Ephesians 1:3-14, when read in the original Greek, is actually just one very long sentence. The passage reads like a free-flowing prayer of praise, but with incredibly systematic theological intention and precision.
The Address and Salutation prior to this verse do fit the fundamental style of Paul, which has led biblical scholars to debate extensively over the years as to who actually wrote the letter to the Ephesians. Some believe that the style and verbiage are not verbose enough to have been penned by Paul. Many scholars further question whether the letter was even written to the Ephesians. But if you haven’t figured this out yet about scholars, they sometimes will, with the very best of intentions, nitpick details to death. And while that deconstructionist approach occasionally yields new insights, the practical danger that we should avoid is missing the larger, more important issue before us.
So, for the purpose of seeing the bigger picture, let’s assume that the letter is written by Paul to the Ephesians.
When you read through Ephesians, one thing that you will notice about this letter, which is unlike many of the letters of the New Testament, is that it doesn’t contain much criticism. That is because, for the most part, things were going pretty well at the church in Ephesus. So if Paul has advice to give to the church in this letter, it is essentially how to continue to improve on the church’s successes. And for the church to do this, Paul understands that they must start from a position of humility. This church must recognize where their success ultimately originates: not from them.
Paul writes in Verse 4: “For he (God) chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.“
Now this particular line is a fairly complex verse. The first half of the verse is significant because it is very indicative of Paul as a person. After Paul’s conversion, he becomes an Apostle in Christ. But prior to that happening, he was a Christian-killer. And so, understandably, many people are skeptical of Paul after his conversion. Paul might have received more eye rolls than any other convert in history. This means that Paul has to always go through this sort of dance to say, “Yes, that’s who I was, but that is not who I am.”
And I think that anyone who has had a true conversion experience can understand this. And when I say conversion, I mean specifically a conversion of the heart. I know many people who have grown up in the church, who have gone through all the motions, but one day, it’s like the switch is flipped and then they are all in.
Personally, this is a place in the Bible where I can really relate to Paul. I would have never in a million years predicted when I was growing up that I would be a pastor someday. I mean, it wouldn’t have been in my top million choices of vocational options. And if you would have asked any of my friends back in my BC days if they could ever imagine me as a pastor one day, they would have outright laughed in your face.
It’s actually kind of humorous, because occasionally, when I run into someone that I haven’t seen or had contact with in like 20 years and they ask what I’m doing these days and I tell them? A lot of times, at first, they think that I am just messing with them and they kind of get a smirk on their face like, “Are you serious?”
But that’s just it: sometimes God takes the least likely of people to further God’s point that God is in control. And Paul says (now get this, I mean this is amazing) that God has chosen each of you, and he did so before the very creation of the world. So that means that God knew about you before the beginning of the universe. That he has planned all of history up and to this point, so that in this moment you would hear me verbalize God’s message to you, that you have been chosen by God.
As soon as those words come out of my mouth, you are stuck with that fact. If no one ever told you before that you are chosen by God – if this happened to be the first time that anyone has ever said to you that you are chosen – you now are faced with the ethical dilemma: do I believe in the God of all creation, or do I reject him? And if I believe in God, am I actually going to follow him?
Paul says clearly in verse 13: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.”
So I want you to think about this for a second, because this is incredible power that God has entrusted you with. As soon as you engage a person and inform them that God has chosen them, you have put a claim on them for the Lord. You have put into motion God’s plan from the beginning of time: his desire and love to choose them.
When you start to do this on a regular basis, you get to a place where you can engage strangers and talk with them for just a couple minutes and almost immediately see what God is doing with them. I get this all the time now; I will meet someone who I have never met before, who is not currently a believer, and within a few minutes of talking with them, I will clearly see at least some the gifts that God has blessed them with. So I just come out and say to them, “Hey, I don’t mean to be too forward with you, but I gotta tell ya I really get this sense that God has chosen you for something that has to do with your particular gifts. And I may not have all the particular details, but I think that it is something that you should definitely look into further.”
For example, more than a decade ago now, I was doing some mission work in Puerto Rico where I met a young man, and upon meeting him, I knew right away that he was called to go to seminary. So I told him right then and there. He probably thought I was absolutely nuts. Now, a decade later, he’s lived some life – he’s married, has a kid – and he’s applying to seminary.
And you would not believe how many times in my life that God has used those simple conversations to bring people into a deeper relationship with Christ. Because in recognizing the fact that they are chosen, you give them the opportunity to choose Jesus again and again.
Let me offer you another simple observation: people are very critical that the church is declining in attendees in America. Christians have seen this happen in Europe, and they don’t want it to happen here. But honestly, I don’t think that the problem of declining membership is because people don’t know who Jesus is. Europe was once the most Christianized place in all the world. People knew about Jesus; but they knew that if they choose to follow Jesus, then that means sacrificing their current comforts, because the Gospel will change their lives. And where do you encounter the Gospel? Every Sunday in worship.
In worship, you hear what God is calling you to. This is why a lot of people who are even self-proclaimed Christians – who belong to churches – they find excuses not to be in worship during the week. And they are veiled in all sorts of convenient and sympathetic excuses: Sunday is the only day the whole family is home, I don’t connect with digital services, my kid has this or that sporting event, I’m on vacation, the big football game is today, it’s such a hassle to get the family ready, I’m just so tired. I mean, we come up with some great ones.
I have often thought – and I say this shamefully, confessing to you – that part of the reason that God called me to be a pastor is because he wanted me to actually fall in love with him, and he knew that the only way that he could do that was to get me into worship. And the only way that he could consistently get me into worship…was to put me to work for him.
And I share that with you in utter shame and humiliation, but I say it so that you understand that I empathize with how hard it can be for people to make that commitment. Evil will give a person every seemingly good excuse in the world not to show up Sunday morning, because the devil is not concerned with your ultimate best interest. But it is for that reason that we, God’s committed people, must encourage each other to be in community together. We have to reach out to people and confront them with the fact that God loves them and is choosing them to be part of his Kingdom purposes. Because God is very interested in your ultimate best interest. And when people truly begin to understand that fact, their hearts will be changed, and they will clamor to grow each week in the Lord. I can testify to this fact because I have experienced God doing this in my own life. And it all started by someone simply saying to me, “Chris, God has obviously chosen you…”
But then – and this is the important part – we have to regularly encourage folks in what God is doing in their lives and support them in being engaged in weekly worship so that they can be fed and grow in the Lord.
And this brings us to the second part of verse 4: “For he (God) chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”
God has chosen you to be holy – hagios in the Greek. Now, that may seem foreign to some of you, because you may not feel very holy. But holiness is as much an action as it is a state of being. We choose over and over whether or not we will be holy.
C.S. Lewis writes: “How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets real thing, it is irresistible.“
To be hagios/holy means that you are different and separate from others. You are not ordinary, you are distinct. You are identifiably chosen. The Christian is called to be different than other people.
The New Testament Scholar William Barclay masterfully explains this identifiable difference in the Christian: He writes:
“In the early Church the Christian never had any doubt that he (or she) must be different from the world; in fact, he knew that he must be so different that the probability was that the world would kill him, and certainly that the world would hate him. But the tendency of the modern church has been to play down the difference between the Church and the world. We have, in effect, so often said to people: ‘So long as you go on living a decent respectable life, it is quite alright to become a Church member and call yourself a Christian. You don’t have to be very different from other people.’ In point of fact a Christian should be identifiable in the world. (Now) It must always be remembered that this difference on which Christ insists is not a difference which takes a man out of the world; it makes him different within the world. It should be possible to identify the Christian in the school, the shop, the factory, the office, the hospital ward, everywhere. And the difference is this – that the Christian lives and works and behaves, not as any human laws compel him so to do, but as the law of Christ compels him to do. A Christian teacher is not out to satisfy the regulation of the education authority or a headmaster; he or she is out to satisfy the demands of Christ, and that may almost certainly mean a very different attitude to the pupils under (their) charge. A Christian workman is not out to satisfy the regulations of a Trades Union, but of Jesus Christ, which will certainly make him a very different kind of workman, and which may well end him in being so different that he or she is expelled from the union. A Christian doctor will never regard a sick person as a case, but always as a person. A Christian employer will be concerned with far more than the mere payment of minimum wages or the creation of minimum working conditions. It is the simple fact of the matter that if Christians became the hagios, different, answerable solely to Christ…”
They would revolutionize the world.
This is the holiness that we are called to. But Paul says that we are to be both hagios/holy and amomos/blameless. This blamelessness as it is in the Greek has the intention of meaning “perfection.” As Barclay again notes: “Under the Jewish law, before an animal could be offered as a sacrifice it must be examined and inspected; and if any blemish was found it must be rejected as unfit for an offering to God. Only the best was fit to offer to God. This word amomos thinks of the whole life and the whole person as and offering to God. It thinks of taking every part of our life, our work, our pleasure, our sport, our home life, our personal relationships – and making them all such that they can be taken and offered to God. The word does not simply mean that the Christian must be respectable – it means that we must ultimately be perfect.”
If we are allowing God to working in our life, if we are serious about hearing God’s call in our life, then we must understand that God will seek to change us from our state of brokenness, through the Holy Spirit (verse 13) and sanctify us to bring us into conformity with his will (verse 11) so that unity will be brought to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ (verse 10). Which is ultimately a perfect state of being.
Sometimes we forget just how important we are to God. So read this today and allow my words to claim your heart for the Lord. God loves you, you. And God has chosen you to be holy and blameless.
Reality Changing Observations:
1. What excuses do you make in your heart that separate you from God?
2. What is a choice that you can make today as an effort to be holy?
3. What is one way that you recognize that you are loved by God?