Picked By Him
I want to thank you for the way in which you have welcomed us to Portage Avenue. It hasn’t taken us very long to feel as if we belong and it is a good feeling. Sometimes we may have experiences in which we are not felt welcomed. I walked into a meeting once and as I walked in the first thing I noticed is that I did not know anyone. I also noticed that people were talking to each other and seemed very familiar with each other. For a while, I stood by myself, not sure what to do until the person who had invited me to the meeting came over and welcomed me and introduced me to some other people. Did that ever feel good! Perhaps you have had similar experiences. Perhaps your life feels like that. Perhaps you have feelings of being alone or being unaccepted. This morning we will look at the good news that God has chosen us. The truth of His choosing is much more profound than just feeling good that we belong.
The text we will be looking at is Ephesians 1:1-6 and will be the first in a series of messages on the book of Ephesians. I chose Ephesians because as I thought and prayed about what to preach on, it seemed to me that there were certain themes that would be a good starting point. I would like to begin with a focus on Jesus, as I indicated in the message I preached when I was here in July. I would also like to think together with you about God’s intent for the church and also about the ways in which God wants us to fulfill His intent for the church. All of these themes are well developed in Ephesians and I hope that they will be an encouragement and a challenge to us.
As we begin, let us read Ephesians 1:1-6
The book begins in the normal way of letters in the New Testament. Paul begins by identifying himself and addressing the believers in the church in Ephesus. There is some debate about whether this letter was written specifically to the church in Ephesus or if it was also written to other churches in the region, or perhaps wasn’t a letter at all, but a theological paper. Whatever the original intent, we understand that it is the Word of God and the message of the book pertains to us today. As we read it and study it we need to do so with the understanding that God speaking to us.
Paul greets the church with a word of grace and peace from God and from Jesus. This greeting contains themes, such as grace, peace and Jesus that we will continue to encounter as we examine the book.
I. Blessed Be God
A. Praise to God
As Paul launches into the letter he does so in one of the most unique ways we can imagine. Have you ever heard a child who is naturally talkative describe a particularly exciting event that has happened to them? Their speech is rapid, excited, and runs from theme to theme without stopping for a pause. Sentences do not have periods, but only commas. The words come in such a rapid flow that you are tempted to invite the child to take a breath. That is what happens in Ephesians 1:3-14 and although our English translations have provided us with periods in between, the Greek text has no period until verse 14. Paul is so excited about all that God has done in Jesus that he just spills out one expression of praise to God after another. He is breathless with praise! What is the content of his praise? What is he so excited about? We will examine all his reasons for praise over the next few weeks, but we need to understand that they are contained in one breathless sentence of praise to God.
Paul sets the tone of praise in verse 3 and declares “Blessed be…God…who has blessed us with every…blessing…” Some of the translations don’t translate this as well as others, but NRSV, which is our pew Bible, does. The same word “bless” is used three times in this verse. God is blessed because He has blessed us with every blessing. This word means speaking well. It means, “Its all good.” It means saying good things about God because He has given us good things in a good way.
Why is Paul so excited to praise God? Not only because of who God is, this would be appropriate enough, but also because of what He has done.
B. What We Have
The other day as I was reading through various church documents I came across a financial statement which included a section listing the assets of the church – the building and related property. Whenever you go to a bank for a loan, they want to know what your assets are, so from time to time, we may need to do a calculation of our physical assets. That is what Paul does here, but it is not a calculation of physical assets, but rather a calculation of spiritual assets. He talks about the “spiritual” blessings we have “in the heavenly realms.” This may disappoint some of us who get excited about physical assets, but when it comes to spiritual assets, we know that in this life when things get tough and when we are about to face the end of life and in regard to the life to come, it is the spiritual assets which are of real value. It’s interesting how what we value changes. When we are hungry, we value food. When we are tired, a pillow is our greatest asset, but when we come to the end of ourselves, when our sin is overwhelming, when we run out of hope, when our strength is gone, when we think of the future, then spiritual assets are what we are looking for more than anything else.
So when we read that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms, we have the wonderful assurance that we are rich. Although we have nothing on Bill Gates or Warren Buffet in terms of physical assets, we are much wealthier in spiritual terms because God has given us “every” spiritual blessing.
C. In Christ
These blessings are ours in Christ. This little two word phrase is one of the most important phrases in this letter. Tom Neufeld points out, “In Christ appears in one form or another more than twenty times in Ephesians.” I will keep mentioning it because it reminds us of the importance of Jesus. All the spiritual stuff that has happened to us has happened because of Jesus. All we have we have because of Jesus and so Jesus is the center of our life. Sometimes we act as if our spiritual life is about what we have accomplished or about what we know we ought to do, but I would like to invite us to think carefully about the centrality of Christ. We have begun our faith in Christ and we will meet Christ in the end, and it is our privilege also to live our whole life in Christ because it is in Him that we have every spiritual blessing.
II. He Chose Us
The word “for” at the beginning of verse 4 indicates that all these spiritual blessings are now going to be identified. We praise God because of all He has done. The rest of the sentence is a list of spiritual assets we have in Christ.
One summer we attended the baseball tournament they have in Clearwater, Manitoba every July 1. On that day this little community of 50 or 100 people swells to almost 1000 people. We knew a lot of people there, our children were playing ball and it was a great community festival. That day there is baseball at every level – children and youth teams, senior men’s teams and also teams that play just for fun, sometimes called “liniment league.” As I said, we knew some people there and at some time during the day, someone came up to me to ask if I wanted to play on their team. It felt good to be picked to play. In the back of my mind I had a suspicion that I was chosen because not enough of their players showed up to make a team and they were looking for warm bodies to stand in the outfield, but it was still nice to be chosen.
God’s has chosen us, but his choosing is very different from the way in which I was chosen for the baseball game.
The words “chosen” and “predestined” appear in verses 3, 4 and tempt us to become involved in a debate about election. In trying to understand these concepts, people have developed theological constructions about what the Bible is trying to say. Some have emphasized election and have developed their theology to the extent that they believe that some are chosen for life and some are chosen for eternal destruction. The problem with this direction is that the whole matter of salvation ends up entirely in God’s hands and takes away all human responsibility and all human motivation to go and tell the nations and also runs into serious problems with the rest of Scripture. Some have emphasized human responsibility. This is the thinking that has been common in our spiritual heritage. The problem with this kind of thinking is that it ignores the many passages which indicate that God has chosen and puts the whole matter of salvation entirely in our hands. I believe that Scripture teaches both God’s call and our responsibility and that understanding this logically is a mystery. I also believe that there is great danger in trying to distill the Bible into theological constructs. The danger is that we end up forcing Scripture into the mold of the theological construct and stop listening to what God is trying to say to us in the Bible.
So what we need to do is listen to what God is saying in each passage. The mention of being chosen by God in this passage gives us one important message and that is that God wants us.
When I was a teen, I learned to play chess and then taught my father to play. For a while I was able to beat him because I had played more than he had, but it didn’t take very long before he began to win. He began to win because he had the ability to think more moves ahead than I did. Winning a chess game is about planning ahead to make the best moves. God’s choice of us is wonderful not only because it tells us that he wants us but also because it involved a plan. He has thought many moves ahead. His plan was not made at the spur of the moment or in response to the latest crisis. God’s plan involved choosing us before the foundation of the world. God has a plan put together in love long before any human was a twinkle in their parent’s eye. His plan is to gather together a people who are his people. God wants us as a church and each individual in the church as His own. This is the blessing of being chosen by Him.
How does God’s choice of us as a church impact you? How does the knowledge that God wants you impact you?
B. Purpose of Choosing
The words “to be” indicate that God’s choosing is for a purpose. God has chosen us not just so that we will feel good about ourselves. God has chosen us in order that we will be like Him. He has chosen us “to be holy and blameless in his sight in love.”
God is calling together a holy people. God knew that we would be anything but holy because we have all chosen to sin, but his project involves a plan to make us into a holy people. Holy people are set apart from the ordinary. They live for higher purposes. They manifest different values. They portray the characteristics of God-likeness in every aspect of life. God has chosen us for this purpose and will fulfill this purpose in us.
He has chosen us to be blameless. Who of us can claim that they are without blame? If I look back in my life, I know that there are lots of things for which I can be blamed because I have done wrong. Sometimes some of the things that I have done wrong come back into my mind and I may even blush or feel bad about what I have done. Yet God has chosen me, knowing everything I am to blame for and is creating me into someone who can be blamed for nothing. The verses we will look at next week speak more about this.
He has also chosen us to be people who walk in love. The word “in love” can either be attached to the end of verse 4 or to the beginning of verse 5. If you read different translations, you will notice that even the translators cannot agree on where it belongs. For example, NRSV says, “…he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” On the other hand, NIV says, “In love he predestined us to be adopted…” In the Believer’s Church Bible Commentary, Tom Neufeld says, “Most commentators lean toward associating in love with predestination, but it is best to allow both associations to affect the understanding of the text. As in so many cases, eliminating either option impoverishes us.” So I will follow that idea and suggest that God has chosen us to be a people who love. Last week Keith did a great job of reminding us of the importance of love. Today I would remind us that God has chosen us for that purpose.
Irwin Penner says, “God raised us to an acceptable position before him in Christ which we could never attain by ourselves.”
C. In Christ
Once again, we notice that all of this has happened “in Christ.” How has God expressed His choosing? He has done so in Christ. He sent Jesus to this earth to provide the way for us to become His. We could say that in choosing us he did not just send a letter or an email informing us of our good fortune. He came to get us by sending Jesus.
It is also in Jesus that we are made holy. It is in Jesus that we have become blameless and it is in Jesus that we learn to love.
Please hear this, Jesus is the center. It is in Him that we are the chosen of God.
III. He Adopted Us
A. Adopted In Love
I mentioned a moment ago that “in love” can be taken either with verse 4 or with verse 5. If we take it with verse 5 it also gives us a wonderful truth. It tells us that God has adopted us because of His love. How wonderful to be the recipients of His love.
Although all human beings are God’s children in the sense that we have come to life entirely by His doing, yet sin has separated us from that filial relationship. Jesus is the true son of God, but in love God has adopted us as His children.
In human terms, adoption can be a challenging thing. I know a number of people who have been adopted. I have spoken to some of them who have been given up for adoption because their mother was not able to take care of them. This rejection at such an early age has had a powerful effect on them. It is very difficult for them to get over the fact that the first human being they were associated with did not want them. But I have also seen those same people rejoice in the fact that the parents who adopted them did not raise them because they happened to get pregnant and have a child, but because they specifically chose them and continued to choose them throughout their life. The choice of adoption rendered them fully the children of their adoptive parents. In some cases they have met their biological parents, but the bond of adoption was too strong and “mom and dad” were always their parents. I know of one person who speaks of his parents as “mom and dad” but of his physical mother as “my biological mom.”
God has adopted us and the choosing involved in that is like the best kind of adoption. The sense of belonging and being cared for is the blessing that is ours because we have been chosen by God.
Many translations miss just how powerfully this choice of us is communicated in Greek, but NASB gets it when it says, “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself…” God has adopted us “to Himself” and when we read that it simply strengthens the blessing of what it means that we are His children.
B. His Pleasure and Will
When my grandmother was young she was left by her parents, I believe because of things that happened in the Russian revolution. It was not that they entirely abandoned her, but because they were in danger, they left her with some of her older siblings who looked after her. This “adoption” was not entirely the choice of her siblings, but a family obligation and there were times when she felt rejected by those who had adopted her.
God has not adopted us like that. Notice that the text says that he adopted us “in accordance with his pleasure and will.” Adopting us is not only what God wanted to do, it was what gave Him great pleasure. I like The Message translation which says, “What pleasure he took in planning this!”
When we do an evaluation of our assets it usually includes a list of various assets. They are often categorized according to type and after each sub category there is a sub total. As we list our spiritual assets according to this passage, verse 6 seems to function as a subtotal declaration of praise. What blessings we have! What good things God has given! All of these are given to us freely even though we did not deserve any of them. That is the nature of God’s grace. Paul never stops. He piles reason upon blessing, upon God’s motive and so invites us to a great and glorious expression of praise! George Shillington has written, “Paul believed in a kind of circular economy of blessing, where God’s liberal dispensing of gifts is intended via the generosity of the blessed to result in the worship of the gift giver—God. God’s blessing results in God’s being blessed (cf. Shillington: 194–7).”
C. In Christ
As we conclude the passage we are looking at today, we notice for the third time that all of these blessings have been given to us in Christ. Jesus has accomplished all of this for us!
This time, however, there is a difference. He does not only speak about Jesus as “in Him” but speaks about Him as “the One He loves.” Just think about that and let the wonder of it sink in. God has chosen us and adopted us in Jesus. He did this by sending His beloved and only Son into this broken world to experience the depth of that brokenness in order to give us these blessings. It truly is about Jesus!
Do we know how rich we are? In November Don and Linda Ingram of Oshawa discovered that they were Ontario's latest multi-millionaires following their $50 million jackpot win in the November 18, 2011 Lotto Max draw. Don and Linda are both long-time cooks at Wally's World Restaurant in Oshawa. They found out about their win when Linda checked their tickets at her local retailer on Saturday morning following the Friday night draw. "When I saw and heard 'BIG WINNER' on the terminal and realized I was holding the $50 million ticket, it blew my mind," said Linda.”
Does Ephesians 1:1-6 blow your mind? What we have is worth far more than $50 million.
When we understand the blessings we have from God in Christ, we should realize that we have no reason to ever feel unwanted again. If we aren’t picked for the job, it’s OK. God has picked us. If we aren’t picked for the team, it’s OK, God has picked us. If we feel alone, it’s OK, we are God’s child.
Let us revel in His blessings and praise Him for them! Let us recognize that all this has been done for us in Christ and center our life in Him.