God on the Move: “The Letter to the Ephesians” (Part One, Ephesians 1-3)

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God on the Move: “The Letter to the Ephesians” (Part One, Ephesians 1-3)

An oil refinery is pictured 22 SeptemberGrowing up in a small town in South Jersey as a part of a big family, I learned early in life that dad’s role was to go off to “the plant” and work long hours at the oil refinery. I didn’t see my dad nearly as much as my children saw me growing up, but I knew he loved me, and I knew that he worked hard to keep food on the table. I also knew that he felt fortunate to be a part of a big corporation that offered not only a salary, but an array of what they called “benefits” to the employees. They expected much from my dad. He wasn’t available to come to school events, parties and many other things as we grew up – he had to work when they called. My mom said that in all the years he was at work she called him only a handful of time – because that just wasn’t done. The company owned your time – and you gave it to them. Why? Because they gave you what you needed for your family. They paid you and they held your benefit package.

Though many today cannot find employment that offers much more than a salary or even hourly wage, in some better companies, there are still offers of employment that include an entire benefit package. One of the problems with these benefits is that sometimes employees forget what ELSE their position costs the company beyond their salary. They see the paycheck, but they don’t see the astronomical rising costs of the benefit packages – which is why so many companies stopped offering them. The truth is that we often take for granted what has been supplied for so long it has become natural. We are Americans. We believe when the tap is turned, clean water should come out. When the light is turned on, the light should burn brightly. We have made incredible privileges into birth rights, when in fact we are a blessed people more than a deserving lot.

Even among believers today, we have some of the same afflictions of forgetfulness and privilege. We can easily take for granted and even forget both the cost to our Lord and the magnificent benefits that come in our relationship with God. It’s easy to lose track of what God has provided for us in our salvation in Christ. In fact, already in the first century, some believers were already doing it. They weren’t simply forgetful, they were being “picked on”, and many had come to believe they weren’t fully accepted by God because they weren’t fully accepted by other people. God responded by putting a burden on the Apostle Paul to tell those believers they were accepted, and remind them of incredible benefits they had in Christ!

Key Principle: A relationship with God through Jesus brings us certain hope, an eternal home and commanding help.

As we continue in this series of lessons, we have been following Paul’s life for some time. By the time he wrote the letter to the Ephesians – the letter that we want to address in this lesson, Paul had completed his three mission journeys, his three years of waiting on the coast of Judea, and a terrible journey that included a shipwreck, a snakebite and many new friends that he met along the way. Now he sat in Rome, together with Luke and probably Aristarchus. He was under “light chain” arrest – a supervised affair – awaiting a meeting with Emperor Nero, who didn’t publish his schedule ahead of time and didn’t wait for meetings when he wanted them.

We left off at the last verses of the Book of Acts:

Acts 28:30 And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.

As Luke recorded in those words, Paul sat and listened to visitors and corresponded by letters and couriers with various churches and young leaders of the faith. Some of the Epistles from this time include Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and a tiny, personal sounding, postcard-sized letter to Philemon. For a few minutes, join one of the house churches at Ephesus.

For the next few minutes as we study some of the words he penned, pretend you are sitting in the atrium of a Roman villa and listening to the letter that was just received from the Apostle Paul. Imagine you are in the room as the leader reads each word and then explains some of the comments… The reader could have easily divided the letter into three parts:

• The Call of the Believer (a section on encouragement, Chapters 1-3);
• The Conduct of the Believer (a section on instruction, Chapter 4:1-6:9);
• The Conflict of the Believer (a section on warning, 6:10-20).

In this lesson, I want to focus on the ENCOURAGEMENT. To get the flavor of the letter, take a moment and look at the prayer in recorded in Ephesians 1:15-23. He wrote:

Ephesians 1:15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which [exists] among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention [of you] in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 [I pray that] the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. [These are] in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly [places], 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Paul told them he knew of their love and their faith, and he prayed continuously that God would reveal to them three specific things:

1) They would grasp the rich promises involved in their calling by God (18a);
2) They would recognize their magnificent inheritance because they were called to God’s Kingdom (18b);
3) They would grow into an absolute trust in God’s unstoppable might in the midst of any conflict they would face. (19-23).

Look at Paul’s beginning point in verse 18 – it was the SUPREME BENEFIT of following Christ. Paul knew that if the people could understand all the rich promises involved in the calling, the incredible benefits of knowing the Creator and having a relationship with Him, they would be able to stand up to the rigors of a troubled life. Chapters one through three address that very concept – the clear and rich benefits of knowing God and living life for Him. People throughout the centuries have had a far better concept of the COST of surrender than the BENEFITS of a life lived for God. Paul wanted them to remember and be encouraged, and that is what we want to do as we follow what he wrote.

Dive into the opening chapters of this letter, and don’t skip past their encouragement!

Paul opened the letter with the truth like the fact that God called them, knew what He was getting, and wanted them from the beginning. God loved them and accepted them – no matter what others told them about themselves. As we look at some of the words, consider this: Paul answered a painful question.

What can lift a believer that is suffering in an attack on his life and testimony?

Ephesians 1 opened with Paul greeting the church (1:1-2).

Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and [who are] faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Immediately Paul set out to encourage the Ephesian believers as he told them that he continually praised God because of the work God did on their behalf:

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,

He wrote GOD HAS BLESSED US. Then he wrote HOW

• First, He chose His followers to be distinctly set apart (3,4).

1:4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love,

Did you notice that God initiated the relationship with men? Did you notice that God intended those who follow Him to CHANGE because of the relationship? Did you see His motivation? God said He did it because He loved them, each one of them.

• He adopted them (as Gentiles!) in the work of Jesus deliberately (5-7), that is both wisely and willfully (8,9) to bring everything together under Christ’s mighty rule (10).

5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, [that is], the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him..

Look at the words: predestined (placed boundaries around beforehand); redemption (purchasing us from our sinful state); forgiveness (settling the account of our sin once and for all time). Now stop and look at what riches belong to the believer: Wisdom and insight about a relationship with God – we can know God and understand His love in a way that those who do not know God cannot grasp. They don’t get it. They think God doesn’t care – if He is even there at all!

It was almost 1:00 AM when the phone beside his bed rang. Dr. Leo Winters, the highly acclaimed Chicago surgeon, was abruptly awakened. There had been an accident and his skill hands were needed for immediate surgery. The quickest route happened to be through a rather tough area, but with time being a critical factor, it was worth the risk. At one of the stoplights his door was yanked open by a man with a gray hat and a dirty flannel shirt. “I got to have your car!” the man screamed, pulling him from his seat. Winters tried to explain the gravity of the situation but the man would not listen. When the doctor was finally able to get a taxi to the hospital over an hour had elapsed and it was too late as the patient had passed away thirty minutes earlier. The nurse told him that the father of the victim had gone to the chapel wondering why the doctor never came. Dr. Winters walked hurriedly to get to the chapel and when he entered he saw the father… he was wearing a gray hat and dirty flannel shirt. (From sermoncentral.com, original author unknown).

Consider how many people you know are just like the man with the gray hat – running past the One who can save their life and the lives of those they love. We live in a world filled with those who suffer in emptiness, confusion, hopelessness, and enslavement to sin and deception, but they will not slow down and listen – for they are rushing to try to save themselves. The Bible teaches that God gives “heart knowledge” of a relationship with Him to those who truly have one. You don’t have to be uncertain!

It may help to know that there are three Greek terms translated “redemption” in the New Testament.

The first is Agorazo: “To purchase.” This is like the simple act of buying goods from the market. Since slavery was commonplace in first century Rome, there are times when that image is best for what Jesus did for us – purchased those who were slaves to sin.

• The second is Exagorazo: “To purchase out.” This is the word we just looked at, with a prefix placed in front of it meaning “out of”. The word picture probably follows the idea of one who is chosen from a group at the slave market and is removed from the group to be taken home –another great image for the believer.

• Lutroo or Apolutrosis: “To release or set free.” This is the word used by Paul in Ephesians 1, and denotes something a bit different. At the death of a Roman, sometimes the owner’s will allowed for the slaves to be offered the status of FREE MEN while giving them the name of their owner and allowing that slave to become a part of their “gens” or clan. This is what Paul said Jesus did for believers – He died and set them free, adding them to His clan and family. It is a rich image for a first century Roman.

Look at verse 11 for a moment…

• He purposely gave them an inheritance that they may be the first of many to praise and glorify God (11,12) when they trusted His Word and were cemented into a relationship through the Spirit’s power (13).

1:11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation– having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,

Believers have an inheritance – something we will gain that we did not earn and could never have produced. The seal that this will happen was not simply written on parchment, but on our hearts!

• He gave His Spirit as a promise of the new inheritance to reassure them (14).

Ephesians 1:13b “…you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of [God’s own] possession, to the praise of His glory.

The chapter closes with the assurance that Paul heard about their faith he began praising God for this (15,16) constantly praying that they would receive yet more wisdom and Divinely uncovered truth concerning implications of the great call of God for them: hope, riches of the inheritance, a deep understanding of His mighty power available to them, and a knowledge of the powerful exalted position of their Savior! Paul wrote:

Ephesians 1:15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which [exists] among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention [of you] in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 [I pray that] the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. [These are] in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly [places], 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Think about this next time you get knocked down by circumstances or put down by people:

• Because God recruits followers thoughtfully, He specifically chose the army to gain victory in the battle: You are not a “mistake” nor a surprise, and God is qualified to choose the right ones!

• Because God gave an unshakeable inheritance to believers, you have an incredible future planned for you, and God has guaranteed it with a down payment of His Spirit within you!

• Because God moved into our heart to offer incredible power and to reassure us when we feel beaten down, we can be lifted countless times – He has power to keep restoring and rebuilding you! The God who spun planets has secured your future!

Keep reading… there is MORE!

In Ephesians 2, Paul continued the encouragement by helping them look past the circumstances of their daily lives. Peering into the veil of the spiritual world, Paul told them a tale of God’s great rescue work and His eternal purpose:

Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

Paul wrote that all of us were shackled in the dungeon of the dead, enslaved by a wicked prince that forced you to entertain him in the filthiness of the flesh (1-3)… Yet, God wouldn’t let you stay there!

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

God was motivated by love and rescued each of us, giving us life! (2:4-5). He granted His children royal privileges that include full rights to His throne (6) in order that he might someday show all realms His true self! (7) He is gracious, our mighty Savior, a wondrous Creator of good things (8-10)… and He did this to create from our ruined self and NEW MAN or WOMAN.

Paul then carefully explained that because of what God called them to be a part of in Jesus, believers must remember their former state of distance from God (as part of the unbelieving nations) was something completely cared for by God in their salvation. There were two implications he highlighted:

• They were NOT second-class believers as some Messianic Jewish teachers were inferring (2:11-18).

• They were different, but fully part of the new structure that God built to be whole and unified (19-22).

When you are hurt by life, and you don’t FEEL in that moment God’s love – consider these truths:

When God found us, we were lost and unlovable, but that didn’t stop a God who sees through the present into the future (2:1-3). That same God made something happen, no matter who would dare to object or protest. When God says you are “in”, you are “in”! (2:4-5). The greatest privileges are God’s alone to give to His creation, and they have been poured out on those he rescued from darkness (2:6-7).

When you are overwhelmed with discouragement, remember, we play a role in eternal history whenever we choose to participate. We have the King’s ear, and access to His throne room. When we walk in the confidence of His work in us we show His victory over sin. When we walk in the sins of the flesh, we contradict what He has said that we were created for (2:7-10).

I love the truth that God flies everyone first class, and doesn’t distinguish between our backgrounds and former failures. He transforms failures – it is what He loves to do! (2:11-18). Because that is true, drop the differences of our past – for God wants us to share, and celebrate unity. We can find a thousand ways to divide us, but His objective is to build a united Body of Messiah that gives glory to Him! (2:19-22).

There is SO MUCH MORE in Ephesians 3, for Paul wasn’t done lifting them. Lest they be confused, God’s choice of them wasn’t some “late breaking thought” in God’s mind, but as part of His eternal purpose!

Paul called God’s plan a “mystery” in Ephesians 3:1-5 because it wasn’t clearly revealed. What was the mystery?

Ephesians 3:6 [to be specific], that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.

Paul said that no Jew would have ever conceieved of this idea – but it was always God’s plan. He went on to make clear that God always had this planned:

Ephesians 3:11 [This was] in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.

In eternity past, God had a secret. Not everything He was going to unfold was known to even the highest angels of Heaven. He waited for the right time and place, and whispered something that no doubt shocked the angels of His throne room. The name of every believer was part of that secret. Do you know what He said? God put forward YOUR NAME!

God’s covenant with Abraham did not limit His ability to bless the whole earth, even the pagan nations (3:1-8). Though men found this an unbelievable mystery (3:9), and even Heaven was shocked with the news (3:10), it was not an afterthought for God; it was part of His original Divine plan (3:11).

Paul told them exactly what I would tell you today: “When doubt assails, tell the enemy that you have bold confidence and use your access pass to the Father (3:12)!

Pastor John Stevenson told the story: “Dr. Stanley Livingston had a medical condition in which he was required to drink goat’s milk. He was visited one day by a tribal king and he noticed that the king was eyeing his goat. Livingston felt led of the Lord to give the goat as a gift to the king and, in return, the king presented him with the staff that he was carrying. Later that day, Livingston confided in a friend, “I don’t know what I was thinking. How could I have been so foolish as to give my goat away. I don’t know what I shall do with this stick.” His friend replied, “You don’t understand. That isn’t a stick. It is a scepter. You don’t just own one goat. Now you own all the goats in the tribe.” The Lord has given us an inheritance. It is a scepter. And we have been walking around thinking that it is just a stick.

While our old world faces constant conflict and strife I want to encourage the children of the Living God. Do not be preoccupied by a focus on the promises of comforts coming in Heaven. Speak of Heaven, not as a place of gold, but the place of Christ. Don’t simply seek Heaven’s comforts –long for the King Who made it possible for us! Our promise is found in a Person, not a place.

He is the One sung of through the ages; He is the One worthy of glory and exaltation. Beloved, we must look far past mere promises of coming comfort to celebrate their source – our coming Exalted One!

Believers must be unsatisfied with a song that reminds us that Heaven is a beautiful place – until we sing of Paradise as HIS place.

Let me say it plainly, as we grow in Him we must remember this: When troubles assail – we must exalt Him. When pain creeps and throbs about – we must long for Him. Long for the revealing of the One who IS comfort. The song writer of yesteryear told us: “He is everything that my soul ever longed for, everything He promised and so much more. He is more than amazing, more than marvelous, more than miraculous could ever be – He’s more than wonderful, more than wonderful – that’s what Jesus is to me.” How right he was with his song.

Let Him have our full attention, for focus on coming comfort can become yet another rouse of focus on self. Look at what God has given to you – and what He has given FOR YOU! Feel His love – for He planned for you to do so!

A relationship with God through Jesus brings us certain hope, an eternal home and commanding help to face each day.