Let us begin by reading Ephesians 1:3-14,
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 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 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.
I am on the Board of Overseers for our Converge District and this week we had one of our meetings. Ken Nabi, our district president, sent all of the Board members a book to read so that when we came together we could discuss it.
The book was called, “The Power of Moments”. In it the authors discussed the need to try to take advantage of important moments in life. They encourage the reader to look for these opportunities during three important occasions: transitions, milestones and pits. It is this last one, the pits, that captured my attention.
The authors say, “Pits are the opposites of peaks. They are negative defining moments – moments of hardship, pain and anxiety. Pits need to be filled. You do not need to study a book on defining moments to understand that if your friend is suffering, you attend to them.”
How does someone take advantage of a pit, a calamity, an unwanted diagnosis, a catastrophe, a misfortune or a trauma?
I mention all of this because as we begin to read Ephesians we see two things. First, we see the things that Paul is using to fill a pit. Paul fills his heart and mind with doctrines concerning the Trinity, the plans and purposes of God, predestination, the foreknowledge of God, election, the love of God, etc.
Secondly, we see what the result of these things are in Paul’s life. He is filled with praise and worship, thanksgiving, hope, assurance, holiness and joy. In these difficult times Paul remains focused upon God and he remains true to the stewardship that he has been given to him from God.
Some of you may ask, “What makes you say that Paul is in a pit? What makes you think that Paul is in the midst of a trial and in the midst of a calamity?”
I think that it is important for us to remember that Paul was a prisoner in chains when he wrote this letter. Ephesians is one of four letters that are often called the ‘prison epistles’ or ‘captivity letters’. Paul makes mention of this this throughout the letter of Ephesians. For example,
Ephesians 3:1 – For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles...
Ephesians 3:13 – So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
Ephesians 4:1 – I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…
Ephesians 6:18-20 – (Pray) also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
As we begin to consider the opening verses of Ephesians we see that Paul has filled his heart and mind with something that is allowing him to praise from a jail cell, to worship while wearing chains, to have trust in God while he is awaiting trial, to have peace while he faces the possibility of capital punishment, and these things allow him to have faith no matter what the outcome may be.
As I have considered Paul, I am mindful that we often see him as super hero. We tend to conclude that he is special and that we could never display such things if we were confronted by similar trials.
For example, consider the story recorded in Acts 16. We read there of a time when Paul and Silas were ministering in Philippi and they encountered an angry mob.
“The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.” (Acts 16:22-24)
Then we read, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them...”
What enabled Paul and Silas to experience such conditions and still be able to worship the Lord? What enabled Paul to be in prison while he wrote the letters to the Ephesians and speak of such praise? Perhaps Paul was a super hero?
We must, however, consider other texts like 2 Corinthians 1:8-10. It says, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again.”
Paul was not a super hero. Like us, Paul was burdened beyond all strength and despaired at times even of life. Yet, through all of this, Paul learned to rely on God and not in himself or anyone else. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 we read that God had comforted Paul so that Paul could comfort others who were in affliction and who were suffering. We must see that the apostle Paul was not a super hero but through the comfort he had received he was obligated, compelled, duty-bound and indebted to comfort others by teaching them what he had learned. Namely, to rely on God alone.
2 Corinthians 1:4 says, “...we ourselves are comforted by God.” Paul gets even more specific in 2 Corinthians 1:5 when he says, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
I am putting forward this morning that our comfort comes from two things. First, our comfort is in our restored, redeemed, reconciled and renewed relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We have been adopted and this relationship is our greatest comfort. Secondly, our comfort comes from our knowledge of the plan, process, the wisdom and the will of God that establishes this relationship. Without this knowledge we lack assurance, confidence, security and the guarantee of these blessings.
Our Comfort Is In Our Restored Relationship With God (3 explanations)
#1 – Paul, while in prison, refers to his relationship with Christ over and over again. Paul could have only been concerned with his temporal situation (2 Cor. 4:16-18). He could have focused in on his jail cell, his chains, the guards, or his day in court, his needs, his wants, his lonliness. If he had done so, he would have lost heart. This is what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight in glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Therefore, we find Paul most aware of his union with Christ.
The Father has blessed us ‘in Christ’ (3)
He chose us ‘in Him’ before the foundation of the world (4)
We are adopted to Him as sons ‘through Jesus’ (6)
We have been blessed with grace ‘in the beloved’ (6)
‘In Him’ we have been redeemed by Christ’s blood (7)
The Father’s will has been set forth ‘in Christ’ (9)
All things in heaven and earth are united ‘in Christ’ (10)
‘In Christ’ we receive an inheritance
Our hope is ‘in Christ’ (12)
We are placed ‘in Christ’ when we believe the gospel and are sealed with the Holy Spirit (13)
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson says, “When we become Christians we do not merely receive a ‘benefits package’ from Christ – containing forgiveness, new life, new hope and so on. Much more than this is involved: we receive Christ Himself. We are united to Him by His Spirit so that all that He achieved for us becomes ours.”
#2 - Consider what we read in Ephesians 1:4, “...even as He chose you in Christ”. In other words, there was a moment in time when the Father thought about you and chose you to be in Christ. Dr. John Stott says of these words, “Mark well the statement: He chose us in Him. The juxtaposition of the three pronouns is emphatic. God put us and Christ together in His mind. He determined to make us (who did not yet exist) His own children through the redeeming work of Christ (which had not yet taken place). It was a definite decision, for the verb he chose is another aorist (past tense).”
There is a similar verse that I read in 2 Corinthians 1:21 which speaks in the same manner. It states, “And it is God who establishes (puts, installs, creates or authorizes) us with you in Christ, and has appointed (selected, chosen, elected) us, and who has also put His seal on us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” In this remarkable verse we see every person of the Trinity united to all believers on the basis of God’s authority and election.
#3 – Let us also consider the fact that verse three says that we have received every spiritual blessing in Christ. There is no doubt that these spiritual blessings are profound and many. They pertain to many of the things that we find even in this context. Things such as: adoption, redemption, justification, receiving a new heart and sanctification. One commentator identified close to forty such spiritual blessings. Nevertheless, I like how Charles Hodge describes these blessings because he stresses the profound and personal work of the Holy Spirit seen in it. He says, “These blessings are spiritual not merely because they pertain to the soul, but because they are derived from the Holy Spirit, whose presence and influence are the great blessings purchased by Christ.”
Our Comfort Is Secured By Trusting In God’s Plan Of Salvation
Earlier, I said, “Paul was not a super hero. Paul was burdened beyond all strength and despaired even of life. It was because of this that Paul learned to rely on God and not in himself or anyone else.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)
We might be surprised to realize that the theological foundation on which we find that we can trust and rely upon God alone, begins not in our current experience, nor does it begin 2000 years ago during Jesus’ ministry, but it begins before the world was created. It begins in the eternal counsel of God. There may be a day in which we discover that we are to rely on God and not upon ourselves, and there might be a process in which we go through to mature in our reliance and trust in Him; but in reality our reliance is grounded on something that happened before time itself.
Dr. Steven Lawson in his book entitled, Foundations of Grace, says, “Before time began, God the Father chose His elect to be His people. He singled them out to become the recipients of His saving grace. The Father then commissioned His Son to enter the yet-to-be-created world in order to die a substitutionary death for the chosen ones. At that point, Jesus’ death was so certain that He became the Lamb of God, slain from before the foundation of the world. The Father and the Son together then commissioned the Holy Spirit to apply the merit of Christ’s death to His elect. Only by looking to eternity past do we gain the proper perspective to fully grasp the magnitude of our salvation.”
Our text also makes clear that those whom God chose were not chosen by any merit of their own. Ephesians 1:4 says, “...even as He chose us in Him before before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” Of this Dr. John Stott says, “So, far from encouraging sin, the doctrine of election forbids it and lays upon us instead the necessity of holiness. For holiness is the very purpose of our election. So ultimately the only evidence of our election is a holy life.”
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson then poses a couple questions that we all might be asking at this point. He says, ’Why did God choose me?’ the only answer is: ‘He loved you.’ If we then ask: ‘Yes, but why did He love me?’ the only answer is ‘Because he loved you and planned to bring glory to his grace in and through you.’.
We have considered how Paul could praise God from a jail cell. And we have found that he could do this because of His union with Christ and the truths that established this relationship.
If your world comes crashing down tomorrow, what will you find comfort and find hope?
If your health is taken away from you this year, in what will you seek comfort?
If you find yourself despairing of life, in whom will you rely?
If Satan comes to you and unsettles your assurance of salvation; how will you respond?
If your conscience becomes weighed down by guilt and condemnation will you rest in God’s election before the foundation of the world?
Perhaps the whole thought of election overwhelms you. Perhaps you believe it is too big of a mystery for you to consider. Or perhaps you think it is too controversial to bring up or to trust and find joy in.
I would encourage you to consider the psalmist who penned Psalm 106. He is a man who was keenly aware of three things. First he knew that God was good. Consider Psalm 106:1, “Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!”
Secondly, He is aware of his sinfulness. Consider Psalm 106:6, “Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.”
Thirdly, the psalmist prays to the LORD and entreats his mercy and favor on the basis of election and God’s covenant. Consider Psalm 106:4-5, “Remember me, O LORD, when you show favor to your people; help me when you save them, that I may look upon the prosperity of your chosen ones; that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation, that I may glory with your inheritance.”
Or consider Psalm 106:45, “For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of His steadfast love.”
If the psalmist here and the apostle Paul in our text today found such hope in the doctrine of election, shouldn’t we want to embrace this blessing?