Sermon Notes: Ephesians 1:7-10 – Christ and the Cross: the Centre of Everything, part 2
These are the notes of a sermon preached by Andy Evans on the morning of the 30 August 2009 at Firwood Church. Click here to stream or download the sermon audio.
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13In 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, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
1. INTRODUCTION – GOD: THE CENTRE OF EVERYTHING
a. The Big Questions
i. Test yourself
As believers we are repeatedly called to examine our hearts and ask ourselves tough, searching questions. Paul thus exhorts us,
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves… (2 Corinthians 13:5)
Deep truths challenge us to think deeply about God and this, in turn, causes us to regard ourselves with greater clarity. It is impossible then to approach a text as glorious and profound as this opening sentence to the letter to the Ephesians (verse 3 through to fourteen) without being led to ask great earth shaking questions.
We have seen over the previous weeks that salvation begins with God, salvation is secured by God and salvation, ultimately, is purposed to bring glory to God. Last week we understood that Christ and his cross stand central to the purposes of God for mankind. God has ‘blessed’, or more properly, begraced ‘us in the Beloved’ (Ephesians 1:6). All of the blessings that God intends for those whom he chooses ‘before the foundation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4) are found in Christ. In eternity past God determines to pour out grace on some, this grace is poured out through Christ and is centred upon the cross.
Christ is the centre of everything and, as such, this must lead us to ask tough questions. Dr John Piper frames these questions in the following terms,
The acid test of biblical God-centredness – and faithfulness to the gospel – is this: Do you feel more loved because God makes much of you, or because, at the cost of his Son, he enables you to enjoy making much of him forever? Does your happiness hang on seeing the cross of Christ as a witness to your worth, or as a way to enjoy God’s worth forever? Is God’s glory in Christ the foundation of your gladness?
We see this profound God-centredness everywhere in this glorious sentence,
[he] has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3)
he chose us in him (Ephesians 1:4)
he predestined us for adoption (Ephesians 1:5)
to the praise of his glorious grace (Ephesians 1:6)
he has blessed us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:7)
ii. The Cross: The Centre of Everything
And then, last week, we find that even the cross, the locus of the good news of the gospel, is similarly God-centred.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:7)
Paul understands that the cross is the centre of God’s rescue mission for mankind. The cross is the means by which God buys us back; the precious blood of the Son of God, the ransom price. The question which follows is this: from what has God redeemed us? We find the answer in the appositional, ‘the forgiveness of our trespasses’: redemption is, somehow, the forgiveness of trespasses. To be redeemed is to be forgiven. Paul later makes sense of this when he writes that,
[we once] were children of wrath like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:3)
Redemption and forgiveness was necessary because without it all that remains is the expectation of the just and fearsome wrath of a God who stands against all wickedness. At the cost of his Son, God buys us back from righteous judgement. This is an astonishing truth. The gospel is fundamentally God-centred: God rescues us from God for God. This rescue is in accordance with the ‘riches of his grace’ and, of course, the outcome of this all is that we who are so rescued might be ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’ (Ephesians 1:6).
iii. The Call to be Christ-Centred
But why does any of this matter? Why is it necessary to remind ourselves of these great truths?
The God-centredness of God, the gospel and his purposes reveal something of the awesomeness of God. God is God-centred because there is nothing more beautiful, more wonderful and more worthy in all existence. God is God-centred because, to be anything else, would prove him to be false. To be otherwise would mean that there exists something or someone greater than God.
This is the foundation of the gospel. The gospel calls us to trade lesser treasures and our petty gods for the most valuable treasure in existence. We gain him. This is what it means to live Christ-centred lives and the fuel for such living is great truths.
Now, test yourself.
What will you find should your wife and children be taken from you? What will you find should you lose your health to the ravages of cancer? What will remain should a greater financial crisis come and you lose everything and experience real hunger and thirst for the first time?
Will you then be able to say in the midst of calamity, ‘Christ is enough’? Will you then be able to stand in the midst of great suffering confident and joyful that he, still, is the Centre of Everything?
The coddled Western world will sooner or later give way to great affliction. And when it does, whose vision of God will hold? Where are Christians being prepared for great global sorrows? Where is the Christian mind and soul being prepared for the horrors to come? Christians in the West are weakened by wimpy worldviews. And wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians. God is weightless in our lives. He is not terrifyingly magnificent. His sovereignty is secondary (at best) to his sensitivity.
Glorious worldviews spring forth from great truth and great truth fuels Christ-centred living.
2. THE CROSS: THE CENTRE OF EVERYTHING
a. with all wisdom and insight (8)
God displays the glory of his grace most clearly and most fully in and through his Son as he hangs in agony, arms stretched out on a cross just outside of Jerusalem. Through the perfect sacrifice of his Son, the God-man Jesus Christ, God pours out grace upon grace. For those of us who are chosen, the result is redemption and the forgiveness of sins.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:7)
His grace towards us, those who believe, is gloriously rich and gloriously expansive. Paul continues and his theme is still Christ-exalting and grace focused,
which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight (Ephesians 1:8)
Here we face an ambiguity which hinges upon the word ‘in’; ‘in all wisdom and insight’ and my question is, what does Paul intend here? Should this read ‘in all wisdom’ or ‘with all wisdom’ (as in the NRSV and implied in the NKJV). In other words, is Paul’s meaning that the purposes of God in election are formulated ‘in all wisdom and insight’ or that God lavishes wisdom and insight upon those who believe?
i. His Manifold Wisdom
We begin by asserting that it is absolutely true that God predestines ‘in all wisdom and insight’. We need not depend upon this verse to confirm that this is indeed true.
We have considered this briefly in previous weeks. God is all wise. All his judgements, decisions and purposes are perfect and wise. God does not make bad choices, God does not find himself needing to improvise or ‘wing it’. He is never surprised, never thrown off guard and he has never been blind-sided. His every action, decision and plan is undertaken in all wisdom and insight.
It is true, therefore, that his electing purposes are wise. Paul is led to this same conclusion in his letter to the Romans. Paul spends much of Chapter 8 and Chapters 9 through to 11 setting out God’s elective purposes for Israel and the Church and, having done so, he is led to praise,
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)
This is a beautiful counterpoint to Ephesians Chapter 1. In Romans Chapters 8 through to 9, Paul glories in the sovereignty of God until he can no longer contain praise. In Ephesians Chapter 1, just the thought of God’s glorious sovereignty causes him to worship before he has written a thing,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing… (Ephesians 1:3)
It may be that you are struggling in your Christian walk and your worship feels insipid and anaemic; the solution is to feast on the deep and glorious truth of God’s word. Truth leads us to praise.
Similarly, we find in Ephesians evidence that God’s sovereign design in choosing people on whom to lavish his glorious grace is most wise, God so acts
…that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:10)
We see then that the Church and, if you are a believer, you and I, are chosen and redeemed that his glorious grace and his manifold wisdom might be displayed, which leads me to my next point.
ii. lavished upon us
I argue, however, that verse 8, however true the sentiments expressed above, does not primarily refer to the wisdom and insight of God. Instead Paul is pointing to evidence of the wisdom and insight in the lives of believers.
My reasons for understanding the passage in this way are twofold.
Firstly, Paul prays later in the chapter,
that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him (Ephesians 1:17)
Secondly, this reading better fits the context of the passage. In the immediate preceding verses Paul has set out the outcome of the rich grace bestowed upon the saints through the cross. Verse 8 then reads more naturally as a continuation of the blessings described in verse 7.
In other words, we find God richly blessing the saints through Christ and his work on the cross. Through his shed blood God bestows grace upon grace and we are redeemed, forgiven and the grateful recipients of ‘all wisdom and insight’ which he has lavished upon us (which literally means that he has poured out blessings, here, specifically ‘wisdom and insight’ from his overabundance).
What then does Paul mean when he writes that believers are the recipients of ‘all wisdom and insight’?
iii. wisdom and insight
The words here translated, ‘wisdom and insight’ are closely related, the only difference being that the latter places an emphasis upon the practical application of knowledge (which is why some translations, e.g. the NKJ, go for ‘prudence’). Both words should be taken as closely related, revealing different facets of the same quality.
The clearest explanation of Paul’s understanding of true wisdom is found in his first letter to the church in Corinth,
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:20-25)
Firstly, note that Paul uses the word ‘wisdom’ in two ways; he addresses the wisdom of the world (v. 20) and, then, he addresses the ‘wisdom of God’.
It is clear that the wisdom of God and the wisdom of this world are diametrically opposed, ‘in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom’ (v. 21). Paul’s point is this, God does not choose to reveal himself through scientific enquiry (although he does reveal himself through nature, Romans 1:20) nor through intellectual philosophising. Rather God chooses a ‘foolish’ medium, preaching (v. 20), and a ‘foolish’ message, ‘Christ crucified’ (v. 23).
This is so important for Christians to understand and it helps us make sense of why it is that the Christian faith is so roundly ridiculed and that many, many millions refuse to accept the gospel. Paul understands, and we need to understand, that the gospel is foolishness apart from divine revelation from God.
And this is the importance of Ephesians 1:8. Why is it that we see Christ crucified as the most glorious moment in history? Why is it that we received the message of the cross with joy? And why is it that the spectacle of a suffering, slaughtered God should lead us to praise? It is because, with Paul and the saints throughout history, we see the wisdom of God displayed gloriously in and through the death of King Jesus.
Where earthly wisdom sees only ignominy, foolishness and shame, those who believe see in Christ the wisdom and power of God (v. 24).
This should help us understand what is happening in Ephesians 1:8. Paul is once again expounding the truth that not only do we see the wisdom of God displayed in the cross, but also that the cross is the means by which he lavishes this wisdom upon those who are his.
Through the Son of God crucified, we come to see what true wisdom looks like. More than this, however, he lavishly pours out wisdom and insight upon those who believe.
We should pause for a moment to consider the implications of this. Before we do, however, we must ask what Paul means when he writes that we are the recipients of ‘all wisdom’. Does this mean that those of us with exams looming can go into retirement? Or that we should suddenly be all together more confident when considering whether to enter the local pub quiz? Should believers all be looking to sign up for doctorates at our local university now that we have discovered that we are, in fact, omniscient (for we have received all wisdom)?
The Greek word, here translated ‘all’, implies diversity rather than completeness. In other words, Paul is writing that believers are the recipients of all kinds of wisdom and this leads us to understand that Paul has a very practical outcome in mind.
This relates to the bigger question we referenced earlier when we found that God intends to display not only his glorious grace but also his manifold wisdom in and through the church. The two questions we must ask is, what does this mean and how is this possible?
v. wisdom living
For the believer, this wisdom is intrinsically cross-centred. We see the wisdom of God displayed in our suffering Messiah and we are called to model this wisdom in our own lives.
Consider then the exhortation of Christ,
…If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)
Similarly, in Ephesians, Paul urges us to pattern our walk in imitation of the cross,
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
The only kind of Christian is a cross-bearing Christian. The church is a crucified band of Christ-followers. This is the outworking of the wisdom and insight lavished upon those who believe. We live like Christ and we die like Christ. This also helps us understand why we too face rejection, mockery and even persecution. We are called to live in a way which is distinctively countercultural and appears ‘foolish’ in the eyes of those who do not believe.
This Christ-imitating, cross-carrying wisdom is also breathtakingly expansive. Believers are called to exercise this wisdom and follow the example of Christ in our marriages,
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25)
Our relationships with one another,
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:4-8)
And in the way in which we endure hardship and suffering,
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:8-23)
This is why Ephesians 1:8 is both challenging and encouraging in equal measure.
The challenge is that we are called to live like Christ lived. The encouragement is that God gives us all we need. He gives us the wisdom to discern his will and the prudence to live the gospel out.
This is why the Scriptures come alive for those who believe. The Word of God is our food and our delight. Through it we come to see Christ and through it we receive instruction, guidance and encouragement for life.
This is how we see God’s will in the most difficult and challenging of circumstances. We hear that still small voice. We feel the pangs of conviction. We feel the warmth of affirmation. And this is not an abstract, warm fuzzy feeling, for we have the example of Christ Jesus, our lode star, shining brightly through the truth of Scripture illuminated by the work of the Holy Spirit.
He gives us all we need. He has lavished us with every spiritual blessing.
 John Piper, God is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006), pp. 11-12
 John Piper, Spectacular Sins and their Global Purposes in the Glory of Christ (Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008), p. 13