A compilation of sermon notes from Rev. Lane Townsend of Toomsuba Presbyterian Church (Presbytery of Mississippi, PCUSA)
Perhaps nowhere else in Scripture are the blessings of being a Christian expounded so clearly and abundantly than in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Though written while Paul was in prison, chained to a Roman guard, Rev. Lane Townsend of Toomsuba Presbyterian Church points out in a recent sermon that this epistle has been labeled the “Alps” of the Scriptures. “Here’s a man, chained to a guard, writing about God’s profound blessings,” he said.
We will explore briefly some of the key points that stand out in chapter 1.
Verse 3 says: “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.”
Verses 3-14 actually make up one long sentence in the original Greek. Paul’s not just mentioning God’s blessings in a superficial way. It’s so deep, you have to mine it to really get what he’s saying.
Interestingly, the word Paul uses for “praise” in verse 3 is where we get, in English, our word for “eulogy.” Paul is eulogizing God as the source of all blessing. His focus is on God, not on himself or his health problems. Though he was chained and didn’t know when he’d get out, his focus was on what God had done for him. He meditated on God’s blessings in his life.
Verse 4 reads: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight in love.”
It was as if Paul was saying, “I might be the last on the list, humanly speaking, but I’m on God’s list.”
Of course, people joke about us (Presbyterians) as being the ‘chosen and frozen.’ We believe the Bible teaches that ‘God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.’ God freely offers the gospel to all people. The question is: why do people come to Christ? In John 6:37, Jesus said, ‘All those the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me, I will never drive away.’ People come to Christ because God pulls them.
An illustration by Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, helps to illustrate the point: When a person accepts the gospel, it’s as if they walk through a door that has a signpost hanging above it that says, “Whosoever will may come.” Then, when the person has stepped inside and turns around, on the inside, above the door, another sign is hanging above the door: “Chosen in Christ, before the foundation of the world.” God works in our hearts to bring us to Christ. I can’t explain why. We’re chosen, not just to be saved, but to be holy and blameless in his sight. This calling is a gift for sinners, not something we earn. Salvation is “gift for the guilty, not a reward for the righteous.”
Scripture says God has freed us from our slavery to sin. Think about a person who’s been a slave all his life, suddenly being set free. That’s good, but it doesn’t solve all of his problems. The man whose been a slave all his life might not have anywhere to go, won’t have any money, might not have many job skills, etc … Think about great it would be if someone would come and adopt him, give him an inheritance, give him a high standing in his family. You see, God didn’t just set us free from sin. He’s adopted us as his children, given us abilities, given us an inheritance, a standing with God. We are more than just former slaves; we are sons and daughters of God!
Verse 7-8 says: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”
Christ redeemed us. Let’s never forget that all of these spiritual blessings Paul is talking about flow from Calvary. It is his blood that forgives our sins. Scripture teaches us that the blood of Jesus washes away our sins. Christ’s blood wasn’t shed in vain. If it had been possible, the Father would have let his Son have a painless death (sleeping pills). But he had to die a cruel, agonizing death to pay the price for our sin. As Hebrews tells us, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”
Verse 8 says that God has “lavished” his grace on us who were guilty. I get the picture of a person going through a buffet, and someone stacks your plate high with ice cream—they lavish you with desert. The grace that God gives to Christians, Paul says, is not a piddly amount. Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more. There is no one so low that the grace of God can’t save them.
Verse 9-10 says: “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.”
This grace brings all things together under Christ. Paul is saying that, as Christians who’ve received God’s forgiveness, we are trophies of God’s grace. He redeemed us and now we’re on eternal display, showcasing what God has accomplished through Christ. Paul goes on to say in Ephesians that we have been seated in the heavenly realms with Christ. Think about the weight of this. Prior to the Fall of Man, God used to “walk with Adam” in the garden. They had a good relationship. You would think that part of Christ’s redemption would involve us being restored to the original relationship we had with God, to Adam’s status. But it’s actually higher. We’re seated with Christ in the heavenly places. He’s redeemed us above where we started. That’s grace.
Verse 11-12 says: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”
This raises an interesting question: is God’s will always done on earth? Paul says God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” There’s a sense in which God’s will isn’t done on earth. Just pick up the newspapers everyday. People are killing each other. There is crime. In The Lord’s Prayer, we’re told to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
There is another sense in which God’s will is always done on earth. I know this is complicated, but God’s broad plan for humanity can’t be thwarted by human evil. For example, God planned for Christ to die. No matter what Satan did to hinder Jesus (temptations, enemies, etc…) he couldn’t stop Jesus from redeeming humanity.
An analogy that helps me is to think of the world as an ocean liner, a cruise ship. Say that there are a lot of rules on the ship that people are supposed to observe. Even if people consistently break those rules while they’re in their rooms, that’s not changing the direction the ship is going. If the captain is taking the ship to the Bahamas, then you breaking some ship rules in room number 13 isn’t going to keep the ship from getting to the Bahamas. The captain’s will may be being violated by individual members on the ship, but the captain is still driving the ship and is still in control. In the same way, no matter how much people disobey God’s will, God is still in control and history is ultimately going in the direction God is leading it to.
Verse 13 says: “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, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”
How do we know that all of these blessings and promises that Paul is describing are going to happen? We have the Holy Spirit as a down payment for our salvation. He is the deposit guaranteeing that everything God has promised is going to be fulfilled.
Presently, we don’t have all of God’s promises. We’re told we’ll have new bodies, but we don’t have them yet. How do we know we’ll get them? Because the Holy Spirit is present in us, showing us that every bit of what God’s promised is coming. We can trust God because we have the seal of the Spirit.