Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking through the book of Ephesians.
These opening verses are astonishing. They are an explosion of praise to God for all the blessings that he has given us. And the fact that they are written by Paul when he was in prison - he describes himself as ‘an ambassador in chains’ (6.20) - makes them even more remarkable.
‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (v3) – and then he just goes on. In Greek it is all one sentence. Paul says one thing and then wants to add another and another – it is breathless.
And these verses are praise of the amazing, lavish, abundant, over-flowing generousity, grace and glory of God.
They speak of the communion at the heart of God:
a) of Father God: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (v3)
b) They speak of the Father’s beloved, his Son Jesus Christ.
Paul repeatedly uses the words ‘in Christ’
‘blessed us in Christ’ (v3)
‘chose us in Christ’ (v4)
‘in him we have redemption’ (v7)
‘God’s pleasure that he set forth in Christ’ (v10)
‘in Christ we have obtained an inheritance’ (v11)
‘in him .. we are marked with the Holy Spirit’ (v13)
The New Testament uses two phrases quite regularly.
It speaks about Christ in us. Christ living in us. That is fairly easy to understand. His Spirit comes and lives in us. We can talk about God in us.
Later we will receive the bread and drink the wine, and as they come into us, so we pray that God, by his Holy Spirit, will come into us.
That is amazing, that God is in you
But the New Testament also speaks of us being in Christ.
It uses that far more often. And it is harder to understand.
Perhaps we can explain it like this.
Imagine that this book is Jesus.
He has eternally been in the presence of God.
He delights in God the Father and God the Father delights in him.
He is the eternal Son of God. He is the Beloved.
And God has given all things to him.
And (placing sheets of paper inside the book) God has chosen to put you in him, and you, and you. That means that you are where Jesus us. If Jesus is the Beloved, you are now beloved because you are in the beloved! If Jesus is the Son of God, you are now a son of God because you are in the Son. If God has promised Jesus an inheritance of all things, then you will inherit all things because you are in him.
Or to put it another way. Think about us gathered here in St Andrew’s Church. We’re from all over the world - Ethiopia, Kenya, the UK, India, Nigeria, Indonesia, Switzerland, the US. But in St Andrew’s we have been brought together, we become one family, one people with one purpose – to listen to God and to praise God.
And these verses speak of Christ, and us being in Christ
c) They speak of the Holy Spirit (v13): the gift of the Spirit as the first small gift of the future inheritance that will be ours
Father, Son and Holy Spirit – all working together in deep communion.
And Paul blesses God for all the blessings that he has given us
1. That in his love God chose us – before creation came into being - to become holy and blameless (v4)
You might ask, if God chose me does that mean that I had no choice?
God did choose you – about that the passage is clear: it speaks of choice, of destining, and other translations don’t avoid the word predestination – but he chose you so that you, with complete genuine freedom, chose to say ‘yes’ to Jesus.
And I’m not going to say much about that here apart from to say that that truth is something that should give you both deep assurance that you belong to God and also shatter any of your pride when you start to think that you deserve to be a Christian.
But what I do want to emphasise is the fact that God has chosen you so that you might become like Jesus. God has chosen you so that you will become someone who would freely choose to be crucified for the sake of another person. That is what it means to become holy and blameless. He is going to change you – from the inside out. Because he loves you, He has chosen you to live a life of love. A life motivated by delight in God and delight in his will, and by a love for other people. He made us to be transparent, and true, and beautiful – on the inside, and holy. He made us to become radiant people.
2. He blesses God because God delights to adopt us as his children (v5)
We become part of the family of God.
We can call God our Father.
That is the beginning of Christian prayer.
We pray to the Almighty – to the one who is all seeing, all knowing, all powerful, ever present; We do pray to the one who is our Lord and Judge.
But ultimately when we pray, we pray to ‘Our Father in heaven’.
And that means we are brothers and sisters. We have a common father. Unity is a major theme in Ephesians. Paul writes about how in Christ Gentile believers and Jewish believers are brought together as members of one family, one body.
And of course, brothers and sisters don’t always get on, they fall out, they have different tastes and they don’t always like each other – but they are still brothers and sisters.
They cannot run away from the fact that they share the same DNA, that what is in one is in the other, that they have a common history, and a shared identity.
And as believers what is in you – or perhaps I should say ‘who’ is in you, is the same as who is in me.
And we have a common history: when we become part of the family of God, then the history of the family of God, the people of God, becomes our history.
And as believers we have a shared identity: Remember that we have been brought together. Our ultimate identity is not in our biological family, it is not in our tribe, it is not even in our nation (we need to remember that in a World Cup). Our ultimate identity is in God our Father.
3. He blesses God for our forgiveness (v7)
We have been forgiven. God in his grace and mercy has forgiven us our sins.
We had walked away from God, lived as if he did not exist, ignored his law and his word, put our trust in the things that he had created and not in him, abused his creation and treated it as our private waste disposal pit, treated other people like dirt, and messed ourselves up.
Maybe I am a bit better than you; maybe you are a bit better than me. It doesn’t make any difference, because by anybody’s standard we were pretty far gone.
And God could have wiped the floor with us.
But in his grace and mercy and love, he sent his beloved Son, Jesus to come to us – to call us back to God, to show us God’s way, and to die for us – for our forgiveness.
We have been forgiven. It is one of those things that we have in common. That is why we are able to come together to worship God; it is why can come to this table together.
I can’t look down on you, and you can’t look down on me.
We’re like people who have been given free tickets to the premiere seats at the World Cup final. On the market they would cost $10000. I can’t say to you that I deserve that ticket because once I played two games in a youth team, but you don’t deserve a ticket because you only played one team in a youth game. That is foolish. We are both there because of an astonishingly gracious invitation.
And we are both here because of an even more astonishingly gracious invitation.
4. He blesses God for God’s plan for the universe – which has been made known to us - ‘to gather up all things in him’ (v10)
As believers we are in Christ. Our unity is in him.
The New Testament talks about the church – the people of God - as a body, with each person playing a unique role, with unique value and significance, but in relationship with all the others. And the head of this body is Christ.
Or it talks about the church as a building in which each person is one of the bricks. And Jesus is the builder of this building: he lays brick beside brick.
It speaks of the church as a family
I guess today we could use the illustration that the Church is like a team: a top football team that really does play the beautiful game. Jesus is the manager. He knows each person, their gifts and abilities, he sees how they can play with others and he knows where to position them and how to inspire and bring the best out of them.
But the Church is just God’s starter for ten. It is a picture of what God plans for this creation. That under the Lordship of Jesus, and in harmony with Jesus, all things will work together.
5. He blesses God for God’s purpose for us
‘In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance … so that we who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory’ (v11-12)
Football fans are quite good at praise. I suspect that when the victorious Croatian or French team return to their country, thousands of people will come out onto the street to praise them and give them glory.
But when it comes to praise of God: then I’m rubbish – even though what he has given to us, and what he has promised us is far greater than even winning the World Cup.
I find it hard to praise God.
When I’ve been at prayer meetings and we have been asked to share one thing for which we would like to thank or praise God, my mind goes blank. And if in my prayer time, I start to praise God with my own words, I very quickly run out of words.
That is why it is helpful to have set words to say, or to sing a song or hymn: it can set us free to praise.
But I suspect that I struggle to praise God because I have not quite realised what it is that he has given me, just how much he has blessed me. That is why spending time with passages like this is so important.
It is often when we begin to praise God out of a sense of duty that we discover -even if we are in prison or if the world is against us - that we end up praising him with self-forgetful freedom and joy.
We were created to praise God. It is what we were made for.
These verses are all about how we are called to praise:
God called us to become his children ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’ (v6)
His purpose is ‘so that we … might live for the praise of his glory’ (v12)
He gives us the Holy Spirit ‘to the praise of his glory’ (v14)
If the first line of the Lord’s Prayer is ‘Our Father in Heaven’, the second line is ‘Hallowed be your name’.
And this is not for God but for us.
God isn’t sitting there like some oversized cuckoo in an alien nest crying out to its exhausted foster parents, ‘feed me, feed me’. He is not some megalomaniac potentate saying, ‘praise me, praise me’!
Praise really is what we are all about.
God created us to be like God. We were created to be people who love – who lose ourselves in the delight of the other, in the adoration of all that is good and beautiful and wonderful and true, and in the acclamation – the praise – of all that is good and beautiful and wonderful and true.
And who or what is more worthy to receive our praise, because who is more good or beautiful or wonderful or true than the Father God who loves us, created us and has blessed us with every spiritual blessing?