Division, dogmatism and denial seem to be hallmarks of our culture, including the church. We don't have to look far to see it either. Turn on talk radio and you'll here diatribe after diatribe. Products and pharmaceutical make a promise instant health or beauty. Spiritual gurus, self-help writers and others offer 3, 10, or 12-steps to thinner, integrated and happier us.
Even the church has found it easier to deny than affirm. The last few decades has seemed to have tried to convince people of what they don't have to believe and still call themselves a Christian. Rev. Leonard Griffith wrote, "People already know what they don't believe; they want to know what they can and must believe."1 Ephesians might be a good study for our world today.
Paul preached, lived, worked and prayed in a world that was as divided and divisive as our own. He wrote to churches separated by politics, money, race and social standing. There were places where dogmatic desire overruled the clear teaching of God's word. There were times when those with power found denial was easier than standing for truth. As Paul faced such times he offered to the congregations located in and around Ephesus a much-needed affirmation that God had done the unimaginable and unthinkable through Jesus, our Lord.
Paul greets the readers, as do many letters of the first century with a blessing. Verses 3-14 are another story. They are one humongous run-on sentence that opens up all kinds of questions and decisions for the translators. Dr. E. Norden commented that it is, “the most monstrous sentence conglomeration … that I have encountered in Greek”2
CHOSEN BY GOD
Where you picked first, middle or last one when the kids chose teams? When you chose a life partner did you pick the first one that came along or did you have some criteria they had to meet first?
Paul needs us to understand that the whole idea of salvation, heaven and the rest doesn't start with us. God has chosen us, literally adopted us as heirs. We've been chosen "before the foundation of the world" verse 4 says.
God doesn't look around and say, "Oh! He's doing a great job with his kids, I'll save him." Or "I really like how she's got her act together. Maybe I'll consider them for salvation next time around." God's not moved by our horrible situations or childhood. He's not convinced by our good works that we are worth saving. There is no "last minute hail-Mary" passing us to God for salvation. God's choice of us happened before any of us were alive. God chooses us and what's more makes us heirs. Let me say this again. Any sense of God's presence in our lives is the work of God not us. It is the hand of God set upon a life that transforms it.
We've been picked out and made God's heir because he has a purpose for us that goes beyond anything we believe we can endure. Now the Jewish followers of Christ who heard this letter understood these concepts quite well. They were God's chosen people and they knew what it meant to offer a sacrifice to God that was spotless and perfect.
And so we are chosen to live a life that is holy—set apart for God's use; blameless—spotless, like an animal being led to the sacrifice. And loving others as God has commanded us to do.
REDEEMED IN CHRIST
God doesn't use religion to redeem us he uses his son, Jesus. The NIV refers to Christ over 12 times in verses 7-12. Redemption refers to buying freedom for someone who has been enslaved and the payment was Jesus' blood. It is also clear that redemption and forgiveness is the same thing. Paul also points out that God's grace has been lavished upon us. There is no stinginess on God's part. And what's more the plan of God, barely glimpsed by those like Abraham and David is clearly revealed to us.
The goal of our redemption, forgiveness, and being shown God's plan is that God makes us part of what is to come. Verse 10 says God's goal is to, "to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." The disunity is swallowed up in God's united future. Amazing as it may seem the fact that God has chosen or predestined us to take our place not as purchased slaves but as adopted children and heirs.
SEALED WITH THE SPIRIT
The last section of this deals with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God's current mark on our lives testifying that we belong to him. It's as though God has put down Jesus' blood as a deposit to be held in escrow till his return. Until then we still belong to God but the completion of the transfer won't be totally realized till we stand in God's presence in His kingdom. We just enacted that in the baptism today. By water, we symbolized and united David into this body of Christ with a future purpose that he will one day proclaim Christ's as his Lord and Savior.
God's purpose isn't disunity but unity. It is a coming together in Christ. The fact that Christ is used to divide us from each other is merely our sad attempt to justify our own sin. If you were here early enough you saw the slides that dealt with the "Different Jesus" in our world. If you found yourself saying "amen" to one of those I urge you to repent and seek to see Jesus in the opposite as well.
Recognize that you can do nothing but freely receive God's grace. I had a person confide to me that they didn't want Christmas to come because they weren't going to be able to give gifts. They were embarrassed to receive something without giving anything back. Yet that is what happens in salvation. God gives it all and we do not give anything back. Even our apparent giving of our life is actually the Holy Spirit moving us and bringing us to the place where we can respond with trust.
If you've never discovered Jesus as more than an interesting person I challenge you to simply tell him to do something with you over the next week. Ask him to show you God's grace so that you can respond in faith to him. Let us pray.
1 Griffith, Leonard. Ephesians: A Positive Affirmation. [1975 Word Inc. Waco, TX.] p. 14
2 Andrew T. Lincoln, vol. 42, Word Biblical Commentary : Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary, 11 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002).