Worship Song of the Month

the blessing of RESURRECTION LIFE

Thank you for joining me, these past couple of weeks, as I’ve reflected on “Three Blessings from Ephesians 1-3.”  So far, we have rejoiced in the blessings of Church and the Holy Spirit.  A third blessing that we experience in Christ is Resurrection Life. 

We see the blessing of Resurrection Life clearly in Ephesians 2:1-10.  Before we followed Christ, we were dead in our transgressions and sins.  We followed the ways of this world and the spirit of darkness.  We gratified earthly cravings and sought to fulfill sinful desires and thoughts.  “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5, emphasis mine). 

I suspect that we typically think of Resurrection Life as being something that we will receive when we die or when Christ returns.  Certainly, our Resurrection Life will be enjoyed and realized most fully when we are face to face with Christ in glory.  Paul says in Ephesians 2:7 that God’s kindness and grace will be shown clearly “in the coming ages.” But, even as we await the new heavens and the new earth, our Resurrection Life starts now.

I encourage you to (re)-read Ephesians 1-3 to remind yourself of the innumerable benefits of life in Christ. Perhaps the greatest is knowing God himself. As Jesus prayed for his disciples (and us), “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). One day we will know him fully, but we have the blessing of knowing God even now (Eph. 1:17, 2:18, 3:14-19).

Another benefit of Resurrection Life is that we are given purpose and ability. As new creations, we are to “do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (2:10).  We are to live “a life worthy of the calling [we] have received” (4:1).

Paul spends the final three chapters of Ephesians giving us insight into how to do this:

We are to be humble, gentle, and patient.  We are to be peacemakers and unifiers in the Church.  We are to use the gifts we’ve been given to serve and build up the Church.  We are to grow in maturity, not being easily deceived, but speaking the truth in love (4:1-16).

We are to have soft hearts, sensitive to the wisdom of the Spirit.  We are to put off our old self with its deceitful desires, and instead practice thoughts and attitudes of righteousness and holiness (4:17-23).

We are to tell the truth, forgive and reconcile, stop stealing, and work in order to share.  We are to speak in wholesome and encouraging ways, without slander, bitterness, or malice—forgiving one another as Christ forgave us.  We are to practice sacrificial love towards one another (4:25-5:1).

We are to run from sexual immorality, impurity, and greed, and we are to avoid speaking in obscenities or coarse jokes. We must not hide secret sins, but should “find out what pleases the Lord” and obey.  We should not be lazy or debauched, but wise and disciplined.  We should sing to the Lord and give thanks for everything (5:2-20).

In whatever role in family or society we find ourselves, we should submit to one another and wholeheartedly to Christ.  Wives should submit to their husbands, and husbands should love their wives unreservedly and sacrificially.  Children should obey their parents, and parents should teach their children to follow God.  Slaves should obey and serve their masters, and masters should show kindness and respect to their servants.  In all things, the Church should submit to Christ (5:21-6:9).

We should stand firm against temptation—immersing ourselves in the truth of God’s Word, the discipline of righteousness, and the practice of peace.  We should act in confidence that we have been saved, by grace, through faith.  We have the Spirit of God.  And we should pray in the Spirit “on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests, for all the Lord’s people” (6:10-20).

Yes, it may seem like most of this post is a summary of Ephesians 4-6, not 1-3 as advertised. The blessing of Resurrection Life is introduced in Ephesians 2, and then the apostle Paul gives us a great deal of application in the latter part of Ephesians. But the truth is that none of these attitudes and actions would be possible apart from the fact that we have been given new life in Christ.  This blessing of Resurrection Life is a gift from God, so that no one can boast (2:9). As Paul puts it in another of his letters: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

As I close this series on “Three Blessings from Ephesians 1-3,” I want to say that I am grateful to you for reading these posts and for reflecting with me on these good gifts that Paul highlights in his letter to the Ephesians.  I delight in the blessings of CHURCH, the HOLY SPIRIT, and RESURRECTION LIFE.  And I delight in your participation with me in these blessings. 

I will sign off by offering Paul’s benediction, with which he blesses the church in Ephesus: 

“Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”

Worship Song of the Month

the blessing of the HOLY SPIRIT

As we looked last week at the first three chapters of Ephesians, I hope you were inspired by the way the apostle Paul describes the Church.  The Church is a holy people, the body and fullness of Christ, a building established on Scripture and Christ, a temple in which God lives.  The Church communicates the wisdom and love of God to the powers-that-be and the people-that-need.   The Church is a good gift from God—a blessing. 

In these same chapters, Paul also speaks of another good gift that God gives his people:  the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit blesses us with Assurance, Relationship, and Power.

First, we can have Assurance of God’s plan. God’s plan has been unfolding since before creation.  It was God’s plan to send Jesus to die on the cross to redeem and forgive us, and to make us holy in his sight.  It was God’s plan that all who believe in that redemptive work should be adopted as his children. God’s plan is that, in the fullness of time, all of the blessings outlined in Ephesians 1:3-14 will be fully realized, and all things will be united under Christ.

In grace, God made known to us his mysterious plan, which he “set forth” or “purposed” in Christ. When we heard the gospel truth and believed in Jesus, we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us assurance of God’s plan, and because we have the Holy Spirit, we can be assured that we have been included in it. The Holy Spirit is a “deposit” guaranteeing that we will in fact inherit eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth. 

The Spirit also gives us Relationship.  We are, first of all, given relationship with God.  As “the eyes of [our hearts] are enlightened,” we come to know God more and more.  We increase in hope, we enjoy his present and future blessings, and we understand his power (1:17-23).

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that this relationship with God is given to both Jewish and Gentile followers of Christ. And, by the Spirit, we are reconciled not only to the Father but to one another.

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (2:13-18).

By the Spirit, we are given relationship to God and with fellow believers.

Finally, the good gift of the Holy Spirit is a blessing of Power.  It is impossible to imagine the extent of this power, which is “immeasurably great.” As Paul says, the power working in and through us is the same power that God “exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand” (1:19-20). 

Just as God’s power raised Jesus to life, God raised us to life (2:4-5).  The power of the Spirit gave insight to the apostles and prophets (3:4-5); this same power gives us insight into God’s redemptive plan (1:8-10).  The power of the Spirit made Paul “a minister of the gospel” (3:7), and the Holy Spirit gives us gifts to be used for the edification of the Church and the spread of the gospel message today. God’s power gives us strength in our inner beings. It gives us faith and endurance and comfort.  The power of the Holy Spirit is at work in us to transform us for God’s glory (3:16-21). 

I am thankful for the blessing of the Holy Spirit.  As we see the heart of Paul in Ephesians 1-3, let’s join together in praying that we (as individuals and as the Church) would grow in Assurance of our salvation and in Relationship with God and each other.  Let’s pray that we would have the Power of the Holy Spirit to grasp the amazing love of Christ that surpasses our own knowledge, and to be filled with all the fullness of God. 

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the blessing of CHURCH

We don’t always think of Church as a blessing. 

Sometimes we engage with Church as a cold institution. Or we might see the Church as a judgmental, fractured, political group of individuals.  Some people experience great pain and disenfranchisement within the Church, and as a result, make a conscious decision to be a Christ-follower without being a church-participant.  Others may be apathetic towards the Church; they find that church has no impact, and instead seek meaning in other communities or choose to live privately “spiritual” lives.

Whatever our hurts or disappointments, I encourage all of us to read the first three chapters of Ephesians to see how the apostle Paul describes the Church. I hope that, through Paul’s eyes, we will start to view the Church as a blessing.

In Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul praises God for the many “spiritual blessings” that are given us in Christ.  These blessings include our having been chosen by God to be holy and blameless, predestined for adoption, and redeemed through Christ’s blood.  Our sins are forgiven, we have had God’s grace lavished upon us, and we have been given understanding of God’s plan. We have been included in Christ and marked with the Holy Spirit. We are “God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

We tend to think of these blessings as having been given to each of us as individuals (and we often experience them in that way), but Paul is speaking to a community of believers in Ephesus—whom he calls “the faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1). In his list of spiritual blessings, we find a multitude of the pronouns “we,” “us,” and plural “you.”

We—the Church—receive the blessings of Christ, and, in turn, we are a blessing—blessing God and blessing one another. In Eph. 1:15-21, Paul thanks God for the local church community in Ephesus because of two things:  their faith in Jesus (I think of this as a vertical expression of the Church) and their love for all of God’s people (horizontal).  He prays that the church there will be built up in wisdom, knowledge, and enlightenment in order to know Christ and the inheritance and power given to “his holy people.”

Then he makes this beautiful statement about the Church: “God placed all things under Christ’s feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (1:22-23).

Wow. The Church is the fullness of Christ. The Church is his Body.

In The Cost of Discipleship, theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer says: “The Body of Christ is identical with the new humanity which [Jesus] has taken upon him.  It is in fact the Church.  Jesus Christ is at once himself and his Church… To be in Christ therefore means to be in the Church.”  He continues, “Since the ascension, Christ’s place on earth has been taken by his Body, the Church.  The Church is the real presence of Christ.”

As the Body of Christ, we have been made alive with Christ, given the privilege of participating in his mission and work, and are recipients together of his blessings (2:1-10).

We are brought near, through the blood of Christ, to God and to each other (2:11-3:6). We are one People, united in Christ.  We are Citizens and Family Members.  We are a Building, rising up from the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ as the chief Cornerstone.  Together, we are being built into a Temple in which God lives by his Spirit. We are Heirs of and Sharers in the promises of Christ.

It is through the Church that God intends for “the manifold wisdom of God [to] be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (3:10).

And it is in the Church that we “may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (3:18-19). 

Yes, Church can be disappointing.  Mainly because the Church is full of disappointing people (myself included). 

But I encourage you, if you aren’t currently joined to and participating in a local church, to find a community of believers with whom you can be built up and filled.  If you are already in a church body, look at your church—whatever its faults—as a blessing.   

And, even if deep wounds or ongoing frustrations make it “immeasurably more than all [you] could ask or imagine” (3:20-21) that Church would be a blessing, God is able.  His power is at work within us.

“To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.”