My previous job was to run married and family retreats in the northeastern United States for Army Reserve Soldiers and their families. We would contract with hotels for rooms and meeting space. My team and I would show up on Thursday and set up for Friday attendee arrivals and run a three day event. As we came to our first Hilton hotel, the events coordinator met with us and gave my NCO and I a symbol so that the hotel staff would recognize that we were the decision makers for the event. The symbol was a pineapple pin emblazoned with "HILTON" that we wore on our collars.
This symbol told the staff that we were the ones who could make decisions at the event. It allowed the hotel staff to identify us as having authority. They had committed to helping us achieve our vision for the event and if they had questions they came to us so that our vision for the event would be followed.
The same way the hotel staff sought to bring our vision to realization is similar to how God brings His vision for the world to completion. We take our questions and concerns to Him, because He is the one with the vision for how things are to come to completion. What are we to become? That is God's work. What are we to do to support His priorities? That is our work.
Ephesians begins with an overview of how God brings His plan into fruition. Paul gives a snapshot into how God brought about His vision for all of history. He is also sharing his understanding of how God makes His plan a reality on our lives.
In this passage, Paul lays out the overview of God's sovereignty in past, present, and future. We see God at work through the entirety of eternity. We see what has transpired to bring about our salvation and the salvation of the world (we can call it micro and macro salvation/redemption).
As a biblical counselor, my first principle for approaching the Scripture is an understanding that it is the authoritative Word of God. The second principle is that it contains all we need for living for Christ and dealing with everything we encounter here in this life. This is partially based on verse three of our current text. Christians are given "every spiritual blessing in Christ" (1.3). Here we will look at Ephesians as important to how we confront and grow through the trials and struggles of life. How do we bring God glory? Paul describes several ways in this chapter.
Why talk about these things from a counseling perspective? In short there are things we should understand before facing trials that will help us put things into a context that allows us to process troubles and see God's work in all of life. The truth of God's sovereignty gives hope and comfort as we face life in a sin filled world. People struggle with the reasons that trials happen. The purpose of trials can be difficult to see while they are happening. In the midst of a tragedy, it is difficult to teach theological principles while being compassionate and comforting so it is important for us to understand good theology now, so we can remember it later.
The first thing Paul describes is God's activity in the past. He "chose us in Him before the foundation of the world" (v 4). This activity is before the foundation of the world. It was God deciding and planning that we would be selected for salvation, specifically for the purpose of being holy and blameless.
Why is it important that He chose us? Anyone who has dealt with doubt, or a failed relationship, or a person changing their mind, should understand why this doctrine is important. Any part of salvation that relies on humanity can change. Any part of salvation that rests in God's care is constant. He loves, kindly. Our salvation is sure, not because I will never change, but because God never changes. The choice made in eternity past is maintained forever, because of who God is.
So how does such a doctrine impact my life? Why is it a big deal that God chooses me? We have no reason to think that our abilities can impact our lives for all eternity. Our salvation is all God's grace, provision, and action. That means that we cannot mess it up. We can rely on His salvation, because the Author is sure and kind. When we face a struggle, when Satan attacks, or when we are presented with a world that is evil, we can trust God. We are not alone and we are loved. We must remind ourselves that we are forever in God's care.
When Paul writes about the action of our selection by God he is describing an action that has happened in eternity past with implication in the present and future. The action was accomplished before we did anything. We are selected, not on our actions or merits, but by His grace and mercy. I think of the NFL Combine and Draft. Much of what a player does in the combine impacts their selection in the draft. A good performance in the combine will give a better chance of selection in the draft. This is how the NFL functions, but not God. He chooses us to make us what He wants us to be.
He chose us to make us "holy and blameless." God's purpose in our selection is to give us the righteousness of Christ and to forgive our sins through Jesus' death on the cross, making us righteous before the Judge of all.
This concept that Paul is explaining to the Ephesian Christian would not have been familiar to them. These Gentile believers would not have understood a God choosing a certain people. Jews would have understood selecting someone because of the Old Testament history. God's interaction with the people Old Testament, the patriarchs and others exemplify His choosing a particular people for His purposes. God selected Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rahab, and Jeremiah. In the New Testament Jesus selected the twelve Apostles. These concepts would have been new to Gentiles without an experiential knowledge of God's working through history.
Paul continues to tell the Ephesians about God predestining us (5) to adoption as sons. This sonship makes us heirs, as Paul will say in Eph. 3:6. When we become His sons we enter into a life of being raised by God. He will do whatever it takes to make us more like Jesus and more ready for the eternal kingdom. Putting us alongside the Jews in importance and making us "holy and blameless" are all part of the "mystery" (1:7) and "working all things after the counsel of His will" (1:11).
Paul takes great pains to mention the "kind intention of His will" twice (5 and 9). His emphasis on what God does for us in the areas of grace and kindness seems to accentuate the love that God shows His people.
The application of these concepts fall into three areas: 1) salvation is not contingent on my good actions/ perfect reactions (freedom), 2) we are chosen for eternal life (our mission here is to prepare for what is to come), and 3) praise of the glory of His grace. Each of these areas are worth taking time to consider in meditation. We are saved from the foundation of the world before we have done anything to prove worthy. Then when we are born we actually prove ourselves unworthy of any consideration toward eternal life.
How do we praise? The primary way is by doing what He created us to do. We do the tasks He needs us to do as He moves time toward His Glory! Paul writes, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK....