Study Notes:

Ephesians 1:4

We’re working our way through the book of Ephesians together, and we’ve been taking things slowly, very slowly actually. But there is a point; there is a purpose to our pace. And that is: we don’t want to rush past things. We want to try to really understand what is being said in these verses, to appreciate everything they hold instead of rushing past on our way to the next thing.

Some of you know Scott who heads up our Men’s Ministry. He tells the story of being in France with his wife and kids and having the chance to visit the famous Louvre museum in Paris, but they were in a bit of rush, and there are lots of crowds and he’s very focused, so he’s dragging the family along like a man on a mission, “C’mon, we’re here to do this thing!” And they find the Mona Lisa, probably the most famous painting in the world, and he’s like, OK, there it is, everyone see it? OK then, let’s go, we’re done, mission accomplished, off to the next thing.

When he shared the story with me, the point he was making was, here is the phenomenal work of art, this thing that has inspired countless people, and he’s in a rush just to check it off his list. And in the meantime he’s blowing past all the other exceptional pieces because they’re not the Mona Lisa.

We don’t want to do that with Ephesians. We want to take the time to stop and understand. When the Bible uses words like grace and names like “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” we don’t want to blow past that on the way to the next thing, we want to stop and stare and take it all in for a minute. And yes, that means we’re not going to get to other things as quickly, but by making a slow observation of these truths we’re acquiring knowledge and insight that is portable – we carry the things we learn here into our devotional reading of Scripture and the other studies and groups we’re involved in. The concepts we’re meeting here in Ephesians come up again and again in the Christian faith.

So let’s back up and take in the whole introduction this morning so we keep the context clearly before us:

1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus:

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

We’ll stop there this morning, but we’ve already noted that in the original Greek this burst of praise runs all the way down to the end of vs 14 as one long sentence.

So what is Paul doing here? What is he saying? Well, as we’ve noted in the past weeks, Paul is blessing God and calling us to bless Him too, and as we saw last week, it’s for a very shocking reason – we’re encouraged to bless God because He has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” In other words, our lives should be one long thank you in response to all that God has done and is doing because we are the ones who benefit from all His work.

Now this morning I’d like to draw our attention to the fact that this work that has now come to affect us, actually began “before the foundation of the world.”

Eph 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, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world,

By nature, we all tend to be very self-focused. We see the world best through our own eyes of course. But that means we tend to forget that the world does not revolve around us. It has been here before us, and should God delay Christ’s return, it will be here long after us. We actually live fairly short lives, on a tiny little planet. They feel quite intense at times, but really we’re just a microscopic blip in the grand scheme of things.

There was a time, if I can actually use the word time to describe it, when the world was not. There was a time before the sun, before the solar system, before the Milky Way, before the entire universe. No matter what you believe about how we all got here or how long it took, people tend to agree that it had a beginning. The world has not always been. And without taking God or spiritual things into account, even the astronomers tell us that one day the sun will burn up, it will exhaust itself, and this will all go away.

But the Scripture we just read says, before the world was founded, before it began, God was there. In fact, the Bible opens, on the very first page with that declaration – that God was there before the world began:

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.

Later the apostle John would open his gospel, his biography of Jesus, by telling us:

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

And then there’s this passage in the book of Job. Job has been suffering and would like to know why and he’s been questioning God, and God responds by saying, essentially, things don’t always make sense to us because we don’t always have all the information like God does.

So God kind of calls Job out onto the carpet:

Job 38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:

2 ​​“Who is this who darkens counsel

​​By words without knowledge?

3 ​​Now prepare yourself like a man;

​​I will question you, and you shall answer Me.

4 ​​“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?

​​Tell Me, if you have understanding.

5 ​​Who determined its measurements?

​​Surely you know!

​​Or who stretched the line upon it?

6 ​​To what were its foundations fastened?

​​Or who laid its cornerstone,

7 ​​When the morning stars sang together,

​​And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

And then God goes on for the rest of the chapter asking similar questions: do you know where light comes from? Do you know where darkness comes from? What about snow or hail? Do you why the seas stop exactly where they do? What do you know about the constellations of stars? Do you know why they’re in such arrangements? And the obvious answer is, no, Job doesn’t. But God does.

And there’s a reason for that. It’s because God was there before all the rest of it came to be, because He’s the great designer and maker of it all.

God was there before the foundation of the world. And at that time, before the foundation of the world, He was making a plan to save people like you and me.

Now, thus far, that might not seem like a very big deal. OK, God was there before things began and He was making a plan. We all makes plans. In 54 days we will celebrate New Years. And of course, many people will make plans for the New Year. So we could say, before the year began, before the foundation of the year, you made a choice. Fair enough.

But will you bring it to pass?

You see, what is remarkable here is not simply that God was there before the foundation of the world, though that is significant. What I would really like us to see here is that He was there before the world began determining how to save us, you and me in this room right now, and He has brought that plan to pass.

Nothing stopped Him. He planned to have an eternal relationship with some human beings and nothing has thwarted His plans. His choice has endured through the rebellion of Adam and Eve in the garden when Satan tempted them to follow their own desires instead of obeying God. His choice endured through the rebellion of men in their early kingdoms which brought about Noah’s flood. His choice continued on through ancient history. His choice has endured through all the twists and turns and calamities and disasters of the ages and nothing has stopped it.

If you go back and read the Scriptures you discover that God was constantly moving His plan forward. He was using men like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Men like Gideon and Samson and Samuel. Men like David and Solomon and Hezekiah. And they were all flawed men. They all blew it. They all did some things there were supposed to do, but they did other things too, embarrassingly rebellious and self-serving things that would have thwarted God’s plans if they rested only on the shoulders of men.

If you take the religious critic’s place and deny the existence of God, then the greater miracle is that there is actually a Christian faith at all. Because there is no way men could have made Christianity happen on their own. They would have ruined it. We would have ruined it if God wasn’t guiding it all. Even if God gave us all the instructions and told us what to do, we would still blow it with Him superintending the process.

But God’s plan, made before the foundation of the world, has persisted because He is there, He is real, and He has made a choice and ensured it happened even as the world and the people in it were a mixture of ignorant or defiant of Him.

The nation of Israel, the nation God chose as His special people on earth, the ones He was going to use to reach the rest of mankind, fell into idolatry. They worshipped other gods. They mixed their religious practices with the practices of the nations around them. They were invaded by their enemies on every side and eventually experienced a fracturing of the nation resulting in two kingdoms instead of one.

The northern kingdom, which was still called Israel was invaded by the Assyrians in 722BC and assimilated into their empire. The southern kingdom, called Judah, lasted another two centuries before it was conquered by Babylon in 586BC and spent 70 years in captivity before finally the emperor allowed some to return and begin rebuilding the city of Jerusalem.

Another four hundred years went by and finally Jesus, the promised Messiah, the Christ, the Savior, arrived on the scene, and when He did He was opposed and put to death, which seems tragic, but was actually all part of God’s plan because He, the perfectly innocent was put to death in what God viewed as a sacrifice for the sins of men.

And that death brought us the promise of new life in Christ and forever fellowship with God. The plan was accomplished. But now it had to spread from Jerusalem to the rest of the world.

In your Bible the book of Acts tells us about the fitful start of the early church, it almost didn’t make it out of the Mediterranean basin. It was opposed by Jewish religious leaders and Roman political leaders. Early Christians were thrown in jail and some gave their lives. Judas betrayed Jesus and then all but one of the remaining Twelve Disciples gave their lives as martyrs due to persecution.

The Church endured centuries of oppression but actually flourished in the first, second, and third centuries with the early Christian author Tertullian defiantly writing:

“kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust; your injustice is the proof that we are innocent…The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.”

A position that is often summarized and restated as: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Christianity did indeed survive the persecutions of the first centuries, but then it withered under the prosperity that came after the Edict of Milan in 313. Christianity went from being an outlawed faith, to a tolerated faith, and eventually to a preferred faith and in a most unholy alliance the Church actually began to mingle authority with the state leading to the worst kinds of corruption in the Church.

Leading positions in the early Catholic church were acquired by political favor or were sold to the highest bidder and eventually there were men bearing the title of Pope who were simultaneously keeping prostitutes and throwing drunken feasts. We had two popes for a while and even three at one point because they were all fighting over who should really have the highest position of religious authority in the Church.

By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Church had become so intoxicated with power and prestige it was setting out to build massive churches and cathedrals as monuments to it’s own glory. Of course, raising the money to fund all of that was difficult so someone came up with the idea of selling coupons for sin. “Indulgences” they were called and it was basically a ‘pay to play’ system – if you gave money to the Church, the Church would forgive your sins and give you a certificate as proof.

A monk by the name of Martin Luther couldn’t believe all of this was happening and was sure the Pope would want to know, so he nailed 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517 – presumably while everyone else was out trick-or-treating.

That sparked what we call the Protestant Reformation which changed not only the Church but the whole political structure of the Western World. Things began to improve, but persecution came back on the scene across Europe as faithful men and women struggled to exercise their faith freely in the God who had chosen them “before the foundation of the world.”

Some of those who suffered in England thought it would be great to get away from all the persecution they were experiencing at home and sailed away to a New World where they could practice their faith freely. These were the Pilgrims.

They weren’t perfect pioneers, nor were they the only ones who came to America, and the country they established hasn’t been perfect either. In fact, the history of America is soiled by tremendous evils that were birthed in the greedy hearts of men.

In their desire for more land, our forefathers took advantage of the Native Americans, swindled them, subjugated them, and exterminated them. And then, in order to increase the productivity of the land, they turned to African slavery and plantation owners built their estates and the economy through a cruel mixture of African blood, sweat, and tears. And some of them went to church faithfully each Sunday while expecting another man or woman or child made in the image of God but with a different color of skin to have lunch ready for them when they got home, and the barns swept too. It was a horrific sin, it was inexcusably wrong, and we’re still suffering the consequences of it today.

Since then, we have had civil war, World Wars, fears of nuclear war and now a war on terrorism. We’ve had financial depressions and bubbles. We have seen epidemics and pandemics – HIV, cancer in all its forms, and now Zika. And in just about thirty six hours we will begin voting for the next president of our nation with the outcome guaranteed to be contentious and angering to around half of our fellow citizens.

And yet,

Eph 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, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world,

We worship a God who sits enthroned in the Heavens above it all. He weeps over it at times; He feels the sin of one man against another even more than the man feels it Himself. He is heartbroken over the things we have done and said to each other and about each other. He knows the thoughts of our hearts even if they never come out of our mouths. He knows how terribly wicked we really are.

He allows us, for reasons I cannot explain or defend on my own, to suffer times of tremendous need and pain, but He also brings all of His purposes to pass.

Through all the tragedy and senselessness of human history God’s intentions have prevailed. He was there before the foundation of the world and nothing that has transpired in its history has been able to thwart His plans. The gospel has reached you.

Christian, no matter your past, and no matter this week’s outcome, He chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world! He extends grace and peace to you, and He has blessed you with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. We are accepted in the Beloved, and we are called to be holy and blameless.

We are called to be the channels through which the knowledge of God and the love of God flow into the lives of our neighbors and fellow countrymen. We are to receive God’s love and blessing and then reflect them back to Him and those around us.

Our God was there before the world began, He will be there when the world ends – whether that’s this Tuesday or not, and He will continue working together our history for His purposes in this age and in the ages to come.

This morning we celebrate communion, a reminder that out of tremendous suffering and difficulty, and out of politically tumultuous times, our God brought about our salvation. Does anyone know who was the emperor of Rome when Christ was crucified and raised again? Maybe a few of you. Who was the emperor of China at that time? Again, maybe a few of you know. Did you know there was an Indo-Parthian kingdom at the time that spanned parts of modern Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India? Ever heard of it? Probably not.

What’s my point? Simply this: the kingdoms of men, the lives of men, come and go, but the kingdom of God, the will of God, and the chosen of God – which includes you Christian – go on forever because He determined it from before the foundation of the world. And nothing that happens in this world can thwart it.

As the ushers distribute the elements this morning, please hold on to them. They are reminders, for Christians, of the body and blood of Christ. We are told to receive them, as often as we do this, in remembrance of Him. We’re going to receive them this morning and remember that He has always been, and always will be, that He has always had a plan for our good, and we are going to praise Him for the fact that nothing has been able to stop His plan from reaching us – not the sins of men, not the sins of nations, not even the sins and misguided hearts of those in the church. Not even our own sin.

And we are going to praise Him because no matter who wins the White House, there will be no inaugural ball in Heaven because the eternal King is on His throne never to be displaced. This week’s election results will produce weeping for some, rejoicing for others, and a flood of headlines. It may even produce some riots and activism, but the Kingdom of Heaven will march on, with barely a notice, tracking with an agenda that was determined before the world began.

There is nothing that can stop the love of God from reaching it’s intended target.

Let’s pray.

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