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Monday, June 9, 2014

More Than Created - Adopted Ephesians 1

Ephesians 1

            A few weeks ago, the church I attend began a forty-day study of the book of Ephesians. I have not been able to attend any of the studies so am studying on my own. I remember years ago studying the New Testament in seminary and am eager to learn afresh what God wants to tell me.

            As I began this study, I remembered that Paul’s letters begin with a greeting and introduction as to who he was. They often contain a preamble that lets you know on what he planned to teach. The book of Ephesians follows that same pattern, but I found or re-learned something in my current study. Chapter one includes a section on what God has done for the Ephesian church and a prayer from Paul for them. If you have not read Ephesians chapter one recently, I encourage you to do that now before you continue this study.

            As quick lists, here are the things Paul said God did and things for which Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians and faithful followers of Christ.

            What God Did:

  1. He chose us before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless. (vs. 4)
  2. He predestined us to adoption as sons and daughters. (vs. 5)
  3. He freely bestowed His grace on us. (vs. 6)
  4. He gave us redemption through Christ’s blood. (vs. 7)
  5. He gave us forgiveness of sin because of His grace. (vs. 7)
  6. He lavished His grace upon us. (vs. 8)
  7. He made known to us the mystery of His will because of His kindness. (vs. 9)
  8. He summed up all things on Christ on earth and in heaven. (vs. 10)
  9. He gave us an inheritance because He predestined it based on His wisdom.(vs. 11)
  10. Because He gave us this inheritance through His grace, we are for the praise of His glory. (vs. 12)
  11. He sealed us with His Holy Spirit. (vs. 13)
  12. He gave the Holy Spirit as a pledge of our inheritance because we believed and redeemed. (vs. 14)

What Paul Prayed (for the faithful)

  1. That God would give wisdom, revelation, and knowledge in recognizing Him. (vs. 17)
  2. That God will enlighten the eyes of our heart to know the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance. (vs.18)
  3. That God will give us the surpassing knowledge of the greatness of His power towards us with the working strength of His might. (vs. 19)
  4. That we will know these occurred in accordance with the working of the strength of His might, which He brought about in Christ when He (vs. 19-20)
    1. raised Him from the dead (vs. 20)
    2. seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places (vs. 20)
    3. far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named (vs. 21)
    4. to change this age and also the one to come. (vs. 21)
    5. He put all things in subjection under His feet (vs. 22)
    6. And gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (vs. 22-23)

            From the first section under “What God has done for His children,” verse 3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” As I read this, I wondered what the spiritual blessings were to which Paul referred. I can think of many things God has done, but what is a spiritual blessing? This led me to a discovery. Paul outlined these blessings in the eleven subsequent verses. Each of these blessings are God’s actions and thoughts toward us; we did nothing to get them.

In verse four we find that God chose us before He created humankind and the world, to be holy and blameless before Him. He chose to have an eternal relationship with us; that is why He created us. He created us for relationship. When Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they broke relationship with Him because He, in His holiness and purity, cannot be in the presence of evil. Yet, we learn from this verse, God chose us to be holy and blameless so He had a plan to renew our relationship with Him. Paul expands this teaching further in chapter two, especially in verse ten.

            Verses five through six carry on from this. Verse five says, “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” This affirms again that God chose us, He predestined that we would be His children one way or the other. God’s plans cannot be thwarted by humankind. God planned from the foundation of the world our adoption as His children. Paul began in the verse to explain how God planned to adopt us to bring us back into relationship with Him. He gave us a glimmer of what he spoke and developed later in his letter to the Ephesians. God, through Jesus Christ and because of the kind intentions of His will, provided a way for us to be cleansed from the darkness of our sin. This adoption and kindness of God comes from God’s grace. Grace is defined as God’s riches at Christ’s expense. We receive God’s riches, an inheritance, at because of Christ’s death as our substitute. Paul and all followers of Christ praise God because of His grace, which He freely gave us. We do not deserve this great kindness and love of God to remove our sins at the expense of the life of His Son. Nothing we can do makes us worthy of this grace from Holy God. Paul developed this teaching further in Ephesians 2.

Paul added more in this first chapter. He stated, “In Him (Jesus Christ) we have redemption (our death penalty redeemed by the death of a substitute) through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” Because Jesus in His gracious love for us chose to die as a substitute for our death, which our sinfulness required, we can be made pure, one hundred percent clean from our sins. God’s forgiveness comes to us through Jesus’ death, His blood poured out instead of ours. This redemption and forgiveness is because of God’s great grace, His insurmountable and unlimited kindness and love. Paul used a word that describes the limitlessness of God’s grace. He said God “lavished” His grace upon us. Lavished means to be over and above measuring, to be abundantly overflowing. Paul talked more about the limitless grace and love of God in chapter three. He said he wants us to grasp how high and wide and deep is the “love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge so that we may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18-19).

God, in wisdom and insight, “made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention” according to Paul in verse nine. Paul spoke more on this mystery in Ephesians 3, but summed up for us here what God’s will is – to bring all humankind back into a relationship with Him through the death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus Christ. God provided for us this way back to Him because of His love. He made it known to us because of His kindness and love. What good is a plan for others if they do not realize a plan was made for them. Paul continued to summarize God’s mystery by stating that all things on heaven and earth will be in subjection to Christ at the fullness of time, when He returns to earth. Then the kingdom of God will reign forever. Christ’s death was not just for us to experience now as a once off cleansing. His death and resurrection occurred so that we could have eternal life with Him when all things are under His gracious and wise authority and dominion.

Paul stated in verses eleven and twelve, “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” He reiterated it again for emphasis. God adopted us and they will receive a full inheritance with His Son as children of God. The inheritance we receive is eternal life with an unbroken relationship with the Father. This idea was not a backup plan after Adam, Eve, and humankind sinned. God foreknew humankind would sin. He predestined a plan for our salvation because of His love for us out of His unlimited mercy and kindness. Because we asked for forgiveness and accepted His love, He made us His children. We get to praise His glory – His excellence, magnificence, and majesty. Our word “doxology” comes from this Greek word translated as “glory.” We praise God for who He is and what He has done.

Paul said, in verses thirteen and fourteen, God sealed us in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise. He gave us the Holy Spirit in our hearts “as a pledge of our inheritance,” our redemption and eternal life with Him, “to the praise of His glory.” Paul preached this in His letter to the Ephesians. He praised God and taught the Ephesian Christians to praise God for what He did for them. The Holy Spirit is our pledge from God of our inheritance as His children. The Holy Spirit is not just our guide, comforter, and teacher, but is our pledge from God. How great is that?

To sum up God’s spiritual blessings for the Ephesian Christians according to Paul, God adopted them. We must be more specific though. God chose them before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless. He predestined them to be adopted as His children through Jesus Christ because of His kindness. God bestowed His grace freely on them. He redeemed them from their merited death by Jesus’ substituted death. God forgave them of their sins because of His grace. He lavished His grace on them. He made known the mystery of His will to them. God gave all things to the authority and dominion of Christ on earth and in heaven. He gave them hope in Christ. God gave them the pledge of His Holy Spirit as a sign of their inheritance. The Ephesian Christians and we did not do anything to acquire salvation and adoption. God did it all.

The second section of this opening chapter of Ephesians is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Christians. Keep aware as you will notice overlapping between this prayer and God’s spiritual blessings of His children. Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians giving thanks for them and asking God to give them certain things. First, Paul asked God to give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. This means that Paul asked God to give them His knowledge in truth and instruction, which they did not have before they became Christians. He asked that God give the Ephesian Christians knowledge and practice for godly living and for teaching Christian truth to other people.

Second, Paul prayed that their hearts would be enlightened so that they would know three things – 1) what is the hope of His calling (vs. 18), 2) what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints (vs. 18), and 3) what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward those who believe (vs. 19a). Paul asked that they would be illumined or instructed because they are now of the household of God regarding what is their joyful expectation of eternal life. This is the hope that Christ gives to Christians, joyful expectation of eternal life. Nothing can take it away from believers. Paul developed this in Ephesians 4. He asked God to guide them to understand the “riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” He wanted them to realize the abundance from God’s grace of blessedness from having the promise that Christians will be with Christ in heaven. “Inheritance” in the Greek New Testament is kleronomia. Kleronomia is the eternal blessedness of the kingdom of God which occurs after Christ’s second coming, which adopted children of God will have for eternity. Christian riches come from our inheritance in Christ’s kingdom. The third thing for which Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians was that they would know the exceedingly abundant greatness of God’s power toward those who believe. God does not just save them for that time; He saved them for eternity. His power is greater than anything that attempts to hold you back. This is what Paul stated in Romans 8:37, “But in all things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” The word used for “power” in verse nineteen is dunamis. We get our word dynamite from this word. It means strength and power; the ability to do something with great power. God having power is a great thing to know. What use is power, though, if not applied for something or someone. Here, in this verse, Paul stated God used this exceedingly great power toward those who believe. He saved them by His great love for them and He kept them safe by His great power. No one can ever snatch them from God’s hands. Read Romans 8:31-39 for more on this.

Paul continued in verse nineteen by stating that these three things are according to the working of God’s great power. The Greek word translated as “working” is energeia and is used only of superhuman strength in the New Testament. God’s power is greater than any person’s. This power is that which God brought about in Christ when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heaven. God exercised this power in Christ toward us who believe so that we could always have the hope of eternal life with Him. Paul developed this more in Ephesians 3:7 and 6:10.

The place of honor God the Father gave Christ by seating Him at his right hand in heaven shows the Son is a part of the Godhead and that He has all authority and power. Paul named those people and beings over whom Christ ruled. Christ reigns over all rule/rulers. “Rule” is the Greek word arche and means leader or magistracy. Christ reigns over all authority (exousia). Exousia means the command and power of created beings under which others must submit themselves. Christ reigns over all powers and dominions. “Power” is dunamis, which means the power which a person or things exerts and puts forth. “Dominion” is kuriotes, which includes the power of lords, rulers, and kings. Jesus reigns over all created beings who reign - human, angelic, and Satanic. Jesus’ power is greater than every being or thing, even death, because He is part of the Godhead. Paul further stated that Jesus Christ’s name is over every name that is named for all ages (aion – a perpetuity of time).

The Father gave the Son power over all things and beings. He put them in subjection under His feet, too (vs. 22). They do not have power over Christ. They must obey Him. The Father made Christ the head over all things to the Church. Jesus Christ is the foundation and the head of the Church. Paul said this in Colossians 1:18 and in Ephesians 4. In verse twenty-three, Paul spoke of “the fullness of Him.” By this he meant, the Church is the body of Christ. “Fullness” in the original Greek comes from the word pleroma meaning the body of believers who are filled to completeness with and by Christ’s presence, power, and riches. “All in all” in this verse means that Christ has redeemed some of all sorts; He does not restrict His redemption to just one kind of person. Christ redeems Jew and Greek, rich and poor, slave and free, which Paul explained in Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11. Hence, verses twenty-two and twenty-three can be stated like this: “And God put all things in subjection under Christ’s feet and gave Him as the head over the Church, which is His body, who are filled to completeness with and by Christ’s presence, power, and riches and which Church is made up of people from all walks of life.”

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Christians included that they would recognize and come to know Christ with a deep knowledge that led to godly living and Christian teaching. He prayed they would be enlightened and would know the hope of His calling, “the riches of the glory of His inheritance,” and the exceeding greatness of His power for and toward them. Paul prayed they would understand and know it was in accordance with the superhuman energy used of the strength of God’s might that raised Christ from the dead, seated Him at His right hand, and gave Him power over all things in heaven and earth. Paul prayed that the Ephesian Christians would know Jesus as the head of the body of Christ, the church, and would grow stronger in the knowledge of His presence, power, and riches.

After studying this, two questions arise. Do I show in my life what God has done? Can I say that Paul was praying these things over me? Paul wrote these things to the Ephesian Christians. Do they apply to every Christian? When I re-read the opening of the letter, I noticed in verse one that Paul addressed the letter “to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus” [NASB]. I wondered if other English versions of the Bible translated it this way. I discovered most translations do state it in this way. Yet I found two that do not, Young’s Literal Translation and the Duoay-Rheims Bibles. The first was translated in 1898 by a Scottish Presbyterian who was fluent in several languages and was a printer. The latter in 1899 from the Latin Vulgate by the Catholic Church. This difference in translations piqued my interest so I had my scholar husband translate it from the Greek Bible. He translated it as follows: “Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ through God, to saints to the ones which are in Ephesus and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” Paul addressed the letter to the saints in Ephesians and to all faithful followers of Christ. He wrote the letter to all Christians “not only in this age, but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:21). This means that God did these things for me. He chose me before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless. God predestined me to be adopted by Him according to His kindness and grace. He freely bestowed His grace on me and gave me redemption through the death of Christ. Through Christ’s death I have forgiveness of my sins. God made sure I knew the mystery of His will - He sent His Son to die for my sins so I would not die eternally. He gave me an inheritance because of His plan and for His purpose, so that I could have eternal life with Him and praise Him. God sealed me with His Holy Spirit who He gave as a pledge of my inheritance because He redeemed me for His own, for which all praise goes to Him. If God did this for me, He did it for all other faithful followers/Christians.

Questions arise now because of this. Am I living as if God has done these magnificent things for me and in me? Can anyone see in my words and actions God’s grace and call upon me? If Paul meant his words for all Christians/faithful followers of Christ, what does this mean for you? Are you living in a way that people watching you realize you are a child of God, one who inherits redemption and eternal life from Him?

Paul often began his letters by stating what he would teach the recipients. His prayer in Ephesians 1 tells us what Paul would be teaching the Ephesians. Paul did not aim to teach only the Ephesian Christians. He purposely set out to teach every Christian who read his letter or heard his letter read. Paul had a purpose in this letter. He wanted to correct false teaching, impart knowledge and wisdom (Christian truth), remind them of their inheritance and hope of glory, try to express the exceedingly great power and might of the Father and Son, the purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the structure and building of the Church/body of Christ. This is what Paul prayed for the saints and faithful followers to receive from God. He recognized their weaknesses as Christians and wanted God to make them stronger. This recognition is what he prayed for them, wrote to them, and taught them. They needed more teaching regarding what the Father and Son did for humankind. Paul recognized this was a need for them and for faithful followers through the ages.

My questions returned repeatedly this week. I must consider if I am a weak Christian like some of the Ephesians. Am able to be mislead by false teachings? Am I growing in Christ, who is supposed to be my Head? Am I helping to build up the church? Am I holding on to the hope of my salvation? Am I willing to take steps of faith into areas that are outside of my comfort zone knowing my salvation is secure, that nothing can take me out of God’s hands? These are not easy questions with which to probe yourself. They can be painful.

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you must do this probing, too. Are you growing in your relationship with Christ? Are you reading God’s Word and studying it? Are you sure of your salvation and holding onto the hope of glory so that no matter what, you understand you are in God’s hands? Are you willing to take steps of faith from where you are comfortable? Have you considered that your growth or lack is what contributes to the stability of the growth of the church?

These are not easy questions to apply to your life. They were not easy for me either. Paul wrote to all Christians. What God did through His Son, Jesus Christ, applies to each of us.

If you are not a Christian, you have a decision to make.

Will you chose to recognize and follow the God who chose you and predestined you to be His adopted child?

If you are a Christian,

Are you growing in your relationship with God?

Can people see from your words and actions that you are a follower of Christ?

Begin there,

at the heart,

and let God’s words through Paul lead you to a closer relationship with Him.

It starts with a first step:

Will you accept God’s grace and give Him your life?