Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.
Paul an apostle -. a sent one. We live in an age where Pauline teaching is unpopular, he is aggressive and earnest. Some accuse him of being a woman hater and even of having an alternative agenda. It may surprise us to learn that this attitude to Pauls teaching is nothing new, even Peter writes of Pauls teaching as being hard, (2 Pe 3:16) although it should be noted that Peter goes on in the following verse to refer to Pauls writing as scripture so if you want to ignore Paul then really you need to ignore Peter too.
It is interesting thus interesting to note Pauls opening salvo. Paul, a sent one. Paul was not here to tickle the ears or entertain, he had not been invited he had been sent. Again we live in an age where we rate doctrine and teaching by what we describe as quality, by this we mean the amount it appeals to us. If a given brother is long-winded, speaks in a monotonic tone or in some other way offends our delicate sensibilities it is assumed that he doesn't have a message for us. Scripture tells us that Paul did all of these things, in fact scripture records Paul as the one speaker that has literally bored someone to death (Acts 20:9), and yet Pauls response is straightforward. Paul, an apostle .. a sent one - of Jesus Christ. Being sent in and of itself is not enough, preachers are sent all over the place by churches, missionary societies, Bible colleges and all manner of other human bodies that have given themselves the authority to dictate who should stand in the pulpit and preach. Paul actually had some accreditation, he had been sent by his home church (Antioch) and the church at Jerusalem and yet he doesn't see fit to mention either of these. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ. There is one, and only one, valid qualification for a preacher or teacher and there is one and only one valid reason for listening. The person has been sent by Jesus Christ.
And we still have to be a little more specific- an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God. It is not enough to be sent in general or to have what we describe as an anointed ministry, those are good things but they are not a mandate to communicate. If God wishes to communicate with us he will pick his man and his message, let us earnestly pray as the year continues that the people we hear can open scripture to us with the confidence and calling that Paul opens his epistle to the Ephesians.
The saints and the faithful. When you read that little section how many groups of people do you think it is referring to? You can argue that it is referring to one group, those to whom the letter is addressed but I think that if we look a little closer four different categories of person are actually identified. There are the saints who are faithful, the saints who are not faithful, the faithful who are not saints and finally those who are neither saints nor faithful. I wonder which of those groups you fall into? Let us start at the easy end. Saints. Being a saint has scripturally has nothing to do with pleasing the pope. It is simply a description of those who are saved, those who have repented of their sin and accepted that the Lord Jesus Christ died that they might be forgiven. So a faithful saint, that is a saved sinner who is so grateful for what the Lord has done that the devote their lives to bringing honour to him, praying to him, learning about him and doing his will. So that describes all of us doesn't it? Or does it? You see in is quite possible to be a saint but not be that faithful. Sure we still go to church from time to time, we'll even hang around for the second meeting provide the preacher doesn't go past noon but other than that we live lives the way we want to and woe betide anyone that tries to get in the way.
The saddest group is probably the third, the faithful that aren't saints. Those people that attend regularly probably read their Bibles, try to lead really good lives but they have never actually reached that point of commitment in their lives where they hand over everything to Christ. They will work, and work and work but when they reach the end of their lives they will find their labours are in vain. Then in group four we have the bulk of the worlds population, faithless and hopeless. In the words of scripture, strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world
So to whom is Ephesians written? to the faithful saints. In modern parlance, Ephesians is really the epistle to the heavy hitters. We do not have the sin and disorder of Corinth, the heresy of Colossi or the confusion of the Thessalonians.
Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Back in the days when I was a cute and cuddly three year old (which was a very long time ago) there was a radio programme called 'listen with mother'. The lady that read the stories had a voice that made your average sergeant major sound approachable and yet she always started with the same expression "Are you sitting comfortably, then I'll begin". The logic presumably being that if you have forced the child into admitting he is comfortable then he has no excuse for fidgeting later on.
I suspect verse 2 works on a similar principle if on a loftier plane. Each of us comes bundling into the building from different lives, with different experiences and different levels of scriptural understanding. Each has different needs and possible God has a different message for each of us and if we are going to find out what it is then we need to have our minds opened. And according to verse to the first step towards that is Grace. If you want to believe that God can do something for you this morning then why not start by thinking about what he has done for you already. When you were head-strong and self willed he sent his son to die that you might have a home in heaven. Grace. Amazing Grace. It really is enough to stop you in your tracks and take your breath away. The glory of eternity given to a worm such as I, for free.
Of course some of us don't need stopping in our tracks because we were stopped anyway having a good fret. We have this problem that problem and although we don't have them yet we're pretty sure there are another seven problems coming at us any day now. Well says the Bible - peace. "Well Mr preacher it's all very well for you to say peace but you don't know what I'm going through..". And you're right, I don't, but then it isn't me wishing you peace. Look at the verse - I don't know your problem, and I certainly don't know how to solve it but look who it is that is wishing you peace. God our father. Listen again, not God the Father but God our father. The one that knew us from our mothers womb, that tended and cared for us long before we were able to fret about ourselves sends us peace. And just in case that isn't quite assuring enough it also comes from (and in fact through) the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
There are some verses in scripture which sound a whole lot better if you leave out some of the words, this is one of them. Try this. "who hath blessed us with all blessings in Christ". That sounds like the kind of God we really need. An omnipotent, omniscient deity who manoeuvres the whole of creation to ensure that yours truly gets a good deal out of life. And you will find, if you hunt around, preachers and testimonies that will tell you that this kind of a God is truly on offer. You will find, in even greater number, sad and disillusioned people that cannot understand why God treated them so badly even though they went to church.
The answer of course is that God never lets us down and does exactly what he says, but it therefore is a good idea to make sure you know exactly what he says. So let us try this verse again and I'll put back in one of the words I took out. "who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ". The Christians hope and future is based upon a spiritual reality. When I was born again I got a new spirit within me that will live forever. My mind is being transformed by the holy spirit. My body is falling apart just like every other creature on this groaning planet. So watch this promise, we have been given all spiritual blessings. Note the all. Some people like to think of degrees or measures of the Holy Spirit or even second waves or such. Not according to this verse, we have all spiritual blessings.
Which leaves one obvious question. How come it doesn't feel that way? Why do spiritual things seem so hard? Well because there are still a couple of words missing from the verse. "who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" Our spiritual blessings have been given to us in heaven! Whether or not we appropriate them, through prayer, and bring them here to earth is really up to us. But let us go back to the verse. Why were we given these amazing blessings up there and not down here where we could make instant use of them? I think it is because they are eternal. If you have a small child you give them toys, you may have some very precious and important things you wish to give them when they grow up, you may well have an inheritance lined up for them, but whilst they are young and clumsy you give the tools and objects they can handle. They may be told of the real inheritance, maybe allowed to peek from time to time and on special occasions perhaps even to hold under strict supervision, but not to have. Not yet. I think the same is true for us. Can you imagine how proud and independent our old man would get if we had all spiritual blessings here and now. We must suffer, and sometimes loose, to keep ourselves humble and focussed upon the Lord.
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
What does it feel like to be chosen? In fact have we taken hold of this reality? We are chosen! I used to dread soccer at school. It was usually cold and muddy and I was far too lazy to run around much so I didn't warm up but that isn't the bit I dreaded. I dreaded the start. In British schools soccer teams start by choosing the players, first the teacher picks the captains, then the captains pick their teams taking turns starting at the best. In many ways this is a good system, it tends to ensure evenly balanced and fair teams. The only down-side is that some poor schmuck gets left standing on the side-line with both team captains desperately trying not to pick him. And that poor schmuck was usually me. In fact if there wasn't an adult supervising both teams would start playing the game and I would be left completely unchosen!
But now we come to verse
4. I may not be a required part of any good soccer team but right there, before the creation of the world, when the Almighty God was choosing the people that should inhabit eternity with him he choose me! And you! Does that change the way you think about yourself? It should.
But let us chase this 'before the foundation' a little bit. It potentially raises some very deep and interesting questions with regard to the exact extent to which we are in the image of God but I don't really have time to chase that this morning. What I do want to bring home though is the order in which God puts his priorities. I for many years pictured it that God had created a world and then put man within the world. More personally I had imagined that God had been running the world for however many years and then when I came along he found a place for me within it. That would be glorious enough but the truth is rather more amazing. His redeemed people were chosen first! We were not placed in the part of the world that suited us best, the world was designed specifically to have us placed within it. Now just go back in your minds to think what God has done to cause you to happen. In the last 9000 years there has been time for say 300 generations, and in the DNA that makes you there are little fragments of each of those 600 people. Just think if one of those generations had misfired, one baby mis-carried one tiny little error and you couldn't have been here today and all the way through God managed it. It gives you some idea how futile it is to worry. God has been protecting your interests since before the mountains were formed, through famine, fire and flood so why oh why do we think he is going to drop the ball now?
And for what were we chosen, That we should be holy and without blame before him. Kinda strange huh? If there was ever a team I was less likely to be picked for than for a soccer team it would have been for a team that was holy and without blame. Of course if I was in a pious mood I might claim I was a little better than the guy down the road, especially if I got to pick the guy down the road but our Bible doesn't leave any room for such comparison. It says that we should be holy and without blame before Him. Before God. Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty. Can we fake it? The eyes of the Lord are in every place beholding the evil and the good. Nope. We only have one recourse, and it comes at the end of the verse. Before him in Love. To be accepted by such a high standard cannot come from ourselves it has to come from the judger.
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.
Predestination. If there is a single biblical word liable to cause hackles to rise and lead to uneasiness within a group of believers it is probably this word. In fact I have heard very Godly brothers whom I respect very much suggest that predestination is a doctrine designed for the privacy of a believers own heart and not one that should be discussed publicly. Oddly Paul and we believe the holy spirit has no such concerns, here at the very head of a publicly read epistle, we are pre-destinated unto adoption.
So why is predestination such a difficult word for us to swallow, simple, we like to be in charge and we like to kid ourselves we are in charge and the thought of some remote deity meddling in our affairs with the purpose of bring about some change in our activities offends us greatly. So we try to persuade ourselves it isn't true. We even come up with the doctrine of freewill as a counter theology to predestination. Interestingly if you look at your Bibles you will find the phrase freewill used on 17 occasions, and never in the new testament. Of those 17 occasions 16 refer to our ability to make an offering to God of our own freewill. The other is in Ezra referring to those that could go to Jerusalem of if they chose.
So do we have free will? Think about it. Did you choose height, eye colour, gender, intelligence or personality? Do you really get to choose when you die or what diseases you get along the way? In fact, for those of us who are married, did you actually get to choose your spouse? Think about it, there are 2.5 billion people of a suitable gender how many of them did you get to choose from? Maybe if you were sociable you knew a thousand. But how many did you get to choose from? Well those that liked you, and who got to choose who liked you? Well the being that gave you the height, eye-colour, gender, intelligence and personality that you have today. So when it came down to it you probably actually got to choose from less that 10 people, 0.0000004% of the world population. And if you look at the divorce statistics you will find that even then most of us manage to get the choice wrong!
So how do we marry together the idea of predestination, which we can see happening all around us, and freewill. Well I have a picture which may help you. Back in my youth, when my brain was still fresh, I used to play chess, and pretty well. In fact I once earned the opportunity to play Nigel Short as part of a round-robin demonstration of his abilities at Cambridge. There were fifty of us, each with our little chess sets and Nigel Short the youngest ever British GrandMaster walked up and down playing us each in turn. Now at each turn I had total free choice within the rules of the game, I could do whatever I wanted, some choices would be to my good, some to my harm, I had the right to choose. The result however was pretty inevitable, my own ability to forsee and predict was so completely inadequate compared to my opponent that the final result was a foregone conclusion.
I believe that we can view our own freewill here very similarly, we get to choose within the rules that are set us but we are each so insignificant compared to the universal scale of things that God is still able to control ultimate destiny.
So given we are predestinated, what are we destined unto, adoption. Think of what that implies. If it had said we had been predestined to be children of God then it would have implied that when God was choosing our future he was expecting us to grow as his children. In so far as I am able to control the destiny, or at least behaviour, of my children I am aiming for them to start of along the right lines and keep going that way. But that isn't what it says. In Gods plan and purpose we start of as children of wrath that then get moved in, or adopted, to the family of God. In other words God is just about the only parent in history that actually plans on the teenagers rebelling so that he can affect the reconciliation afterwards.
In fact the AV shows this nicely, when it says adoption of children. Not the adoption of babies, the assumption here is that the character has been at least partially formed at the point adoption takes place.
Then we get a little throw away phrase that beautifully shows the sufficiency of Christ. By Jesus Christ to Himself. When I was physically adopted as a little baby it took at least 4 different people to agree, the people that took me, the social worker, my blood mother and presumably me looking cute enough to get taken. In fact there would have been judges and lawyers and all sorts too. Now when I was adopted into Gods family none of those players came into effect, not even me. Look at the verse, predestinated .. by .. himself. The entire transaction was set up by, enacted and consummated by Christ. And that tells us something, the transaction is not reversible. When I was plucked out of a crib some 33 years ago my adoptive parents went through a period of 6 months where any of that gaggle that agreed to me being taken could change their mind and the transaction would have been nullified. Not so here. Christ is the only involved party, he has decided. Job done. End of Story.
Well unless you ask why. Why did this all happen. According to the good pleasure of his will. In the vernacular, because God says so. We don't need science, logic, philosophy, theology or anything else to answer these questions, the Bible is emphatic. Destiny is in place to please God.
If that seems a little hard though look at how precise the Bible is. It doesn't just say according to his will. If it did it could suggest some deity doing something out of grim determination. Many of us can be strong willed. We get that bit between our teeth, we frown and we make something happen however much it hurts. But the Bible adds the word pleasure. The pleasure of his will. This is not grim determination, this is a conscious decision to make things happen because it provides pleasure to God. Theologically this should be enough to satisfy us but the Bible adds one more word. Good. According to the good pleasure of his will. This gives us an insight into the character of God. Predestinating us to adoption is in the will of God, why because it gives him pleasure, why because it is a good thing.
I'm sure this answer satisfies most of you, it should do, it is the one the Spirit gives us, but I never really got beyond the three year old stage of asking why. How can it possibly be a good thing that the chosen people of God are first allowed, even predestined to go out into the world and make all kind of mistakes before we get adopted into the family of God.
To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.
In the words of the psalmist, Selah. Think about it. The grace of God. That conscious decision within the Godhead to take something undeserving, ie you and me and placing them in a position of favour. That act of grace, our salvation, where our sin is placed upon the Lord Jesus Christ and we are accounted righteous. So this verse is suggesting that our being adopted whilst is a state of sin and helplessness shows others just how great the grace of God is. In fact it says to the praise -. Grace, others will not just see it but it will cause the grace of God to be praised.
Now this is worth grabbing hold of because it shows one of the devils tricks to be a lie. Sometimes, some of us, try to persuade ourselves that we are not worthy to be considered the children of God. We walk around carrying guilt with us. Even some churches will teach that we have to do some things to remove this guilt from ourselves such as confession or penitence. This is completely wrong. If we try to minimise the stoop that God took to come to us then we are minimising the praise which will go to God for his grace! Let me put that more simply. If are trying to work your way into heaven then you are deliberately trying to reduce the praise that God gets for you getting there! In fact the Bible teaches that if you try to work your way into heaven you don't get there, that is the group that are faithful but not saints, but that really is a different subject.
Let us just go back and put one more important word into the verse. To the praise of - glory- grace. Why do you think glory was inserted in there? Well I think it is to show the nature of the praise. I don't know if it is so true over here but in England we love someone who looses valiantly. We give far more praise and kudos to someone who dies getting children out of a fire, even if he takes a wrong turn doesn't get them out and they all burn than someone who goes in and does the job well and gets out unscathed. If this verse had just said the praise of his grace it could have suggested that people would stand around and say, and extremely valiant attempt, pity it didn't work. Oh no says the Bible. Let us not get confused, grace cost, grace really cost, but it worked, it was success, it was victory. To the praise of the glory of his grace wherein -
Acceptance. Do you ever feel really accepted? If so by whom. In verse four we looked at being chosen, acceptance is that belief that the people that chose you feel that they made the right choice.
I was actually chosen for a soccer game once, the captain was new to the school and didn't know me. I suspect the sniggering he heard when he pointed to me might have alerted him to trouble and by the time I had deftly passed the ball to the opposition four times in a row and fallen over twice I began to feel that my acceptance by my new captain was low. When he asked for a substitute I knew I was out of favour and when he said he wanted me off the field even if he couldn't have a substitute I had hit rock bottom.
This will never happen to us if we have been chosen of God because verse 6 tells us we are accepted. Because we are great people? No, he hath made us accepted.
So given we are accepted the next question is what form of acceptance do we have. Is it a kind of off handed permission to skulk in the corner? A grudging acceptance that justice has been done and were are now technically free? Absolutely not. We are accepted in the beloved. When the God of Heaven looks upon the Lord Jesus he sees the one whom was daily his delight and when he looks upon us he sees one who is made worth to be the Lords bride. Now that is acceptance.
So as we head our different ways, chosen and accepted, in Him let us remember to whom these encouraging words were written. To the faithful saints, may we me so during the weeks ahead.