We were made for praise!
Open your Bible with me to Ephesians 1:3-14. In the original Greek, verses 3-14 are one long, complex 202-word sentence that from start to finish roars with praise! This passage—this sentence—is, to put it in one word, epic.
It begins on a note of praise, it concludes with praise. The style with which it opens is a distinctly Jewish extended blessing, called a barakah. It’s an outburst of praise to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for the blessings he pours out on all who come in faith to Jesus. In almost every verse, Paul speaks of “us” or “we” to refer to the people of God. So everything you’re about to hear is for you, if you are trusting in Christ.
One final note before we dive into this ocean of God’s blessings. Don’t miss this. The passage touches on some profoundly complicated truths. Because it does, it is very easy to miss the feeling of awe and wonder intended. So what we won’t do is get bogged down in theological debate and miss the purpose of the passage—which is that we have abundant reasons to praise God. We were made for praise.
The purpose of today’s passage is to provoke praise; to well us up into worship; to breathe in deep mysteries and breathe out thanks to God! That’s the spirit in which Ephesians 1:3-14 is written, and it is the spirit in which we want to receive it. Chained to a Roman guard but as free as anyone ever could be in his spirit, Paul praises God for his blessings to us past, present, and future.
If you’re taking notes, this is where we start.
Here’s jaw-dropping mystery: being chosen by the Father in eternity past!
“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. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
God adopted you, Paul sings, “In accordance with his pleasure and will.” What does that mean? It made him very happy to bring you to know him as your Father in heaven. Long before God said, “Let there be light,” he said, “I want those I have created in my likeness to know me not as just their Creator, but also as their Father.” So he made a plan. He patiently and powerfully worked that plan each step of the way so that you could become his son or daughter. He was happy to do it. That’s the first thing Paul praises God for. It pleased God to come up with a plan and work it out so that you can come to know God as your heavenly Father.
Jeff Manion traveled to Ephesus, located in what is now Western Turkey. Seeing the ruins and learning about the history, Jeff explains, “When Paul writes to the churches in and around Ephesus and says that in love God adopted them, he is writing to an abandonment culture. He is writing to a culture where babies were routinely abandoned….Outside the eastern gate of Ephesus…there was a garbage dump where people would frequently bring babies they [didn’t want]. [It is said] that there was a physician to the north of Ephesus in the city of Pergamum who wrote a manual on how to measure the dimensions of the child to increase the odds of picking one who would make a strong slave. Given the culture, the slave children considered themselves the lucky ones.
Paul writes to people in an abandonment culture and says: If you have come to know Jesus, your most defining moment isn’t who threw you out but who took you in. God picked you out, he picked you up, and he took you home.
Have you ever been dumped? Dumped by a date? Dumped by a boyfriend or girlfriend? By a fiancé? Maybe a spouse? Dumped by a company? Have you ever run a business and invested in an employee only to have them join a competitor, taking your customers with them?
[Source: The Power of Identity, Jeff Manion]
You may have grown up without a father in your home, or you got to see your Dad only occasionally. Some of you may have had an absentee father, or a Dad who was abusive in any of the several ways they can inflict abuse on their kids. For a while I was scared of my father because of how strictly he disciplined us and because he held us as kids to adult expectations.
The “drop your jaw to the floor” mystery Paul opens with is that that’s not what God is like. God is love. And in love, he developed a plan to bring you to experience him as your loving Father in heaven. The whole plan brought a smile to his face. It did then, and it does today, each time the lights go on and one more person embraces the love of God extended in Jesus Christ.
When you hear “God,” what’s the first image that comes to your mind? For Paul, as he opens this letter to a broad audience of Christians, the first image he puts into our minds is that God has adopted you. Paul’s 1st-century readers knew about adoption. The most well-known adoption in Roman times was the Julius Caesar adopting Octavian when Octavian was 18 years old. So they could imagine being adopted by the most powerful ruler in the world. Paul goes beyond that to say, “That’s small potatoes compared to being adopted by God the Father, who is over all!”
When Marty Johnson reached adulthood, he began to search for his birth parents. He knew they had been college students who had a brief affair. Neither of them was ready to raise a child, so Marty was given up for adoption, and grew up in a loving home in Minnesota.
Before he could find his birth parents, a letter arrived one day that read, “Welcome to the Ogike dynasty! You come from a noble and prestigious family.” The letter went on to explain that Marty was actually the next in line to inherit the position of village chief from his birth father, John Ogike, who was reaching out to him as the current chief of Aboh village in Nigeria. John Ogike wanted Marty to know his father.
Marty eventually flew to Nigeria, where he met this whole extended family—new to him, but in fact, it was a welcome which had long been waiting for him.
In a similar way, Jesus is God’s hand-delivered surprise letter announcing that we have a heavenly Father.
[Source: “Adopted Minnesota Man Learns He Is a Prince,” ABC News (6-2-05)]
The whole purpose of Paul reminding us of this is to provoke praise. So here’s a jaw-dropping mystery for all who trust in Jesus: you have been adopted into God’s family. And that was God’s pleasure.
Moving on to verses 7-10…
Here’s hands-lifting mercy: being redeemed by the Son right now!
“In him [Jesus] 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, 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 reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
Redemption harkens back to the people of Israel being set free from slavery in Egypt. As a result of experiencing redemption, they sang a song of praise as soon as they reached the other side of the Red Sea. Their pursuers were supernaturally destroyed, while they were saved. So they sang. As should we who have now been redeemed—by the blood not of a Passover lamb, but by the blood of Jesus, God’s Son. Praise God, he has redeemed us!
Robert Webber was reading a Christian book while on a flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, when the passenger seated next to him asked, “Are you a religious man?” Webber said yes. His seatmate responded, “I am too.” They began talking about religion. Eventually Webber asked his neighbor, “Can you give me a one-liner that captures the essence of your faith?” “Well, yes,” he said. “We are all part of the problem, and we are all part of the solution.”
They talked about how helpful that statement can be. Then after a while more, Webber asked, “Would you like a one-liner that captures the Christian faith?” His seatmate said, “Sure!”
“We are all part of the problem, but there is only one man who is the solution. His name…is Jesus.”
[Source: Robert Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? (IVP, 2008), p. 26]
- That’s what Paul believed.
- It’s what Jesus claimed.
This is what the apostles taught.
- It’s what the early Church held to—that in Jesus we find redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Paul speaks of being redeemed through Jesus’ blood. When I became a Christian at 19 years old, I was working in a hospital, going to college, and was an EMT in our local fire department. So in my world, blood was something to be avoided. We wore protective gloves against blood-borne pathogens. It took some help to understand what this talk of blood meant to the original readers.
Paul is writing to a slave culture. Elsewhere his Spirit-led writings sowed the seeds for the abolition of slavery—especially his letter to Philemon. Here, he draws on an image all of them knew—and translates it into a spiritual reality.
Manion points out that “Ephesus had one of the largest slave markets in the world at that time. In the marketplace in Ephesus, you not only bought spices from the East, expensive purple cloth from Thyatira, and the latest fashions from Rome; you could also go into this marketplace and buy people.”
Slaves back then were usually people whose country had been conquered, people who had been kidnapped, or prisoners of war. And Ephesus was the center for slave trading in the Roman Empire.
So if you were out shopping for groceries in the market and you find yourself next to a slave (slaves made up a quarter of the population in Ephesus), you might ask, “Who do you belong to?”
He says something like, “I belong to Antonius.”
You ask how he became a slave, and he tells you, “I’ve been told I was abandoned as a baby. A woman found me and brought me home. They raised me as one of their household servants. Then was I was 13 years old they took me to the marketplace, and sold me. I was strong and healthy, with a good reputation as a hard worker, so Antonius redeemed me with 28 pieces of silver, a bag of money.”
When Paul marvels that, “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood,” it’s a way of saying, “God didn’t pay cash to adopt you as his son or daughter. Jesus paid for you with his very life. That’s how much God loves you. Not to be a slave, but to be his loved child. He has paid the price to set you free and to bring you into his family.”
[adapted from Manion]
God says, “Remember who you are. I have adopted you, and I have redeemed you. You’re my son or daughter. I love you.”
So we hear the jaw-dropping mystery that all who trust in Jesus have been adopted by God the Father. It was God pleasure to adopt us.
Second, we discover the hands-lifting mercy of being redeemed by the Son. And third, Paul praises God for…
Heartwarming security: being assured by the Holy Spirit for eternity to come!
“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 put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you 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.”
The Holy Spirit is God’s personal guarantee of our inheritance. “When you believed [in Jesus], you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…”
Jesus’ tomb was sealed as Rome’s guarantee that it could not been tampered with.
In the book of Revelation we read of a scroll that is sealed with seven seals, and no one on earth was found worthy of breaking those seals—until one looking like a lamb who has been slain appears—Jesus. The seal was prominent and known to Jewish and Gentile audiences, as something conveying security and protection by the authority that placed the seal.
A few years back, my brother-in-law Dru, along with his adult sons Jonathan & Michael, each got matching tattoos of the Johnston family crest. For the rest of their lives they are now marked with a seal. That family crest indicates their identity. The tattoo shows the lineage they come from, who they are today, and who they will always be.
And even though lots of trauma has come as their parents’ marriage has fallen apart, their forever family identity remains secure. That’s what Paul marvels at here: “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance…”
When you become a Christian, the Holy Spirit is given you as God’s personal guarantee that you, both now and forever, belong to his family, the family of God. That is security!
Paul is writing to a culture in which people are literally sealed, branded with a hot iron, to show who owns them, who has purchased them, to whom they belong. He takes that dark practice and flips it on its head as an image of the security that Christ promises all who come to him. The Holy Spirit is an inside job, an inner ‘seal’ or ‘witness’ whispering, “I’ve got you. It’s alright. You’re mine. I have adopted you, I have redeemed you, and I will never abandon you.”
To borrow a different image, you have been sealed with a kiss, the personal touch of the Holy Spirit. It’s not just that you have taken hold of Jesus. God has also taken hold of you. And he who has taken hold of you will carry on to completion the good work he has begun in you.
The promise of a future inheritance is one of the many promises God makes to us in the Bible. But the concept itself is difficult for us to comprehend. One way to think about it would be to turn to some familiar names across the pond.
When Great Britain’s Princess Diana died in 1997, she left a sizeable inheritance for her sons, William and Harry, of $20 million. With investments and interest, that amount grew during their teens and twenties to more than $30 million. But the provision was such that William and Harry were only able to receive their inheritance after their 30th birthdays. Several years ago William, and later Harry, crossed that special birthday and received their inheritance in full.
In the same way, Paul reminds us, Christians have an inheritance. It is being kept safe for you, it is guaranteed to you, and until that day, God keeps you secure in his grip of grace. His Spirit is God’s personal deposit, guaranteeing that what he has promised you, he will give to you.
[Source: Frank Lovelace, “Prince William turns 30, inherits share of Diana estate,” Newsday (6-20-12)]
Friends, we were made for praise! Today’s passage begins on a note of praise. It concludes with praise. And it overflows with reasons to praise God.
- God the Father has adopted us—what a mystery!
- God the Son has redeemed us—what mercy!
- God the Holy Spirit has assured us—what security!
So whatever else you choose to do today and each day, do this: praise God, from whom all blessings flow!