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God’s plan for us

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Ephesians 1:1-14

Our plans

What have you had to plan well in advance for? Sometimes we just can’t leave things to the last minute. You need to make your plans a long way ahead of whatever it is that you want to do, if you want everything to go well.

Wedding plans

Weddings are usually planned a long way in advance and some of the weddings that I’ve had to officiate at are planned to “nth” degree. The couple work out every little detail a long way ahead of time. Some couples have spread sheets where every detail has been noted and every minute of the day and even the week before has been carefully scheduled in. Of course, if you want a popular venue for a wedding day then you probably to need to make your plans and book the venue a long way in advance. Woe betide you if you have short engagement, it will be pizzas in the backyard, not that there would be anything wrong with doing that.

Holiday plans

Then there are holidays plans. I am going on holidays in September to do a walk which I have been wanting to do for some time now, the three capes walk in Tasmania. It’s 4 days and three nights along some beautiful coastline. As the national parks limit the number of people that can be on the walk at any time you have to make your plans well in advance if you are going to do the walk. We had to make our plans in April and book to have any chance of going there this year. As it was by April most of the year from September to December had been booked out and we had to take the last remaining spots in the colder months. Let’s hope it isn’t not too cold.

God’s plans for his people

This morning we are going to begin a series of Bible talks in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and in the passage that we are looking at today Paul talks about God’s plans for his people which he made well in advance. Paul says that God’s plans for us (the church, the body of Christ) were already in place even before the foundation of the world. Before anything was made, God had already determined what he would do to redeem a people and make them holy and blameless so that they might be his adopted children for the praise of his glory.

The letter is addressed to the saints in Ephesus.

Ephesians 1:1-2

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will: To the faithful saints in Christ Jesus at Ephesus. 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [1]

Now, some of the early manuscripts of this letter don’t have the words “in Ephesus” included in the text in verse 1 and this along with the fact there are no personal reference in the letter (unlike the letter to the Romans for example) has led to a lot of theories about the letter. I think that the most reasonable of these theories is that that the letter was sent to the church in Ephesus, but Paul might have sent it to them with the intention of it being copied and distributed more widely among the churches in Asia Minor[2].

At that time, Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. It was the major city in the area, and it was a hub of activity and commerce. It was a seaport with roads radiating out from it up and down the coast and into the interior. I’ve heard it said it was the fifth largest city in the empire at the time. It was very large with large public buildings and impressive Roman statues and monuments littering the city. It was also the centre for the worship of the Greek goddess of fertility Artemis. The Temple of Artemis being one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Paul had used this city as base for more two years and Luke tells us in Acts 19 and that ministry in Ephesus impacted the who province of Asia (Acts 19:10).

Paul was writing to believers in Ephesus perhaps with intention of his letter impacting the whole province. The CSB refers to “faithful saints” in Ephesus in verse 1 which sadly I think gives the impression that the apostle was thinking of his readers being reliable and trustworthy. But, the word that CSB has translated “faithful” would probably be better understood to refer to their faith, that they were believers in Christ[3]. These believers, Paul calls saints, not because they were more special than other believers, but because all believers are saints. We are all called to be God’s holy people for we have been set apart to belong to God.

Paul begins his letter by praising God for blessing us (believers) with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ.  In verse 3 to 14 Paul launches into a long hymn of praise that reminded the Ephesians of the blessing that are theirs in Christ and God’s plan and purpose for them. In city like Ephesus, they might have been tempted to have felt insignificant and marginalized in such a city, but Paul wanted them to understand that God had blessed them with all that they needed in Christ and that they were part of God’s plan and purpose working out in this world.

The Father’s plan

But what is God’s plan and purpose for believers?

Paul writes in verse 4 that even before the foundation of the world God, the Father had formed his plan, his intention to create a people in Christ for himself who would be holy and blameless before him.

Ephesians 1:4-6

For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him., He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One.

Before the foundation of the world, before anything had been made, before even time itself had begun, in an eternity past when only God existed, God had formed a plan in his mind to make for himself a holy people and to adopt us as his children through the redeeming work of Chris, the Beloved one.

In verses 4 to 6 Paul talks of the Father’s plan. Paul said, in verse 4 that he chose us in him (in Christ), to be holy and blameless before him. Our salvation rest on God’s gracious choice that God made to redeem us through Christ so that we would one day stand before our God holy and blameless. Paul goes on to say that in love he destined (or predestined) us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.

God’s plan to redeem fallen humanity was formed even before humanity fell, even before we were created, before the world began. This was God’s plan or intention for believers in Christ from before time began. He chose to be gracious to a people who knew would rebel and show kindness to those who didn’t deserve such kindness. This was the father’s plan working out of his great love for us. The reference to love in verse 4 probably best fits as the introduction to what Paul says in verse 5. “In love he predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ.”.

We need to understand this. Salvation is God’s great plan and we need to understand God’s intention and purpose for us in Christ. We need to understand his will for us. God’s plan for us is that we might be children who are holy and blameless, who are like him and through being like him glorify him in this world. Knowing this ought to change the way that we live now. In the second half of the letter (chapters 4 to 6) Paul will call us to live a life worthy of this calling and he calls us to imitate God as his dearly loved children.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, and walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints.

We are to be people who imitate our Father in heaven by following Christ. We are to walk in the way of live and walk in holiness because this is what is proper for saint – for people who are called to be his holy people. Since before the foundation of the world, the Father’s plan and purpose for us is to be his holy and blameless adopted sons and daughters.

The grace of Christ

Having told us of the Father’s plan in verses 4 to 6, Paul praises God for the glorious grace that has been lavished on us in Christ. God’s plan for us has worked out in and through the Beloved One, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the riches of his grace. Paul recounts what Christ has done for us and what that means for us in verses 7 to 10.

Ephesians 1:7-10

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 He made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he purposed in Christ 10 as a plan for the right time—to bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth in him.

In him we have redemption and forgiveness

Paul wrote that in him, we have redemption and the forgiveness of our trespasses. To redeem something was to deliver it through the payment of price. We have been blessed because we have been redeemed from the wrath of God through the blood of Christ being shed for us. He paid the penalty that our sins deserved so that we might be set free and forgiven with all our sins being removed from us as far as the east is from the west.

These are perhaps among the chief spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ for all the others are dependent on these. We now can have peace with God because we have been justified by his blood (Romans 5:1,9).  We have the deposit of Spirit as the down payment of our inheritance (1:14). We have access through the Spirit to the Father (2:18) for the Spirit unites with Christ who sits at the right hand of God. We are members of God’s household and can him Father. We are being built together as a dwelling place for the Lord (2:21). All these things are ours because we be redeemed by his blood and forgiven.

This was a message that a city like Ephesus needed to hear. It doesn’t matter what we have done. Our wickedness and idolatry and our worst sins and worst failures are completely forgiven because of the glorious grace that God has lavished on us in Christ Jesus.

The whole universe is restored in Christ

But God’s plan and purpose in Christ is far bigger than just us. Paul talks about the mystery of God’s will being made known to them. God’s plan was at one time hidden but it had now had revealed and that plan was to  “bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth in him”.

God’s plan is to restore the whole of creation in Christ. As Paul says later in this letter, God has appointed Christ as the head over everything for the church (1:22). He will fill all things in every way (1:23). There will be no place in the whole of creation that will not feel his presence or submit to his rule or in which his righteousness will not be present. God’s plan is for the whole cosmos, the whole of creation to be restored in Christ. Paul in the letter to the Romans has written how the creation eagerly “waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed” (8:19) for when that happens “creation itself will be set free from the bondage to decay” (8:21).

We are part of a much bigger plan as believers as members of Christ’s body. As Christians we might be a minority in whatever city we are living in, but God’s purposes are bigger than just what might happen to us at work or in that city, God is making all things new. He is bringing everything together in Christ so that one we will belong to a world in which the whole universe will resound to the praise of his glory. This is our inheritance in Christ as adopted children. We get to share in the glory of the Son of God. In Roman law adopted children had the same rights as natural children and shared in the inheritance. We have been blessed with all the spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ and we aren’t to forget this.

We need keep this perspective and see the world as it is. The world sometimes looks impressive. Ephesus would have been an impressive looking city that would have seemed to offer much with all its temples and riches and commerce. At times it would have seemed that what went on in that city could either make you or break you. But God has blessed us with everything we need in Christ. We have a great inheritance as God’s people, and we aren’t to forget that. We aren’t to forget the love of God that destined us to be adopted as sons (heirs) through Jesus Christ

We are not to be like Esau who traded away is birth right, his inheritance for a bowl of soup. You might remember the story. The Bible says that Esau despised his birth right (Genesis 25:29-34). He gave it away to his brother for he didn’t value what he had. Esau was a man who only thought of the immediate needs he had. He came in from the country and he was famished. He was hungry and all he could think of was satisfying his hunger and so when his brother offered him some food in exchange for his birthright, he gave it away to satisfy his immediate desires. He gave his inheritance away for a bowl of soup.

We are people who God has blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ. There is nothing that this world can offer us that can compare. Some of these blessing we already have and experience. We have been redeemed and forgiven. We have peace with God. We are children of God and members of his household. We have the Spirit of God. We access to the Father and he hears and answer our prayers. But there are still some that that we must wait for, our inheritance, the redemption of our bodies, the new heavens and earth, getting to see Jesus face to face.

The heirs

But who are the heirs? Who gets blessed? In verses 11 to 14 Paul emphasizes that the blessings which God gives to his people belong to both Jew and Gentile believers who have put their hope in the Lord Jesus.

Jewish believers

In verses 11 to 12 Paul first describes Jewish believers.

Ephesians 1:11-12

11 In him we have also received an inheritance, because we were predestined according to the plan of the one who works out everything in agreement with the purpose of his will, 12 so that we who had already put our hope in Christ might bring praise to his glory.

The “we” that Paul is talking about is people like him, Jews who had already put their hope in Christ. God had promised that a remnant would be saved and just as God had promised, the gospel first spread out through believing Jews who put their hope in their Messiah so that they might bring praise to his glory.

Gentile believers

The second group of people that Paul identified were the Ephesians who were largely Gentile believers. They are the “you” that he refers to in verse 13.

Ephesians 1:13

13 In him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed.

Ephesus would have been mainly a Gentile church and so when he says “you also” he was referring to Gentile believers. He says that they were sealed (marked out as belonging to God) with the promised Holy Spirit when they heard the word of truth the gospel and believed it. The gospel, as Paul says in Romans chapter 1 and verse 16, “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek [or Gentile]”.

We are to live to the praise of his glory

As believers in Christ, we have a wonderful inheritance. It is important to realize just how much we have been blessed in Christ and what God’s plan and purpose is for our lives. We have been saved so that we might be his adopted children, holy and blameless before him. We have been saved so that we might glorify our Father in heaven.

Paul wrote that God predestined us to be his children… “to the praise of his glorious grace” (verse 6). In verse 12 he wrote that those who had already put their hope in Christ “might bring praise to his glory”. The last verse, verse 14 ends with the words, “to the praise of his glory”.

As God’s people we are to live to the praise of his glory. That’s what we have been called to as God’s holy people. We have blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms so that we might be his children and reflect his holiness to the praise of his glorious grace. We are to declare that grace to others and they are to see in our lives as we walk as Jesus walked imitating our Father in heaven as dearly loved children.

Paul will spell out in detail what that looks like in the second half of the letter in chapters 4 to 6. He will spend chapters 1 to 3 explaining what Christ has done for us and the riches of his grace. But today, in these opening verses we see God’s plan and purpose to bless us in Christ He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. He has redeemed and forgiven us an adopted us into his family. It’s his will and purpose that we should understand this and live to the praise of his glory. For we are those who have been set apart for God through his glorious grace in Christ.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated all Scripture reference are taken from the Christian Standard Bible (2020). Holman Bible Publishers.

[2] Paul had spent more than two years in Ephesus and at that time it would seem that he had used Ephesus as a base for his ministry throughout Asia Minor (see Acts 19:10).

[3] In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian the apostle used the same word (pistos) to refer to believers in contrast to unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:15) and that is how the word probably should be taken here.