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Spiritual Blessings in Christ

Date: Sep. 8, 2007

Author: Bob Henkins

Ephesians 1:1-23

Key Verse: Ephesians 1:3

“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.”

Recently many of our friends and coworkers went to Mexico and Africa for summer conferences. I heard that while in Africa, they got to go on a safari. Some even got to see a lion take down a wildebeest. To me that sounds exciting. But the greatest adventure in life is not an exotic safari, a booming business, or the latest movie. Rather, it’s discovering the purpose of our lives. This letter that Paul wrote to the Ephesians answers the question men and women have asked down through the centuries: “Why am I here?” It has to do with eternity, making peace with God and spiritual blessings in Christ. Through this letter we will learn about God’s intentions for his people, and gain insight into God’s plan for us. Are you interested? Good.

Part I. Welcome to Ephesus

The city of Ephesus was located on the southwest coast of what is modern day Turkey. In Paul’s time it was the leading city of the richest region of the Roman Empire. With a population of 250,000, only Rome and Alexandria were larger. Ephesus served as the Roman capital of Asia Minor and was a prosperous trade center. As the primary port city, merchant and cargo ships from all over the Mediterranean delivered goods and passengers as well. Along with its native people, Ephesus was home to Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Jews. The city was multiethnic and full of magic, shamanism and the occult arts, particularly the cult of Artemis.

Paul spent three years of his third missionary journey in Ephesus. He taught the Bible in the hall of Tyranus everyday from 11AM to 4PM for two solid years. During that time, there was heavy opposition but Paul concentrated on the gospel of Jesus and raising disciples. Thus the church in Ephesus was born. Not only that, it flourished and pioneered the seven churches of Asia Minor. It was in Ephesus that Paul caught the vision for reaching the whole Gentile world through Rome. (Acts 19:10, 21) While there, he decided to visit Jerusalem with a journey team and an offering from the Gentile churches so that both Jew and Gentile might be united together in serving God’s world salvation plan.

After returning to Jerusalem, Paul was arrested and sent to Rome where he wrote this letter to the Ephesian Christians around 60 A.D. Paul calls himself an ambassador in chains. He was imprisoned because he accepted and obeyed God's world mission command crossing barriers, preaching and practicing God’s love for all people–Jew and Gentile, slave and free, man and woman. In this Epistle, Paul does not talk about the kind of practical problems of faith and life that he writes about in 1 Corinthians and other New Testament books. Rather he writes about Jesus Christ and about such things as; the "mystery of the gospel," God's great purpose of world redemption, and God’s plan to unite all things through Jesus Christ. The mystery of the gospel is that God loves the whole world, and Jesus died to save the Jews and the Gentiles as well. The Jews had a problem accepting this for they considered the Gentiles as lowly dogs. The church must be a missionary community, always reaching out to the non-Christian world to bring all kinds of people to the saving knowledge of Christ, and into true unity in the body of Christ. Ephesians tells us that we must welcome one another in love, maintain spiritual order, and be fully equipped with spiritual armor and weapons to do battle with our great adversary, the devil. Paul exposed the mystery that had been hidden until Jesus came. This letter is full of encouragement, thanksgiving and praise to the almighty, sovereign, loving God. It is about loving each other and being one in Christ. And at the end Paul asks for prayer that he may fearlessly proclaim the gospel no matter what. As we dive in to the first chapter, Paul begins talking about the abundant spiritual blessings with which God has blessed us in Christ.

Part II. Spiritual blessings in Christ

Let’s read verses 1-3. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 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.” Being in prison, Paul could have been full of self-pity and complaints. He could have complained about God, “Why did God put me here?” He could have complained to God saying, “God, what are you doing to me? After all, I served you faithfully and obeyed your world mission command and what did it get me, a seat in jail.”

It’s true, Paul’s situation was tough, but he didn’t complain. On the contrary, he was full of thanksgiving. How was this possible? He did not think about himself or his situation. Instead he focused his thought on God’s great mystery, concealed down through the ages but now made known. He thought about Jesus and also about the men and women who were faithful in Christ Jesus who lived in Ephesus. So he writes this letter to them. It is full of thanksgiving and hope. How could Paul be so full of thanksgiving and hope? He could be thankful because of the spiritual blessings. Spiritual blessings come from God and from Christ who was raised from the dead and is seated at the right hand of God in the heavenly realms. See Paul thought of heaven not only as a place where believers will live after they die, but also as a spiritual realm. It is the place where God and the Risen Jesus currently live and actively bless us who are in Christ.

In the first 14 verses, “in Christ” or “in him” is repeated 13 times. Spiritual blessings are given “in Christ.” What does it mean to be “in Christ?” Jesus describes our relationship with him as a vine and branch relationship. (Jn 15:5) We are in him and he is in us. We draw our life and strength from Jesus. If we are cut off from him we are spiritually dead. We come to be “in Christ” when we hear and believe the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, and invite Jesus into our hearts. The Holy Spirit works to apply the gospel to our lives. He comes to dwell within us. Read verse 13. “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit....” God’s blessings are God’s grace and they are a source of peace. Thus Paul could be full of peace and thanksgiving because he had spiritual blessings from God. Even if we have all the human and material blessings that we could want or imagine, if we do not have God’s blessings, we cannot be really satisfied and in the end, we have no peace. What, then, are these spiritual blessings that make him so joyful?

First, chosen in Christ. Verse 4 says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” We must look at our lives from God’s perspective not from our own human perspective. The Creator of heaven and earth had a plan for his world before he created it. And he had a plan for each of us. (Ps 139) God knew that the beautiful world he created would become a dirty ugly fallen world because of mankind’s sin. In such a world no one could really be happy. God was not happy either. He could have just walked away and forget about the whole thing or he could dumped it all into a celestial garbage can and started over. But the Bible tells us that he loved this crazy, sinful, mixed up world that became his enemy. So sent his one and only Son to suffer and die for the people of the world. He made a plan to save and redeem fallen mankind and to unite all things in him. He chose us to be a part of this great, all encompassing plan. What an amazing spiritual blessing. The big picture is in God’s mind, but he starts with us one by one. God chose us in Jesus before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. We weren’t holy and blameless when he chose us. We aren’t holy and blameless now. And the last time I checked we are still sinners. Yet God chose us in Christ. Through Christ he is working to make us holy and blameless. He chose us to participate in his great plan to bring all people to himself. He did this for the praise of his glory.

God began his redemptive plan in the Old Testament by choosing one man, Abraham. He promised to bless him and make him a blessing. Abraham was not holy or blameless, but he believed God’s promises. God chose one nation, Israel out of all nations on earth to be his treasured possession. He wanted to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They failed, but God did not fail. God sent Jesus the Messiah through them. Jesus chose his disciples. They did not volunteer. But they accepted his choosing and his call and they followed him. It doesn’t stop there, God chose all of us. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” God chose Paul and said, “This man is my chosen instrument. To carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”(Ac 9:15-16) Paul did not volunteer to be an apostle to the Gentiles. He didn’t even like Gentiles because he was a legalistic Jew. As a Pharisee he stayed away from Gentiles as far as possible but he obeyed God’s calling. When he did so, God blessed him and the world through him. God chose each of us in Christ to participate in his world redemption plan. God chose Mike M. to be part of our church. Mike did not volunteer. I can assure you that. Still God chose him and appointed him to be faithful to that calling. Sometimes being God’s chosen people is a blessing that is hard to bear.

Second, predestined. (4b-5) “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ...What does predestined mean? It means “To decide in advance.” The Bible says that God predestined us in love. In His love he decided in advance to adopt us as sons and we become children of God and heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Some people don’t like the word, “predestined or predestination.” They don’t like it that God “predestines” people because they feel stuck and as if they have no choice. At the same time, they fatalistically think that they are predetermined by their parents’ genes or by fatalistic family circumstances or because something bad happened to them as children. Sometimes people excuse their sinful life-style saying, “I can’t do anything about it, for this is the way I was made.” So they accept the concept of predestination when it suits them. These fatalistic ideas plant despair and hopelessness in one’s heart. But the sovereign God predestines us in love to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ. He alone can break the chains of fatalism. If we belong to the Sovereign God then none of our past history can make us slaves. When we accept the sovereignty of our loving God we are set free from fatalism. In his sovereign wisdom, our God gives us freedom to choose to follow Jesus or freedom to reject his love. Our sovereign God works to accomplish his good purpose in us and in the world. He works to make us holy and blameless in his sight. He works through the mighty power by which raised Jesus from the dead. God is good and he loves us. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Ro 8:28) When we accept God’s sovereignty and know that God is good and the fact that He is powerful, then we can get rid of fatalistic ways of looking at life and predestination is not a problem.

“In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons.” (4b-5a) Adoption to sonship was a Roman concept. An adopted son has the same rights and privileges as a natural son. As God’s sons and daughters we have an inheritance that will never perish spoil or fade, kept in heaven for us. If we don’t want this blessing, we are free to reject it and live as spiritual beggars without hope in the world. Adoption as sons and daughters is God’s grace. It means that we have a love relationship with the Creator God. To know that our lives are in the hands of a loving, almighty God is a great spiritual blessing. Our God does not rob us of free will. He gives us freedom to accept or reject his love and grace.

Third, Redeemed. Look at verses 6-7. “to the praise of his glorious grace which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.What does redemption mean? It means “to repurchase something sold.” Redemption is a spiritual blessing that sets us free. We were living as slaves to sin. The Bible says that whoever sins is a slave to sin. Slaves are not free. They serve a harsh taskmaster. A sinful habit takes hold of us and refuses to let go. We think that we are free if we do whatever we feel like doing. But this is the devil’s deception. We think that following the desires of our sinful nature is a mark of freedom, but soon we find that this is slavery and it makes us miserable, like drug addiction for example. Sin is a very demanding master and it does not let us go. But God redeemed us through the blood of Jesus. Peter says, “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. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but revealed in these last times for (our) sakes...so our faith and hope are in God.” (1Pe 1:18-21) Thank God who purchased us with the blood of Jesus freeing us from our sinful way of life.

Fourth, Forgiven. Read verses 7-8. “We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace which he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.What is forgiveness? It is the act of excusing a mistake or offense. Forgiveness is a spiritual blessing that brings peace. God is wise and understanding. He knows what we really need. We need to be forgiven and to forgive as well. He gives us wisdom and understanding so that we may realize the importance of being forgiven and forgiving others. David was a king and a successful general. He wrote, “Blessed is the man whose sins are forgiven.” (Ps 32) David realized that his achievements did not satisfy him or make him happy. He found that forgiveness is the best blessing. It is through receiving God’s grace of forgiveness that we receive and know God’s love. God’s love and grace fill our hearts with inexpressible joy.

Fifth, Hope–and a mystery revealed. See verses 9-10. “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” God’s great hope for the world was a mystery until Jesus came.(18) Now, the mystery of his will is made known. His plan is to unite all things in Christ. Our hope is in Christ who saves us by his gospel and gives us the Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance in heaven. (11-12) We are in God’s kingdom and God’s kingdom is in us. The mystery revealed gives us a sure hope. Christ is enthroned in heaven and he is enthroned in our hearts. He is enthroned in his church. People must have hope. When we have no hope, we despair. We sometimes grasp false hopes and these false hopes keep us going for a little while, like the hope of making money and living the American dream, or the hope of finding the perfect mate. But these hopes, if we can even achieve them, don’t last or give us real peace or satisfaction. The real hope, hope that does not disappoint us, is hope in God. God is a god of hope and he invites us to share his hope.

III. Thanksgiving and prayer topics

First, Thanksgiving. Read verse 15.”For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in all my prayers.” Paul was thankful because the believers in Ephesus had strong faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He was thankful because they loved each other and their love extended to all kinds of believers everywhere. Paul prayed for them and was full of thanks. He had no place for complaints and no room to feel sorry for himself.

Second, prayer topics. Paul has two prayer topics for them and for us. Firstly, That we may be given a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we may know God better. Verse 17 says: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better.” To know Jesus is to know the Father God. (This is the theme of the Bible club this year) Near the end of his life, Paul wrote, “I want to know Christ.” Surely he knew Jesus but he still wanted to know him better. I want to know God better too. May God give all of us this spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we may know him better.

His second prayer topic is in verse 18. Let’s read verse 18. “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Our spiritual eyes are often blinded by the things of the world. Sometimes they are blinded by our own ambition, greed or lust. Isaiah and Jesus said that we have eyes but cannot see and ears but cannot hear (Isa 6:9,10; Jn 12:40). Though we are Christians and have tasted the goodness of God’s grace and love, still we are easily deceived by the devil. We become spiritually blind. We put our hopes in false messiahs. So we too must pray for ourselves, our students, and our children that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened. May God help us to see the incomparable value of spiritual blessings.

Third, the power source of all spiritual blessings. The power source of all spiritual blessings is the power of God who raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus died to defeat the devil and God raised him from the dead and enthroned him at the right hand of God to claim and consolidate that victory. Look at verses 19-23. “...and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Sometimes when we see the news or hear of disasters, we wonder what is going on. The world looks as if it is spinning out of control where wrong is accepted as right and right is considered wrong. Some people don’t even want to have children because they don’t want them to have to live in our world. But praise Jesus who is seated at God’s right hand in heaven. Praise God who has placed everything under Jesus’ feet and appointed him head over everything in the present age and in the age to come. Praise God, the giver of every spiritual blessing.

In today’s passage we see God’s wonderful blessings for us all. He blessed us by choosing us, predestining us as sons, redeeming us from sin, forgiving us from that sin, and giving us hope in the heavenly realm. Let’s thank God for his one sided grace and rejoice in the knowledge of our salvation in Jesus. May God open our hearts to accept his word and be a blessing in our generation.

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