Celebration of God’s Blessing
We live in a place where the church is marginalized in regard to being considered a difference maker in society. The church is usually negotiable when it comes to competing priorities. The church is considered a consumable commodity that can be shopped around for and consumed based on the likings of the consumer. But Jesus did not view the community of his kingdom is such demeaning ways.
The church, as the community of God’s kingdom, is seated with Christ in the heavenly places and is the vehicle by which the kingdom is making proclamation to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places of the manifold wisdom of God. Frankly, that is truth is larger than my taste in music and the beauty of the sanctuary.
The church is the bride of Christ for whom he died to rescue and bring to himself, and therefore the church as the community of the kingdom of God has glorious purpose and value not only in the heavenly places but also as a witness to the kingdom of God.
Taking from our time last week, we remember that Ephesians explains what the Church’s cosmic role is as the Body of the Cosmic Christ. Ephesians reveals the position and job description of the church in effecting God’s new order (kingdom of God). It answers the question, what does it mean to be in Christ, and what does this demand of us?
So we begin to look at Ephesians through this lens of understanding.
In typical Pauline fashion the first three chapters of Ephesians is heavy doctrine and the last three are the practice of that doctrine. Chapters 1-3 will reveal the glorious doctrine of the churches cosmic role in effecting the kingdom of God. Chapters 4-6 will into how the cosmic function of the church directly affects what we do in our physical existence (4:1 “…walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”; 5:1 “…be imitators of God as beloved children…”; 6:1 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord…”)
The introduction of Ephesians in 1:1-3 (some argue the whole first chapter is built on this construction) is constructed on the Hebrew blessing song called the “berakhah”. The reason is that Paul introduces the Ephesians to their blessed status in Christ and the “berakhah” makes sense as the vehicle for such words.
The feel of the first three verses is like that of a rising song that starts somewhat softly and crescendos in verse three on the blessed God who has placed us in Christ.
Let’s take a look at this blessing song of Paul’s introduction to the Ephesians.
The Celebration of God’s Grace to transformed servants 1:1a
Paul begins with the celebration of the Father’s grace to transformed servants like himself.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,”
Paul, who epitomized Ephesians 2:1-3, is now an apostle according to the will of God.
Paul was Saul, named after the first king of Israel who was a head taller than any man. Saul, named after the king from whose tribe he is descended. Saul, who was a Pharisee and zealous for the law. Saul, who was commissioned by his boys to arrest Christians and even approve of the Christian’s execution like Stephen. Saul, larger than life, great family heritage, high profile job. Saul.
Saul met the king of the universe as he was doing his destructive work in Acts 9 and was transformed by the risen Christ and takes on a new name, Paul. Paul means “small”.
The instant contrast is clear. Saul was big and advancing his big name. Jesus sovereignly engages Saul and shows him who is king and Saul becomes Paul.
Humility resulting in exaltation rather than arrogance resulting in destruction is what Jesus got done in that encounter. Paul has been liberated from the crushing bondage of ego. 2 Corinthians 4:7 is a Pauline reminder that this glorious gospel is put in vessels of clay to show that the all-surpassing power comes from God and not us. How liberating is that?
See, This grace was certainly not due to Paul’s own will. He was a militant against the kingdom and the kingdom came crashing in on his will that was held bondage in sin and liberated him. All of us, if we are in Christ, have tasted this glorious gift.
Paul celebrates this glory. Paul, no longer Saul, who is now an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, not his own will, celebrates his status.
Not only did Jesus save Paul, but Jesus gave Paul a work to do. Jesus gave Paul a mission in life. Apostle. God can take murderers and give them a ministry.
How many of us must celebrate the fact that we are now in Christ and that is due to the fact that we were transformed by gospel of the kingdom when we were least looking for it? All of us!
How many of us must celebrate the fact that we have a purpose for what we do due to the transforming work of the gospel? All of us!
Whether you like your job or not is not the point. The point is that your transformation by the gospel results in your salvation and divine purpose in your work to know Jesus Christ and make him and his kingdom known. That is bigger than any of us and will out live all of us unless the Lord returns first.
The Celebration of God’s Grace to the Saints in Ephesus 1:1b-2
Paul then moves to the celebration God’s grace to the saints at Ephesus. This letter is “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:”
Two words stand out here that Paul is celebrating with the Ephesians over: “saints” and “faithful”.
Both of these words are adjectives, describing words. Paul is describing the Ephesians. Paul does not use the noun version of “saint” or “faithful”. In the noun form the implication would be that these Ephesians are innately “saints” or innately “faithful”. That would not be true. They used to walk according to the prince of the power of the air (2:2). Paul uses the adjectival form. Paul is describing their state not their nature.
This is huge. By nature, these Ephesians were “by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind” (2:3). But things have changed. Jesus has invaded with his elective grace and transformed the Ephesians from children of wrath to the place that, sinners though they are, are described as “saints” and “faithful”.
It’s clear from chapter 4-6 that they still sin, but their sin is no longer counted against them for their behavior is described as “saint” and “faithful”.
This is exactly the work of the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus righteousness is imputed to sinners in such a way that they, although left with a flesh of sin, are counted as “saints” and having been “faithful”.
The reason they are “saints” and “faithful”? They are “in Christ”.
If they were still in themselves, they would not be “saints” or “faithful”. They would be naturally children of wrath. But due to the elective work of Jesus Christ, they are in him and counted in their behavior as “saints” and “faithful”. That is something to celebrate!
We, if we are in Christ, are also “saints” and “faithful”. We are not longer children of wrath. We are no longer sinners. We are “saints”. Why? Because we don’t sin? No. We do sin. But being in the sinless and faithful one, Jesus, we are credited with his perfection and faithfulness!
This is indeed really good news. This is truly something to celebrate!
Because they are “saints” and “faithful” these Ephesians can receive the typical Pauline greeting of “grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Because they are counted in Christ as saints and faithful these beloved of God have him as their Father and receive grace and peace from God, their Father.
If we are in Christ, grace and peace are ours in abundance from our Father who has brought us into the family. This is truly something to celebrate!
The Celebration of the Saint’s Blessing in Christ 1:3b
Because these saints and faithful ones are at peace with God and receiving his grace they are now “…blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…”
We will look at the blessings next week, but it is imperative we take note of why there are spiritual blessings to be enjoyed. This reason is two words: “in Christ”.
By my count Paul uses the language of “in Christ” or synonymous language such as “in Christ Jesus; in him; in whom; etc., 33 times. The bulk of these 33 occurrences happen in the first two chapters.
Paul says in 1:3a that the Father has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places and then Paul commences to unpack those spiritual blessings in Christ.
Let’s do a quick look at these instances:
1:2b the saints are faithful in Christ Jesus
1:3 saints are blessed in Christ
1:4 Father chose us in Christ
1:5 through Christ Father adopted us as sons
1:6 we are blessed in the beloved (Christ is beloved by Father and we are in Christ and therefore blessed in being loved by Father)
1:7 we have redemption in Christ
1:10 all things are / will be united in Christ (in other words the kingdom is reconciling all the broken / scattered creation under the reign of Christ)
1:11 in Christ we have obtained an inheritance
1:12 we hope in Christ (our hope is centered in Christ nothing else)
1:13 (x 2) we heard the truth in him / we believed in him (truth came through hearing about Jesus / our belief must be centered in Christ)
1:15 we have faith in Christ (Jesus is the object of our faith)
1:20 Father has exercised power toward us in Christ
2:5 with Christ we are made alive
2:6 (x 3) we are raised with / we are seated with / we are in the heavenly places in Christ (this was key for the very spiritual Ephesians who upon their transformation burned their books of spells and magic in the city and would wrestle with the understanding that there was no fear in the spiritual realm because Jesus rules it and they are now with him and under his authority in ruling it)
2:7 Father has shown us kindness in Christ
2:10 we are Father’s workmanship in Christ
2:13 in Christ we have been brought near
2:15 in him we are now one new man no longer two divided (unity among mankind is possible in Christ)
2:18 through him we have access to the Father
2:21 the household of God is held together in Christ
2:22 in Christ we are being built into God’s dwelling by the Spirit
3:6 Gentiles are partakers of the promise in Christ
3:12 (x 2) we have boldness and access through faith in Christ
4:21 (x 2) we are taught in Christ and the truth is in Christ
5:8 we are light in the Lord
6:1 children are to obey their parents in the Lord
* 6:18 we are to pray in the Spirit to put on our armor for fighting the spiritual battle
* 6:21 ministry is defined as being in Christ
This is the reality, but oh how easy it is to hear this and not live in it!
We have to believe Father that our blessedness is a reality (2 Cor. 12:1-6; Col. 3:1-4; Phil. 3:20-21)
We have been beset with the cancer of naturalism that causes us to doubt anything that is not empirically testable. The problem with naturalism is that it cannot account for the super-natural.
Hebrews 1:6 reminds us that without faith it is impossible to please God. We must hold on to our tiny faith that our citizenship is in heaven.
Our faith is the target of Satan’s temptations (see 1 Thess. 3:5). Paul sent to find out about the faith of the Thessalonians because he feared Satan had tempted them to abandon the faith.
We have to focus on our blessedness as truth (Colossians 3:1-3)
Often this just does not feel true. But this is why we don’t trust our feelings. Our inner person has been transformed by the gospel of the kingdom, but our physical person is still broken. The inner and physical parts are so inter-woven that it’s hard to pull them neatly apart. We believe, but we need help with our unbelief. We trust, but often we doubt. We know with our reasoning what Scripture says, but our feelings don’t match up with what we know to be true.
This is when we have to come after Jesus like our lives depended on it because they do. I have died and my life is hidden with Christ in God. I have to make this a focus of my pursuit.
We have to ask for growing experience of our blessed status in Christ (Luke 11:13) (operation of the Holy Spirit)
Jesus taught us to ask for this. If we ask, Jesus said he would cause the ministry of the Spirit to grow in us showing us more of our status in experience not simply mental ascent.
The Celebration of God’s glory in God’s blessedness 1:3a
Paul orders the text the way he does (3a comes before 3b = God is blessed so we are blessed as we are placed in him in Christ) so that we will see that our blessed state is due to the truth that God is blessed in his very nature and our blessed state is due to his blessed nature. We are to understand the highlight of the text is not our blessed state, because we have heard the gospel, but the highlight is the nature of God who makes us blessed in Christ. I ordered the “points” the way I ordered them on purpose (out of order according to the text) to highlight this reality so that some foolish person would not dare to believe our blessed status somehow is more vital than the God who makes us blessed. So, the order of our points of teaching this morning from the text is expositional in their order to help make the point Paul is making in the “berakhah”.
The crescendo here, according to Scripture, is opposite of what Victoria Osteen says it is, that we worship God not because God is God or deserving but because worshiping God will make us happy and God wants us to be happy above our worship of him as the point (God’s chief end is to glorify man and enjoy him forever). We are the point of worship, according to her. Paul leaves us with no doubt about that in Ephesians 1:1-3.
I love how Paul defines “blessed” in verse 3. It truly makes me excited because my blessed status is not due to my mental state at the moment (whether I’m feeling happy or not) or my financial status at the moment (barely getting by or amassing stuff that my kids will have to divide or throw away when I’m dead). Aren’t you glad that your relationship with God is not determined by how you feel in the moment or what you have in the moment?
Blessed is the state of God. Blessed means the happy state of God the Father. The God of the bible is a happy God. Not happy like an emotive high because of some external circumstance, but happy as the very nature of God. Contented. Completely at rest in himself in community in Trinity.
This is why we don’t simply describe blessed as abundant material possessions alone. One can have abundance and be cursed. Blessed is being in Christ and contented in Christ regardless of external circumstance.
God is blessed. He is the definition of blessed. Therefore, if we are in Christ we are blessed! We have Jesus and we have all we need to be at rest and content.
I have died and my life is hidden with Christ in God. When I’m in Christ I have life and the availability of Trinitarian community that images the Father, Son and Spirit that I am in, and all that is needed. That is something to celebrate.
In conclusion, the community of the Kingdom of God has much to celebrate. Our status of blessedness is the nuclear reaction that defines who we are and what we are to do. We are to abide in the Vine, go to his harvest in his peace and easy yoke, pray for the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers and for kingdom fruit and enjoy watching Jesus bring the fruit as he rules the war in the heavenly places and on earth in advancing the kingdom.
Before we launch to work let’s make sure we revel in and celebrate our lofty and powerful status of being in Christ and blessed in being in Christ beyond measure that we may do the work well and full of the happiness of being blessed in Christ, therefore making much of Christ and exalting Jesus as our great King and goal.
Let’s celebrate that together as we worship King Jesus and proclaim to the powers in the heavenly places the manifold wisdom of God!
 Parenthesis mine
 Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Ephesians, (Wheaton; Crossway, 1990), p. 15.
 R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Ephesians, (Crossway: Wheaton, 1990) p. 17.
 This is by my count in the ESV. Some may count other occurrences that I did not count or I counted some others did not.
 * 6:18 and 6:21 are not necessarily “spiritual blessings in Christ” as the other occurrences in the book, however, the Spirit’s mission to exalt Jesus makes our prayer in and under the Spirit’s influence puts us into Christ’s purposes and puts us into his power and our ministry is only ministry when it is in the work of Christ not simply serving others. So in this sense I include 6:18 and 21.