GOD’S GRAND, CHRIST-CENTERED PLAN
Twenty-five years after becoming the first person to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong wrote a thank you note to the creative tema who designed the spacesuit, the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), in which he took those historic steps. Calling it “the most photographed spacecraft in history” and teasing that it was successful at hiding its “ugly occupant” from view, Armstrong thanked “the EMU Gang” at the Johnson Space Center for the “tough, reliable, and almost cuddly” sit that preserved his life, sending them “a quarter-century’s worth of thanks and congratulations.”
Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians with a majestic thank-you note, praising God for the blessings He has poured out, blessings as essential in the lives of believers as a spacesuit is for someone who walks on the moon. Paul argues that God has been at work on these essential blessings since “before the foundation of the world” and praises God for working through the ages on behalf of believers.
Paul’s opening makes Ephesians especially valuable in modeling how to worship God and to praise God for the many blessings Hew has provided.
It is a startling invitation, “Come up here!” Instantly, John the revelator finds himself before the throne of God. Maid flashing lightning, growling thunder, and blazing torches, John hears the hymn of four impressive creatures, which cues the worship of twenty-four elders, who fall from their thrones, prostrating themselves before the One seated on the throne. In prone worship, they send their crowns skittering across the glassy icelike sea toward God’s throne as they begin their worship of the Creator.
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11).
A call to just that kind of worship is how Paul opens Ephesians. In Ephesians 1:3-14, he draws believers into “the heavenly places” (verse 3), to God’s cosmic tr4hone room and the initiatives of His grace anchored there. Before that awe-inspiring throne, we listen, agape, to the ageless dreams and plans God has for us. Hearing those plans, we fall before the throne and send our crowns skating across the crystalline sea. We join in worshiping the Father-Creator of us all.
Worship – Paul writes his letter to be read out loud to gathered members of early house churches in Ephesus as an integral part of heir Sabbath worship. So, in Ephesians 1:1-14, he begins with a an intense call to worship. In Greek, he passage constitutes one very long and complicated sentence. Ephesians 3:1-14 is the start of something big in the epistle, which exhibits the highest concentration of prayer and worship language of all Paul’s letters. Paul includes the following types of prayer and worship passages in Ephesians.
Prayer benediction – a prayer blessing inviting God’s blessing on believers, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 2).
Praise benediction – A prayer blessing that ‘blesses” God, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ” (verse 3).
Doxology – A specific type of praise benediction, attributing glory to God, “To him be glory in the church, and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:21).
Prayer report – Paul reports how he prays for believers, “I do not cease to give thanks for you in my prayers (Ephesians 1:15-16).
Costly Redemption; Lavish Forgiveness – Sin had been a dark, dominating force in the lives of the members of Paul’s audience. Paul can describe them in their prior existence as the walking dead – dead in trespasses and sin” yet “walking” or living as Satan commanded them. (Ephesians 2:1-3). Enslaved to sin and Satan, they had no ability to free themselves. Hey needed rescue. God has done so through His gracious action in Christ, and Paul celebrates two new blessings of God’s grace in the lives of believers; redemption and forgiveness.
Read Ephesians 1:7-8. “Redemption” is an idea that is used frequently in the New Testament. Compare the uses of the idea in Colossians 1:13-14, Titus 2:13-14, and Hebrews 9:15. What themes do these passages share with Ephesians 1:7-8?
The Greek word translated “redemption” in Ephesians 1:7 was originally used for buying a slave’s freedom or paying to free a captive. One can hear echoed the voice of he slave trader auctioning his merchandise and the cold grinding of a slave’s manacles. When the New Testament discusses redemption, it highlights the costliness o setting the slaves free.
Our freedom comes at an extreme cost, “In Him we have redemption through His blood” (Ephesians 1:7). The idea of redemption also celebrates God’s gracious generosity in paying the high price of our liberty. God gives us our freedom and dignity. We are no longer enslaved!
The benefits of Calvary also include “the forgiveness of our trespasses.” On the cross, Jesus took upon Himself he price of our sin, both past and future, “canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands (Colossians 2:14). In doing this work of redemption and forgiveness through Christ, God is acting as our generous Father, with the “riches of his grace” being “lavished upon us” (Ephesians 1:7-8).
God’s Grand, Christ-Centered Plan – Read Ephesians 1:9-10. Paul uses three labels for God’s plan. It is “the mystery of his will,” “his purpose,” and “a plan for the fullness of time.” What is God’s ultimate, final plan? To unite everything, everywhere, in Jesus.
He term that Paul uses to describe the plan is a picturesque one, to “head up” or to “sum up” all things in Christ. In ancient accounting practice, you would “add up” a column of figures and place the total at the top. Jesus heads God’s final plan. This Christ-centered plan was crafted “before the foundations of the world,” and is so road that it encompasses all time (“the fullness of the times,” and space “all things in heaven and things on earth.” Paul announces unity in Christ as the grand, divine goal for the universe.
In discussing God’s “plan for the fullness of time,” Paul shares the theme that he will weave through the letter. God begins His plan to unify all things, rooted in the death, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation of Jesus, by founding the church and unifying desparate elements of humankind, Jews and Gentiles, in it.
In this way, the church signals to the evil powers that God’s plan is underway and their divine rule will end. As the Bible says elsewhere, “For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:12).
The last half of Paul’s letter opens with a passionate call to unity and continues with a lengthy exhortation to avoid behavior that damages unity and, instead, to build solidarity with fellow believers. Paul concludes with the rousing image of the church as a unified army, participating with vigor in waging peace in Christ’s name.
Living in Praise of His Glory – Read Ephesians 1:11-12. The believers in Ephesus seem to have lost a clear sense of who they are as Christians, to have “lost heart.” In line with what he had earlier affirmed, Paul again wishes to shore up their identity as Christians. Believers are not victims of haphazard, arbitrary decisions by various deities or astral powers. They are the children of God, and have access to many blessings through Christ based on the deep counsels and eternal decisions of God. It is God’s purpose, counsel, and will that is being worked out in their lives in line with the still wider plan of God to unite all things in Christ. They may have unshakable confidence in their standing before God, and in the effectiveness of the blessings He provides. Their lives should shout the message of Ephesians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”
Compare the uses of the idea of “inheritance” in Ephesians 1:11, 14, and 18. Why is this idea so important to Paul?
Have you ever received an inheritance as the result of someone’s death? Perhaps a relative left you a valuable treasure or a considerable sum of money. In Paul’s view by virtue of the death of Jesus, Christians have received an inheritance from God and become an inheritance to God.
In the Old Testament, God’s people are sometimes thought of as being His “heritage” or inheritance. This sense of being or becoming God’s inheritance is clear in Ephesians 1:18 and is the likely meaning of the term in Ephesians 1:11 as well. As a central element in their Christian identity, Paul wishes believers to know their value to God. They not only possess an inheritance from God, but they are God’s inheritance.
The Holy Spirit: Seal and Down Payment – Read Ephesians 1:13-14. Here Paul tells in brief he conversion story of his readers. What are the steps in that story?
In exploring the importance of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, Paul uses two images, or metaphors, for the Spirit. He first pictures the Holy Spirit as a “seal,” identifying a sealing presence of the Holy Spirit that occurs from the time of conversion. In ancient times, seals were used for a wide variety of functions; to authenticate copes of laws and agreements, to validate the excellence or quantity of a container’s contents, or to witness transactions, contracts, letters, wills, and adoptions. Imprinted on an object, a seal announced both ownership and protection. The presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives marks believers as belonging to God and conveys God’s promise to protect them. They have been “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”
The second image Paul uses for the Holy Spirit is that of “guarantee.” The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance, which looks toward the moment whten the inheritance is to be given in full.
The word translated “guarantee” was a Hebrew loan word that was used widely in the common or Koine Greek of New Testament times to indicate a “first installment,”: “deposit,” or “down payment” that required the payer to make additional payments.
Note that believers do not pay this down payment but receive it from God. Paul says that the treasured presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers is a first instalment of the full inheritance of salvation and redemption that will come with the return of Christ. Our job is to receive with a grateful and submissive heart what we have been offered in Jesus.
Summary – Illustration: The Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter – In the past, numerous people died from accidental domestic electrocution. Modern houses are equipped with an ingenious protective device called a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). The GFCI’s sense any difference in the current in the system and interrupt the electrical current in a matter of milliseconds. In this way, if a child plugs a metallic object into an outlet, the circuit interrupter will activate and stop the current and save the child from death. God planned to create our world and crown it with intelligent and free humans who could choose to reject God and sin. The consequences of sinning (like the consequences of touching a live electrical wire) result in the death of the sinner. God told Adam and Eve they would die in the moment or day that they sinned. Yet they did not die. On the contrary, they realized what had happened and ran away from God. It could be argued that the first pair died in a spiritual way, or that they were condemned to death in the long run.
While these answers have merit, the gospel, especially as explained by Paul in Ephesians, gives a more complete answer to the question of why Adam and Eve did not die immediately for their sin. According to Paul, before the foundation of the world, God built into the Creation plan a safety feature, a spiritual GFCI. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, hey were supposed to die, because they touched the “bare wire” of sin. However, Adam and Eve did not die immediately, because the plan of salvation, created by God before the foundation of the world, was immediately activated. That plan was Christ, and whoever believes in Christ, whoever chooses to be found “in Christ,” is saved from he power and consequences of sin, guilt, alienation, and death.