We continue in our two week series through Ephesians 1–3, with guest writer Dr. David Starling.
Beginning with a Blessing | Eph. 1:1–10
You can tell a lot about a letter from the way it begins: Paul’s letter-openings are never just conventional throat-clearing, warming up his voice (and warming up the audience) before he gets into the things that really matter. In every letter, the opening paragraphs are already aimed at accomplishing something—setting the tone and anticipating the issues that the rest of the letter will deal with.
The striking thing about the opening paragraphs of Ephesians is the way in which Paul bursts straight into doxology—blessing the name of God for a whole catalogue of blessings that he has poured out on Paul and on the Ephesians. In a letter that is aimed (as I suggested in yesterday’s reading) at strengthening and deepening the Ephesians’ sense of identity, Paul begins not with them but with God. Already, he is implying something powerful and transformative about who they are: they are planets orbitting around God the sun; objects of his choosing; adopted members of his family; beneficiaries of his salvation; participants in his story. And by beginning with a blessing of God, in which the readers are implicitly invited to join, Paul reminds them of the first and most basic thing that this means: they are a worshipping people, who exist (as Paul reminds them again and again within the opening paragraphs) “for the praise of his glory” (cf. vv. 3, 6, 12, 14).
The blessing in verses 3–14 is partly a catalogue of things that God has done—a list of “spiritual blessings” that he has poured out on the readers:
* Election (v. 4)
In the first place, Paul says, there is the blessing of election: “He chose us in him before the creation of the world.” (“Election” is theological jargon for choosing. We have an election every few years to choose what government we want to have; this election, the one Paul is talking about here, has to do with God choosing—God choosing us to be his people.) At the very start of the list, at the beginning of it all, Paul points us right back to before the creation of the world, and says: way back then, before we had done anything good or anything bad, before we’d even been born, God chose us to belong to him and to be his people.
It’s a humbling reality. Most of us are quite comfortable with the idea that we chose God. Maybe you grew up in a Christian family, and you got to a certain age where you were old enough to decide for yourself, and you took a look at what the world had to offer, and decided that you were going to choose to follow Jesus yourself. Maybe you came from a non-Christian background, and somewhere along the line you heard about Jesus, and you checked it out and asked questions and weighed up what it would cost, and decided to become a Christian. But whatever the story is in your case, the Bible says, if you love him, it’s because he first loved you. If you chose him, it’s because he chose you, way back before the creation of the world. He didn’t wait to see how you’d turn out, so he could choose the best and the brightest. He didn’t choose you because you were better than average. There were no conditions attached. He chose you because in his love and his wisdom, that was what he decided to do; because he had willed that he would have people in Christ who were his own—chosen in grace to be holy and blameless and his.
* Adoption (v. 5)
But there’s more than that. He didn’t just choose you to belong to his people. He adopted you to be part of his family. Verse 5: “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship 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 One he loves.”
When you become a Christian, you become a child of God. You are adopted into all the privileges that go with being part of the family. You gain a share in the inheritance—you become an heir of the family fortune. And you gain not only an inheritance but also a relationship: a relationship with a Father who loves you, and who cares about your every need.
* Redemption (v. 7)
Election; adoption; and thirdly, redemption. Verse 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.”
Redemption is a word that means being bought out of slavery into freedom: out of slavery to sin and death and the devil, set free because the price for our freedom is payed in the blood of Jesus. Another way of saying it, according to the second half of the verse, is that our sins have been forgiven—our debts have been cancelled, because God in his wealth and his generosity has paid everything we owed so that we can be forgiven.
* Revelation: (v. 9)
Election; adoption; redemption; And then finally, verse 9, revelation. “With all wisdom and understanding 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 reach their fulfillment — to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
God has taken us into his confidence. He has shown us the shape of the future. It’s like he’s invited us into the control room of the universe and he’s shown us the plans spread out there, and he has let us know what the purpose of it all is about. And the purpose of it all revolves around Jesus; it’s about bringing everything in heaven and on earth into a unity that is summed up in him. That is where this world is heading; that is what it’s all about; and God has pulled back the curtains for us, and shown us, so that we don’t go through this world thinking that it’s all a cycle of futility. We know that there is a purpose and a destination, and God is the one who is going to take it there.
That’s what comes with being in Jesus. It’s about being one of God’s chosen people; not only that—it’s about being part of his family; not only that—it’s knowing that he loved you enough to pay with the blood of his own son so your sins could be forgiven; and it’s about God taking us out of the futility and the pointlessness of this world and giving us a place in his plans for the whole of the universe.
But the list of blessings in verses 3–10 is not just a catalogue; it’s also a story. It’s a story that stretches back in one direction to before the creation of the world, and points forward in the other direction to the plans and purposes of God for the fulness of time and the summing of all things in Christ.
It’s a story that echoes the sequence and the themes of Israel’s salvation-story as it is told over and over again within the pages of the Old Testament: the story of how God chose them in Abraham, long before they were even a nation; how he set his affections on them, to love them and adopt them as his firstborn son; how he redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt; and how he brought them to the foot of Mount Sinai, revealed his laws to them and made known to them his purposes and his ways.
It’s a God-centred story, about the things that he has done, as an expression of his wisdom and grace and love, in fulfilment of his own invincible plans and purposes.
And it’s a story that pivots on the story of Jesus—a story that locates the readers and their salvation, over and over again, “in Christ”.
If the Ephesians are in Christ, then they are participants in this story, and recipients of these blessings. They are who they are because of the grace and love of God, and they are who they are for the sake of his praise and his glory.
To think about:
If you, like the Ephesians, have been saved by God and adopted into his family for the sake of “the praise of his glorious grace”, what are some ways in which you can fulfil that calling and purpose on your life today? What opportunities do you have to show God as gracious, and to give blessing and praise to him?