READ : Ephesians 1:3-14
“Aim at nothing,” goes the saying, “and that’s just what you’ll hit.” Everyone has a purpose in their life, even God!
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. 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, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 1:3-14, nrsv
Sometimes when I confront a biblical passage it seems too big, too wonderful, too exalted to dare preaching about it. It’s so sublime and glorious that it’s downright intimidating. I feel that way about these words you’ve just read.
Realize, friends, that this is something special. What is the apostle Paul doing here? He’s not giving a doctrinal lesson, as he sometimes did in Romans, or an ethical lecture as he sometimes handed to the Corinthian Christians.
This passage is like the overture to a vast musical composition, in which all the great themes of the symphony are introduced. Paul hurls himself here into a great burst of praise to God. In the Greek text it’s one sentence of celebration that goes on and on and on for12 verses!
So how do we preach on it? To try to dissect and analyze it is to miss its wonder and depth. Somehow we have to get a glimpse of the vision expressed here and to enter into its power. This is theology at its best, where it becomes doxology, worship. It’s where preaching turns to praise.
LIKE A PSALM
Do you know what struck me in the night seasons as I was thinking about this? This passage is like a psalm, like a New Testament psalm. Think about a typical psalm of praise in the Old Testament. The psalmist looks back on what God has done in the history of his people Israel, reflecting on that, and then calling himself and others to praise. For example, in love God chose Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the twelve tribes to be his special people.
They came into bondage and misery in Egypt, but God had mercy on them and came down for their help.
By the blood of the Passover lamb he spared them.
In the waters of the Red Sea, he brought them from death to life.
And he gave them an inheritance in Canaan, the promised land.
So, the psalmist says, “Let them praise the Lord, let them tell of his wonderful works, let them call the whole world to praise. Let the people praise thee. Let all the people praise thee”
Now listen to Paul. He’s looking back on the ministry of Jesus, his cross, his resurrection, the gift of the Holy Spirit. “Let God be praised,” he says. He’s still the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but we know him now more fully and richly as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has chosen us in Christ, the Messiah of Israel, to be his chosen people, his own dear children.
He saw us in the bondage and misery of our sin, and came down in Christ to save us.
By his death, the Lamb of God spared us from judgment, taking it on himself.
In his resurrection, he brought us from death to life.
And now in Christ, he has given us an inheritance – not a physical land, subject to invasion, decay and pollution, but a heavenly inheritance, spiritual blessings in heavenly places. We are his beloved children, holy, blameless, loving. He has given us his Spirit now as a down payment, a foretaste of the coming glory.
So let’s praise him for his amazing love, his mighty works, his great faithfulness, says Paul. “Blessed be the God and
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
THE PURPOSE OF IT ALL
Now for the overarching purpose here. The center of history and its goal is seen not to be national, racial, ethnic Israel, but the new Israel of Jew and Gentile, made one new humanity in Christ. This is God’s great purpose for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Jesus Christ. Every knee will bow to him; every tongue confess that he is Lord. So Paul sees himself, the believers in Ephesus, and all who come to Christ, as those destined to bless God and to live for the praise of his glory. Out of God’s great purpose, we find ours.
This note of purpose was new in the ancient world and in some ways is new in ours. With many people today the sense of overarching purpose and destiny has disappeared. It’s just one thing after another.
When I was growing up, I knew that my mother had something she wanted me to do. She had been an actress and a director of plays. She aspired that I should be a star of stage and screen. She took me even to movie studios to try out for parts in movies that featured young boys. I knew my Uncle Carleton, a professor, wanted me to enter politics. He thought that law school was the best entry point if you wanted to get to the White House. As for myself, I wanted to play baseball for the then New York Giants.
But at the time I came to know Christ, the friend who led me to the Lord gave me a little Scripture verse card that was probably the first verse I memorized: John 15:16. Jesus said to his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (nrsv). And for me it was a marvelous thing to realize that not only my mother had a plan for my life, and my uncle, and I with my own dreams of baseball prowess, but God had a something for me to do: a something that would be fruitful, that would be a lasting contribution. That gripped my heart.
When my wife Helen and I were first going together we talked about this very passage from Ephesians, and especially Ephesians 1:12, “that we should be to the praise of his glory who first trusted in Christ.” In fact, when we were married, we had that verse inscribed inside our wedding rings. We sensed that we were in the world for a purpose – for Christ’s glory. When our firstborn came into the world we claimed that promise for him as well, that Billy would be to the praise of Christ’s glory. And through many pains and sorrows and struggles and an early death, Billy’s life was to the praise of God’s glory. When we know God’s purpose, we find ours.
OUR PART IN HIS PLAN
One passage of Scripture that always captures me in that respect is John 17:4, where Jesus says toward the end of his life, “I have glorified thee upon the earth. I have accomplished the work you gave me to do.” And that’s what it is for us as Christians. To glorify God is to accomplish just that work that he’s given us to do, to move in the stream of his purpose.
The program “Experiencing God” has touched the lives of many people. The theme that runs through that is: we are in the world not to work up some purpose of ours in which we can serve God but to discern what it is that God is doing in the world and then follow the flow of that purpose.
When we read these opening words of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, our eyes are open to the wonder of what God’s purpose is, to gather up all things in Christ. We who are believers are to live for the praise of his glory. Jesus, you remember, in teaching us the Lord’s Prayer, gave us that as the very first thing we are to ask – that God’s name should be hallowed.
How does that happen in the world? Well, in part by our praises and our thanks and our worship as God’s people. It happens also as the church is purified and renewed. The most damaging thing to the honor of God in the world is the inconsistency of those who profess to know him and then live in ways that bring shame on his name. So to pray for the hallowing of God’s name is to ask also that the church may be purified and revived to be a people for God’s praise.
And because only those who know God’s name can hallow it, it’s also a missionary prayer. It’s the prayer that God would so send the gospel to all the peoples of the world that the prayer of the psalmist would be fulfilled, “Let the people praise you, O God, let all the people praise you.”
So when we appeal to God in that first of all the petitions, we’re asking that we will praise the Lord as his people, that we will be transformed to show forth his glory and that the gospel will reach out to every part of the world. Then people in every land, in every culture, will bow the knee to Christ and give their praise to him. So Christian, if you are a believer today, you are saved, created in Christ in order to praise God, to live for his praise and through the gospel to enlist all the world in praising him. This is our high destiny.
One of the passages of the book of Revelation that most grips me is in chapter 5 where the Lamb is pictured as the one who takes the scroll of God’s unveiled purpose and opens the seals one by one. The heavenly hosts praise him as the one who is worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because he was slain and by his blood ransomed for God people from every tribe and language and people and nation. He made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God. And then we hear the song of the innumerable angels who cry, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. And then all the creatures join in this praise to God: “to the one seated on the throne and to the lamb be blessing and honor and glory and power forever and ever.”
Now when we grasp what God’s purpose is, then we learn our purpose and lifelong passion. Then we have grasped what this passage is really about. We can cry out with the apostle Paul, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of his will. With all wisdom and might he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth and that we should be to the praise of his glory. Amen.”