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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:A Flood of Praise for the Father
Text:Ephesians 1:3-14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Glory of the Father
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-08-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 107:1,12                                                                                    

Ps 130:2,4                                                                                                      

Reading – Ephesians 2:1-10

Ps 118:1,6,8

Sermon – Ephesians 1:3-14, part 1

Hy 48:1,2,3,4

Hy 85:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, sometimes a person can be so excited that they just can’t get out the words. There’s something amazing they want to tell you, something surprising and wonderful, but their words can’t properly express it—it comes out in bits and pieces, with quick bursts of speech, and you have to listen very carefully to put it all together.

In a way, that’s what is happening in our text, as Paul breaks out in exuberant praise for the Triune God because of his great works of redemption. From verse 3 all the way to verse 14, it’s just one sentence in the original Greek—a sentence of some 202 words! In the NJKV, it’s broken up into four sentences, in the NIV it’s eight, but even in a good English translation it can be hard to follow exactly what Paul is saying. The gospel truths come tumbling out in a rush, and mentioning one of God’s gifts leads directly to another: election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness, wisdom, regeneration, everlasting life.

This is not to say that Paul is being haphazard in writing. There’s a design here, and key themes. If you look closely, there are phrases that keep getting mentioned, such as “the counsel of God’s will,” and being “in Christ,” and how all things are to “the praise of his glory.” Besides building on those key phrases, Paul surveys the whole range of history: he looks deep into the past (“before the foundation of the world”), considers the present time (the salvation that we possess today), and he peers far into the future (“the guarantee of our inheritance”).

What’s more, Paul has an eye for how each person of the Trinity is at work in the saving of sinners. Broadly speaking, God the Father chooses, the Son redeems and restores, and the Holy Spirit is the seal of promise on our hearts. Because so much is packed into these verses, we’ll study it in three parts, with a sermon on the role of each Triune person in our redemption.

Before we get into it, let’s see how the passage fits into the letter as a whole. Normally in Paul’s letters, there is the opening (author, recipients, and greeting), following by a thanksgiving for what he’s grateful for in the lives of his readers, such as their faith and service. But Paul delays his thanksgiving until 1:15; instead he breaks into this doxology, a flood of praise to God. When Paul ponders what the Lord has done, he can only praise him for all his goodness, piling up the words and worship. He wants this adoration to overflow from him to those reading his letter, so that we respond like he does, with praise and glory for the God of our salvation. I preach God’s Word to you from Ephesians 1:3-14,

            God the Father has blessed us with every spiritual blessing:

                        1) He chose us

                        2) He adopted us

                        3) He called us

 

1) He chose us: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3). When Paul pronounces that God is blessed, this is not a wish for his well-being, but it’s a fact: God is blessed, in the sense that God holds a position of goodness and He is himself thoroughly good. The Greek term for “blessed” has come into our language in the word “eulogy.” You might go to a funeral and listen to a eulogy, which is recounting all the good things about a person. That’s what Paul is doing about God, recounting the aspects of his greatness.

He begins his praise with the Father, but notice that God the Son is right behind him: God is the Father “of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This tight linking is seen in the prior verse as well: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). It’s hard to mention the Father without acknowledging the Son, for the very reason that it’s Jesus who reveals the Father to us: “No one has ever seen God,” writes John, “but the only begotten Son has made him known” (1:18). If not for Christ, God wouldn’t be our Father. But for his sake, God sends a constant stream of blessing.

“He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (1:3). This is the leading thought of the whole passage—everything else is just working this out, presenting the reason that God is to be praised! Paul says three things about all these gifts.

First, these are “spiritual” blessings. This means that God’s greatest gifts relate to our spirit—our heart and soul—and that his gifts are channeled to us through his Spirit. For it’s only by the Spirit’s work that we have saving faith. It’s only by the Spirit that we persevere under trial and temptation. And it’s the Holy Spirit who guarantees our everlasting life.

There’s a necessary reminder for us in that word “spiritual.” It teaches us not to focus on the material gifts of God the Father, or to get distracted by them. That’s what we think of most naturally—we value God’s gifts of money, health, possessions, and other people. These are his generous blessings, and God does have a plan for our physical bodies too. God isn’t opposed to the material and physical! But don’t miss the point. It all begins here: in the heart. Without spiritual transformation, without a life in-dwelled by the Spirit, your money and position and strength (and everything else you might value) are worth nothing at all.

The Father’s gifts are spiritual, and second, they’re stored up for us “in the heavenly places.” Several times in Ephesians the “heavenly places” are mentioned, because Paul wants us to know: what we see here on earth is simply a reflection of another realm, that invisible domain where there is war between the powers of darkness and the kingdom of light. But the good news is that Christ has already conquered the devil, and He’s now seated in heaven. His victory has acquired gifts for us that are secure and eternal, treasures stored up in heaven with him.

And third, the Father’s blessings are all “in Christ.” In these verses Paul says “in Christ” or “in Him” some fourteen times. It’s Paul’s favourite phrase, one that should be our favourite too, because it means everything to us: by faith in Christ we are personally united to him and all his benefits, and in Christ we receive the Father’s goodness.

Now Paul starts numbering his gifts, and begins with election—a good place to begin, for it’s the eternal foundation and first cause of every other blessing. If the Father hadn’t seen fit to choose us, we’d have nothing more to say. But verse 4 reads: “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world.”

The key action here is “chose.” God has elected a people for himself. It’s like when you go to the polling station, and you mark your choice of a candidate on the ballot. Election (as the Bible speaks of it) is just that, a choice. But this choice is about who will be saved from the penalty of sin and granted abundant life.

The teaching of election is found throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, Israel was called God’s “chosen people.” Out of all the nations, the LORD was pleased to select Abraham and his descendants, and to enter into covenant with them. When we get to the New Testament, election is no longer about God’s relationship with a particular nation, but it’s how God chooses sinners from every tribe and people on earth.

“He chose us,” Paul says in verse 4, and because this is such a fundamental idea he comes back to it in verse 5: God “predestined us.” The word “predestine” means literally “to mark out beforehand.” Compare it to surveying a piece of land where you want to build a house; you mark it out beforehand, so that later you know where to dig. From eternity God has set his mark on us, planning and preparing a salvation for us.

And it’s a choice that God made long ago: “before the foundation of the world” (1:4). This truth should amaze us and stretch our minds: the Father set his saving love on us before we even existed, or before anyone existed. He chose us before there was a world for us to live on. He chose to save us even before there was something to save us from—before sin and the curse. Before time began, the Father knew our name, He knew our need, and He knew Christ was coming as the one who could save—He chose us “in him.”

How clearly this shows that God’s choice of us wasn’t dependent on outward circumstances or influenced by anything that we might do! It’s rooted in God’s gracious character alone. So a bit later Paul says that we are “predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (v 11). We were marked out beforehand because, very simply, this was God’s good design, his purpose. Nothing compels God to do what He does, and nothing prevents God from acting by his plan.

It means, of course, that there’s no space for any pride in the Christian life, no reason to boast in what we’ve done. Election isn’t a question of our worthiness of being chosen, but it’s all God’s sovereignty. This humbles us, but it also encourages. If salvation was our own work, or own decision, we’d forever be in doubt. For how often don’t we change our minds about things? How often don’t we discard our decisions, and throw out our plans?

But our salvation isn’t like that at all. It’s grounded in God’s decree, an unchangeable choice, because that’s what God himself is like: He is the same, yesterday, today and forever. That’s a beautiful gospel! There is much uncertainty in this world: uncertainty about government, about the economy, uncertainty about your health and your job, and maybe even about your faith. Satan is always ready to spot a wavering mind, and he’ll be there to intensify our doubting and increase our worrying. But we know this as certain: the Father works all things according to his will. If we’ve come to faith and begun to walk in the ways of the Lord, then we can be sure of God’s claim on us! Because we know: his election cannot be undone or changed.

To be sure, election is hard to understand. It’s a puzzle to us: God’s grace in Christ is freely offered to all, but only those chosen by God will believe, while God still holds everyone responsible for their unbelief. Our small minds struggle with election, but see what is the purpose of this work of the Father: it is “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (1:6). Election isn’t meant to fill us with questions and speculation. Rather, it should move us to doxology: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3). When we ponder election, we see how God deserves our humble praise. There’s not a moment in our life that’s left unaccounted for, and God is working out our salvation to the very last detail. All praise be to him!

 

2) He adopted us: To describe another of God’s spiritual blessings, Paul turns to Roman law. The Father “predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to himself” (1:5). Adoption was not practiced among the Israelites, but it was among the Romans. If a man wanted a son who could carry on the family name and estate, and if he and his wife hadn’t received a son, they could legally adopt one—perhaps a younger child from a relative’s family, or even a child from one of his favourite slaves.

For a child, adoption was a wonderful entrance into a privileged position. In an instant, you could go from being and having nothing, to being the heir of a wealthy estate and the holder of important titles and positions. An adopted son had his position as a gift and not by right, yet he had the same legal standing as a natural son.

You can see then, how this is a powerful image for what God the Father has done for us: He adopted us as sons and daughters for himself. It’s even more astonishing when we consider that formerly we were sons of God, for we held that position in Adam, our first father. But by our rebellion, we forfeited that privilege and everything that went with it. So Paul says in the next chapter, we are “by nature children of wrath” (2:3). Because of our sin we were deserving of condemnation, but God is merciful; He takes us out from there and He makes us his own.

He adopts us, and He makes us part of his family. Just like the child of a slave being adopted in Roman times, we have gone from being and having literally nothing, to being the heirs of eternal life and partakers in glory. Forgiven and secure, honoured and renewed: now we can enjoy all the privileges of being God’s family, not by right, but as a gift.

Maybe you’re expecting this by now, but see how Paul slips in another reference here to Christ: God “predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ” (1:5). It’s only through the merits of God’s natural Son that we’ve become sons and daughters; like Paul says in another place, “God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). Christ has restored our bond with God our Creator, so that we can be his own, given the same standing as the eternal and natural Son of God!

By him, Paul says in the next verse, “He made us accepted in the Beloved” (1:6). Christ is the Beloved one—think, for example, of what the Father said at Jesus’ baptism: “In you I am well pleased.” Now, through him, we are accepted.

Think what a powerful word that is. There’s not a human being on this planet who doesn’t want to be accepted: accepted by other people, recognized and valued and treated as worthy. Not being accepted can be one of life’s painful trials, when you’re rejected by your peers and friends, even by a parent or a spouse. But if you believe in Christ and are adopted by the Father, you have an acceptance that’s greater than any other. You are accepted, and blessed. Accepted, and never to be rejected. You are embraced in the love of God the Father and the Son.

For God has granted us “redemption through his blood” and “the forgiveness of sins” (1:7). There’s been a clearing of our record, a freeing from the guilt which used to bind us, the charges which made us so liable to God’s wrath.

And God isn’t only a Father who forgives, but one who cares for his children and helps us to grow. That’s the next blessing that Paul rushes to announce, how God has “made to abound toward us… all wisdom and prudence” (1:8). A good father will instruct his children, and give them tools for life and work and relationships—this is what God gives: wisdom and prudence.

He gives us wisdom, which is the knowledge of things as they really are. Through his Word, the Father blesses us with the ability to find our way through the challenges of living. And He gives prudence, which is the kind of understanding that leads to right action. By his Spirit, the Father helps us to handle the daily complexities of practical life. So ask him for this wisdom!

Ultimately, the Father reveals the thing that we most need to know, for He has “made known to us the mystery of his will” (1:9). Now, we should be clear on what that word means. To our ears, a “mystery” is something that’s still unknown, like there’s some secret or riddle that needs solving. Kids and adults alike enjoy a good mystery, where you’re trying to get to the bottom of something, and solve a puzzle.

But Paul uses the word “mystery” in a very different way. For him, a “mystery” is not something that’s strange and unknown. It used to be unknown, but now it’s plainly before the eyes of all. A “mystery” in the New Testament is something that was concealed formerly, but now revealed by the LORD.

Take Colossians 1:26-27 as an example. Paul is speaking about his preaching, and he says that he’s busy every day with sharing “the mystery” of God. This mystery “has been hidden from ages and from generations.” Notice that it used to be hidden, and was kept for a long time from general viewing. “But,” Paul continues, “Now [it] has been revealed to the saints.”

The mystery that he’s speaking about—in Colossians and here—the mystery that he preaches, is the gospel of salvation! It used to be hidden from so many people, reserved for the people of Israel alone. But now the gospel has been broadcast widely—it’s in the public domain—with open access for everyone. Whatever your nationality or your status or your character, you can freely come and listen. The “mystery” is the revealed truth of Christ: it’s the saving message that is announced to everyone. And you’re allowed to know it!  

We marvel that all this arises through the Father’s good pleasure. Underline that phrase in verse 5: “God predestined us to adoption… according to the good pleasure of his will,” and in verse 9, “having made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure.” Salvation happens, not just because God is free to do whatever He wants. “Good pleasure” describes how God the Father actually takes delight in doing this! He has pleasure in showing mercy, in choosing and adopting and forgiving and teaching. Beloved, this reveals the beauty of the God we worship, the splendour of his character. He isn’t just busy with us because it’s something to do, because He made a plan once and now wants to see it through; He does it because He loves to save sinners.

We can extend that to say how God loves being in covenant with us. Think of how an earthly father will cherish the company of his children. It’s a delight to dads when they can be with their sons and daughters; it’s a delight when there is a bond of openness and obedience and trust. So with God our Father: He adopted us as his own, so He loves it when we’re near to him. He loves to hear you call out to him in prayer. He loves to see you walking beside him in faithfulness. It’s his good pleasure when you trust him, and obey him.

 

3) He called us: Throughout these verses, the focus is on God at work; the Triune God is busy with us in every way. You’d almost think there’s nothing for us to do, that these “chosen people” are destined to become “frozen people,” cold and lifeless and passive. But listen to what Paul writes in 2:10, “We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” God saved us, so that we would get busy with the good works He wants us to do.

You can see our calling in this text too. Look at verse 4, how God “chose us… that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” In that verse there are three important callings for you and me, and for the whole church.

First, the Father chose us, “that we should be holy.” In Christ we’re already holy, of course, because we’ve been washed from sin and claimed as God’s possession. But Scripture always teaches that we have to become what we are. We have to grow into our identity more and more, take it on and let it shape us. You are holy, now show that you’re holy. Holiness is being different in this world, and noticeably so: when you reject what is evil and cherish what is good. In this coming week, will your life stand apart as holy?

God chose us “that we should be holy” and, secondly, “without blame.” That’s another calling for those who have been saved. In the Old Testament the phrase “without blame” often describes the flawless animals of sacrifice presented to the LORD. We are living sacrifices, so we must be without blemish. That doesn’t just mean respectable, or decent, but it means that we must be entirely devoted to God. There should be no glaring sin in your life, nothing you haven’t repented from, nothing wrong that you haven’t tried to put right, but in everything “blameless.”

Thirdly, God chose us “that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” The holiness of your life becomes most obvious in the demonstration of love. “Walk in love,” Paul says in Ephesians 5:2, “as Christ also has loved us.” If you have been chosen and adopted and forgiven, your love must be an active love, a forgiving love, a constant love. Is that how you are loving other people? 

When we live in such a way, God receives the glory. After all, the reason that God is redeeming us is to glorify his name. Paul underlines that three times in Ephesians 1, like in verse 6, verse 12, and one more time in verse 14, “[It is all] to the praise of His glory.” God receives the glory through our salvation—how? Because through his works of redemption, everyone can see just how great God is, how powerful, how wise, merciful and faithful He is.

Before his marvelous deeds, we stand in awe. We are moved to worship him and to love him. To think that God planned all this before the foundation of the world, that the Father did it at the cost of his own Son, and that He did it out of his good pleasure—our words fail us, and our understanding falls short. Only we know: this is the God we worship, the God we love and trust! So in our lives, let us bring him the glory!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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