What's God Done for You Lately?
Please read Ephesians 1:1-14 in your favorite Bible. I've used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.
God has done everything for us to inherit eternal life in heaven and abundant life on Earth.
I’d like you to take the message title as a question to you personally. Ask yourself, “What has God done for me lately?” How quickly can you come up with an answer? When good things happen to you, do you tend to think of yourself as “lucky” or would you say you are “blessed?” The difference between those two words is essential because “luck” is a concept associated with a God-less world view. To be “blessed” is to have faith and acknowledge that God is in charge. There is no such thing as luck.
Rev. Michael Cartwright posed this question and here’s how he answered it: “I will mention a few blessings from the last few days:
(May 11, 2007) One of the Managers for the Target stores in Southern California named Jeremy just gave me a free brand new Casio G Shock wrist watch. I did nothing but bring my old Casio watch in to get a new battery and the lady did not know how to put it back together. God blessed me with a new watch.
The same day I went to pick up a mechanic named Larry to work on a car that belonged to my employer named Bob, I explained to him about my Internet Ministry and how I am going to pick up a computer router over the weekend so that I can have high bandwidth. Larry reached over behind a table and under a pile of stuff he handed me a free router.
May 12, 2007, an air conditioner technician named Clarence came over to my home and he handed me a reasonable bill for $150.00 for parts and labor which I paid in cash. We were talking about our faith and what a blessing we are to each other and he gave me back $50.00.
(May 14, 2007) As I stepped out of my vehicle this evening, I was just outside of my home thanking my next door neighbor who lives on the left side of my home for helping me with his remote control to open the gate since my remote control needed batteries.
At the same time my other next door neighbor Walter who lives on the right side of my home who has a wonderful wife and family approached me and asked me to not go anywhere as he went back into his garage. He came right back out and handed me a $20.00 bill and told me that he found it in my front yard yesterday and wanted to give it to me.”
How would you like to have a week like that? Here’s how Rev. Cartwright summed it up: “To some people these may not seem to be big blessings, but to me and God every blessing is a big deal because it shows how God keeps His promises to bless you in everything.”
I once listened to a lengthy testimony from a guy who was convinced God helped him find morel mushrooms, leading him step by step through the woods. The testimony was rather like following a treasure map! These men are to be commended for the attitude of gratitude they are showing, but I wonder about one thing: do they see the big picture too?
I wonder if we have faith enough to see God at work in the more important matters of eternal life? Do we have faith to see God is in charge when disease strikes, when we’re flat broke, when we feel lonely, when adversities pile up? Do we sense God’s leading in all these circumstances of life?
Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus, a city where he’d made new disciples and founded churches. He wrote to encourage them that God is in charge of all life’s events, ups and downs included. He wanted them to have faith to see that God’s eye is on both the details and the big picture; that He is actively working to bring all of it into conformity with His master plan for humanity.
CONTEXT: Ephesians 1:1+2 sets the stage for what is to come in the letter. We can note some themes in the first two verses:
One, Paul established his authority to write them not on his having founded the church, but on a higher level: the commission of CHRIST JESUS BY THE WILL OF GOD.
Two, Paul identified his target audience: TO THE SAINTS IN EPHESUS, THE FAITHFUL IN CHRIST JESUS. This looks like two ways of saying the same thing, but I take it to be a two-fold greeting. It’s as if Paul wrote, “To the church in Ephesus and believers in the Ephesus metro area.”
The city of Ephesus was an important city in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. It was a junction for land and sea trade routes for what we call Asia Minor, in modern Turkey.
God’s strategy in spreading the Church in Asia Minor was to start at Ephesus and fan out to other cities along the roads built by local governors to improve trade and impress their Roman rulers.
Three; using his typical greeting of GRACE and PEACE, Paul set forth two of the major themes of the letter. He used the word GRACE 95 times in his letters, twelve of them in Ephesians. PEACE is one of the great blessings of faith; Paul used the word eight times in Ephesians.
Paul wrote this letter six or seven years after he last visited the city. In this letter he is doing everything he can to reassure the former pagans that their fate is not determined by the impersonal, unfeeling stars or any whimsy of false gods. Instead, their hope is safe in the hands of the one true God.
1. God has blessed you with every blessing (3).
In the Jewish culture of that time, the matter of blessing someone was very important. A blessing directed to God was called a berakah. Paul’s blessing of God is unusually long - it was written as one sentence 202 words long! In it, He blesses the Lord for the way He’s blessed us with a plan of salvation. He began with two general statements:
First, God has BLESSED US IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS. Rather than referring to a place you can find on a map, Paul’s reference to HEAVENLY REALMS is similar to Jesus’ use of the phrase, Kingdom of God. It is more a state of being and a sphere of authority than a place.
Two, God has BLESSED us WITH EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING. Some may prefer earthly kinds of blessings, but the best things in life are not discerned by the five senses.
2. God chose you (4 + 11).
He CHOSE you early - BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD. God chooses individuals to do particular parts of His plan. People like Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, and Peter are examples of God’s choosing. This term is also used in a broader sense, that God chose the nation of Israel and the Church to be His covenant partners. The fact that He made His choices BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD indicates that God - in His wisdom and power - formed a plan of salvation long before it was needed!
He CHOSE you for a reason - TO BE HOLY AND BLAMELESS IN HIS SIGHT. To be chosen is an undeserved honor. (As we will see, the word GRACE figures prominently in this passage and in the letter overall.) God has His reasons for choosing some people, but none of them have to do with our worthiness or His need: neither of those things really exists.
Instead, God chooses us in order that we might become HOLY and BLAMELESS. (See also 5:27.) God, by calling us into service, makes us HOLY. The word HOLY means set apart from everyday, worldly, and especially from sinful purposes to be used by God. God, by forgiving our sins, makes BLAMELESS. This is a moral perfection made possible by the complete forgiveness. God does these things because He is creating for Himself a people all His own. He is qualifying us to be part of His Church.
The key phrase is IN HIS SIGHT. No matter how you or I may feel about ourselves; no matter what lies the devil may feed us to discourage us into thinking we are unholy and full of blame, what’s true in the mind of God is absolutely true. You can rely on that!
The word CHOSEN in v. 11 can also be translated as “made heirs,” referring to our adoption into the divine family. More on that next.
3. God predestined you (4-6 + 11).
Because He loves you, God PREDESTINED you to be adopted into His family. The word PREDESTINED is used to explain how God CHOSE us even before the world was created. He set our destiny before the events that brought us into being! PREDESTINED is a popular word among theologians, but occurs only six times in the Bible (see Romans 8:29-30 and 1 Corinthians 2:7). For the benefit of theological readers, let me offer this statement: in thinking about how God saves us, we can emphasize free will and suffer the loss of eternal security or emphasize sovereignty and enjoy the security of eternal life based on grace, not works.
Adoption into God’s family is one of Paul’s favorite metaphors for salvation, which is a little surprising. Adoption was a common custom in Greek and Roman law, but there are no laws or teaching regarding it in the Old Testament, only a passing mention in Esther 2:15. His use of this metaphor says something positive about Paul’s use of the Gentile culture to communicate the Gospel.
This is an image of affection and deep relationship that illustrates God’s choosing. After all, adopted children are chosen, and then welcomed into the family.
This is also a forward-looking image because according to Roman & Greek law, adopted sons become legal HEIRS of the father (v. 11). This is meant to reassure us that we have a future and it is a very good one.
Your predestination gives Him PLEASURE because it fulfills His WILL and because He loves you. That’s a feeling we can all understand: how it pleases us when things go acc. to plan. Although in God’s case, I suspect it is a PLEASURE that is less self-centered. Because He loves us, God is pleased to think about us as spending eternity with Him.
As an aside, it bothers me when we downgrade the joy that the Bible says is supposed to accompany a genuine faith. Paul teaches that the whole process is effused with joy: he wrote that God took PLEASURE in choosing us and we enjoy the blessings His choosing imparts to us.
He predestined you by means of HIS GLORIOUS GRACE, which He FREELY gave us by means of Jesus (the ONE HE LOVES). What this implies about Jesus is that He was present with God the Father before creation and that He was a party to our being chosen. Jesus is God the Son.
GRACE is undeserved favor. It is God giving us what we don’t deserve, because death is the only outcome sinners deserve. The word FREELY helps us under-stand the word GRACE. There is no way we can earn God’s choosing us. We don’t deserve to be part of the family, but we are. God’s GRACE is GLORIOUS in the sense that it directs our attention to God. As the highest good, God deserves our attention and has earned our PRAISE. All this was according to God’s PLAN, the one that works all things to conform to His WILL.
4. God redeemed you (7-8, 14).
God accomplished redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross: His shed BLOOD. In a culture where slavery was widely practiced, REDEMPTION is a commonly understood term. In our culture, less so.
A person became a slave if they were captured during a war, or more commonly, as an item to be sold to pay off one’s debts. (Instead of holding a rummage sale or going to a pawn shop, an indebted person avoided prison by selling one’s self or children into slavery.) Death brought an end to one’s servitude, but it could be accomplished sooner by financial means. If someone paid off the debt, the slave was set free. That payment is the “redemption price.”
The Bible lists several “owners” to which we were in slavery:
Our own sin nature and human nature hold us in bondage to sin.
The “darkness” of sin and willful ignorance of God.
God redeemed us from these three “masters” through the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus paid the price for our lives by giving His own. He is our saving substitute, sacrificing Himself that we might live. Thanks to Him, we do not have to face God’s wrath onf Judgment Day.
This redemption was an act of GRACE. It is so good, His salvation is “rich.” There is nothing lacking in God’s GRACE. He is completely able to save. You can trust God’s power. It is so generous, God LAVISHED it on us. God is not stingy with His grace, He loves to a degree beyond our ability to understand. You can trust God’s generous character. God’s GRACE is evidence of His WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING and/or part of GRACE is bestowing WISDOM and UNDERSTANDING on us. In either case, GRACE is not at all like our overly-permissive, child-centered parenting; it produces change and growth. You can trust God to challenge you to mature as He provides all you need to achieve it.
5. God revealed His plan to you (9-11).
The MYSTERY is revealed; it was there all the time. The phrase “hidden in plain sight” comes to mind. From before creation on to our own time, God is graciously making His will known to His people. One means of His self-revelation is the Bible. We understand that the Bible is God’s “progressive revelation;” that means that God did not reveal all of His plan to save humanity in the first chapters of Genesis. As time progressed and throughout the pages of the Bible, more of his plan was revealed. Paul understood Jesus Christ as being the important piece to the puzzle, the key to understanding the Old Testament and preparing for the future.
Here's that word PLEASURE again (vs. 5+9). This word measures the joy God has in loving and saving people.
We are informed again, God the Father accomplished His will through God the Son. Paul clarified this in three verses.
In verse seven, the phrase THROUGH HIS BLOOD refers to the sacrifice, the physical means that makes salvation, the fulfillment of God’s plan, possible. In verse nine, the phrase WHICH HE PURPOSED IN CHRIST identifies Jesus as the “linchpin” or “keystone” of God the Father’s redemptive plan. To emphasize this point, Paul used three different words which can be translated as PLAN.
In verse ten, the phrase TO BRING ALL THINGS…UNDER ONE HEAD, EVEN CHRIST looks ahead to the Second Coming, the event that will bring history to a close and complete the plan of God. On that day, all rebellion and sin will come to an end, this current version of reality being replaced. The paradise lost in the Garden of Eden will be regained and established for all eternity.
That is such a big promise, a universe-sized vision, that it can be difficult to believe. But this passage is about HOPE (12) and about describing all that God has done for us. We are being informed that God’s plan looks forward to complete fulfillment; we live in a time when we are God’s partners in bringing it to pass.
Verse eleven seems to serve as a restatement of Paul’s points in this section; here he repeats vs. 4-6+10, emphasizing that all these promises are what God intended to do all along, even before creation (4). Notice the word EVERYTHING. Our hope is that all things will be made new in Jesus Christ.
6. God sealed His promises with the Holy Spirit (11-14).
God’s plan fulfills the promises He made to His people Israel, to the Jews: WE WHO WERE THE FIRST TO HOPE IN CHRIST (12). Here Paul simply notes the historical events coming to pass in his own lifetime: Jesus was a Jew and considered His mission to be to His own people. When the Church was formed, it was primarily made up of Jewish people, centered in Jerusalem, and continued to support temple worship and other Jewish traditions.
However, God’s plan always included the non-Jews (Gentiles); He always intended to save all people: AND YOU ALSO WERE INCLUDED IN CHRIST (13). The means of the Gentiles’ inclusion: YOU HEARD THE WORD OF TRUTH and BELIEVED.
God the Father’s plan features the God the Holy Spirit (14). The HOLY SPIRIT is a SEAL. In Paul’s world, a SEAL was a mark of ownership. Seals were often made of stone or precious metal that had some kind of image engraved in them. When pressed in hot wax, the seal left an impression that identified the owner. In our time, a brand on cattle, a trademark, copyright, signature, or fingerprint are ways we record identity and/or ownership. When we truly believe, the Holy Spirit is given to us and His presence is indicated by Spiritual Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit, along with a change of character. This is God the Father’s SEAL on us.
The HOLY SPIRIT is a DEPOSIT, GUARANTEEING OUR INHERITANCE. Think of a “downpayment” or “earnest money” in modern financial transactions. These are ways of validating a commitment to keep a promise.
Think of it! God has no need to make a DEPOSIT; by faith we should take Him at His word. And yet, He offers part of Himself; God the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that all He has promised will come to pass. This also means God has not left us alone to sweat out the time between promise and fulfillment; He is with us.
The ultimate end of all of this is THE PRAISE OF [God’s] GLORY (v. 14; also vs. 6+12). God’s GLORY is another way of referring to His presence among His people. When the Bible talks about giving GLORY TO GOD, it means making Him known, sensing His presence, and responding to Him appropriately.
In the Bible, God’s presence is referred to in various ways:
As THUNDER (Psalms 29:3; 33:22).
As bright radiance (Ezekiel 1:28).
As a bright cloud (Exodus 40:34-35).
As unapproachable and invisible LIGHT (1 Timothy 6:16).
To PRAISE God is to sense His presence, recognize Him for who He is, and to make Him known to others. It is worship.
Let’s review the four truths we’ve learned:
One, God is in charge; His plan is unfolding as He directs and will one day result in the salvation of all creation.
Two, God is at work; His plan was set into motion even before the world was created. He took full inititiative and chose us for salvation.
Three, God will succeed; His plan to restore the paradise lost in the Garden of Eden will completely come to pass, with universal effect.
Four, Jesus Christ is God. God the Son helped God the Father formulate the plan and is central in its success. God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity is the worldly evidence that identifies those whom God has chosen and encourage them to trust that all promises will be kept.
“The story is told of Dr. Christianson, Professor of Religion at a small college in the western United States. Dr. Christianson taught the required course in Christianity.
“He found that most of his students looked upon the course as nothing but required drudgery. Despite his best efforts, most students refused to take Christianity seriously.
“One year, Dr. Christianson made a special arrangement with a popular student named Steve who was studying with the intent of going on to seminary for the ministry. When class started, the professor pulled out a big box of donuts: the extra fancy big kind, with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone was pretty excited it because was Friday, the last class of the day, and they were going to get some delicious donuts.
“Dr. Christianson went to the first girl in the first row and asked, ‘Cynthia, do you want to have one of these donuts?’
“Cynthia said, "Yes."
“Dr. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, ‘Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?’
"’Sure.’ Steve jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten. Dr. Christianson put a donut on Cynthia's desk.
“Dr. Christianson then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, ‘Joe, do you want a donut?’
“Joe said, ‘Yes.’ Dr. Christianson asked, "Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?"
“Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut. And so it went, down the first aisle, Steve did ten pushups for every person before they got their donut.
“Walking down the second aisle, Dr. Christianson came to Scott, who wanted a donut, but asked, ‘Can I do my own pushups?’
“Dr. Christianson said, ‘No, Steve has to do them.’
“Scott said, ‘Well, I don't want one then.’
“Dr. Christianson shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, ‘Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn't want?’
“With perfect obedience Steve started to do ten pushups.
“Scott said, ‘Hey! I said I didn't want one!’
“Dr. Christianson said, ‘Look!, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don't want it.’ And he put a donut on Scott's desk.
“Steve had begun to slow down and the students were beginning to get a little angry.
“Dr. Christianson asked Jenny, ‘Jenny, do you want a donut?’
“Sternly, Jenny said, ‘No.’
“Then Dr. Christianson asked Steve, ‘Steve, would you do ten more push-ups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn't want?’
Steve did ten....Jenny got a donut.
“A growing sense of uneasiness filled the room. The students were beginning to say "No" and there were a lot of uneaten donuts on the desks.
“As Dr. Christianson finished the fourth row, Steve's arms were shaking with each push-up, sweat was profusely dropping off of his face. There was no sound except his heavy breathing and there was not a dry eye in the room.
At last, the professor explained, “’When I decided to have a party this last day of class, I looked at my grade book. Steve here is the only student with a perfect grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me inferior work. Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up he must do push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid the price by doing your push ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes.’
"’And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, plead to the Father, 'into thy hands I commend my spirit.' With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, He yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave His gift on the desk, uneaten.’
"’My wish is that you might understand and fully comprehend all the riches of grace and mercy that have been given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Wouldn't you be foolish and ungrateful to leave it lying on the desk?’"
Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold