7 August 2013Ephesians 1:3-10
"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." (v. 3)
Ephesians is one of the most controversial books in the New Testamentbecause scholars are unsure who wrote it, to whom, and why. It is presented as a letter written by Paul the apostle, to the blossoming church in Ephesus. Classically, it is one of his 'letters from prison'. However, opinion is very much divided whether it was indeed written by Paul, or includes his words expanded and elaborated by someone else; whether it was actually meant for a different church, or a circular letter intended for a number of churches. These possibilities lead to different theories as to why it was written. However, there seems to be universal agreement that Ephesians (as we know it) is indeed a very good book! It's entirely worthy of its place in the Bible. It is insightful, meaningful, deeply spiritual, and useful for instruction on the Christian faith. Generations of Christians of all denominations agree: it is inspired!
The passage we're looking at today is absolutely majestic - one of the richest passages in the whole Bible. It's a song of praise; a prayer of blessing to God (the early Jewish Christians would call it a "berakah"), and it most probably had a tune that went along with it. Maybe Paul wrote this 'song' that would be used by churches all around the eastern Mediterranean. Maybe someone inserted it here to add praise and authority to the beginning of the letter. Maybe Paul knew this popular hymn and elaborated on it to get his letter off to a flying start. Whatever! It's a magnificent piece. In the original Greek it's all one sentence! The author doesn't stop for breath as the praise pours out; overflowing in wonder at what God has done, is doing, and will do.
To some extent, every good hymn of praise should consist of blessing God for works in the past, what God's doing in the present, and an expression (in faith) of what God will do in the future. So this passage breaks up very nicely!
Everything that is being expressed in this hymn is to be seen in the light of the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ. This is not just the vague 'divine being' that countless religions claim to know something about: this is God as revealed specifically through the person of Jesus the Messiah, his life, death and resurrection, and the Jewish faith that he came to fulfil. "In Christ" or "in him" means all of that. When we read that our life is now "in Christ", or we hear of all these things we are "in him", it is about us relating to God through Jesus - because only in Christ will we know and love the one true God, as he knows and loves us. This is best expressed in Baptism, where the symbolism is that we are 'born again' into relationship with God: dying and rising out of the water to identify ourselves with the risen Christ. Indeed, this hymn was most probably part of an early baptism liturgy.
So, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. Not every physical or material blessing, but every spiritual blessing. Perhaps part of our journey as Christians is about actually discovering these blessings that God has already given us. Then the hymn talks about God choosing us, as far back in the past as we can imagine. In fact, that we were chosen to be in relationship with God through Christ even before the world was created. This expresses a sense of faith that God is actually in control, despite the appearances of the world, and that God's love for us is not automatic ("because God has to"): it is because God has chosen.
Who is the 'us' in question? It could mean the Jewish Christians (like Paul and his companions) who found this new relationship out of God's chosen race. More likely, it could mean all Christians, including those from outside Judaism (like the original recipients of the letter). Or it could mean the human race - chosen from the beginning to bear the image of God. Whoever it is, the important bit is the relationship to God's ultimately-chosen one: Jesus. God's choosing showed the free grace and love with which God wants to enter into relationship with us. Our choosing is our free response to that. And the purpose of God choosing us in the first place is to make us holy and blameless in his sight. As part of that choosing, we are predestined in love to be adopted into God's family: God made room for us alongside Jesusthe Son, freely planning to give us the grace that he gave to Christ.
We have been chosen and planned for us to be in God's family, sharing the holiness and love of Christ. So we (who have received Jesus) are now redeemed. Those who had become slaves to other masters have been bought back. Those who were once deemed to be God's people but fell away have been re-deemed again. "Through his blood" (v. 7) - that is the ultimate sacrifice of Christ which covers all of the sacrifices God's people once had to make - we have right now forgiveness for the times we have broken God's law. First it was the free gift of God's choosing us in love. Now it is the free gift of forgiveness. We call this all grace. When God's love comes to us and we realise we have been chosen to be in the family, the light of that love opens our eyes to the forgiveness we need if we are to live as holy people. That grace is richly "lavished" on us.
We are brought into a "mystery". A secret. Within God's will, there is a plan. And in this we find hope in an often hopeless world. The Greek word used here expresses the stewardship of Christ over all things. Just as we are "in Christ", so the whole world will one day come to be, because God's gracious love is not for us alone. All things, all beings, all people, all creatures, on earth and in heaven, will be brought together: summed up in Jesus Christ the Lord. God has been speaking the Word since the very beginning in all creation. One day we will see that Jesus is the summary of that Word, bringing everything together, and all will find their true purpose in relation to him. Wow!
- When we read this passage on its own, it may seem very distant - a bit too majestic to make sense of our lives and faith. And who is this "us" it speaks of? The author, however, is very keen to make sure the readers know it applies to them too: Verse 13 emphasises "In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit."This is not just an ancient hymn - the truth applies to us today, if we will let it. How do you respond to these words in verse 13?
- Explore some of the great Christian hymns of praise and spot the dimensions of past, present and future [eg "Praise, my soul, the king of heaven" (Singing the Faith (STF) 83), "I will sing the wondrous story" (STF 323), "Ye servants of God" (STF 340), "All my days" (STF 343), "In Christ alone" (STF 351)]. Try to notice this pattern whenever you worship.
- Spend some time in prayer and praise yourself thinking back over what God has done for you, what blessings you are receiving at the moment, and what God has promised you in the future.