Lesson 3: "All Spiritual Blessings .. In Christ"
Paul's Prison Epistles. This is lesson # 3. Please turn to the book of Ephesians. We shall begin this lesson by reading Paul's salutation to the Ephesians. You'll need to get your eyes on v.l-2 of Ephesians ch. 1; are you ready? Please read as I read! Here we go: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, To the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ."
When we receive a letter today; we usually find the name of the person writing that letter along with his address and title, as part of the return address on the envelope. For example it might say: Dr. C. Charlie Jones, administrator of thus-and-so institution followed by his street number, city and state. When Paul wrote or dictated this letter, it was probably put on to a scroll by pen and ink. My guess is: there was no name or return address on the outside, i.e. when that scroll was rolled-up. If Tychicus was the one who delivered this letter to the elders of the church at Ephesus (as we have surmised) he might have tied a string around it. We simply don't know. Thus, Paul, the very first thing, at the very top of that big long scroll began this prison epistle by giving his name, his title and to whom he was writing, i.e. to whom he was addressing this letter. That part turned out to be what we call v.1, realizing of course these chapter and verse numbers were not added to this document for something like 1200 years after that day in a Roman prison when this letter to the Ephesians was created. Paul WAS an apostle, i.e. "an appointee" we would say. He was an appointee of who? Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, the Son of God. THIS the reader must keep in mind, first and foremost, as he considers the message of this epistle. This was not Paul's idea, really, this appointing of Paul was done "by the will of God," (middle of v.1), see that? Now, this appointee of King Jesus was writing to whom? "To the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus." Who are "the saints?" Please note, this word is not capitalized. That word "saints" simply means: those who are sanctified, i.e. set apart unto God, or in other words Christians. That word "saints" is used more than 50 times in the N.T., it is a far more common term than the word "Christian." This word "saint(s)" not only applies to God's people now, this word was applied to God's people (almost that many times) in the Old Testament. So, Paul was writing to Christians. Christians where? The "saints" or Christians at Ephesus. Saints, i.e. Christians, are the same as "the faithful in Christ Jesus" (at the end of v.1). This is not two different categories; just two ways of describing the same people. Please note, Christians, or saints, or God's faithful (as they are called here) are "in Christ Jesus." Now, how did they get "in Jesus"? O.K., back up about two or three pages, there! Look at Gal. 3:27, it says: "For as many as have been baptized INTO Christ have put on Christ." Remember now, Paul wrote both this verse and that verse. So, here in Ephesians, Paul was writing to those who had been baptized into Christ. Please note: Paul was writing "to the faithful IN Christ Jesus." That's the way Paul thought of his Ephesian brethren. The term "in Christ" as used here and in other places (like II Cor. 5:17) denotes a relationship, i.e. a state, in the which all past sins are forgiven. Thus, to be "in Christ" is to have hope. When one is baptized into Christ, the Lord adds them to His church (that's Acts 2:47). The church, as that word is used in the N.T., is simply this band or body of believers, i.e. the saved which the Lord has separated, i.e. sanctified as His people. There is only one such body. That body IS the church of Christ. There is NOT 300 or 600 or 1000 different brands. There is one church, and only one church, as Paul will later emphasize in this book; that we call Ephesians. So, keep it simple: to be "in Christ," is to be a Christian. To be a Christian is to be in Christ's church. It's the same as the saved or the sanctified; or to be a saint, or to be one of the faithful (near the end of v.1). These are all N.T. terms meaning one and the same thing. It's like being an American, a citizen of the U.S., a Kentuckian and briar-hopper. All these words may be applied to the same person. The word we select depends upon what we are trying to communicate about that person. That's the way Paul used saints, Christian, the faithful, etc.
Alright, to summarize: v.1. identifies the writer and described those to whom he is addressing in this letter. Now, v.2 is a greeting: "Grace" (i.e. unmerited favor) "be unto you" [i.e. the Ephesian Christians] AND that's not all: Paul said: "and peace," i.e. freedom from war and other agitations of the state. No doubt this word includes the idea of safety and prosperity as well. Now, from whom did this wish come? From God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (That's v.2). Paul was an ambassador; writing this message on behalf of the heavenly Father and God's Son, King Jesus. So, whatever is said in this message is pretty important. Right? You see, this letter carries the seal of inspiration, right up front. Paul referred to himself as "an ambassador in bonds" (that's over in Eph. 6:20). An ambassador is one who speaks in behalf of his sovereign. So, get your eye on the message! Tune it in sharp! This message is from God. Are you ready? We'll begin in v.3, and then read down through v.14. That's really just three sentences; the way the KJV has it. Most other translations chop it up into shorter thoughts. Have you got your eyes on the text? Here we go:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved: in whom we have redemption thorough his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself; that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him. In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all thing after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ, in whom ye also trusted after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory."
O.K., back up to v.3! Let me ask you: where are "all spiritual blessings?" Have you found it? The answer is "in Christ," (at the end of v.3). Look at that again: "All spiritual blessings!" How many is that? What does that mean? What does that include? Would salvation be a spiritual blessing? Obviously, it would! First off, this is in contrast to what we might call material blessings. W.E.Vine in his dictionary says the word "spiritual" comes from the Greek word "Pneumatikos" and is strictly (in his terminology) "an after-Pentecost word." He says it includes (or describes) things that have their origin with God and are in harmony with His character. The phrase: "spiritual blessings" occurs only this once in the entire bible. Now, while you've got your eyes on v.3, notice that phrase "in heavenly places." Do you see that? What does that mean? That phrase IS USED AGAIN, (once more in this chapter down in v.20, as well as in 2:6 and in 3:10). Could being in the church be considered being IN A HEAVENLY PLACE? As strange as that may sound at first; I believe you will conclude that is the idea, after you consider the other verses I mentioned. Thus, the phrase "in heavenly places" may not fit your first impression. Remember now, you must make the term fit the context; not your first impression. The church IS heavenly in that it's final destiny is in heaven. Jesus is the head of the church and he is now in heaven. As a matter of fact, the only earthly aspect of the church is the sin nature of church members now living in the world. If your eyebrows are saying: now, how can this be? Then, you are ready for v.4. From v.4 down through v.14, the thought is rapid and the content is wide-sweeping. Paul starts with God's plan before the foundation of the world (v.4) and briefly works his way down through "the redemption of the purchased possession" (in v.14). It's going to take a lot of visualizing and conceptualizing to grasp the thought here. This is not just some after- thought or last minute turn of affairs. Things ARE NOW proceeding according to God's plan from the very beginning, i.e. plans that God made before the foundation of the world. When it says in v.4, that God chose "us in him," it goes without saying this was through the church in his Son, Jesus Christ. Furthermore, it might be argued with invincible reasoning that, Paul, in that word "us," was probably referring to himself and the other Jewish members of the Ephesian congregation. Jesus was a Jew and came through the Jewish nation. You see, this thought excited the sentimentalities of any Jews in that congregation. Then in v.5, Paul said it was "the good pleasure of his will" [i.e. God's will] from the very beginning to adopt "children by [or through] Jesus Christ to himself," i.e. SOME would become legal heirs of God, so-to-speak. Instead of "predestinated" the ASV has the word "foreordained," i.e. this outcome was appointed or assigned in advance. In other words, it simply means: that WAS God's plan all along. Many references are found in the bible with respect to God's advance planning and foreknowledge of the eventual consummation of things. Or, to put it another way, the bible clearly teaches predestination, or that God has a foreknowledge of the end product. We covered this before. Paul covered this thought back in Romans 9:11 (there it was called "the purpose of God according to election"). As a matter of fact, Paul even illustrated the thought there; using Jacob and Esau, I trust you remember. There, Paul asked the question: "Is there unrighteousness with God?" (I.e. in effect, Paul was saying: is God unfair? Does God, take advantage unfairly? Or, in other words: Is God a respecter of persons? to put it in the language of Acts 10:34.) I trust you remember, at the end of that verse (Rom. 9:14), Paul answered his own question with that common cliché: "God forbid." In other words: perish the thought. That simply is NOT the way it is! So, God's plans in advance; therefore, DOES NOT predetermine an individual's destiny, as some have assumed. What I'm saying is: God's overall plan does not take away the idea of an individual being a free moral agent. The reason, I'm spending so much time on this point, you probably already caught on, is that some denominations teach (or have taught in the past) as one of their cardinal doctrines: that God predetermines before we are born that we will be saved or lost eternally. In other words, we as individuals have nothing to do with our salvation. To say it another way, we are NOT free moral agents and thus cannot obey OR disobey. It makes no difference. That's 180 degrees from what Peter said on Pentecost. Luke said (I'm sure you remember): "with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying. Save YOURSELVES from this untoward generation" (Acts 2:40). In other words, that was the tone, nature and synopsis of Peter's speech on that occasion. It is said that a man named Augustine, back in the 4th century (AD) gave birth to this saved or lost before the foundation of the world idea. Then, you are probably aware that a man named John Calvin popularized the idea back in the 1500's. But, you can't get that doctrine from this chapter. It is simply not there. O.K., I'll get off my soapbox, if you'll put your eyes on v.6-7-8. Is that a deal? These verses say in essence; that God is on our side. "His grace...hath made us accepted in the beloved." What does "in the beloved" mean? That is a reference to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We must be "in Christ" to be pleasing to the Heavenly Father. It is in Jesus (v.7) that "we have redemption through his blood." That's another way of saying, "the forgiveness of sins," (further down in v.7). To redeem means to: buy back, or to re-purchase. God made man and turned him loose, i.e. made him a free moral agent. We can obey or disobey God; He gave us that freedom. Of course, there are consequences to such actions. But, "according to the good pleasure of his will" (v.5), God's desire is that we surrender to Him willingly and serve Him with faith and confidence. That's called the "riches of his grace," (end of v.7). God "hath abounded toward us" (v.8). God's plan is above our finding out. His ways are as far above our ways as heaven is higher than the earth. (According to Isa. 55:9) You might call that "wisdom" and "prudence" (here in v.8). Nevertheless, God has sort of given us the tip of the iceberg, so-to speak; i.e. enough of his plan to carry-on as God would have us. He has "made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure." (v.9). Paul told Timothy this mystery of God's way is great. Paul said, "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, and seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." (That's the last verse in I Tim. ch. 3) At the end of the Roman letter, Paul said this mystery "was kept secret since the world began." In other words, God's plan seems to be unfolded for man's benefit, page by page or might I say on a step by step basis. More is known now than in other ages. Heb. 10:26ff makes it clear these things will be taken into consideration in judgment. This, evidently, was Jesus' point (in Luke 12:47-48). How did God abound toward us? (v.8?) Hang on to v.9-10: "Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ..." Where and how will God gather them together? "In Christ" (v.10); get an eyeball on that! Further down in 3:5, Paul said: (this mystery) "in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit..." i.e. the Holy Spirit. God's plan is working. All things are "after the counsel of his own will." (v.11). "We should be to the praise of his glory..." (v.12). How do we learn this? How did the Ephesians learn this? Through "the word of truth!" Through "the gospel of your salvation." (v.13). We probably need to work a little more on v. 13-14; but, we'll get back to that in lesson #4. Our time is up! Have a good day! I'll be with you in Lesson # 4.