Sermon Notes: Ephesians 1:3 – Blessed be… God
These are the notes of a sermon preached by Andy Evans on the morning of the 19 July 2009 at Firwood Church. Click here to stream or download the sermon audio.
3 Blessed 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 5 he 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. 7 In 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 – A RIGHT RESPONSE TO TRUTH
a. Paul is led to pray
I want to tell you from the outset that this passage of Scripture, from verse 3 through to verse 14, is, perhaps, the greatest passage in the whole of Scripture. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, the Apostle Paul exults over the sovereignty of God and the glory of Christ in salvation. And here we see the majestic, eternal and universal scope of God’s plan for mankind and the exaltation of his Son.
Over the coming weeks, then, we will see Paul unpack the glory of God in salvation, his great plan in forming a people for himself and his ultimate over-arching purposes in glorifying himself and exalting Christ Jesus.
Such is the breathless, praised-fuelled excitement with which Paul unpacks these great truths; he does not pause for air until he reaches verse 14. This passage, stretching from verse 3 to 14, is, in the original language, a single long sentence of two hundred and two words. It is as if Paul is overwhelmed with the truth of who God is and all that he has done and, in response, this passage pours out of him.
Before we begin then, we should ask how this passage (verses 3 to 14) relates to the rest of the letter or, more pertinently, why is it that Paul chooses to begin this letter with this phenomenal passage? What does Paul intend to communicate to his readers?
The answer to this, in part, lies towards the end of Chapter 1. Consider Paul’s great prayer for believers,
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 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, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe […] (Ephesians 1:15-19)
The ‘for this reason’ is a clue to how we should read Paul’s prayer; the ‘for this reason’ refers back to the passage we will be considering over the coming weeks. The ‘because I have heard of your faith’ relates to the former passage, Paul’s point being that all he has just unpacked applies to these believers in Ephesus; he has heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is with an eye on the preceding passage that Paul then prays for four specific things: that they would receive ‘wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him’ (v. 17), that their eyes would be opened to the hope to which they have been called and that they would see their ‘glorious inheritance’ in him (v. 18), and that they would comprehend ‘the immeasurable greatness of his power’ (v. 19).
Paul intends the believers in Ephesus to reflect upon the glory of God in their salvation and he prays that, as they do so, they would see and know God more deeply and that they would grasp all that they have received in him.
I believe Paul’s prayer extends beyond the church in Ephesus. I believe that Paul’s prayer for these Ephesian believers is a prayer for believers at Firwood Church, in Oldham in the middle of 2009. I join with Paul and pray that God would enlighten the eyes of our heart that we might see and know him and understand all that we have and are in him.
But more than this, I believe Paul expects this truth saturated passage to elicit a particular response from believers.
b. Paul is led to praise
Consider then Paul’s response to this astounding truth of all God is and all that he has achieved,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… (Ephesians 1:3)
Paul begins with the phrase, ‘Blessed be… God…’ This is crucial with regards to how we should approach and understand this passage.
Yes, this passage is truth saturated. Yes, this passage unfolds the glorious truth of a God who is at work in the lives of men and women. And, yes, this passage unfolds all that God has achieved in Christ. More than this, however, this passage is a great hymn of praise; Paul’s heartfelt, exuberant response to the staggering grace and awesome glory of God.
This informs how we should approach the passage and how we should think about the weighty themes I intend to unpack over the coming weeks. Consider with me the following expressions of praise, beginning with verse 3,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ… (Ephesians 1:3a)
God has blessed us in Christ Jesus and we, in return, respond in praise. As we see the blessings of God in and on our lives, we respond by blessing him. Revelation and blessing result in worship.
he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace… (Ephesians 1:5-6)
Salvation is adoption: God adopts children of wrath (‘we were by nature children of wrath’, Ephesians 2:3) into his family and we become children of God, ‘See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…’ (1 John 3:1a).
Paul understands that this astounding demonstration of grace is purposed to produce praise. This adoption is, to the praise of his glorious grace (Ephesians 1:6).
Similarly, God’s intention in the salvation of the apostles, those who ‘were the first to hope in Christ’, is that their rescue might result in praise,
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined […] so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11a, 12)
And so to, the salvation of the believers in Ephesus and, indeed, our own salvation is purposed to bring God glory,
In him you also […] believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, […] to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13, 14)
Not only is this passage a hymn of praise, but, moreover, it is a call to praise. This passage is not primarily about us, nor is it about our rescue. This passage is about the glory of God. Paul understands and we are called to know that our very salvation is purposed by God to bring glory to God and result in his praise.
We will return to this over the coming weeks, but it is important to state this from the beginning as there is a danger in studying such weighty truths.
The danger in such passages is twofold; the first being easily the more subtle of the two. There is a danger as we begin to meditate and reflect on such profound matters that our study and reflections will become the end in itself and instead of pursuing Christ, we will be found pursuing intellectual satisfaction.
Secondly, there is a danger that we will take this passage and the end becomes the proof texting of our own theological agenda, be it Reformed-, non-Reformed or Charismatic theology. With such exercise comes an arrogant, myopic self-absorption and a belief that we and only we are in the know. Such thinking and such arrogance leads to division and disaster.
The great danger is that we read this passage and the glorious truth of all God has achieved and we look to place ourselves at the centre of the story.
Look what God has done for me, we might boast. Look at who I am in God. Look at how much God loves me.
Now, none of this is necessarily untrue, ‘See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God’ (1 John 3:1a), but this is neither the purpose nor the end of this passage.
Paul extols the glory of God in salvation because God is glorious. Paul expounds the truth of all that God has achieved that men and women might be led to worship him. Paul understands that the end of salvation is that men and women would become worshippers of the living God to the praise of his glory and Paul understands that the end of salvation is that God would receive maximum glory; on that day, a great multitude of people would join in the worship of God extolling the glorious salvation of his people,
[…] behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, [stood] before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)
This changes the way that I preach, not just this text, but the whole of Scripture and this should change the way that we read, study and mediate upon the word of God. Do we attend church, read Scripture and turn to Christ so that we might get stuff or do we come to the word of God that we might gain Christ and see his glory?
My intention in this sermon series, and, indeed, in all my preaching, is to paint for you the most glorious picture of who God is. I intend to allow Paul’s words to unfold for you the manifold glories of Christ and the unsearchable riches of his grace.
And my prayer is Paul’s prayer: that as we see God’s greatness, the greatness of his grace in effecting salvation and the greatness of his purpose in Christ, our eyes would be open to all he is and all he has done and, as we see we would be led to worship, not only with our words, but with our very lives.
2. THE FOUNDATION OF PRAISE
a. Because God is God
Paul’s hymn of praise begins with God.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… (Ephesians 1:3a)
We will find that the motivation for Paul’s blessing of God results from his and our blessing in God, but his praise begins with the recognition of who God is. Consider how Paul phrases his praise-response to God. This God, our God, is,
…the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… (Ephesians 1:3a)
This truth is central to the Gospel. We do not worship an unknown God, we worship a God who has revealed himself through nature (Romans 1:20), through Scripture and most perfectly in Jesus Christ, his Son, who is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1:15). Paul will unpack the truth of this later in this passage, God,
[made] know to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ… (Ephesians 1:11)
This is why the designation of God as the ‘Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ is so monumentally important to the Gospel. How can we know what God is like? We look to Jesus who is the God-Man, the Word made flesh (John 1:14) and the ‘image of the invisible God’. How do we know what God’s will is for my life and what his purpose is for this universe? We look to Jesus in whom God has ‘set forth’ his will (Ephesians 1:11).
This is what distinguishes Christianity from every other world religion. We know our God is real and distinct from every other so-called God because he has made himself known perfectly in his Son. God became flesh.
This morning, if you are an unbeliever, you are no longer ignorant as to the reality of God. Paul tells us that God identifies himself with and reveals himself perfectly in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
b. Because of Christ
This leads me to the second pillar of Paul’s hymn of praise.
This passage, indeed, this letter, is profoundly Christiological. Christ is enthroned at the centre of God’s purposes, God has,
[made] know 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.
I want us to feel the weight of this.
Being a Christian is not simply about attending church. It is not about having some warm, fuzzy and vague sense of well-being. It is not about self-satisfaction or self-fulfilment. Those of us who believe are incorporated into the eternal plan of God to unite all things in him. This is how great, expansive and glorious the Gospel of Jesus Christ truly is. The reach of the Gospel is global, transhistorical and intergalactic.
Furthermore, the beginning of the Gospel (as we shall see more clearly next week) is God and the end of the Gospel is God. The plan, God’s purpose revealed in Christ, is to unite all things in him.
This makes sense of the title, ‘our Lord Jesus Christ’. For those of us who believe, he is not merely some Galilean peasant who wandered around the countryside doing good. He is Lord. We saw the beginnings of this for Paul last week who, when confronted on the road to Damascus, asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ (Acts 9:5). Now Paul goes further, this Jesus is Lord, but, more than this, he is our Lord.
Firstly, consider who the ‘our’ refers to? Is this Jesus the Lord of Paul only, he who was chosen ‘by the will of God’ (Ephesians 1:1)? No, Jesus is Lord to all those who receive him as such; all those who believe in his name.
This then becomes the central issue.
Paul says that this God reveals himself in Christ Jesus his Son and that this God is worthy to be blessed simply because he is God. The distinction then rests on the word ‘our’. Are you able to say this morning with integrity that he is your Lord? If you are an unbeliever, you certainly cannot make this claim.
I listened to Mark Dever preach on the first Chapter of Revelation this week and he made a most provocative observation. Christ will return to this world, as Paul puts it, to unite all things in him. Humanity then divides into those who will mourn and those who will rejoice at his coming. This dividing line can thus be drawn along the word ‘our’.
For those who refuse to believe, all that is left is the fearful expectation of judgement and coming wrath. You remain ‘children of wrath, like the rest of mankind’ (Ephesians 2:3). Jesus puts it even more starkly,
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)
For those who are not his he comes as a conquering King, a dread judge, a mighty warrior who will defeat every enemy completely and finally. On that day many will mourn his coming.
For those of us who believe, he is ‘our’ Lord and we will rejoice when we see him coming on the clouds of heaven. With this ‘our’ comes an urgent call. We are called to live as his. Indeed, as we shall see next week, our salvation is purposed for this very reason,
…that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4)
c. Because he has blessed us in Christ
How is it possible that we should be his? How could it be that Andrew Evans, a once radically depraved sinner and enemy of God, could ever be ‘holy and blameless before him’?
The twofold answer to this is found in the second part of verse 3,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3)
i. In Christ
The first part of the answer is found in the phrase, ‘in Christ’; God has ‘blessed us in Christ’.
I gestured towards this last week with Paul’s address,
To the saints [holy ones] who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ. (Ephesians 1:1)
The ‘in Christ’ in verse 1 conveys a slightly different sense than the ‘in Christ’ in verse 3 insomuch as in verse 1, Paul is primarily concerned with the outcome of God’s saving work. Christians are ‘holy ones’ because we are supernaturally incorporated into Christ. We are, therefore, supernaturally in Christ as he is supernaturally in us.
Practically speaking, Paul intends us to see the effects of the work of Christ and that, through the cross, he provides expiation and removes sin and cleanses us from the defilement of sin. Furthermore, Christ imputes to us his righteousness. Paul writes of this elsewhere,
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Martin Luther, the great Reformer, describes this as ‘the great exchange’.
I would suggest, however, that Paul is aiming elsewhere with the ‘in Christ’ of verse 3.
In verse 1, Paul is describing the outcome and the way in which Christ became sin for us and, in return, imputes his righteous so that it can be said that we are in him. In verse 3, however, Paul is describing how God effected this great exchange. Paul is presenting Christ as the means of this great transformation of believers from rebellious God-haters to a holy people of God. More than this, in Christ we receive access to God,
For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:18)
This is a non-negotiable tenant of the Gospel. There is no other way to approach God and there is no other means by which to receive the salvation and blessing from God. In the same way that this God, our God, is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, this Jesus is the only begotten Son who makes a way for us to the Father.
For believers there is great encouragement in this. We find, therefore, that God has blessed us in Christ and this in Christ is monumental in its scope. We will see this in the expansiveness of this blessing: God has blessed us in Christ ‘with every spiritual blessing’ and Paul proceeds to unpack what this means throughout the remainder of this passage (verse 3 through to 14).
We see then that verse 3 is a subheading to the remainder of the passage. Paul explains that God has blessed believers in Christ with every spiritual blessing and Paul then unpacks the fullness of this blessing in Salvation.
Although we will consider and meditate upon these truths over the coming weeks, it is important that we now survey these blessings briefly to enable us to feel the momentous force behind Paul’s declaration of praise, ‘Blessed be… God’, that we too might be moved and motivated to join him in worship.
Paul recognises all that God has achieved and all that he has blessed us with in Christ. Meditate on the following and allow these weighty truths to penetrate and saturate your soul,
…he chose us in him before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ …(Ephesians 1:5)
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (Ephesians 1:7)
[God made] known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ (Ephesians 1:9)
In him we have obtained an inheritance… (Ephesians 1:11)
In him you also […] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13)
The every spiritual blessing in verse 3 is this expansive. Those of us who are in Christ have received in him, in and through his work on the cross, every spiritual blessing and all that we need to live the life he calls us to lead.
God chose us, he adopted us, he redeemed us, he revealed the mystery of his will to us, his has blessed us with an inheritance and he has not left us as orphans but has sealed us with his Holy Spirit and all of this, yes, all of this, is only possible in and through Christ Jesus.
3. THE ORIGIN OF PRAISE
a. Heavenly places
I conclude by bringing us back to Paul’s own story last week and, in doing so, I set us up for next week and Paul’s provocative assertion that God,
…chose us in him before the foundation of the world… (Ephesians 1:4)
Last week we began with Acts 9 and Luke’s account of the conversion of Paul. You will remember that Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, was an enemy of the church and set on the persecution of Christians. Luke tells us that, as Paul set out to Damascus intent on tracking down believers and dragging them back to Jerusalem, the risen and exalted Jesus dramatically intervened, blinded Paul with the light of his glory and changed his life forever.
This helps us understand what Paul means when he writes that God,
has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3)
The origin of ‘every spiritual blessing’ bestowed upon believers is, we are told, ‘the heavenly places’.
Now, there are two clues as to what Paul intends by this. The first is found in the phrase ‘spiritual blessings’. The word, here translated ‘spiritual’ is elsewhere used to describe spiritual gifts (e.g. 1 Corinthians 12 and 14) and means in this context, quite literally, ‘of the Spirit’.
This is important because we now see in verse 3 the fullness of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit fully at work. The Trinitarian activity of God at work in salvation is confirmed throughout the passage; we see God acting and working in and through the Son and the Holy Spirit sealing believers for the day of consummation. The suggestion here, however, is that the spiritual blessings are mediated through the Holy Spirit. This will make sense of Paul’s warning against grieving the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30), the point being that the Spirit mediates blessings of salvation and increasing holiness and to grieve him is to deny or stifle such blessings.
What then should we make of the phrase, ‘heavenly places’? This phrase is fairly unusual elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, but is used on four further occasions in his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:20, 2:6, 3:10 and 6:12).
The phrase ‘heavenly places’ refers to the realm or domain of God. Indeed, later in this chapter Paul prays that the believers in Ephesus would receive revelation of the incredible power of God that was at work in Christ Jesus raising him from the dead and, more than this, God
[…] seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
Here, in verse 3, Paul’s point is this: the entirety of the Godhead is at work pouring out spiritual blessings upon men and women from heaven itself and, more than this, that the bestowal of such blessings (i.e. salvation, increasing sanctification and so forth) is evidence of Christ’s present reign in the heavenly places.
Again, this will help us understand the notoriously difficult passage in 4:8-14. We now see, as in 1:20, that there is an association between the saving work of Christ (in the repeated references to, in Christ), his exaltation and the salvation of believers (effected by the bestowing of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places).
And is this not the message of the Gospel? God becomes man and dwells on earth with man. The sinless God-Man, Jesus Christ, dies a criminal’s death so that we might have life in him. The Gospel is the story of God’s grace proceeding from him to men and women. The Gospel is the story of heaven invading earth. The Gospel is the story of a merciful and gracious God providing rescue when we were lost, blind, helpless and dead.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9)
I pray that as we see him as he is and as we see the extent of his glorious grace, unbelieving hearts would be captivated by the beauty of him and would be irresistibly drawn to the Son of God. I pray that as we who believe see him as he is, our hearts would be inflamed with gratitude, thankfulness and praise and this would spill out into our families, neighbourhoods, schools, colleges and workplaces that the grace of God might abound and many would taste and see that the Lord, indeed, is good.