The tension in the room was palpable when I read through Ephesians 1:1-10 on Sunday. I always find it interesting, when God’s word is read to a congregation, to “feel” the “gasps” or the “anticipation” about what is in the text. Many people told me after Sunday…”I was wondering where you were going with that text!” My sincerest hope on Sunday was for us to see how glorious our God is and that He is the only One capable of pulling off what vs. 9-10 say, “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.”
So, in these musings, I thought I would just touch on why I handled the text the way I did on Sunday and what my thought process is behind some of the critical words in the text.
- This passage of Scripture is not a treatise of Paul on the doctrine of election and predestination. Rather, this text is Paul’s introduction into his major theme of Ephesians, which is to unite all things in Christ. The best treatise on the doctrine of election is found in Romans 9. A very difficult doctrine, for sure, but one we should not ignore.
- Ephesians 1:1-10 is a text about God’s greatness, God’s kindness, and God’s overarching glory found in Christ. We cannot emphasize this enough. As Dave Ruble put it so well at the end of our service, “each text in Ephesians is intended to cause us to worship God.” This is really true. With that in mind, for me to take a longer period of time to do a word study on “chosen” or “predestined”, very easily could’ve distracted from the main point Paul seems to be making. Expository preaching doesn’t ignore words that are in the text, but it also shouldn’t allow certain words to be more central than the author intended them to be.
- Anytime I’m preaching through a text, I always asked a few questions: 1) why is this text here? 2) why is this text in this book? 3) why is this text in the Bible? I try to go from looking at the meaning of the text in light of the book it’s found and in light of the story of the Bible. And the story of the Bible is God is holy, man is a sinner, Jesus is our Savior and God will restore all things. The story of Ephesians fits right into that. That really helped me determining the direction I should take this text.
- Not only does this text bring these difficult words, they also bring us remarkable hope. Our great God has a plan and a purpose for EVERYTHING. There is nothing that is hidden from Him, beyond His grasp, or outside of His control. This is simply astounding. In this world of chaos, it is so good to know the One who truly does have it all under control.
- And this text shows us the present reality of Jesus’ work on our behalf…redemption through His blood and the forgiveness of sins. See, we can get all riled up about “chosen” and be a little intimidated by “predestined”, but there is nothing to be afraid of with redemption and forgiveness. As a matter of fact, in order to have redemption and forgiveness, God must have already chosen and predestined us in order for those things to happen. This makes those words much less daunting or disturbing.
- I said this on Sunday, but it bears repeating…look at all the benevolence from God found in this text and look at all the generous attributes ascribed to Him: “Blessed”, “blessed us”, “grace”, “peace”, “In love” He did His before time began…the list could go on and on. Often we miss this when we get caught up in certain words…but we must never miss this…God is kind, gracious, loving, and merciful to all those who are in Christ. What a caring Father!!
- Lastly, I left this out and I really shouldn’t have. Dave Ruble picked it up at the end of the service. In the 1st 12 verses of Ephesians, Paul writes, “to the praise of His glorious grace” or “to the praise of His glory.” What do you think Paul is saying here in these verses?? God is so great…we should praise Him for what Paul wrote…these verses were written to drive us to worship God. If they cause you to stumble over God or be angry with God…you’re missing the point.
Now, I do want to say something about the doctrine of election or the words, “chosen” and “predestined”. We really shouldn’t try to change the meanings of these words nor should we try to make them more than what they are. However, one thing we should do is seek to submit ourselves to what God’s word says and find out why we struggle with these kinds of things. Let’s be honest…this is a very difficult theological doctrine. And let’s be honest…most of the reason we struggle with it is our own pride. We, humans, believe that we reserve the right to be the final authority on everything. And when we’re not, it angers us. But friends, a biblical view of God, states that God is the decider of our fate and He’s the One who makes the final call. And, He has made all of us in such a way, that we make decisions everyday that have real effects. This is how this doctrine works itself out. God elects and in time, we choose. But we won’t choose, if God hasn’t elected. Finally on this point: many of us struggle with this doctrine, because we have friends or family members who are not yet Christians or who have died in that place. And I get it…so do I. Here’s what we must be clear about…if a person dies and did not believe in Jesus…it’s their own fault…their sin led them to unbelief. And, if they haven’t died…there’s still hope for God’s saving grace to go to work in them. One of my favorite theologians has said that when people come to faith in Christ…God saved them…yet if someone dies without Christ…they didn’t believe because of their sin.
Quotes I left out:
- “The phrase “in Christ Jesus” is incorporative—that is to say, it does not point to Christ Jesus as the object of belief but implies that the saints and believers are united with him, partakers together of his new life.” F.F. Bruce
- His initiative is seen at every point: it is he who has ‘blessed us’ (v. 3), ‘chosen us’ (v. 4), ‘destined us to be his sons and daughters’ (v. 5), ‘lavished his grace upon us’ (vv. 6, 8), made known to us his plan and purposes for the world (vv. 9–10), and accomplishes all things in accordance with his will (v. 11). There is also significant mention of God’s love, grace, will, purpose, and plan. O’Brien, P. T.
- “For if we are chosen in Christ, it is outside ourselves. It is not from the sight of our deserving, but because our heavenly Father has engrafted us, through the blessing of adoption, into the Body of Christ. In short, the name of Christ excludes all merit, and everything which men have of themselves; for when he says that we are chosen in Christ, it follows that in ourselves we are unworthy.” John Calvin in F.F. Bruce’s commentary
- “To say that election took place before creation indicates that God’s choice was due to his own free decision and love, which were not dependent on temporal circumstances or human merit. The reasons for his election were rooted in the depths of his gracious, sovereign nature. To affirm this is to give to Christians the assurance that God’s purposes for them are of the highest good, and the appropriate response from those who are chosen in Christ from all eternity is to praise him who has so richly blessed us.” O’Brien, P. T.
- “Since God is God, his purpose and activity have no ultimate cause outside his own being. “God’s will has no ‘Why,’ ” said Luther. But since God in his own person is “the love which moves the sun and the other stars,”44 his purpose and activity express the divine love. Whatever be the syntactical relation of the phrase “in love” between vv. 4 and 5, it was in love that God chose his people before the world’s foundation and foreordained them to be his sons and daughters through Christ.” Bruce, F. F.
- Thank you for all the birthday wishes! Kind of an odd year…turning 49, oldest daughter getting married, and my oldest son just got his permit. Feeling older by the day.
- Rain, rain, go away! Wow, what a wet spring it’s been. Not the kind of weather that’s conducive for baseball. But, we play on anyway.
- Anyone see the Notre Dame Cathedral go up in flames today?? Wow. Dates back to the 1100’s. Another reminder that everything, except our souls and the Godhead, is temporal.
To watch or listen to the sermon described in this post, please click here.