"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, even as 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. 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 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.
"In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."
After about five previous attempts to begin with something profound, I will settle for a simple admission of my inability to fully grasp and articulate the profundity of this text and move on. What an incredible declaration of the blessedness of the believer by the apostle Paul! There is much to say about this passage, and much of it is beyond my skill in articulation, so I will simply share a few thoughts here.
Paul is writing this epistle to the Ephesian church (mostly Gentile if I'm not mistaken) from prison. While we are not a part of his originally intended audience, I think it is safe to say that the apostle's words here apply to all believers.
How often do we place blame upon God for not working things out the way we think He ought to? We accuse Him, perhaps implicitly, of failing to bless us as we expected Him to. "God, if You love me, how can you allow this pain, this financial struggle, this death of a loved one, this undeserved ailment, this spiritual dryness, this purposelessness..." An inspired Paul responds by declaring that God "has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places..." Before moving on to the blessings enumerated thereafter, I would like to briefly dwell on this incredible statement of God's goodness toward us. We might initially think it absurd to think that we have received every spiritual blessing; we certainly hold that we have received some, but every one? As Paul goes on to list the blessings we have already obtained as Christians, our true beatitude becomes more apparent, especially as we consider our undeservingness, and the fact that even more blessings are guaranteed to await us. Paul provides the suffering saint (much more, the comfortable saint) with much-needed perspective in order to inspire an attitude that more accurately reflects the true state of things, namely, an attitude of worship.
"He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world..." I must here confess my more Calvinistic tendencies, but I will save a further explanation for a later post. Without getting too controversial, I think this beautifully expresses the immensity of God's grace toward us. We have verses like Romans 5:8 that depict Christ's great and gracious love in that He gave Himself up for undeserving sinners, but that is taken to a new level here where Paul explains that God chose us before we or anything else even existed. To what end were we chosen? We were chosen that we might be holy and blameless before God. To be declared holy and blameless is one thing, but to be so before God, the God of the Bible, is infinitely more. Isaiah's vision of God in the sixth chapter of his book gives a great image of what I intend here. The seraphim declare the holiness of the Lord, and Isaiah despairs of his life for having seen such holiness. Shall we not do the same before Him? Yet we too have been atoned for with a burning coal in the person of Jesus Christ, and we have thus, like Isaiah, been considered holy and blameless, even in the presence of Holiness Himself. For this we were chosen by our gracious God, even before His work of creation.
Paul continues his enumeration of our blessings in Christ by saying that God "predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will," further illuminating the completely unmerited grace we have received from the hand of a loving God. Why did God decide to adopt us? Because it is His will. That is like the infamous "because I said so" we all suffered from our parents in childhood, but the lack of explanation here merely shows that no explanation is possible with regard to the grace of God. His hand is unmoved in His embrace of His adopted children. Not only were we chosen to be holy and blameless (and who isn't painfully aware of how un-holy and blameworthy they are?), but we were predestined for adoption as sons of God through the Son of God in love. The reader cannot help but note the highlighting of holiness and love at this point, recognizing God's bestowal of His own attributes upon His children by His grace. In case we forgot what we are doing with this list of our blessings, Paul reminds us: "to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved." We do not ponder the gifts we receive in order to congratulate ourselves on obtaining them, but in order to praise the grace of the Giver.
Is there more to be had in Christ? No Christian can skim over the redemption he or she has through the shed blood of Christ, and Paul certainly takes care to note this pivotal Christian doctrine of the atonement. Again, I will save a rant about the post-modern de-emphasizing of the atonement for another post. We were redeemed through Christ's blood, and our trespasses were forgiven; our list expands to include the negation of evils along with the goods, so that we do not merely receive blessings with our curses, but a wiping away of all record of anything meriting punishment. This redemption and forgiveness likewise find their source in God's grace, for which Paul now uses terms like "riches" and "lavished," perhaps in conjunction with his recent declaration of our adoption into the family of a King, or his coming words about the inheritance we have received and will receive.
Furthermore, God, "in all wisdom and insight," makes known to us the mystery of His will: "to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth." What Christian has not offered fervent prayers to God requesting a revelation of His will? Yet here it is, in plain words (ok, not entirely plain): God's will is that all things be united in Christ. While this doesn't help much with my career choice, it does serve to remind me of the blessed truth that my career choice is not terribly important in comparison with God's ultimate purpose. Whenever the "fullness of time" comes, I expect that many of my present concerns will prove to have been frivolous in light of God's will, which will undoubtedly come to pass. God's Word unveils the mystery of His will and tells us that God intends for all things to be united in Christ, and this purpose cannot be thwarted - this is the revelation of the will of God.
On top of all that has been mentioned so far, we have also received an inheritance. Why? In case the pattern has escaped my reader, it is because God predestined our obtaining it in accordance with His will, unmoved by anything greater, unmotivated by any merit of ours. What is our proper response to this undeserved inheritance? To hope in Christ, and thus glorify Him. When our blessedness is recognized as in this passage, it is evident that we ought to hope in Christ; not only should we hope in Him, He is our only hope.
This inheritance is "already-and-not-yet," as Paul says that we have obtained it, then goes on to say that we have a deposit guaranteeing that we are to receive it in the future. When we "heard the word of truth, the gospel of [our] salvation, and believed in Him, [we] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it." This is a wonderful summary of the believer's conversion, wherein we all heard the truth of the gospel, believed in Jesus, and were sealed with the Holy Spirit. One result of this "sealing" is that we are thereby assured of our inheritance; not only does God grant us this undeserved blessing, He confirms that He will give it to us.
As Paul has emphasized a number of times in this short introduction to his letter to the Ephesians, he also reiterates at the close of this passage: all these blessings are "to the praise of His glory." I went through these verses in sort of a systematic manner, but there is really so much more to be said about Paul's Ephesian prologue. I simply intend to highlight the rich blessings which God has bestowed on us for no other reason besides His glorious grace, and to encourage a proper response to this unmerited favor: gratitude and obedience. Exhortations to thanksgiving can be found throughout Paul's writings, and the way he structures many of his letters points us to acknowledge God's greatness and His great gifts and to respond with gratitude in action. "For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again" (2 cor 5:14-15). Although "obedience" holds a negative connotation for most, the obedience which is our debt to the Lord is no burden, but rather a joy as we desire to do the will of the One who gives us life.
This magnificent passage has become one of my favorite portions of Scripture, so I decided to memorize it. I am almost finished committing it to memory, and I already appreciate having these verses in mind as I can refer to the truths found therein without even needing to read or have a Bible handy. I highly recommend memorizing this passage, and also reading the entire book of Ephesians, as the whole really informs and enriches this part of it. Keep this list of blessings in mind and bless the Lord.