God Blesses Us
In our previous studies of Ephesians we have noticed that Paul begins this letter in a prolonged and passionate gush of praise. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” he says and then he goes on to lay out all the reasons why we should.
Two weeks ago we looked at what it means for us to bless God and considered some reasons we might find it hard to do so. Last week we looked at who this God is that we are blessing – who is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?” And who is “our Lord Jesus Christ” for that matter? And how does the Holy Spirit fit into all of it? If you want to know the answer, you can find last week’s sermon on iTunes or on the website.
This week we’re going to look at why Paul is praising God so fervently, and the answer is found in
Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
That’s the general summary of it: we bless God because He has blessed us. Then Paul goes on to list some of the particular blessings in verses 4-14. We’ll dig into each of the particulars in the coming weeks, but first, this morning, we’re going to consider some general points that tie all the particulars together. We’re going to take note of the fact that God HAS blessed us with EVERY spiritual blessing, that this is a done deal for Christians and there’s nothing else to find or collect; that these blessings are spiritual blessings in the heavenly places and we’ll discuss what that means; and that these blessings are in Christ and no where else.
So, first, let’s consider the amazing fact that God has blessed us. To those who are redeemed, to those who are in Christ, to those who have had this definite experience of being born-again, God directs blessing. How does that work out?
Remember we said that to bless is to eulogize, to speak well of.
Now think of the fact that God spoke the Creation into being. That’s the imagery the Bible uses. It’s very interesting, the Bible doesn’t talk about God making the world in a workshop or a lab or a studio. No, it says He spoke it into being. So hold on to that in your mind and then add the idea of blessing as speaking well of someone, and then consider the fact that God blesses you and you start to see what an incredible thing this is. The one who spoke the galaxies into place, the one who spoke all of creation into being is now speaking well of you.
And, remember Jesus is called the Word of God. That’s the logos of God for you Bible students. Logos is another form of lego, to speak. You lego the logos. Only now the logos, the Word, is eulegos, or speaking well of you. And if that is true, and it is, what can God not do for you?
You begin to understand why a Christian like Paul could go to say:
Romans 8:38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As incredible as it is, the God we bless is blessing us. It’s this cycle we talked about last week – we receive and then we reflect. We receive blessing from God and then praise or ‘bless’ Him in return. He starts it all. He initiates. He blesses us first and then we respond.
And notice, that if you are a Christian, by that very definition, by your very ability to identify as a Christian you are showing that you have been blessed by God. You have been blessed through His calling, blessed through His forgiveness, and blessed with your current identity and promised future. Simply to be in Christ is a blessing, a tremendous blessing, in itself. If you are a Christian you have been blessed, and notice the binary nature of it all – you have been “blessed … with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”
What am I trying to say here? Simply this – if you are in Christ you are completely in. You are blessed with EVERY spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. You’re not waiting on the next shipment.
Two weeks ago I ordered six items from Amazon: five tables and one tablecloth. I ordered it all at once, paid for it all at once, but I didn’t get it all once. I had to keep tracking shipments and waiting for items to arrive. They came in five separate shipments, from at least three different carriers, over a period of about ten days. Some of you know the kind of frustration that I’m talking about.
The blessings of God are not that way though. You get everything, all at once. You are either outside of a relationship with God, without access to these blessings, or you are in Christ with immediate and complete access to ALL these blessings. We will grow and be transformed in Christ over time, but these blessings are ours and they are real right now. There’s no need to wonder, no need to ‘hope’ you’ve been blessed, you can have confidence in what God has done and what He makes available to you.
But here is where we have a bit of problem. We’re often ignorant about what God has done for us. We don’t understand what we possess, all we’ve been given and entrusted with; we don’t understand all of our benefits.
It’s like the ignorant heir who is suddenly informed their quirky great uncle, the one they had only heard mentioned a few times, has died and left them a great inheritance of a large estate and manor in some county in England. They’re in total legal possession of a vast property and home, but they have no idea what they’ve just received. Now, if that’s you, imagine taking a trip to the see the estate. Imagine walking the gardens, passing through the barns and other buildings, and then spending hours walking the halls and opening hundreds of doors. It’s all yours. You’ve inherited all of it. And it’s going to take you days just to familiarize yourself with the layout of the home and property.
But then, what’s in each of the rooms? What’s in the drawers of the dressers? What are the books on the shelves in the library? What are the decorations and where did they come from, when were they made, what are they worth? What are the paintings on the walls of and who are the people in them? Suddenly you have all these things, but it’s going to take you a while to grasp it all.
Well, that’s barely a taste of what we have received in Christ. Blessings so abundant, numerous, and excessive that it’s hard to take stock of it all. The Bible describes the blessings of God in the believer’s life as a cup so full it’s running over (Ps 23), or as receiving so much from God that it’s a “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over into your lap (Luke 6:38).” In one place God says He will open the windows of Heaven and pour out a blessing that overflows (Mal 3:10). In other places we see the people God has blessed described as full, as satisfied, as exceedingly abundant.
But let me stop here and say that though the idea of inheriting a large estate is helpful in understanding how we go from having nothing to having more than we can grasp, it’s also a bit inaccurate because that illustration focuses on the idea of receiving physical blessings and the Scripture says we have received “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”
This is an important dynamic of the New Testament – there is a difference between physical and spiritual blessings. Spiritual blessings may result in physical blessings, but they don’t have to. They’re not tied together directly. One is not necessarily proof of the other, and yet it hasn’t always been that way.
In the Old Testament you have men like Job, Abraham and Isaac who were wealthy men and their physical possessions were seen as a sign of God’s favor. Some of you Bible students know that in places like Deuteronomy 28 God laid out a pattern that said if you are obedient to Me, I will bless you and you will have all the physical and material blessings you need. But if you walk away from Me, if you turn to your own ways, I will take those blessings away and you will be cursed. So, if you wanted to tell how blessed a man was, count his flocks. Old Testament math was simple.
That’s why when Satan wanted to test Job, he took away all his possessions and everyone thought that meant God was no longer blessing him. They thought Job had done something wrong. But then, as a sign that he had done well in enduring the trial, in the end God blessed him with more than he had in the beginning. It was true of the Jewish nation as well – we are told that when Solomon was king of Israel silver was considered almost commonplace because there was so much gold.
This is why so much of the teaching of what we call the “prosperity gospel” the horrible stuff you see on TV, and which is so common in some sections of the church, this is why their teaching is often taken from Old Testament passages – passages that promise wealth and blessing – they say these promises are still for today, and God wants you to be rich. They look for external signs of God’s blessing.
The problem is if you go looking for those same signs in the New Testament, you come up empty handed. Tell me: how many sheep did Jesus own? How big was His house? How nice were His clothes?
What about Paul? Did he roll around in a gold trimmed chariot? How many servants did Paul have? What about Peter, James, John? Is there anyone you can point to in the New Testament and say, “Look at all the stuff they have! You can clearly tell how blessed they were by God.”
No. You find a few wealthy people of course; God still loves wealthy people. But those wealthy people often used their material possessions to bless others and serve God. They were givers, ministry enablers. But you can’t make the case that God loved them the most.
Jesus came to introduce the New Covenant, a new way that God was interacting with mankind. It was no longer going to be solely through the nation of Israel. He had shown us that didn’t work. If you read the Old Testament you see a pattern of good times and bad times, times of blessing, times of suffering. You see good national leaders, followed by bad national leaders. You see a nation that gets torn apart and eventually goes into exile because they could not, on their own, be good enough to have God perpetually bless them.
And friends, that is not a game we want to go back to. We don’t want to go back to the old rules where obedience equals blessing. Because we blow it. We mess up. We make stupid, selfish choices. I don’t want to have God’s blessing on my life depend upon me living a perfect and holy life. I want to live a perfect and holy life, but I know I can never do well enough on my own. I much prefer to live under the New Testament era of grace.
In this era, the one we live in, everything has changed. The blessings are no longer physical and the way they are received is through being in Christ, not in Israel. When Jesus was on earth, He challenged His disciples to leave everything to follow Him. He told the rich young ruler to sell his goods and give to the poor and he would have treasure in Heaven, and He told a crowd:
Luke 6:24 “But woe to you who are rich,
For you have received your consolation.
25 Woe to you who are full,
For you shall hunger.
Woe to you who laugh now,
For you shall mourn and weep.
That doesn’t sound like a promise of material blessings. It sounds like material possessions and a distracted life can be harmful to our souls. Remember the seeds that were choked out by the cares and concerns of this world? Material possessions can suffocate our souls. They don’t have to, it’s not automatic, but a life of ease can easily dull our spiritual sensitivity.
Many of you know that Paul told the church in Philippi that he had learned how to have everything and how to have nothing and in the process had learned that his relationship with Jesus did not depend on how much stuff he had:
Phil 4:11 … I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
And he later warned a young pastor named Timothy about the dangers that rich people face:
1 Tim 6:9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.
Some of you can testify to the truthfulness of that statement all day long, can’t you? You’ve seen it happen. You’ve watched men and women fall because they went chasing after riches instead of God. They wanted physical things more than spiritual things and Romans warns us:
Romans 8:6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
Life and peace. Aren’t those the kind of things you want? Well, you can have them if you are in Christ and spiritually minded.
But what does that mean? What does it mean to be spiritually minded? What is that all about? Well, it’s to see life by the reality of the spiritual realm, and not just the material. To have a different set of values and priorities that takes other factors into consideration. It means you don’t just look forward to promises of big houses, and nice clothes, and perfect health, but you look forward to
1 Peter 1:3-4 a living hope … to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven.
In the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told people not to store up treasures on earth where thieves break in and steal, and moths and rust destroy, but to store up treasure in heaven (Matt 6). To be spiritually minded and to value spiritual blessings.
And those spiritual blessings, the ones belonging to all Christians today, have their origins and fulfillment in heaven, not simply on earth.
Go back and consider how things used to be though. When Job’s trials were over he got all his stuff back. That’s how the book of Job ends right, with Job getting even more stuff than he originally lost. That’s how the story develops with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with David and Solomon, as time goes on they get more and more stuff, bigger flocks, more land. It’s obvious that God is blessing them with physical blessings.
But how does Paul’s life end? Does he get back the social status he had when he was a member of the Sanhedrin? Does he go back to being respected for his prestigious education at the feet of Gamaliel? Does he make a fortune off franchising his tent making business? No. He ends up in a Roman jail asking Timothy to bring him his cloak and his books because winter is coming and he’s cold. People have abandoned and turned their back on him, but he’s faithfully praying for the churches.
And what about Jesus? How did His life end? At the cross of course, not in a palace. He wasn’t here to build a life of physical, material blessings. He was looking for something greater. The Scriptures tell us that
Hebrews 12:1 … for the joy that was set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
He was looking for something out of this world, something that involved physical suffering instead of pampering, but something durable and permanent that could never be taken away, lost, wear out or breakdown.
And so now, in the New Covenant, Christians enjoy blessings like the forgiveness of sin, the personal knowledge of God, and having God’s law written on our heart instead of tablets of stone. We enjoy the ability to worship God here and now instead of making pilgrimage to Jerusalem several times a year. We enjoy being able to come to worship without bringing animals to sacrifice. We enjoy a relationship with the God who is perfecting us and improving us, and we enjoy the present ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives enabling to us to do the things God is calling us to do.
In short: we enjoy a bit of Heaven right now, here on earth. And this kind of blessing is durable, it’s water-proof, drop-proof, life-proof. The blessings God is offering to us in Christ can never be taken away and can be found in abundance in Christians all over the earth and all throughout time.
You see, these spiritual blessings we have in Christ are available to the comfortable middle class American but they’re also just as much available to the African tribesman living in the bush, the little Filipino girl who lives in a trash dump with her family, and to the house church leader sitting in a cold dark jail in a country hostile to the gospel. These spiritual blessings that God offers can accompany us into the claustrophobic confines of the MRI. They can go with you on a trip overseas while you leave everyone else behind, or when you’re left behind. They can endure through the famine, the war, and the crisis, the injury the illness, the foreclosure, the layoff. They can even endure through the next American presidency regardless of party or platform.
Think about how Job’s experience would have been different if he had possessed the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places that we possess in Christ. He still would have lost all his stuff, but he would have maintained direct access to God and assurance that his sins were forgiven. How would that have changed the dialogue with his friends?
Christians, God is promising you blessing, every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, but He’s not promising you ease, or comfort, or a whole bunch of really great physical stuff. And if that’s what you’re looking for, if you’re hoping that Jesus can just give you a bunch of stuff that will make your life easier, you’re going to be disappointed.
Remember that after He fed the 5000 they came looking for Him the next day, we find the story in John 6, and Jesus called them out. He said you haven’t come looking for Me in order to find more spiritual truth, you’ve come looking because you like the fact that I was able to feed you. And so He told them that His body was actually food for them and His blood was drink. He wasn’t encouraging cannibalism, He was pointing toward the sacrifice He would make on the cross – the physical suffering He would endure to bring us spiritual blessings.
And how did they respond? They said, “You’re talking all weird Jesus, we don’t understand.” And they left. John says many turned away that day and stopped following Jesus. Why? Because they weren’t going to get what they wanted.
And that still happens today. People think, well, maybe I’ll give this whole religion thing a try. Maybe the church can help me. Maybe I need to pray. But they’re looking at it like magic. If I do this, then God will bless me. He’ll get me out of my situation. He’ll give me what I need. My life sucks and God will make it better. Maybe, but maybe not. He’s not just interested in giving you an easy life; He’s interested in leading you into a holy life.
He’s interested in giving you every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.
Take careful notice of that, the blessings in Christ, NOT simply through Christ, He is not the door we reach through to get what we want, He is the realm we enter and in which we must stay.
In CS Lewis’ famous Chronicles of Narnia books, the Pevensie children travel to Narnia where they meet Aslan and become kings and queens. When they’re in Narnia they have status, they have roles, they have privileges and unique experiences. But as soon as they return to the ‘real world’ they lose everything but the memories. And so for us, all the blessings that come to us from God come to us when we are in Christ.
The root thrives when it is in the soil. The branch can only live as long as it is connected to the vine. The fish can only live in the sea, the bird finds it’s freedom in the air. And so the Christian finds his or her complete identity in Christ.
Does that describe your life? Are you in Christ? Are you the recipient of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places? You could be, you should be. God is calling us to repent, to turn from our selfish, self-interested, self-absorbed lives and come to Him. To be in Him.
To live and move and have our being in Him (Acts 17:28).
The Bible says
1John 4:9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
Jesus came from Heaven to earth to make these blessings possible for us. He came that we might live. To live blessed lives, and to bless God in return. You need to know that. You need to know that God wants you, He desires you, He values you. You need to know that He is calling you. That He has plans for you, good things for you to do, that He wants to bless you with a future and a hope. You need to know that He wants to give you joy and peace and life.
And you need to know that He wants to begin giving it all to you now. Here and now and that it can never be taken away from you because you can never be taken away from Him. That neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In the coming weeks we’ll look even closer at some of the particular blessings God has given us. But here’s my hope and prayer, that after we’ve discussed the general idea of God blessing us this morning, you would be provoked to bless God in return. To speak well of Him who has done so much for you. To praise Him in public and private, and to want to know more. So tell God thank you. Tell Him what a good good Father He is. And ask Him to show you more. Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you and show you kindness and mercy and love.