To the Praise of His Glory Back to all sermons
Date: January 9, 2015
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Series: Book of Ephesians
Scripture: Ephesians 1:1–1:14
Synopsis: The opening paragraph in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:3-14) is one long sentence; the longest sentence in the Bible. In it we discover the incredible riches that are to be found in Christ (“every spiritual blessing”) and the salvation that God has provided. We also discover the reason behind it all: God is revealing his character and his attributes to the watching universe and working out a grand, master plan To the Praise of His Glory.
I have had to make a very difficult decision over the last few weeks. As we enter this year (2015) and considering my retirement near the end of the year, I am very conscious of the turning of the pages of the calendar. And I know they will turn quickly. I have long had it in my heart and mind to preach through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians before my time is up. I did preach through it once before here at ECC, but it was long ago, way back in 1993.
On the other hand, it was my intention to complete the series of messages on the Gospel of Matthew. We have completed 17 chapters, leaving 11 chapters still to go.
As I have surveyed both books and the weeks that it would take to do justice to each, I have come to the painful conclusion that I cannot do both. So I have had to make a choice. The choice has fallen to the Book of Ephesians.
I am sometimes asked what my favorite book of the Bible is. I usually answer, “The book I happen to be preaching from at the time.” I have many favorites. Among the letters of Paul, I would rank 3 in my list of favorites; Romans for its clear logic and thorough exposition of the doctrine of justification by faith; Philippians for its personal warmth and practical portrayal of the power of Christian unity and togetherness; and Ephesians.
Ephesians is categorized as one of Paul’s prison epistles (along with Philippians, Colossians and Philemon). It was written near the end of his life, while he was in prison in Rome. While it is addressed to the believers in Ephesus, many scholars believe that it was written as a kind of circular letter, to be shared among the churches located in the region. This conclusion is based on the lack of personal references, or references to situations or problems specific to a particular congregation. Some of the earliest manuscripts of the letter also do not include the reference to Ephesus in verse 1. This would also explain why Paul’s themes in the letter are more all-inclusive, comprehensive, and universal in scope and language.
What is Paul’s theme? I am always a little hesitant to pronounce a theme at the beginning of a series of messages – because sometimes that theme may evolve and either broaden or become more specific or even shift as my study progresses. But I will make a first attempt and leave open the possibility of editing or altering it as we move through the letter.
At the heart of this letter lies the church. The glorious, splendid church of Jesus Christ. Even though the word “church” or “ekklesia” is not used that frequently in the text, it is very much at the center of Paul’s thinking and writing. If I were to push a little further for a theme statement, trying to eliminate theological jargon and big words, I might summarize the theme of Ephesians this way: God really loves the church!
In this opening message, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that we are only going to tackle a single sentence today. That sounds doable, doesn’t it? The bad news is that the sentence starts in verse 3 and continues without a break all the way through verse 14. Now I recognize that in our English translations, the translators have broken it up with punctuation into more than one sentence. But in the original language, there is no break. It is the longest sentence in the Bible. Long, complex, and as one commentator writes, “impossible to analyze.”
But let’s start with the opening greetings and salutation to set the stage. To whom is Paul writing? He says simply: “to the saints and faithful ones.” By the grammatical construction, we know that this is not two groups, but two ways of referring to the same group. “The saints” is not a reference to a particular group of elite followers of Christ. It is the Bible’s way of referring to all followers of Christ, who have been “set apart” as belonging to Christ. And true faith in Christ, the mark of the true saint, is always an enduring faith. Hence they are also referred to as “the faithful ones.”
I am going to summarize a lot of theology here and just say that “the church”, that is “the Church” with a capital “C” is comprised of all “the saints and faithful ones” throughout the ages, both past, present and future. So Paul is writing to all who are members of and comprise “the Church of Jesus Christ.” We’ll expand on that later in this series, but that is enough for now. If you believe in Jesus Christ and have become his follower, then you are a member of the Church. We are the Church. Paul is writing to us.
Paul starts the body of his letter with a doxology; a word of praise.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,"
Why should we bless God and give him praise? The rest of the verse gives the answer:
"who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,"
This incredible statement is going to take a little unpacking. We are called to bless God and give him praise, because he has poured out blessings or benefits and acts of kindness on us. But look at the scope of this. With every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
Let’s start with the word “blessing” again. I think we can appropriately paraphrase that “benefit” or “good thing”. “Every benefit”; “every good thing”;
Now let’s add the word “spiritual”. There is some debate here. Is this referring to “spiritual” as in the spiritual world as contrasted with the physical world? Or is it “spiritual” in the sense of being those benefits that come from the Holy Spirit? I think both are true.
What about “in the heavenly places”? The word “places” is not actually in the original text. We could translate this simply “in the heavenlies”. But that doesn’t read well in English. The NIV translates it “in the heavenly realms.”
Once again, I believe the term will bear a double meaning. Heaven is the dwelling place of God. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we will find that we have a remarkable spiritual inheritance awaiting us. But our “blessings in heavenly places” are more than a future promise. They are also a present reality.
You see, “the heavenly places” exist today. As we study the Scripture, we find that there are actually two worlds, two realities. There is a visible one and an invisible one. The visible world includes all that we can see and experience with our senses: houses, cars, bodies, clothes, etc. The invisible world is the spiritual world: God, angels, demons, heaven and hell. These are things we cannot see with our physical eyes. In this unseen, spiritual realm, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. He has given us untold blessings in this heavenly realm.
Every spiritual blessing in heavenly places. Incredible wealth. Incredible spiritual riches are ours. But where are these riches to be found? This is also key. They are “in Christ.” This is the heart of Paul’s teaching. The phrase “in Christ” or “in him” or “in whom” occurs 12 times in this paragraph alone. When God chose to bless us, he wrapped all these blessing together and gave us Christ. If you have Christ, you have all these spiritual blessings. If you don’t have Christ, you don’t have these blessings.
What are these spiritual blessings? Paul lists them in this opening paragraph. If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin, you are a member of his Church and these things are true of you.
1. God has chosen us.
"Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him." (v. 4)
If you want to create a hot debate among Christians, bring up the subject of election and predestination. But I don’t want to debate it. I just want to read it again and then enjoy it a moment.
"Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him."
Do you remember on the playground when you were a kid and it was time to pick teams for a game? First two kids were designated as captains. Then they took turns choosing people to be on their team, until everyone was chosen. Do you remember how good it felt to be chosen? “I choose Cam…”
God chose us. I don’t pretend to understand all the implications of that. I just know what the Scripture says. “God chose us…” And when did he choose us? Before the creation of the world. We were not an afterthought with God. He had us in mind before he even created the world. Maybe you can think back to your days on the playground, when they were picking teams for a game - and you were the last one chosen. That didn’t feel very good, did it? God chose us even before he made the world.
And what did he choose us for? This is a purpose statement in the original text. This was God’s purpose in choosing us: “That we should be holy and blameless in his sight.” Notice, it doesn’t say he chose us because we were holy and blameless. It says he chose us with the purpose of making us holy and blameless. This is a fundamental difference between Christianity and other religions. Other religions say, “Measure up. Be good. Keep the commandments. Observe the pillars. Then maybe, just maybe, God will choose you to enter his eternal reward.” But the Bible says that God chose us with the purpose of making us holy and blameless. The choosing came first, not after.
2. God has adopted us.
This is the wonderful truth presented in verse 5:
"he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…"
God chose us, and then he adopted us. Just think of that reality. John says it this way in his epistle:
"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God;" (1 John 3:1)
3. God has redeemed us.
Look at verse 7: "In him we have redemption through his blood." There are actually several words for “redeem” in the Scripture. This one stresses the act of loosing or setting the hostage or slave free. Where did God go to find the members of his Church? He went to the slave market of sin; to people in bondage to their own sin and its penalty. And there he redeemed us, in order to set us free. The purchase price? The blood of Christ.
4. God has forgiven our sins.
It is there in the rest of verse 7, really as a follow on to what it means to be redeemed: the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight…
Talk about “spiritual blessings in the heavenly realm”!
But there is still more:
5. God has given us the Holy Spirit as a seal of ownership and a down payment on our salvation.
This is what we find in verses 13-14:
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, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
In the Biblical world, a seal was a mark of ownership, as well as protection. The Holy Spirit is given to everyone who believes in Christ, as both a seal and as a down payment or guarantee that the work of salvation that has begun will be completed.
What magnificent blessings and what a great salvation! Chosen before creation to be adopted into God’s family; redeemed, forgiven, sealed with God’s own seal of ownership and protection for all eternity. And all these blessings are “in Christ.” If we have Christ, we have every one of these spiritual blessings in the heavenly realm.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with ever spiritual blessing in the heavenly places."
So let me ask a question. Why did he do it? Why has he blessed us so richly? Why did he choose us, redeem us, adopt us, put his seal of ownership on us?
There is one phrase that is repeated three times in this paragraph that gives us the answer to this question. It is the phrase: “To the praise of his glory.” It is found in verse 6 and again in verse 12 and verse 14: “To the praise of his glory.” At the end of the day, God does everything to the praise of his own glory; to reveal himself in all his wonderful attributes and thereby elicit the praise and the glory that belongs to God and to God alone. And at the heart of God’s eternal plan to make his glory known is his plan of salvation and his plan for the Church.
It is an interesting point to think about: How much would we really know about the character of God and his attributes and his excellences apart from his plan of salvation and his declared plan and purpose to build his Church? So much of what we know about God has been revealed to us through what he has done and is doing for, in and through the Church.
Let me just highlight some of those divine attributes as they are showcased in this paragraph.
First is God’s sovereignty.
This comes through again and again in these verses:
In verse 5: “according to the purpose of his will…”
In verse 9: “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…”
In verse 11: “…according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…”
God is sovereign. God has a purpose. God has a plan. And God is working everything out to fulfill his plan and his purpose in time and in eternity. That plan is to bring all things in heaven and earth ultimately into submission to the headship of Jesus Christ.
This is what he is saying in verse 10: "As a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." The word that is translated “unite all things” is based on a root word meaning “head” or “headship.” It is used in accounting for the sum or total of a column of figures. As I read that verse, I am reminded of the promise in Philippians 2:10-11: :So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
That is where the plan and purpose of God is heading. And it will happen in the fullness of time. God’s sovereignty in history and over all the affairs in heaven and earth is on display as he works out his plan for the Church.
The second attribute on display is God’s love. The phrase “in love” is found at the end of verse 4. Most scholars believe, though, that it should define the phrase that continues in verse 5. This is how the ESV has punctuated it. “In love he predestined us for adoption…” God loves the church. God really loves the church! He loved her so much he adopted us into his family as his children.
This is the consistent message of the New Testament, isn’t it? We saw it a few weeks ago in one of our Christmas messages in 1 John 4:9: “This is how God showed his love among us. He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”
How would we know God’s love apart from Christ? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” The story of God’s love is written into the story of our salvation. And God did it to put his attribute as a God of love on display to the watching universe for “the praise of his glory.”
The third attribute displayed in what God is doing for, in and through the Church is God’s grace. This one is actually written into the verse I quoted partially a few minutes ago. Verse 6 reads in full: “to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” A literal rendering of that from the original would read: “To the praise of the glory of his grace with which he has graced us in the Beloved.” God wants the world to see, know and understand his grace, and to be amazed by it.
The forgiveness of our trespasses is attributed in verse 7 to “the riches of his grace,” and we are told that this grace has been “lavished” on us in verse 8. Grace. Unmerited favor. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Everything God has done, is doing and will do for, in and through the Church is a demonstration of his grace. The story of the Church is the story of God’s grace. Grace upon grace. The Church is God’s grace on display and he is doing it for the praise of his glory.
Well, that’s a start on our journey through this wonderful letter. We will come back to many of these themes again as we work our way through the text in the weeks ahead.
For now, let me just pose this question. Are you part of this story? The story of God’s sovereign plan, his marvelous love, his extravagant grace? For not everyone is. Some are still on the outside looking in. For there is a condition for entrance to the Church, into Christ and into all the spiritual blessings that are to be found in him.
It is clearly spelled out in verse 13: “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."
Have you believed in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God? Have you believed the “word of truth, the gospel of salvation”? Have you trusted in Jesus as your Savior from sin and welcomed him into your heart and into your life? Remember, “all the spiritual blessings in heavenly places” are wrapped up “in Christ.” If you have received Christ, you have them all: redemption, forgiveness of sins, adoption, grace upon grace. If you have not received Christ, you have none of them.
I would urge you not to wait any longer. Receive Christ by faith today, and the wonderful gifts that are to be found in him and only in him.
For those of us who have received Christ and who are one of the “saints and faithful ones” who make up the Church of Jesus Christ, this is one of those “sit and soak” sermons. Let us allow the wonderful truths of our salvation permeate to new levels of our conscious and subconscious mind. There will be time enough in the weeks ahead in this series “to do”. Right now, let us just bask in the reality of what is and what God has done for us.
I remember many years ago when I was in university, I was asked to participate in a psychology project dealing with self-esteem and self-image. Several times a day at preset but random times, we were supposed to complete the sentence “I am…” in as many ways as we could, quickly and with whatever came to our mind.
I had recently come from a spiritual life conference in which the speaker had emphasized our identity in Christ, and in follow up to the conference, I had been memorizing these truths. So I always started out my answers to the questions with these truths.
I am… a child of God, forgiven by God, redeemed by God, adopted by God, loved by God, accepted by God…
I am sure I totally skewed the results of that professor’s research project. But I actually found it a very helpful exercise; one that deeply impacted my view of my own identity and value as a follower of Jesus. Try it. Before you go to bed tonight, write out as many ways as you can think of to finish the sentence “I am…” based on your identity as a believer. Then turn it into prayer. “Lord, I thank you that I am…” and turn it into a prayer of praise for the glory of God.
- Read Ephesians 1:1-14 together.
- What do we learn about God in this passage?
- Make a list of the “spiritual blessings” that are mentioned in this passage?
- “Everything God does is for the praise of his own glory.” Do you agree with this statement? Do you find it troubling or reassuring?
- As you reflect on your own life and experience in the light of this passage, suggest ways to complete this sentence: “Lord, I praise you that I am…”