Celebration of Blessing
Celebration of Blessing
When you takes up the study of Ephesians, you finds that commentators and preachers outdo themselves in lavish praise. It has been called the most comprehensive statement which even the New Testament contains of the meaning of the Christian faith
Because it has such a magisterial theme and because it is so practical, it is also immensely powerful. Ephesians — carefully, reverently, prayerfully considered — will change our lives. It is not so much a question of what we will do with the epistle, but what it will do with us.
The opening verses of Ephesians are a “Celebration of Blessing.” The mood is exuberant joy. Paul buoyantly begins a celebrating God’s work in bringing us salvation. In quick order Paul celebrates himself, the saints, their God, and their blessings.
CELEBRATING SELF (V. 1A)
CELEBRATING SELF (V. 1A)
Paul’s personal celebration is centered in the fact that he is “an apostle of Christ [Messiah] Jesus by the will of God” (Ephes. 1:1a). This certainly was not due to his own will. At the onset of Christianity he had been a militant opponent of Christ, even an accessory to the murders of believers (Acts 7). But then on the Damascus off-ramp he met the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and heard his call: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? . . . I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4-5). The effect was radical conversion, so radical that in a few days Saul “baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 9:22). It was a miracle, and nothing else, that made him one with the Twelve!
As an apostolos, one sent, Paul’s authority was not self-generated, but was ordained of God. He therefore could not help but preach Jesus. “I cannot boast,” he said, “for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). This was something to celebrate!
But it was not a cause for selfish vanity. Before he met Christ he was “Saul,” named after the tallest (and vainest) of the Benjamites, King Saul, from whom he was descended (Phil. 3:4-6). But now, after coming to know Christ, he takes the name “Paul” — small. The Lion had cut him down to size. Now he humbly says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7). Paul’s smallness became the medium for God’s bigness, his weakness a channel for God’s power.
Paul’s song is ours in a less dramatic, perhaps, but equally significant way. For in Christ, every one of us has been delivered from self and has been given position and purpose and authority in him. And that is something to continually celebrate.
CELEBRATING THE SAINTS (V. 1B-2)
CELEBRATING THE SAINTS (V. 1B-2)
Paul’s celebration moves from self to others with his simple designation, “To the saints . . . the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephes. 1:1b), for the designation is a celebration in itself. Why? Because in the Greek translation of the Old Testament the people of Israel, and sometimes even the angels, were given the honored title “saints.”.
“Saints” means “holy ones, those set apart and consecrated.” The word was descriptive of what had happened in their hearts. They were saints though living under the shadow of pagan temples amidst the moral decay of Asia Minor. They were saints while going about their lives — shopkeeping, sailing, building, raising children.
Paul also adds that they were “faithful” — they were actively believing and trusting God. Their saintliness grew out of their believing. As Calvin said, “No man is . . . a believer who is not also a saint; and, on the other hand, no man is a saint who is not a believer.”This was all because they were “in Christ Jesus” — they were personally and intimately in him, as appendages are part of the body or branches are part of the tree.
“Saints” — “faithful” — “in Christ Jesus” — what a cause for celebration! And how does he celebrate it? “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephes. 1:2). This greeting bears the poetry of redemption, for the regular Greek greeting was “Rejoice!” (chaire), and the regular Jewish greeting was “Peace” (Hebrew shalom, Greek eiriene). But here Paul combines the two, and then replaces rejoice (chaire) with the similar sounding but far richer charis — “grace “Grace and peace.” This greeting celebrates how the gospel works. Grace comes first, and as it fills our lives through the Holy Spirit, it brings shalom — peace, reconciliation, wholeness.
This is a huge Christian greeting! There never had been anything like it in the world. This “Grace and peace” has enabled thousands to lift up God even when the world is falling in. Consider H. P. Spafford, who composed one of the Church’s great hymns as he sailed over the watery grave of his family, drowned on the Ville du Havre:
|When peace like a river attendeth my way,|
|When sorrows like sea billows roll;|
|Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,|
|“It is well, it is well with my soul.”|
This is what we have to offer to others — a brand-new greeting from another world: “Grace and peace.” All who truly want this can have it through Jesus Christ.
CELEBRATING THEIR BLESSINGS (V. 3)
CELEBRATING THIRE BLESSINGS (V. 3)
Paul has celebrated himself: his calling, his mission, his deliverance from self. He has also celebrated the saints. Now he celebrates their mutual blessings: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephes. 1:3). This is a dramatic, introductory prelude to a song which extends to the end of verse 14, one long rhapsodic sentence.
At the root of Paul’s celebration here is the idea that both he and the Ephesians, by virtue of their being in Christ, have been elevated to “the heavenly realms.” That is, they occupy the place where Christ is now enthroned, seated at the Father’s right hand (Ephes. 1:20). This is also where all of us who are united to him through faith are seated: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephes. 2:6). “The heavenly realms” are “the immaterial reign, the ‘unseen universe’ which lies behind the world of sense”— the place of Christ’s throne, where we are enthroned with him! Temporally we live here on earth; but spiritually we live in the heavenly realms where Christ lives. Paul calls us to immerse ourselves in this truth and to celebrate.
But there is more. We have been blessed “with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Under the Old Covenant, God’s promised blessings were largely material, such as those promised to obedient Israel in Deut. 28:1-14 — fruitful wombs, flourishing crops, abundant flocks, bread in every basket, prosperity, and world influence. Likewise, under the New Covenant Jesus takes care of his own materially and charges them not to worry about their needs (Matthew 6:25-34). But in addition to this, the overwhelming promises of the New Covenant are spiritual (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34). The fact is, we receive thousands of blessings under these headings, all crowned with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22).
We have been and are now blessed “with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” “To be in Christ . . . is to partake of all that Christ has done, all He is, and all that He ever will be.”Of course, it remains for us to grow and thus claim more and more of these blessings which are now ours. What a wonderful pursuit! The Devil may curse us, but if God blesses us, what does it matter?
Paul’s stupendous assertion about our status of blessedness demands our careful attention. First, we must believe it. Paul’s statement in Ephes. 1:20 that Christ is seated at the right hand of God in “the heavenly realms” is fairly easy for believing hearts to accept. But it is not so easy for the same believers to truly embrace the fact that they themselves are seated in “the heavenly realms,” as Ephes. 2:6 asserts. “After all, we’ve never been there,” they object, “and we’ve had no heavenly experiences like Paul claimed to have had. Perhaps Paul was speaking symbolically or metaphorically.” This seems to be plausible reasoning, but it is absolutely wrong! For if we are merely there metaphorically, it must be the same for Christ.
The truth is: Christ is in the heavenly realms and so are we! He is there literally, and we are there representatively, as members of his Body. He is there as our Head and brings our actual presence with him because we are in him. Believing this will greatly elevate our Christian living. Paul’s massive conception of the heavenlies and his present relation to them which we see here in Ephesians, and in such passages as 2 Cor. 12:1-6, Col. 3:1-4, and Phil. 3:20, 21, endowed him with noble motivation and great energy for his earthly ministry.
We are seated in the heavenly realms. We do have every spiritual blessing. Belief is the beginning.
Second, we must focus on this truth. Paul calls us to be spiritual extraterrestrials — to live in the supra-mundane. We must reject the deadly notion that this is mystical, incomprehensible, and beyond our ability to practice. Paul says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:1-2). What is our mind set on? Position? A new car? A promotion? Our wardrobe? Paul says, Stop! Rather, keep on seeking the things which are above. This is our divinely-given responsibility.
Third, we must ask for the blessings. Jesus says in Luke 11:13, “. . . how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” What does Jesus mean? Isn’t the Holy Spirit already given to believers? The answer is explicit in the Greek grammar, which means the operation of the Holy Spirit.Prayer brings increased fullness and power of the Holy Spirit. We must ask! As we ask for more holiness — a greater sense of adoption, more peace, more love, more patience, more power from the Spirit — we will receive it all.
CELEBRATING GOD (V. 3)
CELEBRATING GOD (V. 3)
In all of this Paul celebrates God. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
Our highest response to all this must be to hold our gifts up to God and sing the boundless praise of him who reigns above! Our theology must become doxology.
Late in his life Dr. Mackay , past president pf Princeton Theological Seminary, reflected on his Ephesians-experience with Christ:
Life has been throughout an adventure, a movement from one frontier to another. For me, as I reflect upon the passage of the years . . . A subjective fact, an experience of quickening by God’s Holy Spirit in the classical tradition of Christian conversion, moulded my being in such a way that I began to live in Christ and for Christ, and ‘for His Body’s sake which is the Church.’ My personal interest in God’s Order began when the only way in which life could make sense to me was upon the basis of an inner certainty that I myself, through the operation of a power which the Ephesian Letter taught me to call ‘grace,’ had become part of that Order, and that I must henceforth devote my energies to its unfolding and fulfillment.
May the Ephesian letter do the same for us!