Fifth Sunday after Trinity – July 12, 2020
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, he predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the kind intention of his will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the Beloved.
SLIDE 2 -title slide
- Open bibles/apps to Eph 1. Last week, we began reverently looking at this marvelous berakah or extended blessing that Paul pronounces on God the Father in vv.3-14, at the outset of this remarkable letter he wrote to the church in the city of Ephesus on the west coast of present day Turkey.
- I want to encourage you again to memorize this passage. You can partner with another person in the church or you couples can do this together. But by memorizing it, you get in it into your heart where you can call it to mind throughout the day and it can help shape your understanding of who God is and who you are in Christ.
- This afternoon, we’re going to examine verse 4, which introduces us to one of the most astonishing truths, known as the doctrine of election: the biblical teaching that God chose us to be his own special people (“chose” derived from a Grk. word from which we get our English word elect).
- Sadly, this doctrine has become one of the most contentious teachings of the bible, because it often gets discussed within a very unhelpful philosophical framework regarding causality: the science of cause and effect. IOW, What causes us to be Christ followers? Did we choose God or did God choose us?
- The biblical answer is “yes”; it’s both: we must put our trust in Jesus Christ as savior to be saved: we must choose Him, but we are unable to do so unless God empowers us to do so; he must choose us. There are texts in scripture that emphasize our role in choosing to follow Christ. There are other texts that emphasize his role in choosing us. The verse we’re looking at today falls into this second category. Historically, there are two theological camps that developed within the Western Church in the 16th century, with the Arminian camp emphasizing our role in choosing God and the Calvinist camp emphasizing God’s choosing of us.
- We’re not going to get into the details today of this longstanding debate. We can do that on a Tuesday night or other time for those who are interested. What we will do today is focus on the astonishing fact that the triune God, the Creator of the cosmos, choose you and me to be his very own from eternity past out of sheer love for us and a desire to see us blessed. Whatever role our will plays in this is not mentioned in this verse, so we won’t try to resolve it. What we will do is stand in awe and wonder at the extravagant goodness of a God who treats us with such extraordinary kindness and finds such genuine delight in us.
- Friends, if you allow this truth—that God chose you for himself to enjoy his divine life forever—to settle deep in your consciousness, it will radically transform your understanding of both God and yourself. My prayer is that the Lord uses this time today to ground all of us more solidly in the assurance, peace and joy of our having been chosen by him.
- So, the verse we are considering today is verse 4 which reads SLIDE 3
4 just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him.
- We’re going to pray, then do a brief overview of this verse to orient ourselves, then unpack some of its awe inspiring teachings. Let’s pray.
Overview of 1:4
- By way of overview, verse 4 breaks down as follows. Here get into a little bit of nerdy grammar stuff, but hang with me: SLIDE 4
- The verse begins with “just as” (kathos in Grk.) which is called an adverbial conjunction: adverbial because it qualifies the verb “chose”; conjunction because it conjoins or connects together the statement Paul just made with the one he is about to make. So, in verse 3, Paul stated that God has blessed believers with every spiritual blessing “in Christ”. Here in verse 4, Paul is saying, “In the same way (i.e., just as God conveyed every blessing to us “in Christ”), he did something else for us “in Christ”: and what was it? SLIDE 5
- He chose us – This is the heart of the verse. It’s called a verbal clause in which God is the subject “He”, “chose” is the verb describing his action, and “us” is the object of the verb.
- Now how did God choose us? Paul is going to answer that question in three ways, each of which approaches the question from a slightly different angle. To do so, he uses three subordinate clauses, all of which qualify the action of the verb “chose”. How did he do it? He chose us… SLIDE 6
- First, “in him” (“in Christ”) This answers the “where question”. Where were we chosen? In the warm, rich fellowship with the person of Jesus Christ, his Son: nowhere else. SLIDE 7
- Second, Paul answers the “when question”. When were we chosen? His answer? “before the foundation of the world (cosmos) SLIDE 8
- Third, Paul answers the “why question”? Why were we chosen? His answer is: “to be holy and blameless before Him (that is, God the Father)”
- So, that’s the logic behind the grammatical arrangement of the verse. Let’s now see if we can reverently drill down and extract some of its richness.
Exposition of 1:4
We begin with the key assertion: “He chose us” SLIDE 9
- It’s the main verb of the entire passage; in fact, the only finite verb (one that has a subject) in entire passage not found in a relative clause (a clause that starts with relative pronoun: who, that, or which).
- In other words: this is the main point of the passage: that fact that God chose us to be his very own
- What does this mean, that God chose us?
- Greek verb, eklegomai: pick out, choose, select for one’s self. In Hebrew, the equivalent term is bachair.
- Concept of God’s choosing people if found throughout both the OT and NT:
- For example, In Gen 12 – God chose Abram (over all the other moon worshipers in Ur, present day Iraq) to be the founder of a new nation
- God later chose his Abraham’s son Isaac (rather than his first son Ishmael) to continue this Abrahamic covenant. Still later he chose Jacob (rather than Jacob’s older brother Esau) to continue this unique covenant relationship with the future nation of Israel.
- In 1 Sam 16, God chose David (rather than one of his older brothers) to be king of Israel in the place of Saul
- In Jer 1, God chose Jeremiah to be a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah. In v. 5 He said to him: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations”
- Those are all clear OT examples of God’s choosing. Here are two from the NT.
- In Lk 6, Jesus chose his 12 apostles (you did not choose me, I chose you)
- In Acts 9, God chose Saul to be the point-man in bringing the gospel to Gentiles
- In each case, God selected a person or a group of persons for a particular purpose.
- To better understand the dynamics of God’s choosing, we need to consider God’s choosing of Israel to be his own inheritance, the nation he would use eventually to bring about salvation for the whole world through the messiah, Jesus. SLIDE 10
6 For you are a people holy to Yahweh your God. Yahweh your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7 Yahweh did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because Yahweh loved (ah-havah) you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
- I want you to notice three things in this passage that will help us understand this idea of God’s choosing of Israel and his choosing of us:
- First, SLIDE 11 God’s choosing is done after a comprehensive analysis of all relevant considerations and all available options: “The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth.” The choice is deliberative and intelligent, not accidental; it anticipates and takes into account every conceivable variable.
The reason this is important to affirm is for you to have the assurance that God knew exactly what he was getting into when he chose you as his own. He knew every sin you would ever commit before your were born and he chose you in view of all of that.
So he is not going to say a million years from now: “Oh shoot, I didn’t realize this dude is so messed up! I wish I had chosen someone else. Dang, why didn’t I see this coming?” God possesses perfect knowledge, knowing the end from the beginning. Nothing takes him by surprise. He chose us for himself, fully knowing that we were as messed us as we are. SLIDE 12
- Second, The choosing results in Israel becoming related to God in the most intimate of relationships: They are chosen “to be His people (in a unique way), His treasured possession” (segolah: his own prized, valued possession). We will look at this idea in more detail in a few weeks when consider Eph 1.11, where Paul mentions the phrase: God’s “inheritance in the saints”, meaning that we are what God chose for himself as his own inheritance.
But for now, let this truth sink in: you are God’s treasured possession. You are valuable to God. He assigns great worth to you right now, as you are. This is echoed in other places like Lk 15, where the shepherd leaves his 99 sheep to go search for the one that was lost.
By the way, does this text from Deut anywhere suggest that those nations not chosen are disregarded or hated by God? No! It simply tells us they were not chosen for the same purpose for which Israel was chosen. Why was Israel chosen? To be an example to the whole earth of what it looks like to be in covenant relationship with Yahweh and to be the means of bringing the whole earth back to God! Remember what God told Abraham in Gen 12:3? “I will make of you a great nation…in you all the families of the earth will be blessed”.
So, God’s choosing of some people does not imply a dislike of those not similarly chosen (Ex: God’s choosing of Levi for priesthood….other 11 tribes; Jesus’ choosing of the 12 apostles didn’t mean…disciples). You might ask: Malachai 1:3: “Jacob I loved, Esau I’ve hated”? God is speaking in similar way to when Jesus said in Lk 14:26 that if we don’t hate our father and mother and other relations, we can’t be his disciples. Both are examples of using strong contrastive language to make a specific point: in Mal 1:3, the point is Yahweh’s love for Israel; in Lk 14:26, the point is our exclusive commitment to Christ.
- The third thing we see in this text is that God’s choosing is profoundly personal. SLIDE 13 The process of God’s choosing is not coldly mechanical or dispassionate but wonderfully relational. It is described here as an exercise of God’s affection and love.
- We’re going see this echoed in Eph 1:5 next week: The verse begins with “in love he predestined us” and ends with the assertion that He did this “according to his kind intention”
- Another clue is that the verb “chosen” is, in what is called in Gk. grammar, the middle voice. There are three voices in Koine Greek: the active-God chooses something for whatever purposes he might have; the passive-we were chosen by God; middle-reflexive: God chose us for himself; implying that God takes a great personal interest in the object of his choosing. It’s not impersonal fiat that leads him to choose but deliberative will.
- One scholar: “God for no other reason than that he is a loving God, chose to adopt people into his family through Jesus Christ.”
- SLIDE 14 I don’t keep many photos on my phone… Oct 17,2010… This is the image that should be conjured up in our minds when we think of God’s choosing of us. In 1 Peter 2:9, the Apostle Peter tells the church: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own choosing.”
- How, precisely, then did God choose us? Let’s consider three qualifiying clauses to further explain God’s choosing of His people. God chose us:
- In Christ/Him (as to the location)
- Before the foundation of the world (as to the timing)
- To be holy and blameless before him (as to the purpose)
- First…SLIDE 15
- Where did God choose us? In Christ This is in what is called the dative case in Gk., specifically the “dative of sphere” or “location”
- We saw last week that this concept of believers being incorporated into Christ is at the very heart of Paul’s theology: the language is used by Paul 167x, 39x in Eph, 11x here in this blessing. A good example SLIDE 16 is in 1 Cor 12:13 and 27
1 Cor 12:13a, 27
“For we were all baptized (placed, immersed, submerged) by one Spirit into one body…(whose body was it) v.27: Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
- Think of a blood transfusion. SLIDE 17 Imagine this is you…. red blood cell, in the body of a heroin addict on the streets of East London; transfused into the Queen Elizabeth of England…Previously you were in Adam (blessings of sin, death, eventual dissolution) now you are in Christ (blessings of eternal life, joy, peace, eternity in heaven). Your blessings depend on which person you are “in.”
- Second clause answers the question of when God chose us. SLIDE 18
“before the foundation of the world”
- God didn’t wait for us to choose Him. He chose us long before we came into existence. Before even the creation or “foundation” of the world, He selected us to be his own.
- verb katabole is a compound word meaning to “throw down”; idea here is the throwing down of stones to form a foundation for a building. It’s used eleven times in NT, and in each instance means the same: before any created thing came into existence (See John 17:24 and 1 Peter 1:20. Cf. Rev 13:8; 17:8. See also Mt 13:35; 25:34; Lk 11:50; Heb 4:3; 9:26; 11:11).
- You may be asking yourself: Wait a minute, I’ve always been taught that I am a Christian because I chose God.
- Well as I suggested at the outset of the message, God’s choosing of us does not preclude our choosing of God: they are not mutually exclusive; in fact, God’s choosing of us is the ground or the basis of our choosing of God.
- I like how one NT scholar puts it: “Salvation is entirely a work of God in which humans are totally involved.” He then cites Wendell Berry to illustrate this intimate intertwining of God’s life and ours: “We could say that the human race is a great co-authorship in which we are collaborating with God and nature in the making of ourselves and one another.” (Snodgrass, Ephesians, 65)
- So, Paul is telling us here that God chooses us in the far reaches of eternity past, He calls us through the preaching of the gospel and gifts us with His Holy Spirit in time, and He moves us to make a rational decision to follow Jesus in this life.
- Let me tell you why that’s a very good thing. If our salvation depends upon our choosing of God, our salvation would not be secure, because, let’s face it, our level of commitment, devotion, and steadfastness is all over the map, especially during the early years of following Christ. Some days we’re at the top of our game; others we fail miserably. So, if our salvation is determined by how tightly we hang onto God, we are in deep weeds.
- But if, on the other hand, our salvation depends on God hanging onto us; on God’s choosing of us, then our salvation is absolutely secure. Because God never changes: He’s the same yesterday, today and forever, Hebrews 13 tells us. His gifts and calling are irrevocable, Romans 11 tells us. And nothing will ever separate us from His love, Romans 8 assures us. So, having been chosen by God from the depths of eternity, there will never be a time when He un-chooses us.
- There is one final qualifying clause in our text SLIDE 19 that answers the question of why God chose us…
“to be holy and blameless before Him”
- We’ve discussed in previous weeks this notion of holiness. We’ve seen that it is a term that refers to a ritual state of cleanness that renders a person worthy of being in God’s presence. It isn’t a moral standard we attain; it’s not a certain ethical threshold that we have to measure up to to be acceptable to God. It is something outside ourselves given to us as a result of ritual action. And it qualifies us legally to live the presence of a holy God.
- In the OT, a person made holy by a ritual act of sacrificing an animal to Yahweh. The action didn’t change the person’s heart. They still might be what we would consider a bad person. But they were nevertheless ritually holy. In the NT, we are made holy by the ritual act of Christ sacrificing himself out of love for us.
- We don’t have to wait to be made holy. It is a fait accompli: a finished act. As our Lord said on the cross, “it is finished”, once and forever. Hebrews 10:10 tells us that by God’s will we have been made holy “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all”.
- As a result, we are referred to by God as holy ones, hagioi. In Eph, Paul uses this term 9x to describe us. This is our new identity. And God says to us: “You are holy ones right now. Let me help you to live like holy ones. I’ll take you by the hand and show you step by step how to live a life empowered by my Spirit as citizens of my kingdom. Trust me.”
- The second term Paul uses here is
- Lit. “without blame”. Do you see yourself as being without blame? Or do you, like most Christians, struggle with a perpetual low-grade anxiety about what God really thinks of you?
- Friend, God says you are without blame in Jesus. As Paul says in Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
- No condemnation. Why? Because Jesus bore the condemnation for us. As Paul tells us in Col 2:14, God “cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with it’s legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
- The record of your sins has been shredded and burned. Every accusation against you is answered by the saving action of Jesus. You’re guilt is expunged. You are declared guiltless in Him.
- Finally, Paul says you were chosen to be
before him (that is: before God)
- Such a small, seemingly insignificant phrase. But so very telling. It says, “Before Him,” not “somewhere in heaven” or “near him” or even “beside him”. But “before him”: face to face with him, looking into his eyes with his looking into yours, in a place of unparalleled communion and unprecedented personal encounter. We enjoy this now in part, as we are given the privilege of living in communion with Christ and the Father in rich, vibrant intimacy. As some of the saints of old expressed it, we have the honor and delight of living our lives coram Deo – before the face of God.
- But the joy we experience here in God’s presence is nothing compared to the infinite joy that awaits us when we stand before him in glory, when every shadow of sin in us is a distant memory, when we have immaculate consciences and radiant bodies, made new and resplendent in the purifying light of God’s glory. Then we will experience life as it was meant to be all along, within the tender embrace of the full, fierce, free and unfiltered love of the Father and the Son in the Spirit. SLIDE 20
- So, to wrap up, what Paul is saying here in verse 4 is that before you existed as an embryo in your mother’s womb, you existed in your heavenly Father’s heart. Before even that initial creative event that cosmologists call the big bang, you were created in God’s mind, and He set his love on you and determined that you would be his personal companion, his treasured delight, for all eternity.
- Having chosen you, you are safe in His hands. He’s not going to drop you; He’s not going to let the devil or anyone else wrestle you out of his grip. He’s going to hold you and lead you and shape you and love you everyday for the rest of your earthly life and throughout the long reaches of eternity.
- No wonder Paul began this letter: “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
- Let’s pray.
Quick reminders – Tom
- Community group meets Tues night at 7-8pm: Gospel of John SLIDE 21
- You can give online or by sending in a check
- Next week, bring bible, bread and grape juice/wine for communion
Benediction – Janet