Now we come to the book of Ephesians. If Romans is the foremost among his epistles (due to its comprehensiveness), Ephesians has been called the “Queen among the epistles.” The first three chapters are some of the most in-depth theology which rivals Romans in its complexity and richness, while the remaining 3 chapters are wonderfully practical in applying his truth in our lives. What makes it so impressive is that he packs so much into 6 small chapters, hence its sobriquet.
I have a relative who works in Bible translation, and while he loves all the Scriptures, he once confessed some exasperation with today’s passage, particularly vss. 3-14. Of all the New Testament, this was the hardest for him to translate. The reason for this is because in the Greek, vss. 3-14 is all one. . . long. . . run-on. . . sentence. When I took Greek back in college, my teacher regaled us with tales of the “bad old days” when he was forced to diagram sentences like this, and he was quick to tell us how easy we had it by comparison. It’s some of the most beautiful words ever strung together in the English language, but that doesn’t make it any easier to work with if you’re coming at it from a technical/translation perspective.
The point that I’m making is that this passage is all strung together. We’ve split it apart in multiple sentences in the English because otherwise it’d be really difficult for us to follow, but this is all one thought with many subsets.
After Paul’s customary greetings, he launches into one long sentence in the Greek, and it can all be under the heading of “Praise be. . .” There are two different ways we can subdivide the passage. Paul talks about our salvation in eternity past (3-6), present redemption (6-11), and future inheritance (12-14). He also emphasizes the Father (3-6), the Son (7-12), and the Spirit (13-16). Each Person of the Trinity has his role to play in our glorious salvation: The Father planned it, the Son executed it, and the Spirit applies it in all its multiple aspects to individual believers. Over today and tomorrow I'm going to kind of skip back and forth on these two motifs.
Our salvation was planned out in eternity past. Before the first words by the Almighty spoke anything into existence, our salvation was planned out. And I don’t mean just us as a group, as in “Jesus will die to save sinners.” I mean your salvation was planned out for you. Working through human free will and circumstances, the Father—in some sense—chose you in Christ before anything was created. And what specifically did he choose for us? He chose us to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined our path so that we'd be adopted as his children.
Why did he do this? We don’t know. He certainly didn’t choose to lead me to him because of any innate goodness in me. I bring nothing to this transaction except my need and my sin. No, he did all this “in accordance with his pleasure and will,” which is a complicated way of saying that he decided on his own to do it. He didn’t see me in the future and fall in love with me and do all this because he just couldn’t help himself. No, he freely chose to do all this.
Actually, there is a reason, and Paul mentions it three times in these verses. Remember, they didn’t have exclamation marks in Greek, so one of the main ways to emphasize something was repetition. Three times he uses the phrase “to the praise of his glorious grace,” or “to the praise of his glory.” Please forgive me for repeating myself, but in our self-centered culture which has infiltrated the church to an alarming degree, it well bears repeating: The main reason I was saved was not for my own sake or for my benefit. The main reason I was saved was to bring glory and honor and praise to my Savior God.
Now, I have to acknowledge that when I use terms like “chosen” or “predestined,” this potentially opens a whole can of worms. I deliberately used as neutral language as I could muster in order not to raise the hackles of people on one side or another of the “predestination vs. free will” debate, which has divided Christians of good will for over 500 years. I have my own leanings in this area, but I’m under no illusions that a 500-year-long debate--which has been fought by giants on both sides--is going to be settled in this venue. Please notice that I said in the preceding paragraph that in some sense God chose us in Christ to be saved, adopted, etc. This was not meant to be a comment on how exactly our free will works together with God’s choices (made before the Beginning) to bring us to salvation.
Whenever we get into that type of territory, however, I’m concerned that we can easily lose sight of the main thing. Before I ever sinned, before I was even born, before this universe even came to be, he set his love upon me. He freely chose to love me, to send his only Son to die for me, and to adopt me into his family, to make me holy and blameless in his sight.
My part, my overarching goal, my life’s work, my raison d'être is to glorify and honor and bring praise to him. To the degree that I’m doing that, I’m fulfilling my purpose in life. To the degree I’m not, well. . . I’m not.
Father God, when I approach passages like this, I need to approach it with fear and trembling. I’m like a child trying to understand quantum mechanics and nuclear physics. To say that I’m out of my depth here is a massive understatement. All I can say is “All praise and honor and worship and thanksgiving and glory belongs to you, and to the best of my ability I’m going to give you what you deserve. To the praise of your glorious grace.”