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“Lavished with the Riches of Grace in Christ”

Oct.7, 2012 Thanksgiving Eph.1:3-14


Perhaps you’re finding it easy to be thankful this weekend. Others of you may be struggling to even call it “Thanksgiving” – some face housing or economic challenges, the bills are piling up, flat tires and car repairs nix bigger plans. Health challenges remind us our frames aren’t invisible. Even if healthy ourselves, we’re weighed down with concern for loved ones who are aging or unwell. Some of us face employment hurdles, needing to find a job. Or perhaps our job conditions have changed to be less desirable - a grumpy boss, a further commute. In such circumstances it can be hard to rev up our thankfulness engine.
    Maybe we’re feeling a bit like the little boy who was asked by his father to say grace at the table. While the rest of the family waited, the little guy eyed every dish of food his mother had prepared. None of his favourites... After the examination, he bowed his head and honestly prayed, “Lord, I don’t like the looks of it, but I thank You for it, and I’ll eat it anyway. Amen.”
    Paul the epistle-writer could also have said with the little boy, “I don’t like the looks of it...” While the book of Ephesians is one of the most theologically ‘rich’ in the whole Bible, let’s remember the apostle’s own situation when he penned it. He lets little clues slip out here and there. 3:1 “I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles...” V13 “I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you...” 4:1, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you...” And 6:19f,  “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” Where is he? In a fearful spot, in chains, suffering in prison! Experts place the letter as being written in prison in Rome sometime between AD 60-62. If Paul’s under house arrest, he may be physically chained to a Roman soldier 24/7. And yet what oozes out of this letter is not self-pity or discouragement, but praise to a loving God who is fulfilling His purposes for His people.
    Now, the Ephesians to whom Paul is writing could have had much to be thankful for on an earthly scale. Ephesus was capital of the Roman province of Asia, a bustling port at the mouth of a river on the Aegean Sea. It was home to the magnificent temple of Artemis (Diana), one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It was also an important political, educational, and commercial centre, ranking up there with Alexandria in Egypt.
    But Paul doesn’t focus on the city’s fortunate placement or circumstances. He directs the Ephesians’ gratitude to spiritual blessings the Lord has conferred on them in Christ. So, while we gather around tables that may be groaning with food this Thanksgiving holiday, Paul would remind us such tangible blessings (IF we have them) are transitory, perishing. Instead he points out wonderful spiritual riches that are quite independent to our earthly status, prisoner or otherwise.


So as Paul begins this long run-on sentence (vv3-14 are all one nonstop sentence in the Greek), he praises God for blessings we can’t stab with a table-fork.  “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.” (1:3) Blessed WHERE? “In the heavenly realms,” God’s space, not houses and farms and lots here on terra firma. Even Paul the prisoner, shackled and suffering in constrained quarters, could rejoice in these blessings. Blessed with WHAT? “With every spiritual blessing.” HOW are these blessings found? “In Christ.”
    At least 9 times in this single sentence Paul emphasizes these blessings are separate or random gifts, but they are all part-and-parcel of receiving Jesus as Lord and Saviour, hence phrases such as “in Christ” or “through Christ.” Let’s quickly point these out in passing. V3 “in Christ”, 4 “chose us in Him,” 5 “through Jesus Christ,” 6 “given us in the One He loves,” 7 “in Him,” 9 “in Christ,” 11 “in Him,” 13 “you were included in Christ...you were marked in Him...” God doesn’t extend to us blessings apart from Himself! If you’re keen to get God’s blessings, the only way is to receive Christ first - then you can experience the gifts in Him, along with Himself: it’s a package deal.


Now let’s count our blessings, name them one-by-one as Paul lists them; I see at least 10 mentioned here, one for each finger on each hand.
    1) We are CHOSEN in Christ, we who believe. V4 “He chose us in Him before the creation of the world...” And v11, “In Him we were also chosen...” God picked you, He selected you to be His very own, and granted you faith to make that happen. One of the most painful experiences of childhood is picking sports teams when you’re no athlete; time goes on, other kids are chosen, and you have to wait ages (it seems) before a “captain” eyes the doubtful prospects left and reluctantly accepts you onto their team. It’s not like that with God: He WANTS you, He has selected some from the ranks of the fallen sinful human race to be His dearly-loved children, trusting in Jesus.
    2) HOLY and 3) BLAMELESS - let’s look at these together, they’re related but different. V4 “He chose us in Him...to be holy and blameless in His sight.” Blameless has to do with how you’re viewed from the outside, no one can pin anything on you because the Judge of the Universe has declared you innocent when you trust Jesus’ blood at the cross cleanses you from all guilt and sin. Col 1:22,  “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation...” To be declared blameless is kind of a legal status, the disposition of the Court of the Universe towards you.
    Holy, or sanctified, on the other hand, goes deeper. We are separated to God’s service, set aside for His use, but even more, by His Holy Spirit “sanctifying” us we come to share His very nature, His essence, His moral purity and innocent goodness. The NIV Study Bible comments on 1Cor 1:2, “Made holy” is done by “(1) being declared holy through faith in Christ’s atoning death on the cross (sometimes called positional sanctification), and (2) being made holy by the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians (sometimes called progressive sanctification).” How are you progressing in holiness? Do you just think you’re in under the wire, or are you learning to walk more thoroughly in Christ’s righteousness, let His Spirit control your thought-life and aspirations?
    4) ADOPTED: v5 “In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ...” We get excited when someone’s about to be adopted into an earthly family – that’s entry into a new relationship of sister or brother, fully a daughter or son, having a new “Mom” and “Dad”! In Ephesus, according to Roman law, even if someone had been a lowly slave beforehand, once they were adopted they were accorded the full legal rights of sons and daughters, just as if they’d been born into the family from the get-go. But God’s adoption is even cooler! Though earthly families may adopt, the new children don’t actually share the biological flesh-and-blood of the parents. But when God adopts us as His children, He transforms us, we’re new creatures, sharing His divine nature in a supernatural way. Believing, you are “in Christ”, and Christ is “in you” (Gal 2:20). As Paul experienced it,  “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, <"Abba,> Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Rom 8:15f)
    5) GRACE - here’s a biggy! John mentions in the prologue to his gospel,  “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:16f) Jesus is “full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14) Paul writes in Eph 1:6, “to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” Also v7b, “the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us...” I love the word “lavish” there! Sort of makes me think of settling down in a big hot-tub full of grace – “lavished.”
    How can we describe grace? One Bible dictionary says it includes “Good will, loving-kindness, mercy...the kindness of a master toward a slave...(by analogy)...the kindness of God to man...Kindness bestowed upon someone undeserving thereof.Hence, undeserved favour, especially that kind or degree of favour bestowed upon sinners through Jesus Christ...Grace...is that unmerited favour of God towards fallen man, whereby, for the sake of Christ...He has provided from man’s redemption.” Justice would mean we sinners get what we deserve - eternal damnation for rejecting and offending an infinitely great and holy God. Grace means we get what we DON’T deserve - to have God’s limitless lovingkindness, mercy, and favour showered upon us quite without meriting it.
    6) REDEMPTION: In the culture of that day, a slave in Ephesus could “buy back” their freedom for a certain amount of money, the ransom-price. Of course, being a slave, property of someone else, not free to do as you wish, how are you ever going to earn that? V7,  “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins...” What provides the “ransom-price”, who pays and with what? “His blood” - Jesus’ blood, His death at the cross. Peter writes,  “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1Pet 1:18f) Don’t value silver or gold or money too highly – in the eyes of eternity, it’s perishable! Jesus’ life poured out for you is what’s truly precious. He paid the price of your freedom.
    V14 mentions “redemption” in a different sense: “until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” meaning our resurrection into glorified spiritual bodies after our death, after all we are now has decayed and dispersed. Jesus bought that privilege of a resurrection body for you too, y’know!
    7) PURPOSE: So many people today lack purpose in life. The secular mindset tempts us to live for the moment, for pleasure, for power, for pride, but sooner or later it all comes up so empty, hollow, vain. When you cut God out of your worldview and try to define meaning by just what you can attain or experience, you lose any universal external absolute reference that could attribute ultimate meaning or tie life’s loose ends together in a purposeful framework. We talked about this earlier this year, and Lisles’ small group is studying it again, in the Truth Project. Vv8-10 NRSV,  “With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ [NIV that He purposed in Christ], as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:8-10 NRSV) God reveals His wisdom and mystery to us, pointing toward the future’s culmination of purpose when Christ is revealed. The Greek behind “to gather up all things in Him” is more literally “to sum up” or (NIV) “to bring...together under one head”; the terminology is like that of summing up a column of figures. Now, I’m a numbers guy, a lover of spreadsheets; at the bottom right of a spreadsheet you can tally both the columns and the rows. In Microsoft Excel or Google Docs you can even tally several spreadsheets into one cell, a “grand total” across several layers or dimensions. Imagine spreadsheets for all the dynamics and principles and relationships in the universe; Paul’s saying that finally, they’ll all tally up in Christ, He’s the infinitely significant “grand sum”. As we gaze at Him in eternity, things will all “add up” or “make sense”. But to appreciate that ultimate purpose requires you to submit the categories of your brain to Biblical truth, how GOD sees things and attributes value.
    V11 also talks about “the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will...” Purpose again, hinting at Romans 8:28, God “working out” all things for the good of those who love Him. Life isn’t just random, by chance, devoid of meaning.
    8) That ties right in with HOPE: Because God isn’t a god of confusion or disorder but purposeful, imbuing life with meaning, we’re not captives of despair but have hope. V10, “[His good pleasure] to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment...” (That is, we’re looking ahead with hope to something that hasn’t happened yet, this ‘fulfilling of the times’ by Christ’s headship.) Also v12, “in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” You can see how this rests on God’s order, will, and purpose: without any master scheme or any transcendent sovereign good and loving Power capable of directing history, it’s hard to have hope. Don’t forget Paul’s shackled, under arrest, due to face trial before a fearsome Roman emperor: yet despite such a daunting prospect and dismal conditions, he abounds with hope.
    9) We said these blessings are all part of a package, they’re ours “in Christ”: God doesn’t want us to desire the gifts apart from the Giver - He delights to give us Himself. This is especially true here in the blessing of the HOLY SPIRIT: v13, “Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit...” Pentecost reached into the dingy prison; Paul wasn’t just accompanied by an armour-clad Roman soldier, there was another Presence there communing with Paul, the Holy Spirit / Comforter / Helper Jesus had promised. Externally, the Spirit is a mark, a seal, a deposit or ‘down payment’, a guarantee. Romans 8:23 refers to the Spirit as a sort of “firstfruits” – advance party of better things to come. 2Cor 1(22),  “[God] set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” This idea of a “seal” comes from communication in olden times when something like a wax seal held documents shut, marked with the signet ring of the king or other sender; such a seal represented security, authenticity, ownership, and authority. No tampering – you’d better not mess with it, or there’d be consequences from the powerful owner! Life Application Bible likens the term here to “a validating signature on the contract”: so the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is a tangible sign of God’s backing for you.
    10) Lastly, INHERITANCE: winding up where we started, in the heavenlies. V14, the Spirit is “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of His glory.” We don’t have that ‘inheritance’ here on earth – it awaits us in heaven. The Holy Spirit is our deposit or guarantee of what we have yet to see and savour. I left my daughter’s wedding dress in Wingham to be sent out for dry cleaning. I have the receipt in my wallet; last week they called to say the dress was back in and I could pick it up. I have full confidence that when I show up and present my receipt I can take possession of what’s being kept for me. Trusting in Christ, we can have that same kind of confidence and sure hope that God has an inheritance kept in heaven for us “that can never perish, spoil, or fade.” (1Pet 1:4)
    So, whatever may be your struggles or circumstances right now in your life – if you came in today wondering HOW you could possibly celebrate “Thanksgiving” this year – there are 10 wonderful blessings the Heavenly Father is pleased to share with you in His Son: CHOSEN - HOLY - BLAMELESS - ADOPTED - GRACE  - REDEMPTION - PURPOSE - HOPE - HOLY SPIRIT - INHERITANCE! Let’s pray.