Ephesians 1:1-15 – Sermon Manuscript

PLEASE NOTE: these are the notes I use to preach from, if you would like to hear them in context, please watch our YouTube video.

-If you didn’t know, I love to read, I have for years! I used to sneak books into my bed and stay up late just trying to get through as many books as I could. My favorite books when I was in elementary school were mysteries. Read every Hardy Boys, The Happy Hollisters, slowly moved my way up to reading all of the Sherlock Holmes books, and Father Brown by GK Chesterton (also a BBC series that was wonderful). I think part of the reason mysteries are always an enjoyable read is they provide clear explanations for events, and we like certainty! 

-Think about being a kid, the most frustrating thing to be told is “because I said so!” and we all swear we won’t say it to our kids, and then we have kids! We all want to know with certainty how things work. We invest in the stock market because we know it’s going to work. We go to our jobs because we know we’re going to be paid. But what about things you don’t completely understand? 

-Did you know we understand and have studied more about the surface of the moon than the bottom of the ocean? We have found creatures thought to be extinct for millions of years in fishing expeditions. Even the new James Webb space telescope is revealing things that scientists are now being forced to change their thoughts about how the known world came into existence.

-We love certainty about things, but we worship a God that we can’t fully understand. Since we’ve been taught to figure out how everything works (including unsolvable mysteries) we tend to approach God the same way. We’re going to spend some time today plumbing the depths of God’s mysterious plan from all eternity past. And we’ll walk out of here reminded that when we come to something we can’t understand, it’s our cue to fall on our face and worship.

READ/PRAY

  1. Introduction (1-2)

-Start right out of the gate listing who wrote this letter.  Now there has been some debate in the past 2 centuries about whether or not Paul actually wrote it (some unique words compared to his other letters, and a quarter of it is nearly verbatim re-recorded in Colossians). I don’t find those arguments convincing (and neither should you!), because wouldn’t you use similar language on a regular basis, and at the same time, don’t you try to accommodate your message to the people you’re talking to? Not saying you change the truth, but you do use different language based on the group.

-Apostle. 1st century, limited to those who had seen the risen Christ. Literally refers to a messenger, in the NT generally refers to someone sent by God to spread the gospel message. Who is he an apostle/messenger of?

-Jesus Christ. The whole Bible is about God’s revelation through Christ Jesus, Paul in this letter explains the reality of Christ Jesus being the focus of our entire lives. Keep that theme in mind throughout the next 3 months through this book!

-“Will of God.” Paul didn’t come up with this call or commission from his own desire or gifting, this comes straight from God. This theme will also carry throughout the book, God’s will from eternity past has been to unity a people to Himself for His glory. God’s sovereignty (power and authority) over everything in creation is where Paul begins this letter and sets the stage for the implications of that in the rest of the letter.

-“Saints” or lit. “holy ones” Often when we read something like this we think of those who have been “sainted” by RCC, but throughout the NT anyone who is “In Christ” are saints! 

-“in Ephesus” At the time, 3rd biggest city in the Roman Empire, strategically placed as the intersection of 4 main roads, and a port city. This means it was incredibly wealthy and a center of commerce and influence in the rest of the world. A couple notes about it.

-Had a huge temple, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world, to Artemis/Diana, was 4 times the size of the Parthenon! While Diana was the most prevalent, she wasn’t the only god worshipped. Lots of magic and cultic ideas pervaded Ephesus. Not dissimilar to a major city today! Think of a New York or Hong Kong.

-Also knows as the “mother of Asia” as Ephesus served as the entry point to the rest of the continent. Most scholars believe this was meant to serve as a circular letter, since Ephesus was the entry point, word would travel from there to the rest of Asia. 

-Typical Pauline greeting: grace (Greek) peace (Jewish).

  • Chosen by the Father (3-6)

-These verses (3-14) are the longest run-on sentence we’ve found in any ancient Greek literature. This means all these verses are connected together, for Paul there’s no distinction in how all 3 persons of the Godhead are involved in salvation. 

-“Blessed be.” This is a Jewish custom called berekah, Hebrew word for blessed be. In the first century, Jews had 18 different “blessed be’s” they would recite throughout the day.

-Notice the repetition here: blessed be God, blessed us, with spiritual blessings. We bless God, because He first blessed us with specific blessings. Even the worship and praise of God originates with Him. We can’t bless God unless He first blesses us, which has happened through Jesus. 

-And how many spiritual blessings? Every single one. I think we are at times tempted to view God like Scrooge from “A Christmas Story,” counting every penny and ensuring no one gets too much. Instead, the picture we’re seeing here is of a God who’s throwing out blessing like it’s running out of style! Or like Oprah, you get a blessing, you get a blessing, blessings for everyone! There is nothing held back, nothing kept in reserves, God is all in on his blessings. But where are these blessings? I look at my life and I don’t always feel like it’s overflowing with blessings, still sickness, people dying, wars.

-“Heavenly places” The first century readers would have understood there’s more to the world than we can see with our 2 eyes. There’s a greater reality taking place around us all the time that we are often oblivious to.

-Think of it like the radio waves. Everywhere we walk there are radio waves that are passing through us, but we can’t hear them. But if we got a radio and turned it on, then tuned it to a specific frequency we would be able to listen to music, talk radio, etc. Is that too dated of a reference now? Cell phones! 

-How do we tune to the right station, or make sure our cell phone is connected to the right network? Spiritually, we need to be “in Christ.” That theme is the connective tissue throughout this section. Paul repeats “In him/Christ” 11 times in these first 14 verses! “The ley for understanding this letter is recognizing that all believers have a new identity in Christ.” (ECNT, 79)

-When did this being “In Christ” begin? When God chose us “before the foundation of the world.”

-From eternity past, God had a perfect plan that included the salvation of His people. But notice as well that there is a point to this choosing: to be holy and blameless before Him. Do not get that order reversed! God didn’t choose us because we were holy and blameless, or because of anything we’d done that merited His favor, we were chosen only because of His grace. Then because of that grace we can now be holy and blameless before Him.

-This isn’t a new reality, this has been God’s plan literally forever. That’s why we seen glimpses of this even in the OT. Abraham wasn’t chosen because he was richer, smarter or better, the nation of Israel wasn’t chosen because of anything they did (in fact God said they were the smallest and weakest nation!) it’s only because of God’s love and mercy that anyone is chosen.

-Next, we see a word that has caused all sorts of discussions over the past 2 millennia: predestination! I’ve even been told from some people that predestination is unbiblical! Not sure what Bible they were reading, but it wasn’t this one! Predestination is a wonderfully biblical and comforting doctrine! But before you jump to any conclusions on this, let’s look at the what the Bible actually says about it. 

-First, what are last 2 words of vs. 4? “In love.” This predestination isn’t (as I’ve heard some people describe) God playing a cosmic game of duck, duck, grey duck where people are randomly condemned to hell for eternity. Instead, since God is love (1 John 4:8) everything He does is an act of love. We need to tremble with fear as we come into discissions about God because we need to admit we’ll never fully comprehend Him (if we could, He wouldn’t be a God worth worshipping). 

-AW Tozer Knowledge of the Holy If we get God wrong, we’ll be conforming our lives to the wrong standard and aiming in the completely wrong direction. 

-Additionally, because we’re not God, we have a “mystery” card to play! But don’t play it too soon, wrestle with everything God has said and revealed, but then when you come the point of mystery, fall on your face and worship Him because “his ways are not your ways, and His thoughts are not your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8-9)

-Predestination (προορίζω) lit. translated “to foreordain or predestine.” Evangelical Dictionary of Theologydefines it as ““God’s predetermination of persons to a specific end…an aspect of God’s rule over all that he created and sustains.” (693) It’s only used 6 times in the NT, let’s look at all of them to see what it means.

Acts 4:27-28

Prayer of the believers asking for boldness to continue preaching. Begins “Sovereign Lord…” quotes Psalm 2, then goes here. This tells us that even worldly events happen according to God’s predetermination.

Romans 8:28-30 The Golden Chain of salvation!

-In salvation, we are predestined individually, notice the purpose to which we are predestined (to be conformed, aka “In Christ”). Predestination is just 1 part of the chain that culminates in glorification. This passage tells us that salvation comes about because of God’s predetermination.

1 Cor 2:7

-Paul here is talking about Christ being the power and wisdom of God, which according to worldly standards is foolish. Here we see that salvation through the cross was God’s plan before history was written. The only other passage is Eph. 1 where it occurs twice.

What we see throughout Scripture is 2 things: 1 – God is completely sovereign, in control of everything that happens. 2 – humans are completely responsible for their actions. How does this work in God’s economy? Mystery! We must only go as far as the Bible explicitly speaks, and no further! 

-I think this is most evidenced in: Acts 13:48. Somehow and some way humans are responsible for their belief, and God is sovereignly orchestrating all things. Think of the end of Joseph’s story: Genesis 50 – You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.

-All that to say, when we read “predestined” in our Bibles, it’s meant to comfort us. It’s supposed to be a pillow, not a sledge hammer. Since God is in control we can actually sleep at night! Not worry and fret about whether or not we’re “predestined.”

-Charles Spurgeon was asked how to reconcile God’s sovereignty and human’s responsibility, and he replied, “I never reconcile two friends.” Another pastor was asked about this “problem” and he replied, “That’s not my problem. That’s God’s problem. And for God, it’s not a problem.”

-Where does predestination lead? “To adoption as sons”

-Adoption is a beautiful reality throughout the Bible. It means we have all the rights and privileges of being in God’s family. Maybe you have friends who have adopted, they see a cute little baby who needs a home and brings them in. However, spiritual adoption isn’t quite like that, because God adopts us when we’re enemies who are opposed to Him. There’s nothing cute or lovely about us, we’re literally at war with Him, but in spite of that God still chooses us.

-Sons doesn’t mean women are left out. But we need to understand the context this is written in. In the 1st century women weren’t included in a family inheritance. I’m not saying that’s right, that was just what happened! Throughout the NT, when adoption or an inheritance comes up it will say something like this “as sons” which would have been revolutionary, since it included men and women! In God’s family, we’re all considered “sons” or worthy or receiving the family inheritance.

-And all of this is done according to “His will” and leads to his glory. Certainly more that could be said, but we’ve got more to cover! In the next section Paul shows us how we saved.

  • Redeemed by the Son (7-12)

-“In Him” again, we have redemption. 

-Comes “through His blood”, leads to “forgiveness,” comes about because of “the riches of his grace.” 

-This redemption is meant to remind the readers of the redemption that God had done for his people historically. Just as God had redeemed his people from slavery in Egypt, today God has redeemed his people from the slavery to sin. But redemption only comes about if we are “In Christ” if his blood has covered us and paid the penalty for our sin. This is known as grace, which has been:

-“lavished upon us.” (8) Once again, God isn’t stingy! We see this in John 1 through God we receive “grace upon grace” God starts with grace and ends with grace, everything we have is a gift of God’s grace to us.

-This grace is how God has revealed to us the “mystery of his will.” 

-Magic and the occult was a big part of the Ephesian culture. Trying to understand the mysteries of the gods, how to appease them, how to use them to get what you wanted and need from them when you needed it, never quite knowing if you were in the right place or doing the right thing. Yet when you’re “in Christ” you’re now a part of that mystery, which is no longer a mystery! God’s mysterious plan has already taken place! That’s part of the joy of living on this side of the cross! We can look back and see how it is that God accomplished his eternal plan by sending His one and only Son to bear the penalty for the sins of the world, and “unite all things in Him.” That is to have Jesus be the ultimate King over any other supposed ruler or king that people were tempted to worship.

-Notice that there is nothing left out from His rule: heaven and earth. Another reminder that what we taste, see, smell isn’t all there is.

-“In Him” we also have an inheritance! All of us, sons and daughters, because we’re in Christ no one is left out of this blessing, this grace upon grace where God gives us everything He has created.

-Again, there’s the predestination that serves to remind us that God is in control, so we don’t need to be afraid. To God, nothing is a mystery! And finally, we see the aim of Jesus’ redemption: “to the praise of His glory.” We are saved to bring honor and glory to God. Everything in salvation is meant to lead us to respond to God with praise, or blessing. We see this throughout the Psalms (including the one we read as the call to worship), “Bless the Lord”

-I titled this message “Trinitarian worship” We’ve seen that we should bless God the Father because He chose us before anything was created, He accomplished this choosing through the Son’s redemption, and we know this is guaranteed to happen because we have been sealed by the Spirit.

  • Sealed by the Sprit (13-14)

-Are you starting to see the theme I mentioned earlier? “In him.” WHEN you heard…and believed. The exact moment when you respond to the truth of the gospel message and believe “in him,” you are given the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead living in you.

-Because God now lives within us “in Christ,” Jesus even said during His earthly ministry that it was better for Him to leave so that we could have the Spirit in us. In salvation, the Spirit serves as the “seal” or “guarantee” During the NT, a seal was used to make ownership. Animals would be “sealed” (think of brand on some cattle you may have seen today) It served as an identification, so if someone else tried to come take it they wouldn’t be able to! The Holy Spirit in us identifies us as God’s chosen ones.

-This seal serves as the starting point, the taste, of everything that will be fully realized when Jesus finally comes back. We haven’t yet completely acquired everything God has promised, we see glimpses of it, but it’s not quite there yet. John Stott compares this to a down payment on a house. You scrimp and save for years to get that down payment, which then serves as the guarantee that you’re invested, but it’s also the first payment of the loan. Similarly, the Holy Spirit serves as the down payment of our future inheritance.

-“to the praise of His glory.” All of life is meant to be lived as worship to God. Plumbing the depths of God’s eternal plan is worthless unless it leads to greater appreciation and worship of God, who predetermined from eternity past to choose in, redeem us, and seal us by His Spirit. Yet that doesn’t leave us off the hook for the choices we make. Every person has a choice to make: when will you bow the knee to Christ as the Savior and King of the universe? Will it be before you die, when that means you’ll be sealed by the Spirit and be adopted into God’s family, or will it be after you die when it will be too late, and you’ll be separated from God forever? 

-In Christ:

-Each of us must make the decision about whether or not we will be in Christ. Don’t let this opportunity pass by you! Realize that God’s mysterious plan has been revealed, and you can be a part of it! You don’t have to know the mystery, you have the trust in the God to whom nothing is a mystery.

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