Week of Dec. 2: The blessings of being chosen by God, redeemed by Jesus, sealed by the Spirit
By the Rev. Sam and Helen Rogers
Lesson for week of Dec. 2
Scripture: Ephesians 1: 3-14
The study for the Winter Quarter is focused on three of the four letters Paul wrote from prison in Rome - Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. (The fourth is the very personal letter of Philemon.) We begin with Ephesians. Most of Paul’s letters to the churches deal with issues that had arisen after his initial leadership. He has very specific advice and counsel concerning those issues and their impact on Christian belief and practice. Ephesians is very different, both in style, content and total lack of any personal references. This omission is particularly odd, since he lived three years in Ephesus! Nothing is more heart-rending than his final word to the Ephesian leaders when he was leaving to return to Jerusalem and, ultimately, to imprisonment in Rome. Please read Acts 20: 13 - 38.
For these reasons, there is some doubt Paul wrote the letter. We disagree. The reason for the different nature of Ephesians is the different purpose for which Paul wrote it – and to whom it was written. The fact is: the salutation “to the saints in Ephesus” is not in the oldest manuscripts and should simply read “to the saints, the faithful in Christ” (NIV). This letter shines brightly as one of the noblest of all New Testament writings. It is a prayer, and the scripture for today is all one sentence in Greek. Blessing (read praise!) explodes from him. He is singing a doxology of praise. Of course, Ephesians is different. Paul was writing after years of reflection on the meaning of Christ for the world. Moreover, his purpose was to share his faith with many of the churches as “his last will and testament.” The letter was not just for one church, but for THE CHURCH. It was to be circulated to all the churches of Asia Minor (today’s Turkey).
For Paul, what Jesus did in his life, death, and resurrection was cosmic in scope. We now know God’s plan for the world. That plan began before the creation of the world! (vs.4) God’s sovereign love begins with God’s great word of, “Yes, I choose you!” Don’t get hung up on predestination as a theological system of who is—or isn’t—going to heaven. Is it not enough to know that the destiny of the Christian believer is in the hands of a God who loved us so much that He gave Himself for us in Christ? Paul isn’t talking about whom God chose, but what God chose us for. We were chosen to be holy—yes, you too. Holiness is not an imposition of a requirement, but another gift of God’s love that leads to a richer and fuller life in relationship with God.
And how are we chosen? We are adopted into the family. We have three children and eight biological grandchildren. But now we have another grandchild who was adopted into the Rogers’ family. What a joyous day when that 10-year-old boy became a part of our family! Every child is a gift. An adopted child is a chosen gift. How much more the joy when you can know your heavenly Father adopted you into His family. God chooses to adopt us, not because of anything we have done, but simply because He loves us so. This love was given to all humans through the grace-filled life of Jesus. Can you recall the feeling when the one you loved accepted you in marriage and said, “I will.” You were chosen! God chooses each one of us unconditionally, no strings, without exceptions.
This adoption carries with it redemption (ransom, CEB). On the cross, Jesus made it possible to have at-one-ment with God. There are different understandings of atonement, but all of them bring us into a right relationship with God. Whether redeeming something back from the pawnshop, or paying a ransom for a kidnapped loved one, there is a cost to be paid. Like it or not, “Jesus paid it all.”
The greatest result of redemption is the forgiveness of sins. On the human level, forgiveness is so difficult because of pride. We want someone to ask for our forgiveness, whereas God gives it, according to vs. 7, through “the riches of God’s grace that he has lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (NIV) The purpose of this “overflowing” (CEB) of grace is to “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” Here in verse 10 is the theme of the book.
Now the mystery of God’s plan is made known. All of previous history has been a preparation for God’s design begun before Creation. Paul wrote in Romans 8:22, the whole of creation has been groaning for this very thing. Think of all the disunities of your world-- the family, the community, the nation—even the world itself. And here is the Church in the middle of the muddle, called to live out a life that brings together and not separates. Maxie Dunham writes:
“We serve a great God who has given us a great Christ; ours is a great redemption because it meets us where we are and delivers us to what, at our deepest core of our being, we want and need—a family. To have a dwelling place, and for that dwelling place to be a family, and for that family to include all creation, and for that ‘extended’ family to be ‘in Christ’ —there is nothing greater!”
Moreover, God has set a deposit guaranteeing all this to be true: the Holy Spirit. As circumcision was the mark of Abraham for the promises of God, so is the Holy Spirit for the Christian. For many this seal comes with baptism, but the baptism of the Spirit MAY come in other ways. Humans cannot limit the way God works!
These are the spiritual blessings: We have been chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and sealed with the Spirit. “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”