Study Guide Prepared by: John McVay
Key Texts: Eph 1:3-14
- Reviewing Ephesians 1:3-14 and the long list of gifts Paul includes in his thank you note to God, which one is most precious to you? Why?
- How might our eschatological outlook change if we focused on God’s “plan for the fullness of time,” to “unite all things” in Christ? (Eph 1:9, 10)
- How would your life change if you took more seriously the great purpose of life, to live “to the praise of His [God’s] glory”? (Eph 1:11, 12)
- Compare the “sealing” by the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 1:13, 14; 4:30 with the apocalyptic sealing of the servants of God with “the seal of the living God” on their foreheads in Revelation 7:1-8 (cf. Ezek. 9). What similarities and differences are there between these two “sealings”? (See Thursday’s lesson)
What blessings do we receive when we believe in Christ? In Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul draws believers into “the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3), to God’s cosmic throne room and to the initiatives of God’s grace anchored there. We listen agape to the ageless dreams and plans God has for us. Eight verbs summarize the grand variety of God’s blessings poured out upon believers:
- God blesses believers (us!) with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ” (Eph 1:3, NET)
- In Christ, God chooses believers to be “holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1:4; cf. Eph 1:11)
- Through Jesus Christ, God destines us. This is no sterile, legal relationship since we are adopted as His children (Eph 1:5)
- “In the Beloved” (that is, in Christ), He gives us “his glorious grace” (Eph 1:6)
- In Christ, God lavishes upon us redemption and forgiveness. “In matters of God’s grace, hyperboles are understatements” (Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection [Eerdmans, 2010], 63)
- God makes known to us all this “mystery of his will” and His “purpose,” which He exhibits in Christ (Eph 1:8). All these blessings wouldn’t mean much if we didn’t know about them.
- In His “plan for the fullness of time,” God heads up “all things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10)
- At their conversion and “in him” (Christ), God seals believers with the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13)
All of these verbs describe actions of God that occur “in Christ.” All God’s blessings, including the faith in our hearts and the praise of God on our lips, are ours only “in Christ.” The riches of God’s grace are lavished upon us in our spiritual bankruptcy. All is of grace! Our passage invites us to join believers across the ages in accepting all God’s blessings and praising Him for them.
How is the introduction to Ephesians unusual? Paul usually starts his letters with a “thanksgiving,” reporting how he thanks God for believers (e.g. Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:4-9; Phil. 1:3-8). In Ephesians, though, he begins with a brief prayer benediction (Eph 1:2), followed by the lengthy praise benediction we study this week (Eph 1:3-14), continuing with a thanksgiving section (Eph 1:15, 16a) and a prayer report (Eph 1:16b-23). Later, he concludes the first half of the letter with another prayer report (Eph 3:14-19) and a doxology (Eph 3:20, 21). In the second half of the letter, he adds two exhortations concerning worship, one focused on shared worship (Eph 5:3,4, 18-21) and the other focused on prayer (Eph 6:19-20), concluding the letter with two brief prayer benedictions (Eph 6:23, 24). Moreover, the entire letter was intended to be read out as part of house church worship (see Eph 6:21, 22). Taken together, all this worship material makes Ephesians especially valuable as a handbook of worship, providing models of how to worship God and how to praise Him for the many blessings He has provided.
How might we define the worship elements mentioned just above?
- Thanksgiving – Expresses how and why Paul gives thanks to God for the addressees. Example: In Eph 1:15, 16a, Paul thanks God for the believers in Ephesus because of their “faith in the Lord Jesus” and their “love toward all the saints.”
- Prayer benediction – A prayer blessing inviting God’s blessing on believers. Example: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:2).
- Praise benediction – A prayer blessing that “blesses” God. Example: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ Jesus . . .” (Eph 1:3).
- Doxology – A specific type of praise benediction, attributing “glory” to God. Example: “To him [God the Father] be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph 3:21).
- Prayer Report – Paul reports how he prays for believers. Example: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father . . .” (Eph 3:14).
- Exhortation – Paul invites believers to participate in prayer or worship, instructing them how to do so. Example: “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs . . .” (Eph 5:18, 19).
In what sense are believers “predestined” (Eph 1:4, 11)? Adding to the important observations included in Friday’s lesson is this one: Paul’s original audience would have heard Ephesians 1:3-14 as good news. Before their conversion they would have understood their lives to be determined by the astral powers/deities, with their destinies irreversibly set. As Ralph Martin writes: “Oriental astrology and occultism … with [their] … accompanying astral religion and dominant fatalism, haunted like a nightmare the soul of first-century people. . . . People who came under the spell of star worship were made to feel that all things were ruled by ‘fate.’ The particular conjunction of the stars or planets under which people were born was of decisive importance and settled irretrievably their destiny” (Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon [John Knox, 1991], 91). Paul’s good news teaches that God offers them new trajectories for their future and invites their free choice to choose them, encouraging them to respond in faith (Eph 1:13; 3:17). We should not turn an announcement of good news into a fatalistic and deterministic message similar to the one from which Paul’s hearers had escaped. “This is a rescue from impersonal fate, from astrological charts, from karma and kismet, from ‘biology is destiny’” (Peterson, 61).