Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.Ephesians 1:3
I have been wondering what New Year’s Resolutions might look like this year, in the midst of this pandemic. I am one of those who usually enjoys making New Year’s Resolutions, but I have decided not to this year. It has been a long, difficult year. Most of us are probably just happy to have gotten to the end of it, and to have started a new year. I know that’s true for me. So, maybe this would be a good year to think a little less about New Year’s Resolutions, and a little more about something else. And what I want to offer today, in this sermon, is something a little different: New Year’s Blessings rather than New Year’s Resolutions. And my inspiration for this is our second reading, Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:3-14).
Blessed in Christ
After an opening greeting, Paul turns in Verse 3 to a wonderful reflection on the blessings that we have received from Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.
In this simple statement, we are reminded of something very important: That we begin this year as people who have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. That’s a good way to start the year, don’t you think? By reminding ourselves that we are already blessed, in Jesus Christ, with every spiritual blessing.
Everything important, you might say, has already been given to us. Everything eternal, everything undying, everything that we can truly count on, come what may, we have already been given. We have already been blessed in Jesus Christ with every spiritual blessing.
We might face all sorts of worldly challenges right now. This has been a difficult year for us all. But we are still blessed. Because we know that God loves us, and blesses us in Jesus with every spiritual blessing. We begin the year by remembering this simple, wonderful fact: That in Jesus, we are truly blessed.
Often, when you think about it, New Year’s Resolutions focus on something negative in our life. We are unorganized. We need to lose weight. We want to quit a bad habit. Taking Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians as a guide, we are encouraged to begin the year by focusing on the positive. And this year especially, that seems like a good idea. So, Paul invites us to begin the year by remembering the blessings that we have already received in Christ. For we have been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing.
Now, you might ask: What does it mean to be blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing? In the words that follow this statement, Paul will identify five ways, by my count, that we are blessed in Christ.
First, Paul tells us in Verse 4 that we are blessed in Christ because we have been chosen “in Christ before the foundation of the world.” Think about that. You and I have been chosen in Christ. Even before we chose God, God already chose us, in Christ. We who are baptized into Christ have been chosen in Christ. Before we make any resolutions, before improving ourselves, God has already chosen us. We don’t have to earn this. It is given to us freely, in Christ. That’s a wonderful blessing, isn’t it?
Second, Paul tells us in Verse 5 that we are not only chosen in Christ – we have a destiny: For adoption as God’s children through Jesus Christ. That is our destiny. And it is God’s wonderful gift to us. And again, it is not something we earn or work toward. It is given to us simply because God chooses to give it to us. And knowing our destiny can free us to live without fear, even now, in the midst of all the uncertainty in our world.
The third blessing that Paul reminds us of is found in Verse 7, when he tells us that we have “redemption through Christ’s blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.”
This is also an encouraging word as we begin a new year together, isn’t it? That even if we don’t get it all right, we can count on being forgiven. We may not keep our resolutions; we may not better our lives. We certainly won’t live perfectly this year; we will make mistakes; we will sin. But, in Christ, we have redemption and forgiveness. What a blessing.
The fourth way that we begin this year blessed in Christ is found in Verse 9: [God] “has made known to us the mystery of his will.” We often take this one for granted, I suppose. But think about it: We don’t have to guess at what God wants from us. God has told us. We have God’s Word, the Bible, to guide us. God is very clear about how we are expected to live. Maybe not in all the details. But, big-picture-wise, God could not be more clear. And that’s a good thing. We don’t have to guess how to please a stern, distant God. We have a close and loving God who has made known to us the mystery of God’s will. And that, too, is a blessing.
And, finally, the fifth way that we are blessed in Christ is found in Verse 11, when we are told that “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance.” Not just chosen, destined for adoption, forgiven, and told the mystery of God’s will; we are also promised an inheritance. And it is no less than eternal life with our Lord and our God. There is no greater inheritance possible. And we have already been promised it. In fact, we have already obtained it in Christ. So, before we even make any resolutions to better ourselves, we are reminded that we begin this year chosen by God, with our destiny secure in Christ, and with an awesome inheritance promised to us.
I don’t know about you, but in a very uncertain world, I find these to be comforting promises. Because they don’t depend on the uncertainties of our world, or of our lives. They depend on God, and so they are certainties. They are done simply for the good pleasure of God’s will. A gift given to us which we did not earn. Freely given, in love.
For the Praise of God’s Glory
So how can we thank God for this gift? Again, Paul provides an answer for us, in this same passage from Ephesians. Paul tells us in Verse 12 that we who have set our hope on Christ can now “live for the praise of his glory.” The best way to respond to these freely-given gifts is by living for the praise of God’s glory. We can resolve to spend this year glorifying God.
Now, I know that this sounds a little vague. It is not as specific as losing 10 pounds, or quitting smoking. But Paul will actually get very specific later in this Letter to the Ephesians. For now, he is simply challenging us to devote our lives to glorifying God. Even in the midst of this pandemic, maybe especially now, we are being invited to bring glory to God. To live for the praise of God’s glory.
We believe in and worship an awesome God, who is worthy of our praise and our love, who is more than worthy of anything and everything that we can do to bring God praise. So, let’s. Let’s bring God praise this year, at every turn. Because there is no better way to respond to the blessings that God has given to us in Jesus Christ.
Now, if you want to find some of those concrete ways to do this, I encourage you to read on in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. Don’t call it a resolution, but a great way to start this year might be to read this letter. Even reading it slowly and prayerfully, with a journal in hand, shouldn’t take you more than an hour. And you will find many concrete ways to live for the praise of God’s glory.
For example, chapter 4 of this letter will offer practical advice like, don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and let your talk be for building up, that it may give grace to hear. Chapter 5 will offer practical suggestions for how to live as a better spouse, and how to live as a better child or parent; children being urged to obey their parents, and parents being urged not to provoke anger in their children. Chapter 6 will suggest ways for us to engage in the spiritual warfare that is all around us, by taking up the whole armor of God, and praying at all times in the Spirit.
The rest of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians is filled with all kinds of excellent advice on how we can live for the praise of God’s glory. But he begins the letter by simply reminding us of our blessings. Assuring us that we have all received the gift of being blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing.
And there are no more hopeful words that I can offer, as we begin this year together, than these from Paul. Who tells us that we begin this year – as we begin every year – in Christ: Chosen, destined, forgiven, with an inheritance promised to each and every one of us. And all so that we might live for the praise of God’s glory.
May each of us be blessed as we strive to live this new year for the praise of God’s glory. And may we never forget that we begin this year, as we begin every year, with the blessing of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Thanks be to God. Amen