June 27, 2009

Ephesians 1:3-6; A Devotional

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, for we are the blessed1 in all spiritual blessings, in the heavenly things, in Christ, seeing that He chose us in Him before the inception2 of the world to be holy and unblemished within His presence in love, thus3 predestining us into adoption to Him through Jesus Christ, according to the good judgment4 of His will in praise of His glory and His grace by which He favoured us in love. -Ephesians 1:3-6
Now there's a mouthful.

Considering the theological depth of this passage, as well as its controversial nature, you may wonder why I quoted so long of a passage. Well, the answer is simple: in the Greek, that's one sentence. One of the things about Paul's letters that many don't understand is that in the first view verses, where he's taking traditional elements found in the letters of his day and reappropriating them to his purposes, he is not explaining anything. In fact, he is usually hitting us hard with deep material which he is going to explain later on. Therefore, these passages aren't meant to communicate specific ideas, but to immerse us deep into the realm of ideas that he is going to be dealing with. In Ephesians, those ideas are the predetermined purposes of God's church, as well as its Christocentric character.

First of all, this is a praise given to God, and this is set up by saying that God is worthy to be blessed, for He has blessed us. You may have noticed that I didn't use the traditional "for He has blessed us". This is because the Greek doesn't emphasize that God has blessed us. It simply states that we are blessed (though God does bless us). The importance of this is that it is stating a simple reality about our state of being: that is we are blessed. We need to see ourselves that way, though often we forget.

Often we think, "sure, I know God blesses me. He did this little thing for me, and that little thing. But my life is still full of problem.s" But that's not the right attitude. Instead we need to recognize that our basic state of being is a blessed state.

This blessed state is not based upon this nice thing in my life, or that nice thing. Instead, it is based upon my position in regards to God. And this position is in Christ! Quite frankly, one of the problems that I have with Calvinism is they seem to miss the significance of Christ's role in both election and predestination, which are so apparent in this text!

What does it mean to be 'in Christ'? Does it mean that we are in His will? Does it mean that He has saved us? If these things are the case, then why use the word 'in'?

But if we recognize that being 'in Christ' is an ecclessiological concept, then we recognize that Paul is describing us as being part of the church, and that the church is Christ. Indeed, if we take ancient Hebraic modes of thinking, then we can see how there is a connection between the founder of a people and the people themselves. This is constant language throughout the OT, where Israel is Jacob, Edom is Esau, and many other examples.

Now if the people of God is now Christ, the perfection of Israel, then we can see being in Christ is being a part of the people of God. Therefore, the people of God is the blessed state that we are in. Why are we blessed to be in Christ? Because, by being in Christ, we are made holy and clean so that we can be in the very presence of God, and we become heirs (i.e. adoption) to all the spiritual blessings in existence and over all the heavenly things. We are not merely individuals who believe in God, though this is true too, but we have become a single people, a people whom God has chosen to be close to and use in this world. A people who God has established as authorities and as His family. All this because He loved us enough to extend the every grace that His judgement conceived.

Therefore, be honored, and praise the king of existence for the reality of your place in this world. You are not just a person who loves God; you are a member of God's family. Now that is a blessing!

Translation notes

1 The Greek doesn't have a verb here, which suggests the verb 'to be'. Every translation I looked at had 'who has blessed us', but the Greek does not have the word 'who' there, nor does it really use 'bless' as the verb. Instead, 'bless' is in the aorist participle, being used as a noun. Thus, the sentence seems to be saying that we are the blessed, or the blessed ones.

2 'katabolus' would literally mean "thrown down" though this idea is used in two ancient senses. One is the conception of a child, the other is in the sense of laying out a foundation. I chose to go with inception here because the basic meaning is 'beginning', though it is using a word picture, and I wanted to get that other sense of the word picture across. If I were doing a full Bible translation, I would probably still use foundation, though to be, foundation could also refer to the physical base of a thing.

3 Thus is not in the Greek. I added it here to emphasize the rhetorical connection to the previous verb

4 There has been a lot of theology written on the concept of God doing things for "His pleasure". I have no real problem with this theology, and I agree with a recent statement that we should let our theology dictate translation anyway. However, when I looked into the word 'eudokia' I found that the concept of 'pleasure' was a secondary meaning of this. The word family here is thought, opinion, and judgment. Pleasure fits in with the sense of "It pleased him to do so", which simply means that he thought that it was the best idea. Judgment, I think, is a much better term for this.


Anonymous said...

I wonder how much we are expected to think/imagine "I am blessed" versus really seeing/experiencing it. This question runs deep for me because I experience a great deal of preaching based on the assumption that if we would only realise this or that about God we would be transformed. The idea being what we need is a Great Realisation which will produce change in us.

I just wonder if we don't really need to radically change our lifestyles and follow Jesus (say in Lk 14:13-14) in order to be called "blessed of my Father" (Mt 25:34) and really experience it.

Jc_Freak: said...

For me that's a simple matter of where we start. I think you are right that you can't just be radically transformed by realizing something about God, but when it comes to a single sermon or devotional, or something like that, you're just trying to get people to take one step further from where they already are. It is what happens away from the pulpit that determines how people live it out.

bossmanham said...

Great post!