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, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.Ephesians 1:3-4
Today our church lectionary begins a 7-week series on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. So I thought it would be good to look at this opening passage from Ephesians today, Ephesians 1:3-14.
Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians is a wonderful book for any Christian to spend their devotional time with. It is just six chapters long. It can easily be read in one sitting. And it is filled with important insights on our Christian faith in broad terms, but also very specific teachings on how we are to live out our Christian faith.
Today’s passage begins right after Paul’s initial greeting, and is a wonderful blessing for all that God has done for us. It is a blessing that starts in verse 3, and doesn’t conclude until verse 14. In the original Greek, it is one long, run-on sentence. It is almost as if Paul can never say enough when he is praising God. (It kind of reminds me of my father’s Thanksgiving blessings back when I was a kid. As the turkey cooled, he would go on and one! Now, I am probably the one inclined to do that!)
When Paul blesses God in this passage, or praises God, what is the first thing that he thanks God for? He thanks God for choosing us. Blessed be God because “he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” Isn’t that amazing? Even before the world was formed, God knew you. God had already planned to create you, and decided to have this amazing relationship with you. You and I have been chosen to be part of God’s family. It is an amazing, freeing, truth, when we really embrace it.
God chose us, in Christ. We can be confident of that. And even when our plans for this life don’t work out, we can fall back on this knowledge – That God has chosen us, and no choice of ours takes this away. But let’s think a little more about what Paul means by this, because he has a very specific meaning in mind.
God’s Chosen People
Paul grew up reading the Old Testament. That was his Bible. And a very prominent theme in the Old Testament is that Israel is God’s chosen people. It begins with Abraham, whom God chose to be the father of many nations, and through whom all nations would be blessed. Abraham was chosen and blessed in order to be a blessing to others. That theme continues when Abraham’s descendants are rescued from Egypt. In Deuteronomy 7:6, for example, God’s people are told: “You are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” The Israelites were God’s chosen people, and they were chosen for a purpose. They were chosen to be a light to the nations, and to bless all nations of the world.
Sometimes we think of being chosen as simply meaning we have a first-class ticket to Heaven, and we get to be at the front of the line. More often, though, when we think of being chosen, we worry about those people that God has not chosen. But that really isn’t what Paul is talking about here. Paul is simply telling us that we are the new Israel; we have been chosen to bless the world. The church, the disciples that Jesus has called, have been chosen to be a light to the nations. We have been chosen to do God’s work on this earth – to care for the poor and the sick, to feed the hungry, to bring hope to the hopeless, to strive for justice and peace, and to do all of this in the name of Jesus. That is what we have been chosen for.
We have been chosen in Christ, as Paul puts it, to be holy and blameless before God in love. There’s only one problem with that, and you’ve probably already figured it out. Who among us believes that they are holy and blameless? I’m not holy and blameless, and I’m guessing you’re not, either. As Paul reminds us elsewhere, none of us are. The nation of Israel wasn’t. The church certainly isn’t. And none of us as individuals are, either.
God’s Chosen One
And that, of course, is why we need a Savior. We need one who IS holy and blameless. We need Jesus, who truly is God’s chosen one. We don’t always get it right. But Jesus does. He is God’s chosen one, who is always holy and blameless. He is God’s beloved, in whom God is well pleased. He is God’s treasured possession. He is the light to the nations. He is the promised descendent of Abraham. He is the one in whom all nations, all peoples, are to be blessed. And we who place our trust in him, in this chosen one, are adopted into his family.
We haven’t just been chosen, Paul reminds us: We have been chosen in Christ. And as the next verses go on to remind us, we have been adopted into God’s chosen family through Jesus. We have redemption through his blood, forgiveness of our sins, and an inheritance promised to us. God has chosen for us to be part of God’s family; and in case we are tempted to forget it, God has marked us with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit. Life gets confusing, and we question our choices at times, and we are hurt by other people’s choices at other times. But in the midst of the confusion and chaos that sometimes swirls around us, there is this wondrous fact: That we have been chosen in Christ.
Who Am I?
Many of you know that one of my heroes in the faith is the Lutheran pastor, theologian, and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A remarkable man who resisted the Nazis and was imprisoned and executed just days before the allied forces liberated the concentration camp where he was being held. While in prison, Bonhoeffer had the opportunity to write numerous letters, and even compose some poems. And my favorite poem of his is one that always surprises me with its honesty. And it’s a good example of how important it can be to know that we have been chosen by God in Christ. It is called “Who Am I?” Here it is:
Who am I? They often tell me I step out from my cell calm and cheerful and poised, like a squire from his manor. Who am I? They often tell me I speak with my guards freely, friendly and clear, as though I were the one in charge. Who am I? They also tell me I bear days of calamity serenely, smiling and proud, like one accustomed to victory. Am I really what others say of me? Or am I only what I know of myself? Restless, yearning, sick, like a caged bird, struggling for life breath, as if I were being strangled, starving for colors, for flowers, for birdsong, thirsting for kind words, human closeness, shaking with rage at power lust and pettiest insult, tossed about, waiting for great things to happen, helplessly fearing for friends so far away, too tired and empty to pray, to think, to work, weary and ready to take my leave of it all? Who am I? This one or the other? Am I this one today and tomorrow another? Am I both at once? Before others a hypocrite and in my own eyes a pitiful, whimpering weakling? Or is what remains in me like a defeated army, Fleeing in disarray from victory already won? Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, thou knowest me; O God, I am thine!
Bonhoeffer struggled with this question of who he was, and don’t we all? We are rarely all that we want to be, and we can get discouraged by that, just as Bonhoeffer did. These lonely questions can mock us and trouble us. But what Bonhoeffer comes back to, at the end of it all, is his faith and conviction that, whoever we are, we are God’s. God has chosen us. What a powerful truth to rest in, and to build our lives on – that we are God’s. No matter who we are. For we have been chosen in Christ.
And we have been chosen in Christ for a reason; for a purpose. Verse 8 of this passage hints at that purpose when Paul tells us that God has made known to us the mystery of God’s will. In other words, we know what God’s plan is for the world. We know that God intends to save the world through Jesus. And that gives us an important responsibility, doesn’t it? We have been chosen for a reason.
We have been chosen to live, as Paul concludes this passage, “to the praise of God’s glory.” What does that mean? Well, Paul will spend a good portion of this letter explaining what that means. This letter is filled with very specific teachings on what it means to live as God’s chosen people in Christ; and how we are to live to the praise of God’s glory.
But first, Paul wants to make sure that we really understand and believe that God has chosen us in Christ. It is no longer just the Israelites who have been chosen by God. It is all of us who set our hope on Christ. It is you and me. Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. Every one of us. God’s treasured possession. A light to the nations. Chosen in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to live for the praise of God’s glory. Blessed to be a blessing.
Blessed be the God who has blessed us in Christ, and chosen us to be a blessing to our world. Amen.