When I was in college I began to read the Bible on a regular basis. Up until this point I had never had personal devotions or worked through the Scriptures systematically. Now that I had left home and started off on my own, I thought I better take more responsibility for my personal growth in Christ.
I was so impressed with the content of this book and enthralled by the upbeat tone of it that I felt that I had to experience it again.
Before I dove in for the second read, I took out my pen and I wrote a note to myself at the top of heading of the book in large letters
I want to read for you what I scrawled. It says this, “You MUST read this book with excitement! If you don’t get excited, then you are spiritually DEAD!”
I think that many of you will probably agree with what I wrote in the haste of my youthful zeal. And I really do believe that the heading that I put there so many years ago should be the heading of this series that we are embarking on today.
This is a book that should make you excited. There are great things to discover and bathe in in the days ahead. With that, let’s read the first two verses of this epistle.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
After that initial introduction, you might have expected something a little more enthralling to have been read. The opening salutations are not typically regarded as the most stimulating material in an epistle. Usually they are regarded as being on the same level as a good old genealogy and it is considered “skip-able” material.
But every once in a while it is good to just pull back and meditate on the opening lines. While they might seem a little dry or ritualistic, they often set the tone of a book. They usually give you a glimpse into what to expect in the upcoming pages.
And certainly that’s what you have here. While nothing might jump out at you at first, it really tells us a lot about God’s love for us.
Just look at the first line. Look at how this epistle begins. Notice what it says about God’s love. It tells us that God’s love for us extends all the way into eternity past.
I. All the way into eternity past
Paul introduces himself to us as an apostle of Jesus Christ. But he qualifies it by saying that he came into this office not by his own choice or by the choice of others, but solely by God’s sovereign choice. He says that he is an apostle “by the will of God.”
What you need to understand is that this word “will” has to do with God’s eternal decree of salvation. It refers to the long ages past where God determined beforehand who would be saved and who would be damned.
God’s will is not like ours in that it happens in the present. God never wills something at the spur of the moment. It is usually presented as something that has occurred before time even began.
All you have to do is look at what immediately follows to confirm this. The word “will” us used three more times in the next 10 verses. And each time it is used it is used it refers to God’s pre-historic act of having elected some to salvation.
Look at verse 5. It says, “He predestined us for the adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” Here his will is basically equated with predestination. And to be predestined means to decide one’s destiny beforehand.
You can also look at verse 9. It says he has made “known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time.” Here you see two things. His will is equated with the plan that he has made. I’m not one who makes a lot of plans. I’m kind of a fly by the seat of my pants kind of guy. But if you do make plans, you usually do it beforehand don’t you? Also, if he is making his will known, it means that it was willed long before our knowing about it. So here in verse 9 the will of God is something that was determined before God’s plan got started.
There’s another mention of the word will in verse 11. It says, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” You see here how it is again coupled with the idea of predestination and the eternal plan of God that is being worked out.
So each time it refers to God’s will, it is referring to God’s decree of election. It is always in reference to that decision God made in eternity past, long before anything was brought into existence.
That’s exactly the way it was for Paul. Paul came to his office by the will of God. It wasn’t like he was looking to be an apostle at the time. The very opposite was true. He was trying to kill them off. He was a persecutor of the church and a rabid hater of Christ until that moment when Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus.
And what is true of Paul is true of every single one of us. The paradigm might not be exactly the same. We might not have had a Damascus road experience where we were converted in a single moment or grand experience. Our conversion might have come over a period of time as we were gradually exposed to the gospel. But one thing remains the same of every single one of us. It was not by our own will that we first came to believe. We became a Christian by an act of God’s will. And that decision was formulated eons ago.
Personally, that means a great deal to me. That’s because it means that God loved me long before I even existed. He had chosen to set his affection on me, not only despite my not wanting to love him (because of my sinful nature), but before I was even born.
What a great love that is. But God’s love for us not only extends to all the way to eternity past, it reaches all the way through our families. It reaches down to the littlest one in our homes.
II. All the way down to our children
Look at what it says in the second part of the greeting. This letter is addressed to “the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus.”
Here we learn exactly who he is addressing. This letter is addressed to the saints or the “holy ones.” That’s what a saint is. A saint is one who is set apart unto God. To be holy is to be distinct from the world and devoted to God. They are people who God has consecrated to himself.
And not only are they denominated as holy ones, they are considered faithful in Christ Jesus. In other words, they are the ones whose lives are bound up in Christ. Their identity is to be found in Christ and they are called to be faithful to him.
But here again is a testimony to the love God has for us. God has distinguished us from all the other people of the world. We are unique because God has entered into a relationship with us. We are his beloved people; the ones he has consecrated to himself.
Now what I want you to do is flip with me through this book a little bit. I’d like you to turn over to chapter 5. Towards the end of that chapter you see that Paul starts talking to specific groups within the church. He begins by talking to the women. He tells them that they are to submit to their husbands. Basically he says, “You women are my saints. So you need to act like it. And this is the way you are to act: You need to submit to your husbands.”
Then he starts talking to the men, and he says, “You men have been consecrated to me. As a result, this is what you are to do. You need to love your wives just as Christ loved the church.
But look at where he goes at the beginning of chapter 6. He addresses the children. He says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” The word for children is the general Greek word “teknon.” And it is aptly translated children because it refers to anyone who might be considered a child.
John Gill, the great Baptist commentator, explains that teknon refers to those of any sex and every age.” So Gill would see this referring to any child under his or her parents’ wing; whether a newborn, teenager, or someone in the mid-40’s.
Now I want you to see the connection. Paul is addressing the saints and faithful ones at Ephesus. He then specifically addresses the children. And he says, “Since you children are set apart unto me and since you are my faithful ones, you must honor your parents.”
What I want you to understand is that this letter is explicitly covenantal in its design. And God sees our children as holy. They are saints in God’s eyes and they have a vested interest in Christ from the time they are born.
And isn’t that a tremendous thing? That God’s love for you is so great that it even overflows to your children!
Now you probably see that this is one reason why many within the history of the church, like myself, have baptized our children when they are first born. In baptizing our children we signify that God has indeed set them apart unto himself. In the right of baptism what we are saying is that these children are a part of God’s covenant people and God’s love does extend to them. God’s love is not just for me, but it overflows to my children as well.
And this is a great thing for us when it comes to the discipleship of our children. This adds a great dimension to our nurture of them. As they grow up we are to be discipling them and teaching them to follow God’s commands. But as we do so we should be reminding them that the Lord loves them.
And I just might say, “Children, the Lord loves you.” He has claimed you for himself. What a wonderful thing that is. And he asks that you would love him in return by obeying his commands.
God’s love for us is a great love. It extends all the way back to eternity past and it reaches all the way down to our children. We also see that it reaches all the way through every moment of our lives.
III. All the way through our lives
Look at verse two. It says, “Grace and peace from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
What is Paul doing here? He is pronouncing a benediction. And a benediction is basically a prayer. And for what exactly does he pray? He prays that that they may experience in greater measure God’s love.
You might think of grace as God’s love as it applied to our relationship with God. And you can think of peace as God’s love as it is applied to our everyday livelihood.
Sin breaks our relationship with God. But God demonstrates his love by being gracious to us. He forgives us and restores us to a right relationship with him. So he prays, “Lord, display your love by continuing to forgive their sins.”
But sin not only breaks our relationship with God, it also destroys our lives in some way or other. That’s where peace is needed. We often think of peace as that easy feeling we get when we don’t have anything to worry about. But peace is more than that. Biblical peace is wholeness. It is that Hebrew understanding of shalom. It has to do with the health of the entire person.
So you can think of peace as the restoration of whatever sin has taken away. Sin might cause us a financial loss, or a relational loss—maybe it is a rift between you and someone in your family. Or maybe you incur some emotional damage as a result of some sin.
So when he prays that God might grant them peace, he’s saying, “Lord, show your love by restoring what sin has taken away. Show your love by making them whole again.”
So you see what grace and peace are. They are twin blessings that spring from a loving God. And Paul’s prayer reminds us that we are in constant need of these blessings. Paul prays for these because he knows that if we are not continually imbued with the Lord’s grace and peace, the church would splinter and wither away into oblivion.
So we see here how we are always dependent upon God’s love every moment of our lives.
The fact that he refers to God as “our Father” only adds to this. He could have said, “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” But he made it more personal. He is not just the Father, the first person of the Trinity. He is our Father. Adding that possessive pronoun reminds us that we relate to God in personal terms. We have a love based relationship with him. And, as a result, we can expect that he, in his love, will continue grant us the grace and peace we so very much need.
We live in the day of mass information and mass communication. Communication has never been easier. Emails, text messages, video conferencing. We have a myriad of ways of getting in contact with someone. But when it comes to really communicating your affections, there’s still nothing like a good old fashioned hand written note.
The Lord has written us a letter here in this epistle. I do hope that in receiving it we grasp the depths of his love.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.