As Christmas draws nearer we’re all continuing to think of gifts – the one we still need to buy, the ones we hope get here on time, or the ones we’re hoping someone bought for us. But, in here, on Sundays, we’re also being reminded of all that we already have in Christ as we slowly make our way through the opening passage of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, a city in modern Turkey.
There’s a whole Christmas full of gifts – from God to you – stuffed under this tree, but you have to slow down to notice them. The passage can be hard to read at first. And studies have shown that you get the best response to emails that are written at the third grade level. Now that’s not because people are dumb, it’s because we’re so busy. No one wants to slow down and think about things, to process ideas, we want them to be clear and easy to understand. We want to scan an email or article and go, “uh-huh, yeah, I know, or I heard, I’ve got it.”
And that’s OK, for some things, for situational awareness or fast decisions. But not all subjects lend themselves to simple communication. There are still things we need to slow down and think about, study, consider, chew on, until what was once a blur comes into focus and we go, “ah-ha! I get it!” When we do that, we’re actually learning, growing, and we become excited to share what we have learned with others.
So slow down with me this morning, and discover what we have received this Christmas in Christ as we learn that God is full of grace and wisdom and that He gives them to us:
Eph 1:7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 9 having made known to us the mystery of His will,
Last week we looked at what it means for us to be redeemed: that those who are in Christ, have been moved from one condition, that of a life controlled and defined by sin, to another, better condition, that of being a child of God, and all of this happened at God’s expense. There was a debt of guilt from sin and Christ paid it through His blood on the cross. He became a sacrifice for us. And now, He comes to sinners, in the midst of their sin, calls them to repentance, and offers them grace.
Eph 1:7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He made to abound toward us
Christian, you need to settle down and catch this, don’t race past it, because you need to know that God wants you to experience His grace, His lovingkindness, His favor and mercy. And to know that this is a BIG gift – we’re receiving the riches of His grace that abound toward us! This is no skimpy little 100 calorie portion. You’ve seen the tiny little candy canes that are about two inches tall, God’s not giving you on of those – you’re getting the peppermint stick that’s as big around as your fist and foot tall!
God has given us a superabundance of oversized grace, so much grace you can’t contain it all, you can’t put it away neatly and carefully store it on the shelves of your life.
It’s like a kid who has nothing, comes from nothing, and wakes up Christmas morning to a so many gifts they won’t all fit nicely under the tree, instead they spread out and fill half the living room floor. We’re unwrapping the “riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us.”
Friend, is that how you understand God? Is He kind to you? Is He gentle? Is He patient? Is He willing to forgive? Yes, He is.
He will still call you out on you sin. He brings us conviction and helps us know the things that are wrong, but He’s also full of grace. He’s the kind of dad that you want to have at Christmas, the kind that has some money and doesn’t mind spending it.
I met with a man this week and I was chewing on this concept of superabundant grace and so I asked him: what was the greatest gift you’ve ever received at Christmas or your birthday, the one that really blew you away?
And you know what he said? All of them. I was expecting to hear about the time he got the bike he had really been hoping for, or the year he got the Millennium Falcon, the time something big happened. But he said, no, it was all of them. His dad would pour out superabundant riches of grace on them every single year.
The rest of us all hated that kid, didn’t we?
We couldn’t believe the stuff they got. But we sure loved it when they invited us over to play, huh?
Christian, you’re that guy! You’re the one who receives the “riches of [God’s] grace which He made to abound toward us.”
And let me tell you about the look on this man’s face as he thought back through 30 years of history to the time when he was a little boy at Christmas being blessed by his father. He stood in front of me as a grown man with a big smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. He was full of joy as he looked back and realized, it wasn’t just one Christmas or birthday that stood out from the rest, it was all of them. And he understood what a blessing, what a privilege that was.
Not all kids get that experience. Not all parents are able to make it happen.
But when it comes to grace, God is able. No matter what your past is, no matter what your present is, God is able, and willing, He actually desires to flood you with grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin. As we read in Romans (5:20), “where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.” You’re never too big of a problem for God to solve, if you will stop hiding from Him and listen to Him.
Well, we need to move on, because there’s another gift for us under this tree. Here in verse eight we read that God made this grace
Eph 1:8 … abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 9 having made known to us the mystery of His will
Now, there are two ways you could take this statement – on the one hand you could say it means that God has all wisdom and prudence, or your translation might say insight or understanding – you could say that God made the wise choice in doing these things for us, that wisdom characterizes His work toward us, and that would be true. God certainly knows what He is doing.
Or, you could read it as God made His grace abound to us in or through wisdom, that is, that He gives us understanding so that we can see His grace toward us, He helps us see what’s really going on. And, of course that is true as well. And you have scholars coming down on both sides, some suggesting God operates wisely toward us, and others saying God gives wisdom to us so we can see what He’s doing.
Fortunately, there’s really no trouble with either position because each one leads quite easily into the next. God has most certainly acted in wisdom toward us, His plan of salvation works, it was a good idea, and those who have experienced that salvation can recognize the wisdom of it. Wisdom knows a good idea when it sees it, and when God is in us, we are able to see Him in everything else.
And that means you’re going to be seeing a lot Him. After all, we see signs of God’s wisdom all over. Modern science was birthed when men who loved God sought to discover as much as they could about the world He had created. They began with the assumption that wisdom was behind the laws of biology and astronomy and physics. They believed that everything we see and touch and experience is the result of a logical mind that created it all. Life wasn’t brought about by random chance as billions upon billions of possibilities collided and a few eventually stuck. No, there is purpose and meaning behind it all: the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps 19:1).
It has all been designed with wisdom, insight, understanding, and knowledge. The creation points toward a Creator, the design speaks of a designer.
Think of how complex your smart phone is. Now let me ask: did someone just discover the first fully functional iPhone or Samsung Galaxy laying in the jungles of the Congo? Or in the deserts of Mongolia? Of course not. It was made. Designed. Created by an entire team of engineers and designers. No one looks at a smart phone and marvels at how the evolution of the universe would produce something like that by chance. So, why would anyone think the humans who created something as sophisticated and complex as the smartphone just evolved out of nothing with no purpose or design behind them? It makes no sense.
We are surrounded by evidence that points us to a creative and powerful and wise God. And, not only does God have this wisdom, He offers it to us.
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
Let that really sink in:
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
People want to know Facebook’s algorithms, the FBI wants to know how to crack iPhones, Russia wants to know our political intentions. Everyone is searching after the wisdom of others, and God is saying, “Here, I’ll give you mine.” Are you asking for it?
God can give you wisdom and insight and knowledge related to the big questions of life: Why are we here? Does anything matter? What happens after all of this?
But He also wants to walk with you through every aspect of life, including all the daily stuff. And remember, He’s the designer of the universe, He probably knows how to do what you’re trying to do.
One of my favorite examples of this is found in the book of Exodus. God has just met with Moses and given him instructions for how to build the tabernacle, the place where the Jews will worship God until they build the Temple one day. The tabernacle is going to be this big tent embroidered with all kinds of details, made from all kinds of fabrics and materials, and it’s going to contain all kinds of objects that are going to need to be made of wood and gold and silver and bronze. And Moses is no craftsman. He was raised in the pharaoh’s palace and became a shepherd after that. He’s going to need other people to help with the practical work involved in preparing for spiritual worship.
No worries. God already had the answer:
Ex 31:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3 And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, 4 to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, 5 in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship.
A few chapters later we discover it wasn’t just these men, but there were also
Ex 35:26 women whose hearts stirred with wisdom [who] spun yarn of goats’ hair.
So these were men and women who were full of God-given wisdom for doing what we might call blue-collar work or daily tasks in life. They were creating crafts which reflected the glorious wisdom of God.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the wisdom of the people that God has been bringing along as we do the work here on the property. Men and women full of wisdom and with an eye for how to do things, skilled with the paintbrush, the skid steer, and the skill saw. Skilled in designing a layout for chairs or how to decorate for Christmas. They probably wouldn’t think of what they are doing as spiritual work, but it is, and they are a blessing to us! They have wisdom, insight, and knowledge from God and they use it.
There’s another example of practical wisdom in the early church when there were so many people who had so many needs that the apostles couldn’t stay on top of it all, so they appointed the first deacons. And here were the qualifications, they told the people to
Acts 6:7 seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom
Deacons were supposed to be very practical men and women, meeting immediate physical needs, and in order to do that, one of the first things they needed was wisdom.
So, if you need wisdom, in the practical things of life, in the decisions you face, in the questions you’re confronted with at work or at home, in the choices you have to make, if you’re stumped or confused – why not ask God for wisdom? Why not ask Him to show you where to go, what to do, how to handle it all?
Why not receive the instruction of Scripture which tells us in Proverbs, the book of wisdom:
Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and depart from evil.
8 It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones.
There is no matter too small or too great for Him. He loves you, He is for you, He has sacrificed for you and proven His love over and over again, why not come to Him and humbly ask for whatever you need?
Now, I know this sounds great to some of you, but others have this nagging doubt, because God’s wisdom doesn’t always make sense to us, does it?
Sometimes we struggle to understand, why God lets certain things happen. We want to know: why does it have to be this way God? Sometimes we question life and the way things work out, and it’s almost always because pain involved. Difficulty or suffering are involved. And we want to know: if God is so wise, then why… and we fill in the blank with our pain or struggle.
There are at least three answers to this problem. The first has to do with the fact that we are surrounded by other people on this planet and often, their selfish or foolish choices result in our pain. God allows them to make free choices, choices that will lead them into sin and hell and swipe and scar those they pass on the way. It is not a good thing, but it’s a permitted thing by the God who allows us all to make choices.
And yes, it is hard for us to imagine or understand that God would know something and not prevent it. That is a difficult thing for us to accept. There is no completely satisfactory explanation for it when you are in the middle of the pain. But in His wisdom He has determined this is the best way to do things. We don’t always like it, especially when it hurts us, but I can’t conceive of another way of doing things that would let you do whatever you want without it ever affecting me.
So again, sometimes the pain in our lives is the casualty of someone else’s free choice to sin.
But, the second thing we need to consider when we feel like asking, “where is the wisdom in God letting this happen?” is our limited perspective and this actually lessens the blow of the first thing.
Let me give you an example.
It’s the Christmas season and that often means people are travelling. But does anyone really enjoy the process of traveling? I mean the booking of flights and rental cars and rooms, searching for deals and finally choosing the best option. And then packing and making arrangements for while you’re gone. And getting to the airport, and finding parking, and paying for parking, and standing in line to check your luggage or paying a fee for your carryon luggage, and going through security and huddling around the gate, and waiting for the sumptuous meal they deliver to you in a little cardboard shoebox for $23.87 and babies crying and tiny bathrooms, and making connections, and waiting for luggage, and on and on. Do people really enjoy that?
Of course not. But no one travels simply for the sake of the travel experience. We travel in order to get somewhere. To see people or experience things. And that makes it all worthwhile. When you’re 200 miles into a 600 mile road trip in the minivan you might be questioning your wisdom in making this choice. But when you arrive, and you hug your family or friends and pile into the living room and start to unwind, the pain of the trip often fades, and you’re simply glad to be here.
Well, sometimes we need to apply the same line of thinking to other areas of our lives. The pain you’re experiencing right now might be the frustration of traveling to something much better.
And of course, that’s absolutely true when we take the eternal perspective, right? If you are in Christ, you know the ultimate destination and you know the joy of your arrival there. But it could be that you’re also in the middle of a season of testing or trial that will lead to something even greater in your life.
The book of Hebrews tells us that “for the joy that was set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2) He passed through a season of difficulty in order to proceed to something much, much, better and we all benefit from His willingness to suffer for a season.
There was wisdom behind the pain and you see it when you step back and take in the bigger picture.
The third thing we need to remember is that God’s wisdom is not the wisdom of men. God sees things differently than we do, in large part because of that whole perspective thing, but also because He alone has complete knowledge of everything and total understanding.
He has told us in Scripture
Is 55:8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
But that’s not boasting or mocking us, belittling us and our ignorance. It’s God way of reminding us, “Hey, I’ve got it. I see, and I know, and I’ve got it all covered.”
If God has all wisdom, then that means He knows all our problems. He knows exactly who we are and what we’re like. He knows exactly what we’ve done, and what’s been done to us, He knows our every need. And He has the wisdom and power necessary to design and execute a plan that will cover all of our needs.
Of course, that plan may look a little bizarre at first glance.
I mean, consider the baby in the manger, is this what you would have chosen? Is this the plan of salvation that you would have conceived? God could have come to earth in any form you can imagine. Think of every alien movie you’ve ever seen. God could have come like that. He could have come as a sky-scrapping warrior, as a flaming beast, or as a glorious and triumphant king ripping open the skies over Jerusalem and stepping into time like an actor entering the stage. But He chose a uterus.
He came as a child, the babe, the son of Mary.
That’s the wisdom of God. But is that what you would have chosen?
If you were tasked with restoring the relationship between God and man, a relationship that had been ripped apart by people choosing to do what they wanted to do instead of remaining close to a loving and generous God, what would you suggest?
Would you come up with something that doesn’t require the saved people to do anything? No payment. No restitution. No earning of any kind. But instead it involves asking the Son of God to come and suffer in the people’s place? Is that the kind of plan you would conceive?
Probably not. But it’s His plan. And it works. We benefit from His wisdom and insight as He showers us with grace:
Eph 1:7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 9 having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.
Let’s pray. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/02/16/want-to-get-more-responses-for-your-emails-write-like-a-third-grader/?utm_term=.0faaf956e4c7