Did I Tell You How Divinely and Utterly Happy You Are? (Ephesians 1:15-23)

So last week we learned that who we are does not actually come from what we do.

Instead, who we are comes from who we are related to. In Christ, through Christ, a person is adopted into God’s family. So Christians are related to God! That is who we are.

But we also learned last week that being related to God also means being related to everyone God is related to. When our Father adopted us, we did not just receive a Father, we also received a family of brothers and sisters.

And as we saw last week, that is where the problems start. Because we are all happy to be related to God! We might not always be so happy to be related to each other. Especially when we all come from such different backgrounds!

It is hard to learn how to live together.

Well, last week we also learned that the Asian Christians of two thousand years ago had the same problem. The churches of Asia had Jewish background Christians and Gentile background Christians. The Jewish Christians were a bit like the older brothers and sisters; they had been raised in the Jewish faith and that made their transition to the Christian faith easier. The Gentile Christians were a bit like newly adopted orphans. They came from pagan backgrounds, they knew nothing about God’s law or how to live an ethical Christian life.

There was tension in the family.

And so we saw last week that Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Asia to help resolve these issues. He is talking to Jewish Christians, who tend to be a bit bossy and condescending, as older brothers and sisters can sometimes be; but he is especially talking to Gentile Christians, who tend to be a bit insecure, as newly adopted children can sometimes be. He wants to encourage the older siblings to be merciful to their new brothers and sister; and he wants to encourage the newly adopted children to rest securely in their new identity as God’s kids.

Paul wrote this letter to teach these brothers and sisters how to live together in one new family.

So, in his introduction, Paul told these Christians that they all share the same spiritual blessings in Christ. Yes, some Christians are more mature, some have just been adopted — but we all equally valuable, equally blessed, in our Father’s sight.

This is the foundation of Christian unity.

Now Paul is going to begin to build on this foundation. He is going to start offering practical tips on how these Asian Christians can make this unity real in their lives.

Verse 15: For this reason

— for what reason, Paul?

Well, the fact that now you are all my brothers and sisters — 

for this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, [16] I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

So the Church in Asia is not doing too badly: they have faith in Jesus, and they are loving one another, even though there is tension sometimes.

But, [17] I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. [18] I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, [19] and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

What is Paul saying here?

Well, he has already told them that every Christian already has the full measure of every spiritual blesssing in Christ. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a Christian for seven minutes or seventy years, you’ve already recieved every spiritual blessing.

What’s the problem, then?

Well, the problem is, even though these Christians already have every spiritual blessing in Christ, they have not yet fully discovered what that means. They are only just beginning to realize just how amazingly blessed they are.

Here is an example: Christians are like babies born to a billionaire. Bill Gates’ kids, when they were born, had no idea they were already billionaires. All they cared about was warm milk and dry nappies. They were like every other baby in the world. But as they’ve grown older, I’m sure they discovered little by little just what it means to have Bill Gates as your father.

The Christian life is exactly like that. When we were first adopted into God’s family — reborn into God’s family — the immediate benefits were obvious and somewhat basic. If you were a kid raised in a Christian family, you might have decided to continue in the faith because your parents are Christians, so: obvious benefit there, you get to be a Christian and keep your family. Or, if you were raised in another religion, you might have decided to join God’s family because you found yourself delivered from slavery, or guilt, or some other obvious benefit.

But those things are just the beginning. Those are the warm milk and dry nappies. Paul is now telling these Christians, “That is a good start, but there is so much more!”

So Paul is praying that these Christians will grow in their understanding of just how richly blessed they are. He is praying that these Christians will discover more and more just how amazing it is to have God as their father.

Well, okay! So, how how amazing is it, Paul?

He lists three specific things here:

First, verse 17, “I keep askingthat you may know God better.”

Our Father loves to provide for us. He continues to provide for us even when we are demanding and ungrateful and keep making messes.

I can assure you that taking care of newborn Christians is just like taking care of newborn babies. I was a stay-at-home dad for the first six months of my career as a father. What a thankless task! My little daughter was unhappy half the time — nothing I did satisfied her — and the other half of the time, when she was happy, she would be filling her diaper or throwing up or making some kind of trouble. But I still provided for her. Not because she was well-behaved, but because she was my responsibility — and because I was investing in a future where she would know and love me in return.

Our Father makes the same investment in us. He provides for us every spiritual blessing long before we have a clue what is going on. But like every father, he is looking forward to the day when we will be able to look and see and know just how amazing it is to have him as our Father.

So Paul is praying that these Christians will know God better and better. He wants them to learn what a real relationship looks like, the joyful give and take that happens between father and child when there is perfect trust between them.

Second, verse 18, “I keep askingthat you may knowthe hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.”

What is this hope? What is this glorious inheritance?

Well, in the Old Testament, the hope and inheritance of God’s people was the Promised Land, where they would live together in safety.

Now, in the New Testament, the hope and inheritance of God’s people is the Promised Earth, the New Earth, the redeemed Earth, where we will live together in safety.

How would our lives change if, tomorrow, Bill Gates showed up here and said, “Hey, I already have some biological children, but I’ve decided that I’m so rich that I should adopt about 100,000 more kids, and everyone here today at CDPCKL is in. In fact, I looked you all up before I got here, my lawyer has already signed and sealed the paperwork, check your bank accounts, I’ve started each of you off with USD 5,000,000, ummmm, invest it carefully, of course, but do keep in mind that when I’m gone you are all going to receive massive shares of everything I own.”

How would our lives change?

Even more importantly, how would our relationships with each other change?

If we are all inheritors of Bill Gates’ fortune, we are now no longer in competition with each other. I don’t have to be jealous of your success if you invest your 5,000,000 well. And I don’t have to worry if, for some reason, I invest my 5,000,000 poorly and lose it all. Because surely you, as my fellow heir to the Gates fortune — my fellow child of Bill — surely you would share with me, right? You wouldn’t let your brother or sister in Bill Gates starve, would you?

Of course not!

In the same way, newborn Christians are selfish, just like newborn babies. All they can think is, “Feed me, I’m hungry! Play with me, I’m bored! Uhhhhhhh…change my diaper, I’ve made a mistake!” They are quick to jealousy. They are quick to snatch toys away from their brothers and sisters.

But as Christians grow in maturity, as they begin to recognize what it means to be adopted by God, it changes their lives. They become more interested in other people’s needs. Instead of being jealous of their brothers and sisters, viewing them as competitors in the faith, they begin to grow in generosity, kindness, confidence that whatever happens, their fellow heirs to God’s fortune will help take care of them.

Jealousy causes divisions in the Church. But where jealousy ends, unity begins.

So Paul is praying that these Christians will discover more and more just how rich they really are; not necessarily in money or social status, but rich in family. Because, if your Father is rich, and all your relatives are rich, then it doesn’t matter if you lose everything: you are still rich!

And the Third amazing thing Paul mentions is in verse 19, “I keep askingthat you may knowhis incomparably great power for us who believe.

Oooo. Power. That sounds good.

What exactly is this power, Paul?

He goes on to tell us: That power is the same as the mighty strength [20] he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, [21] far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Mmmmm. Some of this is easy to understand. What is this power? It is the power of resurrection — being raised from the dead, just as our Father raised Jesus. And it is the power to rule — to have authority, just as our Father gave Jesus authority when he crowned him king over all things. And Paul is saying we already have this power: our Father has already raised us to life, he has already given us the authority to rule.

But then what is this bit about far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come?

Why doesn’t Paul just say, “Jesus rules the universe” and be finished?

Well, apparently, this list here — rule, authority, power, dominion, names — was a magical list from the culture at that time. Jewish and Gentile magicians believed it was very important to categorize angels and demons: from the highest and most powerful, down to the lowest and least powerful. This was important because, if the bomoh down the street casts a curse on you, you need to figure out what rank of spirit he paid to curse you, and then you need to pay a higher rank of spirit to protect you.

And of course, here in Malaysia we are very familiar with this concept. Our Buddhist, Hindu — and especially our Malay — friends live every day in fear of spells and counter-spells. I’ve had Malay friends say to me, “Oh, I’ve had this fever for the last three days, I think so-and-so has cast a spell against me, tonight I’m going to go see a bomoh and get the spell lifted.” Right? Same idea.

But this just leads us to another question: why is Paul talking about pagan magic in his letter to the Ephesian Christians?

Well, we have to remember that, before these Ephesians were Christians, they were pagans themselves. They used to live in fear of demons and curses just like our Malay friends do. They used to rely on magic rituals to protect themselves, and so they were great collectors of magic textbooks. We know this because in the Book of Acts, Chapter 19, we are told that when the people of Ephesus saw how powerful Jesus’ name was against demons, they became Christians and burned their books of magic — a lot of books of magic.

Now it is true that, by the time Paul writes this letter, the Ephesians have been Christians for 10+ years. But apparently they are still a bit afraid of demons and curses.

Why are they still afraid? Haven’t they seen the power of Jesus’ name against evil spirits?

Well, yes, they have seen the power of Jesus’ name, that’s why they became Christians in the first place.

But they are still thinking like pagans think.

See, in the pagan world, you have to do magical rituals to attract the attention of some higher spirit, who will protect you from all the lower spirits. And you have to keep on doing those magic rituals to keep that higher spirit happy.

Now, these Asian believers are confident that Jesus can protect them from all the lower spirits, but only as long as they keep on doing certain “Christian” rituals. They are thinking they have to keep Jesus happy.

So, in a way, we are finding that these Ephesian Christians are like children who have been adopted out of a troubled background. They are used to being neglected or abused. They are used to having to protect themselves. So they think that having God’s resurrection power means having the miraculous power to protect themselves from death by doing certain rituals. They think that having God’s ruling power means having the miraculous authority to protect themselves from demons by doing certain rituals.

But Paul wants them to see that this is a childish understanding of their relationship with God. He wants them to grow further in their understanding. He wants them to discover that, actually, having God’s power means no longer having to protect yourself from death. He wants them to know that, actually, having God’s power means no longer having to protect yourself from demons. Mature Christians no longer fear death, because they know that God’s resurrection power is already fully at work in Christ, and that same power will one day raise them up to a better life than this one! Mature Christians no longer fear demons or any other power of this world, because they know that God’s ruling authority is already fully at work in Christ, and if it is our Father’s will that one of the powers of this world bring us down to death in the end — well, once again, so what? We all have to die of something! — but death has no sting for a people who are promised resurrection.

So what we are finding is that, as Christians grow in maturity, as they learn what it means to know God’s incomparably great power, it changes their lives. They learn to put aside the fear of losing their Father’s love and protection. And so they also learn to put aside the fear of being hurt by their brother and sisters.

Fear causes divisions in the Church. But where fear ends, unity begins.

So Paul is praying that these Christians will discover more and more that God’s power within them is permanent, a gift freely given that keeps on giving. And in order to make sure his friends have every opportunity to understand what he is trying to say, he switches metaphors. Until now he has been talking about adoption and inheritance. Now he says:

[22] And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, [23] which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Christ is the head of the Church, which is his body. The head is already resurrected, it already has authority over all things. And because the head is attached to the body, the resurrection life and authority of the head flows into the body and gives the body resurrection life and authority. The head makes the body alive.

But the flow is not just a one way flow. As Paul points out here: Christ fills everything (in the universe) in every way — and the Church, his body, is his fullness. See, there is a give-and-take relationship between the head and the body, between the body and the head, just as there is a give-and-take relationship between Father and children, children and Father.

Paul began his letter with a legal metaphor — the concept of adoption — because he wants these Asian Christians to understand that their future inheritance is guaranteed: a covenant that has been signed, and stamped, and sealed.

Now Paul has switched to an organic metaphor — the concept of Head and body — because he wants these Asian Christians to understand that their guaranteed resurrection is not just future, it is now! It is a living reality.

The covenant concept is a very power image, because it is black and white. The covenant is signed, and the child is now God’s child, even if the child does not yet know what just happened.

But there is a weakness to the covenant concept, and that is that covenants can be broken. Relationships can be dissolved. A covenant child could wonder, “Well, I’m adopted now, but what if God tears up the paperwork? What if he takes away the Holy Spirit?” And then there is a temptation to think, “Well, I’d better work to keep God happy!”

It is almost impossible for us, in this broken world, to conceive of an unbreakable covenant.

Paul knows that we all have this weakness.

So he expands the covenant concept to include this organic concept of Head and body. We don’t normally think about our head having a covenant with our body…but it does. The head says, “Do this!” and the body does it. And really, it is an unbreakable covenant, isn’t it? As long as the head lives, the body lives, as long as the body lives the head lives, and so we find there is a give-and-take relationship between head and body, a sort of a mutual fulfillment going on.

Now, to be clear, every metaphor has limits. Christ does not need us in order to be fulfilled. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit have existed in perfect contentment from all eternity. So really, in order to understand how the Church is the fulness of Christ, we would need to go back to the more relational metaphor of Father and child. For instance, I was perfectly content before I had children; but there is no denying that having children has affected me deeply.

Or, perhaps an even better way to capture this idea of relational fulness is the image of husband and wife, the two becoming one flesh…but all that is some pretty deep philosophical water, and I think we had better let Paul get to that when he thinks we’re ready.

So, for now, let’s just rest in this covenant concept of Christ as the Head and the Church as his body. The Head tells the body what to do. The body does not always obey perfectly: we have all experience clumsiness, sometimes we fall down and hurt ourselves, or pick up something harmful, but our Head does not automatically cry out, “Ouch! Quick, cut off that hand, it just touched something hot!”

Now, yes, sometimes there may be a need for amputation or some other drastic surgery to save the rest of the body from death. But those things only happen after a part of the body has become cancerous or gangrenous. And that does not happen overnight, or by accident. That sort of thing happens after a part of the body has entered into deliberate, constant, unrepentant rebellion against the rest of the body. So, as a Christian, if you are, say, a finger in the body of Christ, you don’t need to worry that you are going to fall off by accident, okay? And if you start to get sick, don’t worry, the rest of the body will know, and will work together to bring you back to health and obedience.

That is the whole point of this idea that Christ is the Head of the Church: we are bound together organically. The same spiritual life-blood that flows through me flows through you, flows through every Christian, and makes us one. We don’t always realize it! But then again, when I was a baby, I did not know that this hand is related to this hand. But when I grew up, I figured it out.

Well, that, in a nutshell, is what Paul is praying for: he wants his friends in Asia to grow up more and more, to love God more and more, to love one another more and more.

So, what does this mean for us? What does our Father want us to believe? Believe this:

As we grow, we will know God better and better, we will understand the riches of our inheritance more and more, we will be set free from the fear of death and the fear of the powers of this world.

And what does our Father want us to do? Do this:

If you are here today, and you have already accepted Christ, and you believe that you are an adopted child of God — but you are still struggling to really grasp what it means to have God as your Father…do not be afraid. It will happen. If you are struggling with jealousy over the blessings that others seem to have; if you are struggling to accept God’s plan for your life…do not be afraid. You will receive hope. If you struggle with fear and anxiety over powers you cannot control, if you are haunted by the fear that you are not making God happy…do not be afraid. God is going to give you rest.

Now, if you are here today, and you are a more mature Christian, if our Father has already relieved you of many of those fears that you used to have when you first became a believer, do remember that your maturity and understanding is the work of the Spirit alone. Do remember that the life and authority that you enjoy now flow entirely from the Head of our body, which is Christ.

Through the preaching of the gospel, the Church really does have the resurrection power to bring dead people to life in Christ. Through the preaching of God’s Word, the Church really does have the authority to discipline and disciple those who are part of the Church. Which means that if the Spirit has opened your eyes to the reality of that power and authority: do remember that you use this power on Christ’s behalf. Be gentle with those who are under your care.

Please do not become a source of arrogance and division in Christ’s body.


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