If someone asked you to name the biggest blessing in your life, what would you say? There could probably be as many answers to that question as there are people who answer it.....but I wonder how many would name a spiritual blessing? That is what I want us to consider today -- our spiritual blessing[s] in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). Last time we looked at the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the believers in Ephesus where he named those blessings one by one. I’m so excited, this week, to begin reflecting on those spiritual blessings, taking one at a time as Paul listed them. But before beginning the discussion of these blessings, we need to remember that Paul was writing to the church at Ephesus. He was writing to Christians, those who had turned to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. And if you are a believer in Christ, then these blessings are yours too, and all that Paul has written here is for you as well. All believers are recipients of these blessings.
Paul began in Ephesians 1:4 with the blessing of being chosen by God, the blessing from which all the others flow. He wrote, just as He chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him. Notice first that we were chosen in Christ. What does this mean? I think it is easiest to explain by taking a look at the nation of Israel. In Deuteronomy 7:6, Moses told the people of Israel, for you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth. The Hebrew people believed that their privileged status as the people of God came from the fact that they were descendants of Abraham. Because Abraham was their “father” (1 Chronicles 29:18, John 8:39), all that God had promised to Abraham was theirs. God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17) included them and so all the covenant blessings were theirs. In the same way, it is our relationship of being “in Christ” that is the ground for all of our spiritual blessings. As believers, our blessings come in Him and through Him.
We see two other important facts about this blessing also. First, God chose us before the world began, before we ever existed except in the mind of God (we’ll talk more about that next time). Second, God's purpose in choosing us was to bring us to the state of holiness, to make us blameless in His sight. This is a process that is known as sanctification, and it is taking place in the lives of believers as we go about our daily living. It is a process that will be completed when Christ comes again. Because God’s purpose for us is holiness, we can be sure it will be brought to completion.
But lets get on to the blessing of being “chosen”. What does it mean to be chosen? To be sure, there has been much discussion on this topic, but lets look at it in Scripture from the apostle Paul’s point of view. In 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5, he wrote, for we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. Paul’s point was that when the Thessalonians believed the gospel message he preached to them, he knew they had been chosen by God. It was because God had chosen them that they received His message in the power of the Holy Spirit and came to faith in Christ.
Later, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you to be saved (2:13). Paul thanked God for the Thessalonians’ salvation. He did not thank them for choosing to be saved. Paul’s writings clearly show that when he speaks of being chosen, God is the chooser. God is the One who chooses to save us and call us to Himself. Our salvation is not the result of anything we did or could possibly do. This teaching is even more clear in Paul's letter encouraging Timothy to be strong in his suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began (2 Timothy 1:9).
In Ephesians 2, Paul explained, that before we believed, we were spiritually dead - until the Spirit of God called us. We were not able to respond to anything outside the realm of sin (2:1-3). Remember Lazarus who was dead until Jesus called his name (John 11)? In the same way, you and I were spiritually dead until the Spirit of God called us. And just as Lazarus could not boast, "Jesus couldn't have done it without me," neither can we. God overcomes our spiritual insufficiency and grants us faith that we might believe. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God--not because of works, lest any man should boast (8-9). Remember what Jesus said: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).
Wayne Grudem, in his book Systematic Theology, writes that the Bible’s teaching about the blessing of being chosen should be a comfort and encouragement to all believers. It is an assurance of our salvation by the sovereign choice of God. Being chosen is a gift by His grace, unconditional and guaranteed by the truth of His Word. In addition, it should give us encouragement to share the gospel with others. The apostle Paul, who resolutely preached the gospel across Asia and Europe, wrote, for this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory (2 Timothy 2:10). Paul endured grievous hardships to preach so the chosen would hear the gospel and believe. Paul wrote that he was beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). But Paul persevered in preaching because he knew that God did not call him to endure these things in vain. God knew the chosen would respond -- and so did Paul.
Knowing there are people whom God has chosen all around us in this world guarantees there are souls hungry and waiting for God’s truth. You were once one of those people. But now you have heard and received the gospel message by faith. Who needs to hear the gospel through you? Who has God placed in your life who is ready to hear His truth right now? Who will you bless this week through the blessing God has bestowed upon you?
May we all, like the apostle Paul, endure all trials and hardships and persevere to share God's spiritual blessings with others,
One of my favorite Bible passages is in the Book of Ephesians, a letter written by the apostle Paul for and about the church, the body of Christ, those who believe. That includes, not only the church at Ephesus, the original recipients, but every Christian. The letter is filled with the truth of God’s love, grace, and mercy toward us. Someone has said that the theme of the whole Bible can be found in the first 14 verses. When I first read those verses, I knew I had to memorize them, and they have uplifted and encouraged me many times over in my life. They have become a favorite of mine, for it is here, in the beginning of his letter, the apostle Paul proclaims our spiritual blessing[s] in the heavenly places in Christ.
It is pleasant to enjoy the physical, material blessings of this life. Those blessings are the focus of the world. There is nothing wrong with physical and material blessings and I hope you have many and count yours and give thanks for them often. But as believers, we have something better, something above and beyond the blessings of this world, and it is glorious to know them, understand them, and store them in our hearts. They are the spiritual blessings we have been granted in Christ Jesus. So I would like to go through this passage with you, taking just one of these blessings at a time. I want us to look at them, think about them, tuck them away in our hearts and minds, and let them become sustaining food for our souls.
In recounting our blessings, Paul begins, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). Notice how many blessings we have been granted. Not just one or two, not just a few, but God has lavished us with every spiritual blessing. Paul goes on, in one long elaborate sentence (in the Greek), to enumerate those blessings for us. As you read the verses, notice a key phrase that stands out and is repeated 11 times - in Christ (or in Him, or in the Beloved). Notice that it is in Him, through Him (1:5), and for Him that we have been blessed.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love
5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace
8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight
9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention of His will, which He purposed in Him
10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him
11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,
12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.
13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,
14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
Today, I would just like to list the blessings for you, so you can be thinking about them, meditating on them. Next time, we will begin at the beginning and consider each blessing in turn and what it means to us. Of course, you can probably think of more blessings God has bestowed upon us, and Paul actually mentions more in the rest of his letter, but these are the ones that stand out as the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ.
His will revealed to us (1:9)
Given an inheritance (1:11)
Sealed with the Holy Spirit (1:13)
You will notice from the list that Paul immediately introduces some words that one commentator noted “take discussions to the ‘deep end of the pool’ very quickly,” words such as He chose us (1:4), He predestined us (1:5).” What the commentator means is that these words have been known to stir up controversy. But lets go back and look at Ephesians 1:3 to see the context in which Paul uses those words. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. They are words that inspire Paul to bless the name of God! They are words that bring joy to Paul’s heart and praise to his pen as he writes. For Paul these words are not controversial. For Paul these words bring a sense of joyful praise to God and words that inspire him to bless the name of God! They are words that describe the depth of God’s love for us, words that should stir our hearts to praise too!
I’ll look forward to looking into our spiritual blessings and praising God with you in the weeks to come.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.
May all of these blessings be yours and evident in your life,
I have been involved in Disciplers since 1987, as a discussion leader, teacher, writer, and now as director. I am profoundly committed to the stewardship of this ministry which God has entrusted to me for a time. God’s word is the chief joy of my life. I cherish my personal time in the word, and I am filled with gratitude to be able to share His word with you, my fellow disciples in Christ.