In our everyday life, our point of view makes a big difference. Think about how you observe the world around you. Do you look at things positively or negatively? With your mind or your heart? With faith or with doubt? With the assumption that life has meaning or that life is meaningless?
When we encounter someone who is clearly excited, we want to know why. This might be to simply satisfy our curiosity or we might hope to get in on something good. For example, several times at church I’ve noticed a small group of people standing together exhibiting great joy. On the occasions I’m thinking of, these people were celebrating either news that a couple was about to be married or that a new baby was on the way. They knew something I didn’t know, and their excitement showed. When they shared the cause of their joy, I could join in.
As we read the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we see right away that he was excited about something. Paul had discovered the most important thing that anyone could discover: that the Lord Jesus Christ is the centre of everything. I’ll read this passage to you and, as I do, pay special attention to how often Paul makes a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. He mentions Him by name or title several times, but more often uses the pronoun “Him.” You’ll often hear the phrase “in Him,” because Paul is overwhelmed with all the things that are available to the believer in Christ. Here we go:
Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are 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 in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed 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 upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
If you were counting, you may have noticed as many as 16 references to the Lord Jesus Christ in these 14 verses. Don’t worry too much if you can’t remember many details of what Paul wrote in this passage. When Paul wrote this in Greek, everything from verse 3 to 14 is all one sentence. He put all kinds of ideas together in it and to try to make sense of it, we’d have to take it all apart.
I think that would spoil what Paul was doing here. I like to consider this passage as a poem – words put together to convey an impression or emotion, rather than to convey an intellectual idea or argue a point. His pen overflowed with his admiration for Christ and all he has given to us. So rather than try to do a phrase by phrase study of the passage, we’ll keep everything together and look at the big picture.
From these verses, we see that Paul was convinced that Christ was the centre of everything. Because of that, he makes it clear that spiritual reality goes far beyond physical reality. Not that physical reality is meaningless, but spiritual reality explains and gives meaning to the things, relationships, and ideas in our everyday physical world.
Most people work the other way round: They draw conclusions about the spiritual realm from what they see in the world around them and often get it wrong. Spiritually, this is a very common problem. We see what God tells us about ourselves in His word and we assume negative things about God. This happens because we live in a world that is in the hands of the enemy. Satan is 100% against God so his influence always leads us to the wrong conclusions about God, His character and His purposes. When difficulties come along, Satan encourages us to make negative assumptions about God. We might think that God doesn’t really love us or that He isn’t powerful enough to do anything about our problems. But this kind of thinking is faulty.
Since we’re reading a letter by Paul, let’s consider his problems. He was committed to taking the gospel around the world. He was clearly doing God’s will, but he experienced beatings, death threats, attempts on his life, actions of mob violence, imprisonment, treachery by enemies, betrayal by friends. On top of all this, he didn’t sleep well. He had transportation problems. He was robbed and went through times when he had so little money that he lacked food and appropriate clothing.
If you were Paul, you might wonder whether or not God had really called you to preach the gospel. But Paul wasn’t looking at his circumstances and making decisions about what God was like. He used what he knew about God to help him understand what was happening to him. He knew that hardships were part of the Christian life.
Sometimes, when we think we know what God is saying to us through His word, we test it by trying it out in our lives. If everything goes well, we assume we must have understood correctly. If things go badly, we assume that we must have misunderstood. Yet, the moment we do this, we show that we lack faith because we’re trusting our circumstances and senses more than what God says.
God’s kingdom is so entirely opposite from the fallen one that surrounds us that often things don’t seem to work as we’d expect and that can shake our faith in God and His word. To keep our faith strong, we need to trust God and His word. Let’s see what He is saying to us through the passage we just read.
First we see that Christ is the centre of the passage. The words “in Him” are repeated many times in these verses. We take our identity from Christ. When we are in Christ, “in Him,” we are connected to Him in a deep way which affects our entire life. It affects behaviour, our relationships, our values, and our understanding of reality. It affects everything.
Besides all of the references to Christ and being “in Him,” this passage also contains many “purpose words.” These are words like “according” “predestined” “purpose” “will” and “choose.” These words remind us that God has a plan. He does what He does for a reason. He loves us and wants us to get to know Him. When we understand who He is and what He has done for us, we’ll want to respond to Him.
In this passage we also find a group of “blessing words.” These include: “grace” “inheritance” “forgiveness” “hope” “salvation” and “redemption.” These words have to do with the blessings we receive when we are “in Him.” One of the ways God lets us know that He loves us is by offering all of these things to those who believe in Him and accept the death of Jesus on the cross as the sacrifice for their own sins. As God shows He is loving, we find ourselves loved. As He shows He is forgiving, we find forgiveness for our sins. As He reveals Himself as our Father, we find we have an inheritance and so on.
Finally, there are several “worship words” in this passage. I’m thinking of words like “praise” “blessed” “glory” “glorious” and “holy.” These words tie into both the “purpose words” and the “blessing words” because they reveal how we should respond to Him. God is glorious, holy, powerful, loving, merciful, just and much more. Once we get to know Him, our response will be to love, worship, praise, bless and adore Him.
Paul makes it clear that he had discovered more than just some facts about God. (And we know he knew lots of facts about God because he was a very religious Pharisee.) Paul had discovered God, Himself, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of this, his letter overflowed with excitement, with admiration, with joy.
He knew that God was not just some distant law-giver and judge, but a loving Father to all who would trust in Him. He learned that we are all spiritual beings living in a physical environment, and that when we look for meaning, purpose, blessing, glory or any other kind of lasting inheritance from God, that everything around us makes sense in a whole new way. Our identity comes from being “in Christ.” That’s what defines our world-view, sets our perspective, shapes our thinking, determines our purpose and explains our actions.
What about you? Consider your point of view. Do you use God’s word to inform you about what you see in the world around you or do you use what you see in your everyday life to shape your concept of God? Do you understand that God already knows you and wants you to know Him? Do you know that when Jesus died on the cross, He died for your sin? He did this so you can become a child of God, to enjoy His blessings and be part of the fulfilment of His purpose. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ today and your life will be filled to overflowing with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places.