In our opening lesson we reviewed some background information regarding Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus, and answered some questions which will help us better understand the messages God has for us. For example, we learned about the author and audience. That information is found in the first verse of Ephesians 1…
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
From verse 1, we learn the letter was written through Paul, by the will of God.
The distinction of through and by is important; Paul is the messenger, but the message is from God. The letter was written to, God’s holy people in Ephesus, and by extension to all of us who are blessed to have a copy of God’s word.
In this lesson we are going to focus on one of the main themes in Ephesians, the ideas of spiritual blessing, being in Christ, and the heavenly realms. The scripture we will highlight is chapter one, verses three through ten.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. [New International Version]
He has blessed us, with every spiritual blessing
We read in verse three that God has blessed us in the heavenly realms, with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
There are three topics from this verse we will focus on, (1) that God has blessed us in the heavenly realms (what does that mean?), (2) that we have received every spiritual blessing, and (3) that each Christian is in Christ. We are going to start with the second topic, every spiritual blessing.
The Timberlane high school students were asked about what spiritual blessings they had received. Their answers included salvation, Christian homes, examples from Godly adults, the Spirit…all great answers. In verses 4-14 of Ephesians Chapter 1, Paul writes about various spiritual blessings we receive, including…
Chosen by God to be holy
Chosen by God to be blameless
Chosen for adoption as His children
What strikes me from the passage is that God gives to us not one, not a few, but every spiritual blessing, many which we might not even imagine. In Ephesians chapter one Paul does not really address the purpose of receiving spiritual blessings, but we find that type of information in 2nd Peter Chapter 1.
2nd Peter 1:3-4
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. [New International Version]
Every spiritual blessing makes it possible for us to live a Godly life, to participate in the divine nature, to escape the corruption in the world (or to escape our own sinful desires).
It is important to understand that living a Godly life is only possible with God’s involvement. I think that is part of the reason we learn from Ephesians 1:3 that every spiritual blessing is in Christ.
The idea of being in Christ is a primary theme in Ephesians. The idea occurs at least 34 times in the first three chapters alone. In our current text, Ephesians 1:3-10, the idea is worded twice as “in Christ,” and twice as “in him.” Let’s consider a couple of passages that will help us better understand what it means to be in Christ.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” [New International Version]
“…the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” [New International Version]
As a Christian I have been crucified with Christ, which means my sinful (selfish) nature has been put to death. The life I now life is in Christ, or through faith in Jesus. The idea of being in Christ is very important to our understanding of what it means to be a Christian, to experience the transformation of heart and mind that Paul writes about in Romans 12:1-2.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [New International Version]
Recall from the passage in 2nd Peter that an important reason we are in Christ is to escape the corruption in the world, or as Paul wrote, so that we no longer conform to the pattern of this world.
If left to my own preferences and choices, or if I am directed by my sinful (selfish) nature, I would always choose my preferences, what I want, what I think is best for me. I would not be considerate of others, would not care about the feelings of others, would not care to serve others, or seek out what may be best for others. That is the pattern of the world we live in.
Being in Christ, we are empowered by God, through His Spirit, to be transformed. The spiritual blessings make it possible for us to become more like God, to become more like Christ in our spiritual lives, which then impacts what we think, what we say, and what we do, through our physical being.
This brings us to the third topic from Ephesians 1:3…
In the heavenly realms.
Recall from Ephesians 1:3,
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. [New International Version]
Christians are blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
What is, or what are, the heavenly realms?
I do not profess to have all the answers, I will share with you what I think we are taught in the Bible, and encourage you to study the topic on your own.
I think of the heavenly realms as the spiritual plane that is all around us. We are spiritual beings, but a challenge we face is that much of what we consider “real” is based on our physical senses (sight, sound, hearing, taste, touch). Another way to think about this is that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience.
One illustration of the spiritual plane, or the spiritual reality, is found in 2nd Kings 6:8-17. The story is an account from the life of Elisha the prophet; in this particular story Elisha has been identified by the enemies of Israel (the Arameans) as the reason the army of Aram could not defeat Israel. The king of Aram sent a force to capture Elisha. Picking up the story in verse 15…
2nd Kings 6:15-17
15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. 16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. [New International Version]
Elisha’s servant at first was only aware of the physical reality, he saw and heard (likely smelled J) the army of Aram surrounding the city. Elisha was aware of the physical and the spiritual. Elisha prayed that the servant’s eyes would be opened. The Lord answered Elisha’s prayer and the servant then saw the chariots of fire, the spiritual reality.
Remember, we are spiritual beings, but we may not be aware of the spiritual reality all around us. I think that is why there are references in the Bible, to help us better understand (or at least try to better understand) the spiritual reality (or the heavenly realms).
Look ahead at Ephesians 1:19-23. In these verses Paul prays that the Ephesians (and us by extension) would come to know the power of God. In verse 20 Paul points out that through his mighty power, God has seated Christ at His right hand, in the heavenly realms.
Keep that point in mind, and read Ephesians 2:6…
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,… [New International Version]
In Christ, we also have been seated in the heavenly realms. Again, we are spiritual beings having a physical experience.
What is the purpose for us as spiritual beings to have this physical experience?
That is a very important question; Paul begins to provide part of the answer to the question in Ephesians chapter 1, and will provide more explanation in later chapters. Let’s consider briefly the beginning of an answer, and we’ll “pick up this thread” in future lessons.
The Mystery of His Will (A bonus topic!!)
Please read again Ephesians 1:3-10.
In verse 4 Paul writes about God choosing us (the “us” being Christians) before the creation of the world. Verse 5 refers to God’s plan in which he predestined salvation for those who are in Christ (the next lesson specifically focuses on the idea of what God had predestined). In verse 9, Paul refers to the mystery of God’s will, which He purposed in Christ.
The mystery of His will is a topic we will return to again in this series. For now, the key point is to understand that God planned, before the creation, to provide salvation in Christ for all who believe. The mystery (God’s divine plan) is something we must come to understand, and it is also something that those in the heavenly realms (the spiritual reality) must also come to understand. We will learn in a later lesson, that Christ’s church is the revelation of God’s mystery, the revelation of God’s wisdom, to the spiritual realms. For now, if this is a bit hard to understand, that is okay; stay with us as we keep going through Ephesians, we’ll all learn more together.
Keep this idea in mind, as we live in the physical reality, as we live in Christ, we declare the power and glory of God. There are examples in the Bible of men and women whose lives demonstrated God’s wisdom, even though it made no sense from a physical perspective.
A simple example is the story of David and Goliath. From a physical perspective, David fighting Goliath made no sense at all. From a physical perspective, Goliath would destroy David, probably without breaking a sweat. David though, saw the spiritual reality, David knew God’s power would win the fight, not David’s physical strength or skills.
We will learn more in Ephesians chapter 6 about the spiritual battle that is taking place all around us. We are in a spiritual battle, whether we recognize it or not. We can be encouraged though, because we are in Christ, and in Christ we have every spiritual blessing.
In the next lesson we will build on these ideas as we focus on the notion of what God has predestined.