Introduction to Ephesians – Maggie Gee 1st Sept 2019

“I saw a new world… everything was new… I had a new outlook, new experiences, new attitudes to other people. I loved God. Jesus Christ became the centre of everything…I had been quickened; I was really alive”

John Mackay – former president of Princeton Theological Seminary. It was 1903, he was 14 years old.

He was talking about an experience of God he had whilst reading a book – he went as far as saying “To this book, I owe my life”
I want to read that book – don’t you?

I want to have a new outlook, new experiences, new attitudes to other people. Perhaps you feel stuck in a rut in your faith or your relationships; Perhaps your love for God has become stale; Is Jesus Christ really the centre of your everything or has he been a bit side-lined?

Is your soul quickened? Do you feel alive?

Be honest and take a moment to do a very quick soul survey – how is your soul? What is the condition of your heart?
When you read this quote are you excited or jealous?! I really want to read this book that this theological giant owes his life to!

Our last sermon series took us on a courage journey – so many examples of stepping out of our comfort zones and stepping into that which the Father has created us to be.

The stories of trusting God when all else seemed lost were so inspiring. The stories of people reaching out a hand to pray for a neighbour or a stranger, sowing seeds of the Kingdom all over Harrogate – wow! The stories of sharing faith with family, inviting friends to meet church friends – so many encouraging stories.
And we learnt a bit more about how the Father sees us and who he has made us to be. How Jesus is with us in all things and powerfully equips us to live a life for Him.

Our next series takes this a bit further and all hangs on this incredible verse:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2: 10 (ESV)

We want to go further with the Father and go on a journey where we explore our relationship to God in Christ.
What does it mean to be his workmanship? How does that look in my everyday life?

We want to go further with the Father and go on a journey where we explore our relationship to others in the Lord.
How should we behave towards others? What are the implications of there being good works prepared already for me to be doing?!

We’re going to take some time this autumn to hear what the Father has to say to us through the letter to the Ephesians. This is the book that John Mackay so passionately described as life changing.

I wonder what the Father wants to say to you through it…
I wonder what words of love, affirmation and caution he will whisper into your soul as we read through these ancient words…
I wonder what your day will look like as you engage with the Father who has prepared good works for you to do…
I wonder how the Father will shape our community through His Word…

As we progress through Ephesians, you might want to do some personal study using commentaries or workbooks. You might wish to take a reflective approach and I would really encourage you to take home a lectio divina card from the welcome table to assist you as you read scripture.
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So, let’s dive in!

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – described by William Barclay as “the divinest composition of man” is a letter. Simply that, a letter.
The author is in prison in Rome, writing in about 62AD. Traditionally believed to be written by Paul, there is some debate about that, but I’m resting on Paul’s authorship!

Paul has an interesting background – originally called Saul and from Tarsus, he was a strict adherent of Judaism – calling its followers back to more radical obedience to ancient codes.
He was no stranger to violence in his pursuit of this and was a dedicated persecutor of the emerging Christian church.
He experiences a dramatic conversion to Christ on the Damascus Road (Acts) and devotes his life to Christ, his Cause and the Church.

Unlike many other letters in the New Testament, Ephesians is not written to address a particular issue or occasion. It is a letter to an established church in a Port city on the west coast of the Roman Province of Asia – a wealthy province and a centre of learning. A place fascinated by magic and the occult.
It is a letter that explains how salvation leads to good works, not the other way around. A letter that makes it clear that Christ gives us our relationship to God and as Lord, he governs our relationships with one another.

You could see it in two parts:

Part 1: How salvation comes to believers. Purpose and Power
Part 2: How should we behave once we become believers? Walk and Warfare

And this order is really important. Christianity is unique amongst all religions as others require sanctification before justification. That we have to become ‘good’ however that is defined, before we can become acceptable. In the letter to Ephesians we see that we are accepted by God first, just as we are, in order that God may make us what he wants us to be.

There’s a truth that quickens the soul!
I am accepted by God first, just as I am, in order that God may make me what he wants me to be.
Am I prepared to let him?

Take a moment – what’s holding you back from letting God form you today?
Is it reputation? Is it fear of failure? Is it fear of finances?

Do you know who you are?
God is not angry with you. God is not wanting to withhold blessing or dole out punishment upon you.

You are God’s workmanship – Do you really believe this? Can you let God form you; speak words of affirmation, love or caution to you?

I’m challenged by the structure of the letter alone – we haven’t even got to the text properly yet!

Let’s read Chapter 1: 1-14

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.

Here is Paul, bringing a blessing to the church he spent two years with. And then, he just goes for it.
Verses 3-14 are like a whirlwind. It’s a prayer, it’s written worship, it’s incredible truth.

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.

Don’t skim too quickly over this bit.

Imagine for a moment how today might be different if you walked out the truth of that verse.

The source of our blessing is our Father
The scope of our blessing is EVERY spiritual blessing
You have been blessed in Christ with EVERY spiritual blessing. Not some, or just a few. Blessing is not being held back because of your mistakes…

EVERY spiritual blessing, meaning every blessing of the Holy Spirit.

In the OT, God’s blessings were largely material – many children, a good harvest, an abundance of cattle, leadership among the nations. Here Paul is writing about a different kind of blessing.

The blessings are spiritual, not material –a personal knowledge of God and the forgiveness of sins. The blessings of being chosen, adopted and eventually all things united in him. Relationship.

Every blessing of the Holy Spirit has been given to us by the Father if we are in the Son. No blessing is withheld. This doesn’t mean we don’t need to grow in maturity, or that Christ isn’t working in us to transform us into his image. It means the saving gifts of God are ours through the Holy Spirit. You are known, chosen, loved.

In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons 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 Christ10 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.

Let’s just quickly review the truths in this passage. Tom Wright points out that the entire prayer is woven through and through with the story of what God has done in Jesus the Christ:

  • Verse 3: He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing
  • Verse 4: He chose us in him
  • Verse 5: Through him, I am a child of God
  • Verse 6: We has poured grace on us in him
  • Verse 7: He has given us redemption in him, I am forgiven completely
  • Verse 9: He has set out his plan in him and I am included in god’s plans
  • Verse 10: All things will be united in him
  • Verse 11: We have obtained our inheritance in him, I am an heir…
  • Verse 12: …because we have set our hope on him
  • Verse 13: We have been sealed in him with the Spirit as the guarantee of what is to come.

And all of this is ‘in him’

Before Jesus, we were ‘in Adam’; in our sin, belonging to the old fallen humanity, now we are ‘in Christ’ belonging to the new redeemed humanity.

Jesus is Christ, Messiah, King

The King represents his people. What happens to him, happens to them. What is true of him, is true of them. Remember David fighting Goliath. Remember that David was already anointed King of the Israelites. Remember that he represented his people Israel and so his victory over Goliath was their victory – so it is with Jesus. Jesus has won the decisive victory over the oldest and darkest of enemies and if we are ‘in him’ ‘in the king’, ‘in Christ’ that victory is ours. And we are on a journey to discover what that means.

There may be things you believe that are untrue – allow God’s truth, expressed here to replace that lie.

You might believe you have to earn God’s love, favour or attention, or perhaps even your salvation – speak the truth over those lies – you are chosen, you have a glorious inheritance, he has poured his grace upon you.

A few weeks ago, I was preaching in Hastings at a Christian holiday that we have gone to as a family for many years. It was the first time I preached there. There were a lot of people, many of them seasoned church leaders. Just before I got up to preach, I was sat steadying my mind, running over my talk in my head, focussing on giving my best – not wanting to let God down, or those who were gathered to hear.

God gave me a picture:

The picture I had was me and Father God playing catch with a beach ball. So simple, yet it pulled me back into my identity. We played catch and I was saying ‘but what if I drop it?’ and Father God spoke so gently – ‘we just carry on playing, it doesn’t matter’.

I had made my God too small and my identity to be in something other than Christ. I am ‘in Christ’ Every spiritual blessing is given to me by the Father. He’s got it covered!

You see, this verse is true:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2: 10 (ESV)

I am the Father’s workmanship – he’s forming me. He is forming you.
Let’s pray…