Every Spiritual Blessing
This morning we begin studying one of the greatest books in the whole Bible. Of course, all of the biblical books are inspired by God and true and important—but some are more important than others. All of us should have at least some familiarity, for example, with the book of Obadiah—at least so that when you get to heaven and Obadiah asks, “How did you like my book?” you’ll have something to say. But some biblical books are so focused on Jesus and how to relate to him that we should master their contents and meditate on them regularly. Ephesians is one of those books. In fact, if I was allowed to have only one book of the Bible, I would choose Ephesians.
Read 1:1,2 (NLT). The author is Paul, an apostle (authoritative spokesman) of Jesus, key leader of the early Christian movement, author of half of the books of the New Testament. The audience is the church in Ephesus—maybe. I say “maybe” because (as your marginal notes may say) “at Ephesus” is not in three of the earliest manuscript copies of this letter. Many (including myself) believe that this letter was sent to all of the churches that were planted as a result of Paul’s earlier ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:9b,10; MAP). If so, it eventually became known as “Ephesians” because the Ephesian church was the most prominent of the recipients.
This letter is organized into three sections: what we have received from God through Jesus (1:3-3:21), how we should represent Jesus in our social relationships (4:1-6:9), and how we should battle against Jesus’ enemy, Satan (6:10-20). If you want to read a wonderful book that explains and applies these three themes, I highly recommend Watchman Nee’s Sit, Walk, Stand.
Every spiritual blessing
Let’s begin exploring what God has given us through Jesus (read 1:3). What a comprehensive statement this is! God has already (past tense) bestowed every spiritual blessing (“heavenly realms” means the unseen/spiritual portion of reality) on every person who is united with Christ. What are these spiritual blessings? 1:4-14 gives a partial answer to this question. Let’s read it one section at a time to understand these blessings.
Read 1:4-6. The main blessing is that through Jesus, God has adopted us into his family (1:5)—he has brought us into a Father/King-child/prince relationship with himself. Our adoption entails five additional blessings:
God chose beforehand to adopt us. It isn’t that we deserved to be adopted by God, so that he was somehow obligated to adopt us even though he didn’t really want to. God wanted to adopt us, even though we didn’t deserve it. He loved us so much that he decided long before we were born that he wanted to include us in his family. And it gave him great pleasure to do this. As an adoptive parent, this has special meaning for me. If someone asked me if I got “stuck” with my two daughters, I would be outraged. I wanted them before they were born!
God paid a great price to adopt us (read 1:7,8a). American adoption is costly because of legal and medical fees. But God paid an infinitely higher price to adopt us—he paid with the blood of his own Son, Jesus. The guilt of our sins against a holy God creates a moral debt that demands death as payment (Rom.6:14). God cannot ignore our sin without compromising his own character. We must either pay the penalty of our sins with our own (spiritual) death, or God must somehow pay our debt for us. Because God is so rich in kindness (not because we are deserving), he sent his own Son (and his Son freely chose) to fully pay our debt by dying in our place. We will never fully understand how costly this was, nor will we ever fully understand the love that that would pay such a price.
God has revealed his plan to us (read 1:8b-10). God did not adopt us and then leave us in the dark about his purposes and plans. God has a plan to bring everything together through Jesus. Humanity was alienated from God, but through Jesus’ death God has provided a way to be reconciled to him. Human society is riddled with ethnic, racial, socio-economic and gender divisions, but through Jesus God is forming a new society of brothers and sisters whose love for Jesus and one another overcomes all these divisions. The spiritual world is full of conflict, and nature itself is profoundly broken—but when Jesus returns he will defeat all of his spiritual enemies and heal the earth. So we know God’s rescue plan, we know where history is headed—not to meaningless oblivion or to endless cycles, but to the rulership of Jesus the Messiah.
God has promised us an inheritance (read 1:11). In Roman society (as in America), adopted children were not second-rate family members. They were full legal heirs. So it is with God’s adopted children. He has given us an inheritance—the right to enter and enjoy his perfect kingdom forever (Rev.21:3b,4). Although this is yet in the future, it is so certain that Paul can speak of it in the past tense—as “a done deal”—because God “makes everything work out according to his plan.”
God has given us his Spirit as the “down-payment” of our inheritance (read 1:12-14). “Guarantee” is the Greek word arrabon, which means “down-payment.” When you buy a house from the bank, you make a promise to pay the full purchase price (plus interest) by a certain date. But the bank wants more than your promise; they want a “down-payment”—a partial-but-substantial cash payment that they can use now. In the same way, God promises his adopted children their inheritance. But he also gives us a “down-payment”—a partial-but-substantial installment of his kingdom which we can experience now, this life. This down-payment is the Holy Spirit, who takes up residence in our hearts and gives us experiential glimpses of God’s kingdom. Only when God’s kingdom comes will we experience the fullness of God’s love, but the Holy Spirit enables us to experience God’s love in this life (Rom.5:5). Only when God’s kingdom comes will we be freed completely from the power of sin, but the Holy Spirit empowers us to experience substantial freedom in this life (Rom.8:2). Only when God’s kingdom comes will we experience perfect clarity concerning God’s will (1Cor.13:12), but the Holy Spirit enables us to understand God’s will and experience his guidance in this life (1Cor.2:12). Only when God’s kingdom comes will we enjoy perfect love relationships with other people, but the Holy Spirit enables us to build and enjoy healthy love relationships in this life (1Thess.4:9).
How comprehensive these blessings are! They deal with the past, the future and the present. They meet our deepest needs (ALIENATION; GUILT; MEANINGLESSNESS; DEATH; INADEQUACY). And even these five blessings, as wonderful as they are, do not exhaust what God has given us in Christ. We will learn about additional blessings later in this letter, and other New Testament passages tell us about still more. Now that we’ve learned about what these blessings are, let’s spend the rest of our time learning how to practically apply them to our lives.
Receive God’s offer of adoption
The first practical application is to make sure you get adopted into God’s family, so that these blessings become yours. There is no issue as important as this one—and Paul is absolutely clear about how to do it.
Read 1:12, 13 again. 1:12 refers to “trusting in Christ.” 1:13 spells out a sequence: they heard the Good News about God’s salvation through Christ, they believed in (entrusted themselves to) Christ—and then (at that moment) they were given the Holy Spirit as the proof of their adoption. The apostle John says the same thing—read Jn.1:12. Who receives the right to become children of God? Those who believe in/entrust themselves to Jesus as the Savior/Messiah, those who personally accept/receive Jesus.
What does it mean to entrust yourself to Christ? I don’t think it’s difficult to understand how to do this. If you know how to entrust yourself to a surgeon to operate on you, you know how to entrust yourself to Jesus to adopt you. The difficult part is admitting that you are spiritually destitute without Christ. Our culture’s “self-help” spirituality insists that we already have all the spiritual resources we need within ourselves. All we need to do is realize this and self-actualize. The spiritual disciplines and techniques may differ from teacher to teacher, but they all presume that you already have these spiritual resources within yourself. But the God of the Bible rejects “self-help” spirituality, and insists that we need the “rescue” spirituality that comes only through Jesus.
Each of these spiritual blessings that God gives us through Christ presupposes that we do not have them apart from Christ. Apart from Christ, we are orphans who have no one to look after us. Apart from Christ, we are slaves to the sin that condemns us. Apart from Christ, we are lost—without a clue to the direction of human history or the meaning of our own lives. Apart from Christ, we are headed for an eternity of alienation from God. Apart from Christ, we are fundamentally inadequate for dealing with life victoriously.
Are you willing to admit this? This is what Jesus called being “poor in spirit” (explain ptochos vs. penes). The good news is not that we are penes; it is that God’s kingdom belongs to those who admit they are ptochos (Matt.5:3). The moment you admit that you have nothing and cast yourself on Jesus, God adopts you as his child and showers you with these spiritual blessings. Have you ever done this? If not, do you want to? If you do, pray with me now/at the end of this meeting.
Make the blessings of God’s adoption your focus & treasure
What is the application for those of us who belong to Christ, who have received these spiritual blessings? The key to a spiritually buoyant life (peace, hope and joy) is to focus on these blessings and make them the true treasure of your life.
This is what Paul is modeling for us. He is not on vacation at a Greek island—he is in prison, in danger of being executed. Yet you can feel the joy and hope that exudes from this passage (run-on sentence because of enthusiasm). What is his secret? Paul is focused on the blessings of his adoption, and he is praising God for this privilege.
Paul is providing us with a window into his soul, a glimpse into how he relates to God that gave him spiritual buoyancy in circumstances that would otherwise “drown” him. This is why he says elsewhere that the key to not losing heart/daily spiritual renewal in the midst of difficult circumstances is “fixing our eyes on the things that are not seen” (2Cor.4:16-18). These blessings are the “things that are not seen.” This is why he says that the key to experiencing God’s peace is “rejoicing in the Lord” (Phil.4:4,7). This is what it means to “rejoice in the Lord.” This is why he says that the key to being undergirded by God’s life and peace is “setting our minds on the things of the Spirit” (Rom.8:5,6). These blessings are the “things of the Spirit.”
Many Christians do not have this victorious joy, this heart-guarding peace, this irrepressible hope. They don’t attract others to Jesus because they are just as discouraged and anxious and negative as everyone else. Maybe this describes you—it sometimes describes me. When this is the case, it is almost always because our focus and treasure is temporal blessings (ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP; COOPERATIVE CHILDREN; FINANCIAL EASE; PEOPLE TREATING ME BETTER; LATEST TOY; MINISTRY “SUCCESS”) instead of these spiritual blessings. These things are more tangible, but they are neither strong enough to sustain us nor secure enough to rely on. They always disappoint us when we make them our focus and treasure. But focusing on these invisible but comprehensive and utterly reliable blessings will always result in increasing peace and hope and joy.
The key question, then, is not merely, “Do you know these things?” The question is, “Do you focus on these things and thank God for them?” (Whenever Christians respond to this point with “I know this...,” I know they aren’t focusing on this.) Do you recall and meditate on these things so regularly that they are becoming the ‘default setting’ of your thought life? Do you run to these things at the first hint of anxiety or discouragement? Are these things becoming more and more the great treasure of your life, so that even when things are going well you enjoy these things even more than your good circumstances?
If you want to start developing this focus, here is a practical step you can take. Pray this passage to God every day this week, at least three times each day. In your own words, praise and thank God for each of these spiritual blessings, tell him why they are important to you, where you would be without them—and ask him to help you make them the true treasure of your life. Commit with a friend to do this, and see what happens. You won’t be spared from trouble, but your troubles won’t devastate you, and you will be more spiritually buoyant—and others may be drawn to Jesus because of it.