This morning I want to begin a new series that I am calling “The Quotable Paul” or “The Quotable Apostle Paul.”
I got my idea from a book on my shelf entitled, “The Quotable Spurgeon.” Spurgeon, of course, is known for his pulpit oratory which made his London church one of the largest and most influential churches in 19th century Britain. As you peruse the Table of Contents of his book you will find such topical headings as The Sovereign Trinity, The Heart of the Gospel, The Pilgrim Path, The Power of Prayer, Growing in Godliness, The Circle of Fellowship, The Blessing of Affliction and many others. If you have read any of Spurgeon you know he is gifted at painting colorful lifelike pictures with his words and the Apostle Paul as well. He has often put things in an inspiring, memorable and even penetrating way. I want to read a couple samples before getting into the sermon.
You remember him standing before Agrippa giving his defense and Agrippa thinking, “This man is trying to get me to become a Christian,” and Paul responds, “Whether short or long I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am except for these chains.”
Or take this exchange between the Lord Jesus and Paul in II Cor. 12, “But he [Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
One more and this is to the Philippians in chapter 1:20-21; “…as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
There should be no shortage of quotes to pull from the inspired Apostle such a gifted wordsmith was he. This morning I want to begin with just one sentence in the Greek. It is translated into five sentences and runs from v. 3-14. It is a run-on sentence. I have tried to do what Spurgeon advises to ministers and that is to “lay a soak in the text.” I have tried to do that this week. I would love to see how someone who is more of a grammarian than I am would diagram this one sentence. It is difficult to follow in its particulars, but the main message cannot be missed.
By the way, some authors want to call this a paragraph sentence. I would go further and would say this is an epistle sentence. It is larger than many psalms. It is probably larger [it occurred to me too late to check this] than II and III John. By way of weight it is very, very hefty. There is a lot that Paul puts into this sentence.
So how do we make sense of this hard to follow grammar of Paul’s? I am asking you to do what I did and that is to listen for repeated phrases and concepts and key words here as a clue to where Paul is putting his stress, what is he emphasizing. Listen for those as I read vv. 3-14. Again, remember that this is one sentence.
So where is the emphasis placed in this run-on sentence, this epistle sentence. I think the stress is placed on at least three areas. The first is the Divine Purpose, the second is Union with Christ and the third is Man’s Chief End. We will spend more time on the Divine Purpose and move along quickly with Union with Christ and Man’s Chief End.
Did you notice the three direct references to God’s plan in our sentence here? The first is found at the end of v. 5 “according to the purpose of his will.” The second occurs in the middle of v. 9 “according to his purpose.” And the last and fullest expression finishes v. 11 “according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” God has a plan and a purpose.
Our Shorter Catechism, Q & A number 7, borrows its language from this very sentence. “What are the decrees of God? The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his will.” We find that here in Ephesians 1, “…according to the counsel of his will whereby for his own glory he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” Our heavenly Father is not reacting to people and events and powers around him. Rather he is working his plan with flawless precision. He is governing all his creatures whether they are on earth or they are in heaven. He is governing his creatures and all their actions.
The text allows us to boast more about our Father’s purpose and his plan. We could say that it is eternal, it is cosmic, it is invincible and it is benevolent. According to v. 4 our Father’s plan to save us began before the foundation of this world. Before there were people living in the ANE, before there was such a thing as the ANE; before there was a star in the sky; before the dawn of time when Father, Son and Holy Spirit were enjoying solitary fellowship they met in high council and devised a plan before the foundation of the world. It is eternal. The decrees of God are his eternal purpose.
It is also cosmic. His plan is so much bigger than you or I. We flatter ourselves in thinking that his plan is all about us. So much bigger than human history; and according to v. 10 this plan unites all things in Christ – things in heaven and things on earth. So much bigger than us! It is natural to think that it is all about us, but it is sinful to think that it is all about us and about us getting to heaven. It is not what his plan is all about. While his interests include us they are infinitely beyond us. His purpose embraces all things in heavens, the outer extremities of his universe; and his purpose embraces all things on earth in all places at all times whether they are animate or inanimate. I believe it was R.C. Sproul who said, “There is not a rebel molecule in God’s universe.” The hymn writer had it right when she said, “The stars in their courses obediently shine.” That is a perfect word, “obediently shine.” They do our Father’s bidding, they do his will, and he governs and directs everything he has made. His plan is cosmic.
It is also invincible. You are not going to find that word in this epistle sentence, but it is everywhere assumed. Nothing can thwart this purpose. There is no power that can successfully challenge his purpose. It will come to pass just as he said it would. There is never a need for a plan B. The outcome is settled and his people can therefore relax.
One of my good friends and I were quite competitive with each other. We were roommates prior to both of us getting married. He had his teams and I had my teams. Whenever my team and his team played against each other there was tension in the living room in front of the television. He was from Detroit, Michigan and was a fan of Thomas Hearns, the boxer. I went with Sugar Ray Leonard, the Olympic champion. They were facing each other for the first time and everyone was wondering who was going to be the true champion. This was long before it was available on television to watch so we listened very carefully on the radio round by round. Sometimes Hearns won the round, sometimes Leonard won the round. We were alternately squirming and dancing in each other’s faces when our man won.
It was years later that I had the pleasure of watching the fight on cable television. I must have been in some hotel somewhere. I am watching the fight and find myself bobbing and weaving, cringing and wincing every time Hearns lands a punch on Leonard. I rise to my feet from my rocking chair. I run to the screen when Hearns is sizing him up with his left and ready to tee off on him with the right and then it occurs to me – the match has been over for a few years and Leonard won. So, get back to your rocking chair and enjoy, be entertained by the fight! I know the outcome. It is settled and so can relax. And that is what God’s plan, his eternal plan, his invincible plan allows you and I to do. There is a sense in which we can sit back and be entertained with what God is doing in the cosmos.
Not only is it invincible, it is benevolent. Again that is not a word we will find in the text but we are confronted with it every syllable along the way. It begins, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who had blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing.” In love he predestined us and it goes on and on and on. His purpose is for our good and blessing.
Dr. Packer is very helpful in taking this epistle-like sentence and helping us get our minds around it when he puts it this way. “Paul starts with a summary statement and spends the rest of the paragraph analyzing and explaining it. The statement is ‘God has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.’ The analysis begins with eternal election and predestination to Sonship in Christ, proceeds to redemption and remission of sins in Christ, and moves on to the gift of the Spirit in Christ to seal us as God’s possession forever.” It is a helpful statement to kind of summarize what Paul is saying in all of this.
Did you hear the Trinity in all of that? Chosen by the father, redeemed by the Son and sealed by the Spirit. Let’s consider that a little more. “…chosen by the Father,” this concept we encounter three times in this sentence. He chose us in v. 4, he predestined us in v. 5 and then again in v. 11 “having been predestined according to the purpose.” We don’t need to spend much time on being chosen, election and all that in light of Dr. Rayburn’s recent preaching from Romans 9-11, but let me draw your attention to and say a few words about the two purposes for our election that Paul gives us here.
The first is in v. 4, “he chose us that we should be holy and blameless.” The second is in v. 5, “he predestined us for adoption as sons.” Why were we elected? We were elected to be blameless, to be holy, and to be his children. In Paul’s world adoption was ordinarily of young adult males of good character to become heirs and maintain the name of the childless rich. Paul, however, proclaims God’s gracious adoption of persons of bad character to become heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ. It helps me to think of it this way. God could have stopped at justifying us, at forgiving us our sins, he could have stopped right there and gone on to relate to us as a master relates to his slaves. And had he done that it would still be mercy upon mercy to be in relationship with the King of the universe. So to be brought into his family and treated as sons is to have kindness lavished upon us. It is to stand under the Niagara of God’s blessings. When God elected us he had our Sonship in mind. He also had our holiness and our blamelessness in view which is simply to say that he wants his sons, he wants his children to bear the family likeness. I find that fresh motivation in pursuing my sanctification in wanting to be more like Christ. I so admire, respect and look up to my dad! I want to be more like my dad! I so love my elder brother! He does everything well and right; I want to be like him.
It is easy to get lost in this epistle sentence so in my outline we are remembering that God’s plan is emphasized in our passage. We see that his plan is eternal, cosmic, invincible and benevolent. Its benevolence is seen in the father choosing us and now the son redeeming us. What good is a master plan is if it is never put into effect; if it just remains written and on the desk collecting dust? It’s a great theory but is doing nobody any good. That is where the Son comes in, “redeemed by the Son,” he puts the plan into effect, he accomplishes our salvation, he achieves everything necessary for our salvation. “In him we have redemption through his blood,” v. 7. The Ephesians were familiar with the Greco-Roman practice of redemption. Slaves were freed by the payment of a ransom. Similarly the ransom necessary to free sinners from the bondage of sin was the death of Christ. His blood set the captives free. God the Father is credited for devising such a benevolent plan but God the Son is credited with achieving our salvation, our deliverance with flawless precision. I want to come back to this thought at our conclusion.
Thirdly, we see the benevolence of this plan in that we have been sealed by the Spirit. Verse 13 “In him….. you were sealed with the Holy Spirit.” Sinclair Ferguson has a helpful commentary on Ephesians. This is from him: “In the ancient world a seal provided security and also a confirmation of authenticity and ownership.”
Kings had their signet rings, as I have my own, and they would place the seal of the ring on their books to say this belongs to me. Or they would sign some important document, placing the seal on the document to say “This is good, I stand by this!” So it represents authenticity and ownership. Here Paul seems to be thinking about the Spirit himself being God’s seal since he goes on to say that the Spirit is also the guarantee, the pledge or down payment of the inheritance we have in Christ. His presence in our life is itself God’s assurance that every spiritual blessing will be ours. More than that this “down payment” is a first installment of the final consummation of the blessings we will experience in the resurrection.
I found this in The Quotable Spurgeon on Ephesians 1:3, “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,” I think this is an apt illustration. A benevolent person gave Mr. Roland Hill ₤100 to dispense to a poor minister a bit at a time thinking it was too much to send all at once. Mr. Hill forwarded ₤5 in a letter with only these words within the envelope, “More to follow.” In a few days time the good man received another letter containing another ₤5 with the same message, “More to follow.” A day or two after came a third and fourth envelope and still the same promise, “More to follow,” until the whole sum had been received. Spurgeon goes on, “Every blessing that comes from God is sent with the same message, “More to follow.” I forgive you your sins, but there is more to follow, I justify you in the righteousness of Christ, but there is more to follow, I adopt you into my family, but there is more to follow, I educated you for heaven, but there is more to follow, I give you grace upon grace, but there is more to follow, I have helped you even to old age, but there is still more to follow, I will uphold you in the hour of death and as you are passing into the world of spirits, my mercy shall still continue to be with you and when you land in the world to come, there shall still be more to follow. The Holy Spirit, Paul says here, is the first installment of his great blessing.
So, what is Paul stressing and laying emphasis upon in this worshipful run-on sentence that refuses to stop? A master plan but he is also stressing union with Christ. This sentence is water logged in union with Christ. In Christ we were chosen by the Father. In Christ we have redemption. In Christ we were sealed by the Spirit. The phrase “in Christ” or one like it occurs twelve times in this epistle sentence. It is the foundation of all our spiritual experience and all our spiritual blessing. From eternity past God has established a relationship between Christ and those the Father gave him. He is our covenant head, the second Adam. What Christ does becomes ours by virtue of union with him! Whatever Christ did as our representative God has counted it as something we did too! Think of it. Jesus obeyed the entire law of God in thought, word and deed. He never omitted performing all the good he should have done in every situation he found himself in. He was perfectly righteous. God counted it as something we did, too, by virtue of our union with Christ.
Jesus was led into the wilderness and tempted for forty days by the devil. And he came back, “It is written, it is written, it is written!” and he successfully withstood those temptations and God counted it as something we did, too, by virtue with our union with Christ. Sproul puts it like this, “By his perfect obedience Christ satisfied the demands of God’s law and merited eternal life for us. By his submission to the atoning death on the cross he satisfied the demands of God’s wrath against us.”
All he did, he did for us. We share in his life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension. It was the contemplation of that glorious thought that moved Wesley to write and then sing, [or did he sing first and then write?] “Soar we now where Christ hath led, following our exalted Head, made like Him, like Him we rise, ours the cross, the grave, the skies.” It is as though we were standing under a Niagara of blessing in our union with Christ.
Finally, Paul emphasizes our chief end in this passage. All these blessings should evoke within us heartfelt praise of his glory. All that God has done, he has done so that we might praise his glory. Why did God the Father choose us? The answer is in v. 6 “to the praise of his glorious grace.” Why did the Son redeem us? The answer is at the end of v. 12 “…so that we might praise his glory.” Why did the Holy Spirit seal us? The answer is in v. 14 “… to the praise of his glory.” Everything is about praising his glory. All of our understanding of who God is and what he has done—all of our theology culminates in doxology. I love what John Stott said here. “Theology and doxology should never be separated. On the one hand there can be no doxology without theology. All true worship is a response to the self-revelation of God in Christ and scripture and arises from our reflection on who he is and what he has done. On the other hand there should be no theology without doxology. There is something fundamentally flawed about a purely academic interest in God. God is not an appropriate object for cool, critical, detached, scientific observation and evaluation. No, the true knowledge of God will always lead us to worship. We must beware equally of an un-devotional theology and of an un-theological devotion.” John Stott
By sheer repetition of key words, phrases and concepts Paul glories in our union with Christ from which every spiritual blessing flows and he shows us that the proper response to all of this is to praise the glory of God. Indeed, it is our chief end. It is why we are here.
He also glories in God’s master plan. As I said earlier the Father is credited for devising the plan to set the captives free. But what good is a master plan that remains on the shelf? It is only good theory, interesting reading maybe, but it doesn’t do anybody any good. The prisoner’s remain in captivity and they die in prison.
The year is 1945 and hundreds of U.S. soldiers are held captive in the brutal Japanese war camps at Cabanatuan in the Philippines. These are the only soldiers who remained alive of the 70,000 American and allied forces who surrendered to the Japanese at Bataan in 1942. Forced to walk through the sweltering, mosquito infested jungle on what would become known as the “Bataan Death March,” the survivors were then held captive in remote and deadly camps. Now three years later the Japanese War Ministry has issued a “kill all” policy to annihilate their war camps. At a camp named Palawan 150 U.S. soldiers are forced into trenches, doused in gasoline and set on fire. Meanwhile believing themselves all but forgotten by their comrades and country, the surviving prisoners at Cabanatuan have dubbed themselves the “Ghost Riders.” Back at the 6th Army headquarters in nearby Luzon in the Philippines Lt. Col. Henry Mucci, known for inspiring devoted loyalty among his men, has been assigned to find a way to penetrate behind enemy lines and free the U.S. prisoners. The task appears to be strategically impossible. Mucci selects Capt. Robert Prince to lead the raid. With 121 handpicked, elite Rangers and Alamo scouts he slipped 30 miles deep into enemy territory and made a surprise, lightening assault on the camp successfully completing his mission. Mucci came up with plan, Prince put it into effect and set 500 U.S. prisoners free. It is the greatest rescue in U.S. military. You can see it in the 2005 film “The Great Raid.”
The Father came up with the plan and the Son slipped deep into enemy territory and made a surprise, lightening assault and set countless captives from every nation under heaven free “to the praise of his glorious grace.”