God’s blessings in Christ

Sermon Date: 
10 Jan 2010
Bible Base: 
Ephesians 1:1-14
David Jeans

Today we begin a new sermon series looking at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Why Ephesians? It goes back to a 1045 service we had in Advent, when Elisabeth preached on Jesus as High Priest breaking down barriers between us and God; Louise had us thinking about breaking down barriers between ourselves and those outside of church. Ann had a picture of one man rising from the dead and that all led me to Ephesians 2 and Christ through the cross breaking down barriers between Jews and non-Jews. I believe that God began to speak to us through the letter to the Ephesians then and I pray that he will continue to do so.
The letter to the Ephesians is about the work of God through Christ creating a new people the church. We are often tempted to think about our faith and our salvation as an individual thing. The great Bible teacher John Stott writes this about Ephesians[1]
Nobody can emerge from a careful reading of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians with a privatised gospel. For Ephesians is the gospel of the church. It sets forth God’s eternal purpose to create through Jesus Christ a new society which stands out in bright relief against the sombre background of the old world. For God’s new society is characterised by life in place of death, by unity and reconciliation in place of division and alienation, by the wholesome standards of righteousness in place of the corruption of wickedness, by love and peace in place of hatred and strife, and by unremitting conflict with evil in place of a flabby compromise with it.
Life not death
Unity not division
Righteousness not wickedness
Love not hatred
Conflict with evil not compromise with evil
That is a pretty wonderful vision of what we as the church are called by God to stand for in this world, and it shows why this letter has always been deeply loved by God’s people.
The letter begins today with this wonderfully rich theological passage about God’s purposes for us. And if you are worried by this word theology, always remember that it is an anagram of ‘O get holy’.
This passage is theological because it is centred on God and on God’s purposes. Bishop Tom Wright has said that sometimes our presentation of the gospel seems to suggest that God is in orbit around us, that our wants and desires are at the centre of the universe – whereas the truth is that we are in orbit around God – his purposes are at the centre of the universe.
This passage is clear – it is centred on God’s purposes and what’s more it is centred on a Trinitarian view of God.
It begins with the purposes of God the Father, achieved through the work of Jesus the Son, and guaranteed by the work of the Spirit.
The Greek of this passage is amazing – verses 3 to 14 in the Greek are one sentence! Paul just gets carried away – everything he says makes him think of something else and it rolls on and on! It’s not a passage I can really do justice to, so we will just pick out some points from it.
 The first thing to notice is the ‘we’ and ‘you’ nature of this passage. Paul talks about God blessing ‘us’, God choosing ‘us’, God lavishing his grace on ‘us’ and so on. Who does he mean by this ‘us’? Well, from where we are now it’s easy for us to miss the point. Because these blessings are now ours as Christians, we can miss what Paul is talking about. The clue comes in verses 12 and 13. In verse 12 ‘we who were the first to hope in him’; followed in verse 13 by ‘in him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him’. And further clues come in chapter 2 v 11 – you Gentiles in the flesh.
The ‘we’ in chapter 1 are the Jews who believed in Christ; the ‘you’ are the non-Jews, the Gentiles, who have believed in Christ. Paul is saying that all the blessings that were initially for the Jews have now become available for non-Jews. Not because the Jews have let God down, but because God’s purpose always was to bless all nations through the Jews and particularly through the true Israel who is Jesus himself.
God the Father’s purpose always was to create one new humanity in Christ. By the end of this passage in v 14 the ‘you’ of the Gentiles are included in the ‘us’ of our inheritance in Christ.
I have emphasised this because in a moment we are going to look at these wonderful blessings that are God’s purposes for us as his people. And it is so easy to get so carried away by God’s blessings that we forget that there are others out there whom God also wants to bless in his eternal purposes. We are not given blessings just for our own enjoyment. We are given blessings to share with others; and we will see more of this later on in Ephesians. For now I want to emphasise that just as Israel was blessed to be a blessing to others, so too are we the church of God blessed by God to be a blessing to others.
So what are these blessings? There are so many
First we have been called and chosen by God (v 4) – that means that we are secure in his love –as that lovely modern hymn ‘In Christ alone’ says – no power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from his hands.
But as we have already said, that calling is for God’s purposes, not for ours. He calls us to be holy and blameless before him. It’s often said that God accepts us as we are – and of course that is a wonderful truth. But he does not want to leave us as we are. He calls us to be holy and blameless in our living – and later on in Ephesians we will see what that means.
Secondly, he has adopted us (v 5) – we have God as our Father and Jesus as our brother. We are God’s family, in the language of the Maori of New Zealand we are God’s whanau. Remember the parable of the prodigal Son – he wanted to return as one of the hired servants, but the father wanted him as a beloved son. Think about how you feel about your children – that’s how God feels about you.
Thirdly, he has forgiven us through the death of Jesus (v 7). Our sins have been dealt with, we have no need to fear the judgment of God.
Fourthly, (vv 9-10) we are part of God’s amazing plan to unite all things in Christ. We are not an accident in the universe, we are at the centre of God’s purposes.
We have this amazing inheritance planned by the eternal purposes of God and achieved through the work of Christ. It’s described as an inheritance because much of it is yet to be fulfilled. Paul talks in v 14 about the time when we will acquire possession of it.
So how do we know that all of this will happen – that we will live holy and blameless lives, that all things will be united in Christ?
Firstly, because all of this is promised by God and we can trust his promises.
Secondly, because it is a result of the work of Christ on the cross and we know that that work has been successful because of his resurrection.
But thirdly, because we already see some of this inheritance now, because of the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
Look at verses 13 and 14 – when you heard the word of truth and believed in Christ, you were sealed by the promised Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.
Sealed by the Holy Spirit – a seal in those times was a sign of ownership. The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance – the idea is of a first payment, a down-payment, a deposit.
Whenever we see the Spirit at work today we are being assured of the promise of God that all of the blessings we have been talking about will be ours in their fullness. An answer to prayer – a guarantee of the future reign of God when his will be done on earth as in heaven; someone being healed – a guarantee of the spiritual and physical wholeness that we are promised; a time of worship full of the sense of God’s presence – a guarantee of the full presence of God that we are promised; a growth in us of the fruit of the Spirit – a guarantee of the holy and blames lives which God is going to produce in us.
Throughout this letter there will be wonderful declarations of what God is doing and will do in us through the work of Christ and through the work of the Holy Spirit. Also throughout this letter there will be challenging calls to live out these blessings in our daily lives.
There are two main things from this passage. The first is the reminder that we are part of the biggest thing there is – the church of God. I remember when I was on the Governors at Wisewood School suggesting to the RE people who were trying to work out how to introduce the idea of worship to 12 year olds that they could use the video of Wednesday winning the League Cup in 91. It began with pictures of blokes on the Kop singing their heart out with their arms in the air. Being a football supporter is about belonging to something bigger than yourself. But there’s nothing bigger than the church of God to belong to.
And the second message from this morning is that all that we will be hearing about begins with God – and because it begins with God we know that he will bring it about – to the praise of his glory.

[1] JRW Stott God’s New Society (IVP 1979) pp 9-10

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