Fourth Sunday after Trinity – July 5, 2020
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3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons to himself through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the Beloved.
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
SLIDE 4 -title slide
- Open bibles/apps to Eph 1
- I encourage you to memorize this passage
Overview of 1:3-14
- Last week, looked at verses 1-2, the Prologue: “Paul, a hand picked legal emissary representing the Anointed One, King Jesus, whose name means “Yahweh saves”, by the will of God; to the holy ones in Ephesus who are trusting ones and who are joined in covenant union with Christ. Grace (favor and power) to you and shalom (human thriving) from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
- Beginning with v.3, SLIDE 6 Paul is going to launch into an astonishing 12-verse doxology (an ascription of praise to God (from Gk. doxa-“glory”; logos–“word”)
- This is one single, run-on sentence in Greek language, consisting of 202 words and 32 prepositional phrases
- It is complex and deep; packed tight with theological content.
- And it is beautiful. One scholar described these verses as “a kaleidoscope of dazzling lights and shifting colors”
- The text gives us an extraordinary description of what God has done on our behalf through the saving actions of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It’s one of the richest theological statements anywhere in the bible. Yet it is framed in the warm, electric language of worship.
- This brings us an extremely important point. I teach my theology students: Theology elicits doxology – IOW, reflection on the person and saving actions of God invariably leads us to fall on our faces before the Lord in enraptured wonder, reverent praise and astonished gratitude. Praise is the language of theology. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, there is an axiom: theology is prayer. We don’t just talk about God in a clinical, abstract sort of way: that’s not theology. We talk to God reverently, humbly, lovingly in response to God’s revelation of himself, and we do so in the language of praise.
- Many Christians think of theology as a bad word. For them, it connotes a kind of dry and sterile preoccupation with the finer points of doctrine and is boring and uninspiring. Unfortunately, theology has sometimes been taught that way, and I’ve sometimes been guilty of that.
- But I want to argue that genuine theological reflection engages the heart as well as the head. It is not merely a cognitive exercise but a comprehensive response of the whole of ourselves—our thought lives, our affections, our deepest emotions, our wills—to the marvel and wonder of who God is and the astounding fact that he loves us, that he has always loved us, and that he draws us back into his intimate embrace in Christ and through his Spirit.
- Boring theology is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. You may as well talk about dry water or ugly beauty. Sterile theology is just bad theology, unworthy of the name.
- And the theology Paul presents in these twelve verses is anything but bad or boring. It is utterly enchanting, jarring and life altering. SLIDE 7
- Paul’s doxology in vv.3-14 is known as a barakah – Hebraic blessing; Barak is the Hebrew word for “bless”. Think of Ps 103:1-2.
- In Greek, the language of the NT, SLIDE 8 “bless” is eulogeo, from which we get the world “euology” (eu-“good”; logos-“word”). So, Paul is speaking a eulogy to God the Father in this text.
- He begins his eulogy/doxology/berekah in v.3 with an overarching claim: “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms in Christ.” SLIDE 9
- The next 11 verses enumerate a few of the countless blessings the Father has showered on his children.
- The berakah is wonderfully structured to describe the carefully choreographed redemptive work of the triune God: Father-Son-HS
- 3-6 – The selection of the Father (blue)
- 7-12 – The sacrifice of the Son (red)
- 13-14 – The sealing of the Spirit (green)
- Each section ends with a reference to God’s glory: “to the praise of His glory/glorious grace”6,12,14 (underlined)
- There is also dynamic quality to passage, indicating a sequential movement through time:
- It begins in the far reaches of eternity past with the electing love of the Father;
- It moves to the historically embedded redemptive work of Christ in human history;
- and it ends with our heavenly inheritance guaranteed by the Spirit in eternity future.
- By all accounts, Eph 1:3-14 is an extraordinary text that can give us enormous assurance in our faith if we allow our hearts and minds to be shaped by its truths—if we dwell on its teachings and saturate our brains with what Paul is affirming.
- This morning, we will focus attention on just the opening verse: verse 3. SLIDE 10
Exposition of verse three
“Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.”
- The first thing to note is the repetition of sounds: Blessed is… blessed us… blessing (In Gk., eulogetos, eulogesas, eulogia). Known as adnominatio: repetition of the same word or its cognate in the same sentence.
- Paul and other G-R authors often did this for rhetorical effect. Prime example is in 2 Cor 1:3-4: “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, (paraklesis) 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
- Not just for rhetorical effect, though. This repetition affirms an important set of theological truths:
- God is the supremely blessed one.
- It is appropriate for us, his creatures, to acknowledge he is the blessed one.
- God pours out all his blessings on us through His Spirit.
- God blesses us in one particular place or location: in Christ, who is in the heavenly realms.
- “Blessed is” is probably the best rendering. Your version may say, “blessed be” (NASB) or “praise be” (NIV). But I think the best scholarly opinion favors blessed is. This is not a conferral of blessing upon God so much as an acknowledgement of the fact that God is already blessed, by which we mean: He is happy, He full of joy and beatitude. He is the supremely blessed one.
- Blessing God was a way of life for the Jews of Paul’s day. An example is the famous Amidah, nineteen blessings/benedictions that pious Jews were expected to recite 3x/day. It begins “Blessed are You, Lord our God and G‑d of our fathers, G‑d of Abraham, G‑d of Isaac and G‑d of Jacob, the great, mighty and awesome G‑d, exalted G‑d, who bestows bountiful kindness, who creates all things, who remembers the piety of the Patriarchs, and who, in love, brings a redeemer to their children’s children, for the sake of His Name.”
- Each of the nineteen benedictions ends with: “Blessed are You Lord”
- In addition to the Amidah, Jews would pray other prayers of blessing throughout their days in connection with their daily activities. Probably the most famous is the prayer before meals: Baruch attah …. (brings forth bread… Also pray over wine, fruit of the vine… At night, sleep to my eyes…) You see, pious Jews literally punctuated their days with regular acknowledgments of God’s blessedness.
- I wonder what it might do for our lives if we developed short blessings to God for the various…. blessed are you O Lord our God… coffee to drink, cars to drive, dogs and cats as pets, gardens to tend, jobs to earn money…
- Our hearts are softened by gratitude. And our spirits connect with His when we give praise. Do you think this would be a habit that would be worth developing: to take the everyday activities of our lives and turn them into opportunities to bless the Lord?
- So Paul continues SLIDE 11
Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
- Notice that this blessing centers on the first person of the holy Trinity: God the Father.
- First, Paul refers to Him as the God of Jesus Christ. IOW, He is the One to whom Jesus constantly pointed, to whom He prayed, the One He said sent Him. The same God Jesus worshipped, served and loved.
- Second, Paul refers to Him as the Father of Jesus Christ: the one with whom Jesus lived in the most intimate fellowship for all eternity, the One whom Jesus called Abba, an Aramaic term of intimacy, honor and affection.
- Jesus brought these two ideas together in the resurrection account recorded in John 20. Speaking to Mary Magdalene, he says in verse 7 , “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
- So, the first part of the verse tells us about the One who is blessed. The second part of the verse describes how this Blessed One, God our Father, shares his blessed state with us by pouring out on us every conceivable blessing. He has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”
- Paul uses three Greek prepositional en statements to qualify these blessings (En, epsilon nu, meaning “in” or “with”). The first is: SLIDE 12
with every spiritual blessing
- What does Paul mean by spiritual blessing? Scholars are agreed that Paul is not contrasting here spiritual or non-material blessings (salvation, divine revelation, and the like) with material blessings (food, good jobs, physical healing, etc.). God is not just concerned with our spiritual selves but with our whole selves, our embodied selves. And He is very interested in our material needs.
- Rather, the adjective “spiritual” (pnematikos in the Grk.) pertains to the work of God’s Holy Spirit. So a spiritual blessing is one that is conveyed or mediated to us through the work of God’s Spirit. We might translate this as: “with every Spirit-given blessing”
- One of the distinguishing features of the new covenant that God promised to the nation of Israel in the OT was that the Holy Spirit would be actively ministering to and among and through everyone who was part of the covenant (cf. Ezek 36; Joel 2). No longer was the Spirit going to come and go among Israel’s leaders: its elders, kings and prophets. In the new covenant anticipated by Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Joel, everyone: men and women, young and old would be blessed with the Spirit and by the Spirit.
- How many spiritual blessings does Paul say the Holy Spirit gives us? “Every spiritual blessing. The Grk. word pas means “all” or “every”. This is mind blowing. But it is entirely consistent with what the NT teaches us in other places. For example, look at these verses SLIDE 13 from 2 Peter and Col 2:
2 Peter 1:3-4
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.”
- You have at your disposal every spiritual blessing! Let that sink in, friends! Do you want to love God more? You can have that. Do you want more power and authority in your Christian life? You can have that too. Do you want more help overcoming temptation? All these things are available to you in Christ.
- Now, does that mean we don’t have to pray? Just sit back and let blessings come to us like iron filings to a magnet? Not at all.
- Jesus said that, like the birds of the air, we wouldn’t have to worry about food, but He still taught us to pray: “give us this day our daily bread.”
- Prayer is a way we partner with God in His generous giving of blessings to us. And Jesus made clear in Matt 7:7 that often we would need to keep on asking to receive; keep on seeking to find; keep on knocking for the door to be opened.
- In 1 Cor 12, Paul encouraged us to “eagerly desire the greater spiritual gifts” like prophesy.
- And James told us in James 4:2: sometimes we don’t have because we never bothered to ask.
- Friends, you have a spiritual bank account filled with all the blessings you could ever desire. It’s got your name on it. God’s part was to fund the account, and He has done that in full in Jesus. Your part is to make daily, hourly withdraws so you can live life in the kingdom like God created you to.
- So, God has blessed us with every blessing, and Paul is going to enumerate several of those blessings in the verses that follow—election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness, revelation, sealing—and we will look at each of these in detail in the weeks to come.
- The second qualifying clause in verse 3 is…. SLIDE 14
in the heavenly realms
- Heavenly realms is Ep-ooh-RON-ee-os, Epouraniois, Lit. “heavenlies”, “heavenly things”, used 19x in NT, 5x in Ephesians.
- In Ephesians, the four other uses pertain to:
- 1:20-the place where Christ is enthroned above all the spiritual beings in heaven:
- 2:6-the place where believers are enthroned with Christ
- 3:10-place where God reveals his wisdom to the dark rulers and authorities
- 6:12-place where believers battle evil spiritual principalities and powers
- So, from the use of the word in Eph and elsewhere, we can conclude that the heavenly realms, in the words of Clinton Arnold, refer to the spiritual dimension; the unseen realm of our reality.
- SLIDE 15 The ancient Jews envisioned the cosmos like this. We’ll get into the details of ANE cosmology at another time, but the point I want you to get here is the three part division between the under world (Sheol) at the bottom of the graphic, the earth in the middle, and the heavens above. And above the highest heaven is the dwelling place of God.
- SLIDE 16 Another graphic that might be helpful is this one. In both Hebrew and Greek, heaven is actually plural: “heavens”. And depending on the precise context, the biblical author might be speaking of the air immediately surrounding the earth (atmosphere), the place where the heavenly bodies reside (stellar space), and the place where God himself lives. In 1 Cor 12, Paul once referred to the third heaven, and this is what he appears to have had in mind: paradise, or the place of God’s residence. Some versions of Jewish thought envisioned seven levels of heaven, so we want to be careful to not get hung up on the numbering here.
- What is important is the fact that the heavens—in this graphic, the first and perhaps second heavens—were the place where the fallen spiritual beings were understood to reside. Paul therefore calls Satan in this very letter the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” (in Eph 2:2).
- So, back to our text, to be given spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms means that the blessings we’ve received include not just material things we need to live life on planet earth but all the power, authority, wisdom, discernment and spiritual gifts we need to successfully engage the dark powers of those realms and extend the reach of God’s kingdom in this world.
- Usually, what is going on in the spiritual realm is invisible to us. It’s going on all around us continually, but we don’t have access to it visibly. The spiritual realm is a dimension of reality, not a specific location with GPS coordinates. So, there is this alternative universe of sorts playing out continually around us, but we normally can’t see it. SLIDE 17
- But there have been instances where God peels back the curtain so to speak and gives us a peek into the invisible realm. Think of Elijah in 2 Kings 6 and the chariots of God surrounding the invading Syrian army; think of all the angelic appearances in the old and new testaments, like this one in Ezekiel. Think of throne room scenes witnessed by Daniel and Isaiah, the martyr Stephen and the Apostle John. These are instances of God making visible what is already present, just outside our narrow range of visible light in the electromagnetic spectrum. SLIDE 18
- One dynamic of our lives we will want to keep in mind is the “already but not yet” character of the present age…. (explain graphic)
- The third and final qualifying clause on the blessings given to us by the Spirit is that all of them are given… SLIDE 19
- Where are these blessings conveyed to us? Only one place. See, if you want to see enjoy the view from top of the Eiffel Tower, where to you have to go? If want to go experience the thrill of diving on the Great Barrier Reef, where do you go? Well, if you want to experience God’s spiritual gifts that accompany salvation, you must go to the one place where they are found: Christ.
- The phrase “In Him” or “in Christ” is so fundamental to a biblical understanding of salvation that Paul uses the phrase no less than 167x in his letters, 39x in Eph, and 11x in these twelve verses.
- To be in Christ is to be joined to Him, connected to Him in such a way that we are said to be “in Him” and He, “in us”. The NT uses various metaphors to help us understand what it means to be one with Christ: marital union, the organic relationship between a vine and a branch, and the natural and fortuitous union of our head to our torso.
- But the most important image is that of baptism, the act of submerging one thing into another. No wonder it became such an important sacrament of the Church, for it gives us a riveting picture of what happens to us when we put our trust in Jesus Christ. SLIDE 20 Consider Gal 3:26-27:
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
- A submarine is baptized in the ocean every time it submerges. It becomes clothed with the Atlantic, the Berents, the Artic, or whatever sea or ocean it is baptized into. It becomes a part of its environment and participates in its environment. And whatever happens to its environment happens to it. This is what happens to us as Christ followers…
- In Christ, God has blessed us with every Spirit-given blessing in the heavenly realms. Next week we will begin to unpack some of these gifts as we look at the wonder and marvel of the gift of election.
- Until then, let’s practice blessing God each day this week for the countless blessings He gives to us in Christ by His Spirit. Let’s pray.