It was in 1996 that the former Archbishop of Canterbury preached in the pulpit here in St Dev’s! Donald Coggan was a lovely and godly man who wrote a number of books and I frequently turn to one of them in particular — The Prayers of the New Testament. In that book, he always has helpful and illuminating things to say, in a winsome and attractive style: he was an excellent preacher! (Even at age of 87!)
Imagine my disappointment, however, when I looked for what he had to say about Eph 1: 3-14 — only to find that it doesn’t even feature in the book: only 1:2, and 1: 15-23 etc …
I wondered why this could be — until I realized that it must have been omitted because it doesn’t appear to be in the form of a prayer. But, I believe it IS prayer! It’s a deeply felt prayer from the heart of the Apostle expressed in an attitude of worship!
In NIV, heading is “Spiritual Blessings in Christ,” which makes it sound like a theological statement or exposition! — one of Paul’s dense doctrinal explanations of deep truth about our Christian Faith — the kind of thing that makes some people say, “just give me the simple stories of Jesus from the Gospels: I can understand them: parables and narrative!”
These verses do contain profound theology! Theological truth is essential to our spiritual well-being: doesn’t need to be abstract or obscure or dull! Properly understood and explained, it can be exciting and enjoyable!
Maureen Lipman — TV advert for BT … great thing for her grandson Anthony was to have an “ology!!” …
Well, the “ology” here is in fact a DOXOLOGY. cf. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow …” A doxology is the expression of praise, and worship, and honour — to God!
doxa = glory
So Paul here, v. 1 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ …!”
All our prayers can well begin with praise and adoration before we go on to say or ask anything else at all. Coming into God’s presence evokes in us as Xians a natural feeling of profound worship and high privilege!
This is not meant as any criticism of this morning’s reader (!), but (if we are to re-capture |Paul’s mood) these verses should properly be read with wonder and excitement in the voice — coming from a heart (like Paul’s) full of increasing emotion, as waves of greater and greater appreciation of all that God has given to us and done for us in Jesus come flooding into our soul! There is nothing mundane or pedestrian about the things that Paul is falling over himself to express! In Gk, this passage is one single sentence! The truths in it tumble out one after the other, as a veritable waterfall of amazing flow and force!
Do you ever feel, perhaps during a walk in the hills and mountains (or in the quiet of your prayer-time at home), that your heart is bursting with a sense of the glory and grandeur of God’s work in the world, in the life of the Church, in your own family or personal life and experience? Paul undoubtedly did!
2 Cor 12 — “Caught up to the third heaven …,” “I thank God that I speak in tongues …”
[Yet, he has his feet firmly on the ground: 2 Cor 12 — “thorn in the flesh” : “My grace is sufficient for you” : “for Xt’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties : when I am weak, then I am strong.”]
Sermons, like people, come in all shapes and sizes! Traditionally, three points — today, I have 9! Fear not! 1 minute for each comes to only 10 minutes (…!)
Bearing in mind that this is one single sentence in Gk, the principal verbs demand attention! They lead us into the heart of what Paul is saying. There are 9 of them, although in the liturgical style that Paul uses, some of them are synonyms designed to heighten the effect.
Under three headings:
1. GOD has —
“blessed us …”
“he chose us …”
“he predestined us …”
“he lavished on us …”
“he made known to us …”
2. We …
“have redemption …”
“were also chosen …”
3. You were ...
“also included …”
“marked with a seal …”
v. 3 contains the primary and key cause for our praise and thanksgiving to God: everything else is an unfolding of this one factor! —
“the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
The emphasis is on what GOD has done! — “he has blessed us … with blessing!” ...
These 9 verbal constructions could all be expressed in such a way as to be thought of as 9 “gifts” from God to us!
· A Father’s kindness — generous, overflowing, of great worth (cf. fathers on TV : Afghanistan …, Australia …, [contra Jacob/Esau …]
Our God and Father has “blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ”
|“in the heavenly realms” — used 5 times in whole letter. Paul understands that Jesus’ resurrection & ascension have put Xt at the Father’s right hand: on the throne, where ultimate issues are decided. And we have been raised there with Xt — so that all the spiritual forces that have been defeated at the Cross are defeated and will be defeated for us too!|
· A high purpose — “he chose us … to be holy and blameless in his sight” [A reason for Ch decline in western society ...]
· An undeserved status — “predestined to be … adopted as sons (& daughters) …”
|Predestination is not so much about you and me being “elect,” as about God having freely and sovereignly done the choosing. God’s free grace runs contrary to all human concepts of merit!|
· | cf. the father of prodigal son ... |
A generous provision — “he lavished on us … the riches of his grace … with all wisdom and understanding”
· A revealed knowledge — “he made known to us the mystery of his will … which he purposed in Christ … to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” — God has shown us the direction and destiny of humanity, the world, and each one of us individually ...
· A costly ransom — “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins …” [cf. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “there is no such thg. as cheap grace”]
· A significant identity — “In him we were also chosen … in order that we … might be for the praise of his glory” ...
· An inclusive incorporation — “you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” [Jews / Gentiles (“heathen”) ...]
· A divine mark — “having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” ... HS at work in my life — guiding, transforming, empowering, etc.
These are all thgs. that people seek today — love and kindness; purpose; status; knowledge of life & reality; identity and self-worth; acceptance and value [cf. children: “to be famous!” ...]
All these thgs. are ours already in Xt! May we give glory & praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ more and more in our prayers!
Old negro spiritual (“There is a balm in Gilead ...”) — “If you cannot preach like Peter; if you cannot pray like Paul, you can tell the love of Jesus and say “He died for all” / “He lives for all.”