INSIGHTS FROM EPHESIANS
Today I want to focus us on the concept of gifts. At first mention, you might not think that is a very important concept. I hope when you finish thinking with me, you will find your insights and thoughts truly helpful.
I suspect all of us have received gifts. What concept do you think of when you think of the word "gift?" There are birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, welcome gifts, "thinking of you" gifts, various forms of appreciation gifts, various forms of accomplishment gifts like graduation gifts, various forms of event gifts like shower gifts, and various forms of need gifts like the gifts given in a disaster. There are all kinds of gifts people give.
My Webster's Dictionary says a gift is a voluntary transfer of something from one person to another without compensation. That definition causes me to ask an interesting question: "When does a gift cease to be a gift?"
Let me give you a couple of illustrations. A few years ago there was a rather common saying in business circles: "There are no free lunches." To accept a free lunch appointment from someone in business often meant you accepted a sense of obligation. The sense of obligation: "I will be nice to you now, but I expect you to be nice to me later." The sense of obligation eliminated the concept of the lunch being a gift.
Even today sometimes a person or group is given something extremely valuable for one dollar. It may be a vehicle; it may be a building; or it may be some land. The value of that which is provided far, far exceeds the price of one dollar.
So I ask you some questions. Does a sense of obligation cause a gift to cease being a gift? If the value of that provided far exceeds the compensation, is that which is provided a gift? Is it a gift if it is a tax write-off? Is it a gift if there is in any way strings attached?
With these questions, consider our reading found in Ephesians 1:10-14, In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.
The verses in our reading are actually (in the Greek) one sentence that has its beginning in verse 3.
It is one of 8 lengthy sentences in Ephesians, and one of the longest (202 words).
Some biblical scholars hate this sentence because it is so hard to follow.
Some biblical scholars love this sentence because of its lofty language.
I do not begin to compare myself with scholars who love or hate it--our thoughts will not focus on how to dissect this long sentence.
I want to call your attention to some words Paul used and their concepts which we need to note.
The first thing I ask you to notice is that this long verse declares how indebted people are to Jesus Christ.
He is our source of all spiritual blessing.
He made it possible for God to choose us.
He made it possible for God to adopt us.
He made our redemption and forgiveness possible.
He revealed to us the mystery of God's will.
He is the summation of all God's purpose in heaven and on earth.
And, in our reading today:
Christ made it possible for us to inherit from God.
Christ provided us hope.
Christ allows us to be God's own possession.
One of the central concerns in the first century was the importance of Jesus.
There were many people (Jewish people) who were convinced they could do the will of God without Jesus.
There were also many people (in idolatry) that were convinced there were numerous others gods to appeal to that had nothing to do with Jesus.
Thus, in the first century, placing confidence in Jesus was a "big deal."
Paul said the living God did things through Jesus that could not be done through anyone else.
Second, please note this long sentence extols God's greatness.
First, note the relationship between God and Jesus.
It is a Father-son relationship, with God being the Father, and Jesus Christ being the son.
It is not a brother-brother relationship, but a Father-son relationship.
One of the objectives of Jesus Christ was to vindicate God's greatness.
That surely is in keeping with the same writer's point to the Corinthian Christians in 1 Corinthians 15:28, When all things are subjected to Him (Jesus Christ the Lord), then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One (God the Father) who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.
God the Father is the author (source) of all that was accomplished in Jesus.
Jesus, in life and death, just revealed the depth of God's interest in and concern for us.
The final objective of all the good things done for us in Jesus is to praise the goodness of God.
For example, God adopts us, but God is able to adopt us through Jesus.
Or, God is the source of our eternal inheritance, but God through Jesus has the means to grant us the inheritance.
Thus, Christians can glorify God because of the wonderful things God made possible for us through Jesus Christ.
There are some particular word concepts you are asked to note in today's reading (Ephesians 1:10-14).
The first word called to your attention is the word "inheritance."
An inheritance is a gift provided on the basis of qualification, not merit.
In our society, at death we can dispose of our possessions in any way we choose.
We can give our possessions to an institution, a cause, to someone not related to us, or to something that is not even human.
In an inheritance, the one who gives the inheritance chooses the conditions or qualifications.
In an inheritance, the gift is dependent on the will of the giver rather than the claims of the receiver or non-receiver.
To me, it seems ridiculous for any human to conclude any human act in some way obligates God.
We respond to God's gift of Jesus.
We placed God under no obligation to give us Jesus.
We have salvation because God gave first, not because we did first.
I deeply appreciate this same man's statement in Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
The second word I would like to call to your attention is the word "predestined."
Because of earlier concepts of predestination, many of us have developed a prejudice to the word "predestination."
The earlier concept associated predestination with personal salvation--God determined whether a person would be saved or lost before the person was born, and there was nothing a person could do to change God's decision.
However, there is a concept of predestination that has nothing to do with God determining a person's salvation in a way that eliminates the person's choice.
It is likely that most of you accept through faith that concept of predestination.
Consider some examples.
Do you believe God sent Jesus to this world? Is that not belief in a concept of predestination?
Do you believe God will cause an end the this evil world? Is that not belief in a concept of predestination?
Do you believe God will cause a judgment of all people to occur? Is that not belief in a concept of predestination?
Do you believe that God will finally destroy Satan? Is that not a belief in a concept of predestination?
In any one of those things or in all of those things do you believe there is anything humans or Satan can do to prevent some or all of those things from happening? Do you believe one or all of those things will happen because God wills them to happen? Is that not a form of or concept of predestination?
My objective is not to convince you to believe in something you reject. My objective is to challenge you to be aware of the fact that there is more than one concept of predestination.
There are certain things that God wills to happen that will happen at some point in human events because God purposes and intends them to happen.
Your salvation, your personal response to God is not one of them.
God willed that all who place their confidence in Jesus Christ and enter him will be saved in him--a person cannot be "in Christ" and fail to be saved.
In a general form of predestination, God wills that those in Jesus Christ will be saved--that is God's desire.
However, the choice to be in Christ is yours--you choose to place your confidence in Christ.
Generally, God wills the salvation of all in Christ; specifically, God does not choose your response to Christ for you.
God wants everyone to turn from Satan, have confidence in Jesus, and be in Jesus Christ. As Peter once wrote in 2 Peter 3:9, The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
God wants all of us to be saved--that is His sacrificial intent.
If we refuse to enter Jesus Christ and place our confidence in him, that is our choice--not God's.
The third word I call to your attention is the word "sealed."
First, realize what he cannot be talking about.
For us, in a democracy and technological age, we likely think of plastic bags and freezing when we think about sealed.
In Paul's age, our form of democracy did not exist, nor did plastic, nor did freezing as a form of food preservation.
Thus, Paul cannot be speaking of our form of government or preserving food by using a freezer.
Second, their form of government was centered in kings or emperors.
They did not have our secure means of communicating nor our secure way of communicating.
Thus if someone important wanted to send a secure message to someone, the message sender "sealed" his message with wax and put the imprint of his signet ring in the hot wax.
If the hard (cooled) wax and its imprint were unbroken, it meant the message had not been seen by others.
Thus the wax and imprint said, "This is the property of the sender, and it is intended for you."
Paul said if they were in Christ, they were God's property.
The imprint was God's gift of His spirit.
That imprint was given to all in Christ (both Jew and gentile) in Acts 2 and 10, and to the individual who was baptized into Jesus Christ as verified in Acts 2:38 and Acts 5:29-32.
Christians had God's imprint in them that said they were God's property.
The person in Christ is not "on his or her own"--he or she is God's property!
The existence of God's spirit in Christians demonstrates God's seriousness in granting that person His inheritance.
That Spirit is God's pledge that He will give His inheritance to the person.
God will keep His promise to save those who are in Christ!
I hope you will not look at the lengthy sentence in Ephesians 1:3-14 only academically as one of Paul's long, long sentences. When you look at what he said, I hope you will see these things:
The importance of Jesus Christ.
That our purpose and Jesus' purpose was/is to honor God.
That God is earnestly committed to saving people in Jesus Christ.
That your salvation is precious and deserves your absolute commitment.
The central question: do you want forgiveness as badly as God wants to give you forgiveness?