We are so small compared to your greatness. Thank you that you chose us before the creation of the world, and thank you that you love us because you can do nothing else. We pray that in the study of your word today that you would stir in us a passion to understand what you have done for us. Forgive us when we boast in things of ourselves. May we strive to walk holy and blameless in your sight – to the praise and honour of your name, and your name alone, in whose identity we live by. Praise be to you O God. All this we declare through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.