5/3 Devotion

Predestined Blessings

Beloved, we’ve spent the last two weeks in Acts discussing Paul’s time in Ephesus and starting our discussion on the Lordship of Jesus. Today we start our journey through the book of Ephesians. A book, in my opinion, is one of the most important for understanding big questions from a Christian viewpoint. What is God doing now? What is my purpose? Why does the church matter? What is God’s plan? What does it mean that Jesus is Lord? How does any of this affect how I live my daily life? Last week we talked about how God and power interact with our freewill. This theme carries into our passage for today, in that, the intro to Ephesians is a commonly debated passage when talking about the theology of predestination.  

SMALL GROUP QUESTION: What is your understanding of what “Predestination” means? Please note, I’m not asking whether you agree or disagree with it and why? Simply explain the idea of predestination the way you understand it.

As we start a new book it is important to understand the context, the authorship, and the original audience. The traditional view is that the Apostle Paul wrote the letter to the cluster of churches in the city of Ephesus. In the past two weeks, we looked at Paul’s background with this group (Acts 18-19). However, many scholars suggest either a different author, a different original audience, or both entirely. This is important to note because you may come across it in your personal studies. These theories have validity in many regards, but most serve no helpful means for interpretation. For the purposes of our study, we will proceed with the traditional view. Before we read the intro to Ephesians please watch the overview video provided.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y71r-T98E2Q – Ephesians overview video

 

This is what the word of the Lord says:

 

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:

2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. - Ephesians 1:1-5 

 

Paul begins his letter by identifying himself as an apostle, a calling that later in the letter he says God calls some people in the church to be also. Then he addresses the letter to God’s holy people (saints) in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus, or those who are faithful in Christ. The phrase “In Christ” is important to Paul in this letter he uses it 10 times in the prologue, and variations of it (in him, in the beloved) 130 times in the letter. It is one of the key ideas of the letter, a people bound to each other in Christ, or under the Lordship of Jesus. He then uses the phrase grace and peace which is commonplace for us to hear but is strategically unifying. Paul uses the common Greek greeting of grace or charis and the common Hebrew greeting of peace or shalom to address a unified body of believers, both ethnically Jewish and gentile. This phrase is also used as a blessing, as the grace and peace are from God.

            Verse 3 gives praise to God because He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing, in Christ. These blessings have two qualifiers, first, those who are blessed must be part of “us”, and second that they come in Christ. So, who is us? This is an important question in the interpretation of this passage, as well as in the interpretation of all scripture. Since we are not the primary audience of scripture, rarely, is it speaking directly to us. In this case, we fit the parameters, though we are not the primary audience. Paul is including himself and God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ. Since we are also God’s holy people, those who are faithful in Christ, the blessings our also ours in Christ.

Small Group Question: The blessings are ours in Christ, what does that mean?

            Verses four and five are where the passage becomes grounds for debate in different Christian traditions. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” There are two main schools of thought around this passage, and it is important that we understand them both. We are not called to renounce one view without understanding it, for that is not truth but ignorance. To help with this concept I’ve shared a link to an example of what’s called an ambiguous picture. When some of you see the picture, you will see a duck and only a duck, while others of you will see only a rabbit. Our goal today is to see both so we can understand why our tradition chose one viewpoint over the other.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/duck-or-rabbit-the-100-year-old-optical-illusion-that-tells-you-how-creative-you-are-a6873106.html - Article on Picture

Just as in verse three the main question for verses four and five is who is “us”? Who was chosen in Him before the foundation of the world? The Reformed or Calvinist viewpoint is that a group called the elect were chosen. This group was chosen by God, not because they did anything to earn it, but simply out of God’s love and perfect will. Before the world was made God chose a group of people to love Him. Humans would only be able to love themselves so He would give certain people the ability to love Him in return and not only that He would make them say yes to His love. Certain sects within reformed Christianity believe this means God also chose people to not love Him and to go to hell before the world was even made. Others believe God simply “turned His back” to those who He did not choose. Both groups believe this is all fair since death is what we all deserve and this plan is all for God’s glory, even if we can’t fully understand how. In an effort to be fair, Calvinists and other Christians agree on a lot of things and much of this interpretation can be defended in a compelling manner using scripture. It is important that we understand what they believe and why.

Small Group Question: Are any parts of this interpretation problematic or confusing? Do any parts of this interpretation make sense to you?

            The traditional protestant viewpoint is that the “us”, are those who are faithful in Christ. Meaning that before the creation of the world God had a plan to live with a group of people, for them to be set apart and blessed. So, he “chose us”, the us that Paul references in the verses prior. However, not “us” in the individual manner of speaking, but God had a plan to have a set apart group of people. He knew we would fall and would only be able to love ourselves and not Him. So, He gave us a path to adoption into this set apart family, through Jesus. Though we still cannot choose God without Him first reaching out to us, we believe that God does not force anyone to choose Him. Importantly, we also believe that God gives us free will, so we can make the decision to choose Him or not. So, when Paul says God chose us, he means God had a plan to live with a group of people, and those who are faithful to Christ are that group. Many groups hold to the idea also that God desires for all to be reconciled to Him through Jesus and join us. (2 Pet. 3:9) Many theologians believe that if we had never fallen into sin God would still have come in human form to live with his people.  

Small Group Questions: Are any parts of this interpretation problematic or confusing? Do any parts of this interpretation make sense to you?

Beloved, those who are faithful in Christ, our takeaway from this opening passage of Ephesians is this. God is great! He gives those who are faithful every blessing in Christ. We usually like a takeaway that we can apply to our lives. But what greater take way, what greater comfort can we have beloved in the midst of this Corona Virus craziness than, God loves you and has a beautiful plan to restore, renew and reconcile this world to Himself. Next week we will cover the whole introduction and the list of blessings. For the good news that we live for, the good news that beckons people to the Lordship of Christ is that God is love and He has a plan! I challenge you to break the monotony of this social distanced reality with praise to the One who’s love makes you the Beloved! God is Good!

Reflection Song

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrTv39-lG4M – Yes I will by Vertical Church Band