Knowing your Past and Hoping for the Future, Creates the Present – A Sermon on Ephesians 1:11-23

As we start into Ephesians it’s going to be important to try and keep the things we talk about week to week at the back of our heads. We do not want to risk treating the scriptures as individual pieces all thrown together that can be taken out of context and put on display as memes to encourage us. There is a reason that we spend entire years in certain kinds of texts because we want to give them a full look over to recognize what is happening across the entire book but also how it fits into the overall picture of the theology of the entire Bible and what God is up to throughout it. Ephesians is a letter that Paul wrote while in prison that has a lot of one liners that could really send us into some wild goose chases if we don’t keep coming back to the reality of what is in front of us. For instance, in the first chapter alone the word ‘predestined’ comes up over and over again and if you have been in the church for even a small amount of time there is a chance you have stumbled across heated arguments about what this actually means. Very rarely do the arguments interpret this word within the context of Ephesians and Paul’s theology, it is more likely to be interpreted from the context of a modern view of salvation and heaven. So as we go through Ephesians we are going to do our best to understand the entire scope of what this letter it is about and how it ties into the larger narrative of creation.

So let’s keep in mind what Doug said last week as well, that Ephesians is kind of split up into two kind of sections based on how words are spelled. The first section, which we are in is using the words in a way that is speaking about a reality that has happened, and then the second section is using words that denotes more of a command or a directive to be followed. So to jump in at verse eleven, this is Paul talking about a reality of life now that has already happened.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession-to the praise of his glory.

Now that is one full paragraph. It is interesting that we never speak about salvation this way. We’ve kind of created our own language to speak about salvation and what becoming a Christian looks like or what our lives consist of. And we’ve talked about it a lot, about how salvation isn’t about going to heaven when we die but it’s about a life here on earth. This again is what Paul is getting into especially as we go deeper into Ephesians. He sees salvation as this hope and knowledge of a reality that is based on love.

There is also a lot of imagery from the Old Testament tied into here as well. Israel was also chosen by God, they understood themselves to be chosen by God for a certain purpose. Now this is kind corporate language speaking about all of Israel. Individuals however could still opt out of this and individuals could also be grafted into this election. So to understand what it meant for Israel is essential to understand what Paul means for it to mean for the Christian. God’s call is directly tied to God’s choosing. It’s a call into a way of life, and a promise. There is so much imagery wrapped up into this idea of salvation that its hard to grasp. Not only is it tying in OT language of exile and salvation it is speaking about a new kind of redemption that we have to look forward to. Some of the commentaries we are reading speak about it like this.

The image of the inheritance of God seems to convey the idea that God’s true possession has become alienated from God and awaits restoration. In Ephesians, Paul takes this image, which in the OT applies to the people of Israel, and now uses it to describe redeemed Israel, the body of Christ composed of Jews and Gentiles. As already noted in regard to 1:7-14, this redemption is both rich beyond our imagination, and the manifestation in the world of redeemed Israel redounds in God’s glory.

Paul tells us part of the story over again, as the conclusion of his long opening act of worship and praise. Only this time, of course, it’s the new Exodus , the new inheritance, and the new wilderness wandering. As often in his writings, he see the church in the present age as doing again what Israel did in the desert: coming out of the slavery of sin through God’s great action in Jesus the Messiah, and on the way to the new promised land.
N.T. Wright

But this isn’t just reusing old imagery. God’s choosing needs to be understood as a responsibility and understanding the benefits of believing that you are in fact chosen right now. Salvation is found in the conviction that you are in fact what God says you are and standing firm in the way of life that comes with that conviction. Salvation is not an exciting end to your life because you made the right decision at one point. Paul sees salvation as believing something to be true so as it changes the way you live to reflect that reality. Do you see the difference?

I thought Tracey Wispelwey beautifully articulates what salvation is in this video, better than I can. So let’s watch this and then see if we can pick up some of the same language and understanding as Paul is using when he talks about salvation.

Salvation is a conviction that is rings so true with you that your life reflects the reality of that conviction.

Q: Do you have trouble seeing or understanding Salvation this way? When Tracey was talking on the video, did it make sense for you or did it sound like a bunch of rubbish?

I know it might be a long leap for us to grasp what this has to do with our Christian salvation. But this is kind of language that Paul uses, it’s like this discovery of realizing who you are, who you belong to and gives meaning to your life and everything around it. Part of realizing who you are is tying it into what lies ahead of you, what is in store for the future. How you understand who you are, and where you are going defines how you will live in the present. Paul uses this kind of formula. He assures us we are chosen since the beginning of the world and then he tells us what lies ahead – the redemption of all things(1:10, 1:14)! So this is what we know. Salvation is a present reality of the conviction that those things are true about who we are and where we are going.

So I see Paul kind of setting the stage for something. He’s giving us some context for what is coming next and preparing us for something. So then let’s keep reading.

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

This next section is considered a prayer of Paul for the people he is writing to. This more than before I think even matches with the video we watched of the kind of salvation that Paul is talking about here. If we keep in mind though what we just read, we can get an idea of what Paul is trying to do here. He is praying that all the knowledge of who they are and where they are going actually takes root in their present way of life. So keep in mind, he is speaking to Christians, people that have the conviction that Jesus was God and that had something to do with their lives. But Paul prays for them anyway that they would continue to know this even more than they already know it.

“So that you may know him better”
“You may know the hope to which he has called you”

Q: What is the benefit of knowing him better? Or knowing our hope in Christ better? Once you know something, how can you know it better?

Here is what I don’t think it means. I don’t think to know God better, or to know your hope better it means that you are better at proving it to people or winning debates about how your faith is the right one. Or that you have more reasons to know you are doing the right thing. Paul, while being very intelligent and very logical, tends to have another level of ‘knowing’ in which he talks about. It’s the kind of knowing that the New Testament calls faith. It’s not that it is illogical, it is that it is alogical. It’s a kind of knowing that transforms the person who accepts it, rather than give him more evidence to know that they are right. Paul here doesn’t seem to be interested in encouraging everyone to know their evidence so that they can better prove to other people that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Rather he seems to care that the people that know who they are and where they are going more deeply so that it more deeply affects their present life. Paul is interested in forming and shaping communities in the present and he recognizes that it is done through them having an intrinsic ‘knowledge’ of their past and their future.

So knowing then is more like knowing you are the child of your parents, or a Canadian citizen rather than it is like knowing the answers of Jeopardy. So Paul is praying that they will expand and extend on what the audience already knows. They are no longer in darkness and their future is under the reign of God – so they are called to live as children under this new reign. According to Paul, enlightened people live different. They are more aware of truth and their lives reflect what they know or believe to be true.

This means, if you think that a certain group of people are going to just disappear one day in the rapture and then God is going to punish all that remains and the world is going be destroyed with fire then that will mean you live in a way which reflects that belief. You won’t care about the earth, you won’t care about the present, because it’s end is in ruin anyway, so what’s the point of it all? Everyone has reasons for why they live and they always are intrinsically tied into how they understand themselves and how they see the future. This is how Paul ends this section of prayer. He is talking about here about a kind of power that changes people that believe it to be true.

That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Think about it as you and your friends are looking at stars. You have a microscope, and he has a telescope. There is more power in the telescope and in having access to the telescope. Not just more power in terms of what the device is on its own but has more power in terms of what kind of knowledge it gives the user of the telescope. This is how we can understand this language of power and why Paul is using it now. There is lots more to know and the more that you are enlightened to the reality of God and what he has in store, the more you can live in the truth of that reality. Both of you looking at the stars have knowledge and you fully know what you know, but there is an infinite amount to know as well, there will always be a stronger telescope. Just this week they discovered that there are billions and billions of planets the same size as ours in our own galaxy. What Paul recognizes though is that the more you know Him and the more you know this hope, the more likely you are to be formed and shaped in the present. I want to end this morning with this quote and then I’ll pray for you.

The border between cosmos and Church is not solid and rigid but is dynamic: the Church should increasingly expand and take possession of the cosmos in an intensive rather than extensive manner. For her growth takes place in inner strengthening, especially in love (Eph 4:15) which is the divine principle working against the powers of the ungodly. To the extent that the Church through the Gospel inwardly wins back humanity alienated from God and formerly enslaved by the “powers” she reveals to the ungodly powers God’s manifest wisdom and deprivation of their own power. Hence the Church is representative of the non-violent and yet powerful rule of Christ, but still more: she is a power which pervades and transforms the world — if she convincingly conveys to the world the effective healing-power of Christ within her — ie. convinces by her own unity and love (Eph 4:12-14). Does the Church thereby become an organ or the instrument of Christ’s cosmic rule? Only if and only so far as her influence in love is effective (Eph 4:15). In the context of 1:17-23 the view of the Church as the Body and Fullness of Christ is intended to make one thing only clear to the addressees — that, through their incorporation in the Church they have been put under the total beneficent rule of Christ, whose victory over the powers of darkness is certain.
Rudolf Schnackenburg

So this is what I pray for us this morning which is the same verses re-written in the Message.

I ask-ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory-to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him-endless energy, boundless strength!

All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

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