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Blessed Beyond Measure

Tom Pennington • Ephesians 1:3-14

  • 2007-07-15 AM
  • Ephesians
  • Sermons


Well, we return, again, this morning to the study we've really just begun, of this great letter to the Ephesians. I invite you to take your bibles and turn to Ephesians chapter 1. Yesterday afternoon, I had one of those experiences, that when they occur, remind me in clear and unquestionable terms, of the reality of our faith in Jesus Christ. I was here at the church, as many of you were, enjoying the wedding of Evan Ramos and Sarah Hale, and I was at the reception, talking with someone when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that there was a middle-aged man of Middle Eastern descent waiting to speak with me. And so, I soon broke away, and he quickly introduced himself as Hassam. He asked if he could speak with me, and I said of course, and so, we sat down and he began to tell me his story.

He explained that he had been born and raised Muslim. He'd been taught that Judaism was sort of the beginning level of religion; that Christianity was sort of a second and yet higher level of religion. But that the zenith—the apex—of religion was Islam. He was taught to respect Christians, and even that it was okay to marry one, because we are people of "The Book." But the only true access to God, he said, was through Islam, and through Allah. He told me that, although he was Muslim, he had had the opportunity to meet and interact with and get to know some Christians. One was his wife. When they married, she was Roman Catholic but later came to a true understanding of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, and had become a true believer. He had met Keith Hale and his family, and he also met a Christian missionary. Surprisingly to me, he said, "I wanted to meet you because I wanted to tell you something that happened four years ago." Four years ago, when I was here candidating as the potential pastor for Countryside Bible Church, there were several question and answer times. And he came as a guest of the Hales to one of those questions and answers. He said, "You may not remember, but I asked you a question. I stood up in the context of that question and answer session, and I asked you this question 'What is Christianity really all about?'" He said, "You explained that day that the heart of Christianity is the fact that God had sent His only Son into the world to die in the place of sinners so that He could forgive them and make them His own children." He said, that day, my heart was convicted. "For the last four years," he said, "I have continued to bear the weight of that conviction. I've continued to enjoy my Christian friends, but still as a Muslim."

Three weeks ago, Hassam found himself, through God's providence, at a Christian students' forensic and debate meeting, and one of the students there that day delivered an address—an extemporaneous speech. She was given a single word on a slip of paper, given a couple of minutes to prepare her thoughts, and then she presented her extemporaneous delivery. He said, she began something like this: "In the Muslim culture, a son who has offended his father, his earthly father, cannot approach him directly. It doesn't show the proper sense of shame and respect; so instead, he can only approach his offended earthly father through a mediator." She then went on [he said, that's correct, by the way] but then this young student went on to explain how Christ had become our mediator with the Father whom we have offended. Hassam told me, with joy written all over his face, that three weeks ago, after he heard that, all of those seeds that had been planted through the years, came to full flower, and he found a quiet place where he could confess his sin and seek the forgiveness of the Father, through the mediator, Jesus Christ.

You know, as I heard that story, I was reminded that there is in it a huge encouragement to all of us to reach out to our unsaved family and friends and neighbors and co-workers. Don't ever stop. Don't ever give up. Invite them to the church, and to events. Who knows what they'll be exposed to and what seeds will be planted. Reach out to them. Love them as Christian families did to this man. Express the love of Christ to them.

But as I thought about Hassam's story last night, another lesson became obvious to me. I was struck with just how unlikely his conversion really is. How does it happen? How does a confirmed Muslim committed to works-based righteousness come to trust in Jesus Christ alone as his sole source of hope? How does that happen? Well, there's only one right answer, and that's through an act of God. Only the power of God can produce that kind of radical change. And that is the heart of Paul's message in Ephesians chapter 1.

In Ephesians chapter 1 beginning in verse 3, all the way through verse 14, we have one long sentence in the Greek text. Twelve verses. In those twelve verses, and 202 Greek words, Paul has a two-fold purpose. One of his purposes is to express his own heart in praise and thanksgiving. This is genuinely Paul. This is the overflow of his own heart. But beyond that, it's also to serve as a pattern to teach us how to respond. As Paul begins this letter, he wants us to really come to grips with salvation. To truly understand what God has done for us. I don't think we really appreciate how important this is. Many Christians think that the gospel is just what you need in order to get saved, and it's a bare minimum sort of "you are a sinner—God sent Jesus to die—He died—He was raised again—and if you will trust in Him you're converted." They believe that's all there is to the gospel and that once you've learned that and done that, then you move on quickly in your growth and Christian faith to other things.

In reality, what the Bible teaches through books like Romans, and books like Ephesians, is that the only way to grow as a Christian is not by getting beyond the truth of the gospel, but by coming to grasp it and understand it more deeply. That is the foundation from which Christian growth occurs. And this is Paul's concern for the people in the region where he had spent three years teaching them. I pointed out these verses last time, but Paul's prayers in his letters often mark the heart of his concern for the people to whom he writes.

There are two prayers here in Ephesians. Look at Ephesians chapter 1 and verse 16. I make mention of you in my prayers, he says, and here's what I pray, verse 17, "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give [to] you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation" so that you can come to a full knowledge of Him. "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints" and you may know His surpassing great power toward us who believe. Notice, Paul's concern is for us to know something; for us to have a spirit of wisdom and knowledge, a deep knowledge of God and what He has accomplished. Turn to his other prayer in Ephesians. Ephesians chapter 3, verse 14. He says, "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father," and he has several requests for us, but notice the middle of verse 17. He says I'm praying that "being rooted and grounded in love, [you] may be able to comprehend [there's a mental word—you may be able to understand] with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ." Paul says, "Here's my concern for you. I'm not worried about your jobs or your health. What I really want for you is for you to come to understand all that God has done for you, because that's the starting point for growth in the Christian life and experience." For some of you who are new to our church, this will be the first time, as we go through these early verses of Ephesians, that you will have been exposed to the gravity and the profundity of what God has done for you in Christ. And let me tell you that is the starting point for all spiritual growth—as you come to understand these things.

Now, back to Ephesians chapter 1. If you look at Paul's other letters you will find that usually, after he finishes the greeting, he will offer thanks for the people, and he will offer a prayer for them. Keep your finger there in Ephesians 1, and turn over to Philippians chapter 1. He does this here. After the greeting of verses 1 and 2, a familiar greeting to us; in verse 3 begins "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you," and I pray for you, and so forth. That's how he usually begins his letters. And back in Ephesians 1 he will eventually get there. You'll notice verse 15 of Ephesians 1, he begins that same pattern of offering prayer. But here in Ephesians, before he gets to that normal thanksgiving and prayer for them, he first begins with a kind of outburst of praise. An outburst that plumbs the depths of God's sovereign grace, and that ascends the heights of His eternal salvation. That's what this section is all about. It's an outburst of praise to God for His eternal plan of redemption.

Now, verse 3 is a key verse, because in verse 3 he begins that theme, the theme really that will occupy the first half of the book. The theme essentially is this: that God is worthy of all of our praise, and of all of our thanksgiving, because He has done all of these amazing things for us in Christ Jesus. In a very real sense, verse 3 is the cornerstone of this entire letter. Look at verse 3, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." That's how he begins one very long sentence. But verse 3 is the main clause in the entire sentence. It's the only one that has a main verb. This is really the core of what Paul wants to say. This is the thesis, and the rest of the sentence, and in one sense the rest of the letter, is an explanation of it. And verse 3 can essentially be reduced to this: we are compelled to praise and thank our God because He has given us every spiritual blessing in Christ. How do you respond to God's grace that He has showered upon you? How do you respond to that? Well, in a word, our response should be a joyful combination of thanksgiving and praise. And Paul teaches us how, here in his own sort of outburst of praise. In verse 3, there are three lessons about what our response to God's sovereign grace should be. Three lessons about our response to God's sovereign grace in our lives, just as Paul is responding to God's grace in his own way.

The first lesson gives us the focus of our praise. The focus of our praise. Look again at verse 3. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Notice that, in spite of the dazzling list of spiritual blessings that follow in verses 4 through 14, that those blessings are not the true focus of verse 3, or of this long sentence. Paul begins, not with the blessings we enjoy, not with us individually as Christians; but He begins with God. This is where we have to start. But this isn't where we're prone to start naturally. We're always prone to start where? —with ourselves. Listen to Martin Lloyd-Jones. He has written

Much of the trouble in the church today is due to the fact that we are so subjective, so interested in ourselves, so egocentric. Having forgotten God, and having become so interested in ourselves, [I love this] we become miserable and wretched; and spend our time in shallows, and in miseries. The message of the Bible from beginning to end is designed to bring us back to God, to humble us before God, and to enable us to see our true relationship to Him. This is the grand theme of the epistle.

—Lloyd Jones writes. The focus of this verse and of this sentence and of this letter is God and His works. Sheila and I were talking yesterday, as both of us have read through this letter, now, many times in preparation for our study. We've both been struck by the fact that the commands, the imperatives if you will, of chapters 4 through 6 are all intimately connected to the doctrine that we will learn in chapters 1 through 3. You can't divorce the two. You can't simply tell someone to be a good husband, or to be a good wife, or to be a good employee; because all of those things are tied to the truth of what God has done. It begins with God.

Let me ask you a pointed question. Have you ever really cared about this stuff? Have you ever given any careful thought to how God saved you? Have you ever taken any reasonable time to think about the plan God put in place to accomplish your redemption? Paul didn't think of this stuff because he was an apostle. He thought like this because he was a Christian. And, in fact, this letter, Ephesians, with all of this rich doctrine, wasn't written to a bunch of academic scholars in some seminary. It was written to a church just like this to people just like you. And Paul thought it was important for you to know and understand these things.

Notice how Paul refers to our God here as the focus. He says, "He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul says, "God is related to Jesus as His God, and as His Father." It's a very interesting title for God, isn't it? It's a title that ties God the Father back to God the Son. It's one that Paul uses on a number of occasions. You can see it in Romans 15:6, 2 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 11:31, and so forth. Notice first, Paul calls God the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. It's an interesting expression, isn't it? The God of our Lord Jesus Christ. On a number of occasions during His earthly ministry, Jesus referred to the Father as His God. You remember that, on the cross, of course, the most famous of them; as He was hanging there, and He cried out in the words of Psalm 22 "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" But there were other occasions. In John chapter 20 verse 17, to Mary after the resurrection; he says, "Mary, stop clinging to me. I ascend to my God and to your God." But even the glorified Christ—in heaven, in Revelation chapter 3 verse 12, speaking to the church in Philadelphia—refers to God as "My God." Now what does that mean? In what sense could the Father be the God of Jesus? Well, it's a simple reference to the fact that Jesus took upon Himself our full humanity. This is a title that highlights the humanity of Jesus Christ. As a man, Jesus submitted Himself to God the Father as His God. A great commentator on the Greek text of Ephesians, John Eadie, writes this "As man, Jesus owned Himself to be the servant of God. As a pious and perfect man; He served God, He prayed to God, He trusted in God." So, the title, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ reminds us that Jesus became perfect man. He became everything that you are, except for sin.

But Paul also calls God "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Not only the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, but the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, whenever Jesus referred to God as His Father during His earthly ministry, He meant it not as you and I use it when we refer to God as our Father—not in that same sense. He referred to God as His Father in a unique sense. Probably the clearest illustration of that is in John 10. You remember that Jesus made this monumental statement in John 10 verse 30. He says, "I and the Father are one." What was the response of the Jewish people who heard Him say that? They picked up stones to stone Him. Why? This was their answer: because you are guilty of blasphemy; you have called God your Father, making yourself equal with God. That's what Jesus meant when He called God His Father. He was claiming full equality with the Father. He was claiming to be God. A very interesting title—the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But why does Paul use it here? Well, I think it's a simple recognition that the God we bless, and the God who has blessed us; can only be reached through His Son, the only mediator, as Hassam came to understand. It is through Him alone that we gain access to the Father. By the way, there's also a reminder here in verse 3 that we should never focus on one member of the Godhead to the exclusion of the others. Let me ask you this question. Who really lies behind your salvation? Well, look at verse 3. The Father does. The Lord Jesus Christ does. And you see the word spiritual? Most spiritual blessings? Most commentators agree that spiritual here means [cough] excuse me, a frog in my throat and he just crossed his legs. Many commentators agree that spiritual, here, means "coming from the Spirit" or "having to do with the Spirit." So, in this verse, all three members of the Trinity are present. The Father blesses us. And He blesses us through the work of the Son. And the blessings of the Father and the Son are applied to us by the Spirit. So, the focus of our praise and thanks should be all three persons of the Trinity. To be true praise, our praise must be, as Paul's was, Trinitarian. In the words of the ancient creed, we are to worship the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. Let me just ask you, do you begin with God, like Paul does? Or are you ready to get to the good stuff—all the little practical commands that tell you what to do? You've got the cart before the horse. You have to begin with God and who He is, and what He's done. The focus of our praise is a thrice Holy Sovereign God, eternally existing in three persons.

Let's look, secondly, at the reason for our praise. We've seen the focus of our praise. It's God Himself, in the tri-unity of His being. Let's look at the reason for our praise. Look at the second half of the verse, "who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." The reason that we give praise and thanks to God is because of what He has done. What an amazing God we worship and serve. He is by nature good and generous. He is a benefactor. He has blessed us. Look at that word "blessed." The Greek word—I don't usually give you Greek words except when, hopefully, it's going to help you understand a little better; and I think this one will. The Greek word is eulogeo. It's the word from which we get our English word "eulogy." Eulogy. You understand, if you've been to a funeral, what a eulogy is. Eulogeo is a compound word that literally means "to speak a good word." That's what happens at a funeral, when people give a eulogy. They speak a good word about the person. Well, here we're told that God has spoken a good word about us. But here, in the context of God, it doesn't mean just that He's spoken, and nothing else has happened; but with God, when He speaks, things happen. For God to speak is to have it done. What this really means is that God has conferred, by His Word, spiritual benefits and blessings upon us, and the fact that we have received those spiritual benefits from God prompts us to praise; prompts us to further understand God's goodness and grace to us, and to respond in praise and thanksgiving.

Now, to further help us understand the reason for our praise, in these words in the second half of verse 3, we need to ask and answer several questions about this act of God, in which He has conferred this blessing on us. Because this is the reason we praise Him. This is the reason we bless Him, as Paul says. So, let's ask some questions. First of all, when do we receive these blessings? When? Well, notice, "the God who has blessed." Verse 3 is not describing something that is still anticipated—something that hasn't yet happened. The blessings that are described here are already yours if you are in Jesus Christ. He "has" blessed. It's already done. He has blessed you. Now, Paul's main point here, and this is crucial to get—Paul's main point is that salvation—listen carefully to this, I'll never forget when, in seminary, I really understood and comprehended this truth. This was life-changing—Paul's main point here is that salvation, from beginning to end, is all a work of God. Do you really grasp and understand that? Your salvation, from beginning to end, is all of God. Here, Paul puts it this way. God blessed us. God spoke a good word about us, and it was done. I think the most profound illustration of this is Abraham. Turn back to Genesis chapter 12. Genesis chapter 12, we read the spiritual history of Abram, or Abraham as he came later to be called. Verse 32 tells us that Terah, along with Abram and the rest of his family settled in Haran. That's verse 32 of chapter 11. And then beginning in chapter 12 verse 1, we read this

Now the Lord said to Abram, go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.

Really an amazing passage. But I think sometimes we don't fully grasp what's happening here. You understand that Abram was not on a search for the true and living God. He was not a holy and righteous man. We're told elsewhere that Abram was an idolater. He was falling down in front of rocks. He was worshiping the creation. But God decides to bless him, and through him, to bless all the nations of the earth, including us according to Galatians 3. Why? Because God decided. So, one day, God shows up, and He says to this idolater Abram, "I have decided to bless you." And that is exactly what happened to you if you are in Christ as well. God decided

to bless you. Why? Well, as we'll learn, Lord willing, two weeks from this Sunday, it's because, through a miracle of sovereign grace, He chose, in eternity past, to make you His own. He has blessed us. When did those blessings become ours? Well, they officially became ours, in the past, at the moment of salvation. When you came to faith in Jesus Christ, all of these spiritual blessings, officially, became yours. It had already been decided in eternity past, but they

officially became yours at the moment of repentance and faith, the moment of regeneration.

Now, a second question we need to ask—we've looked at when, that is, in the past at the moment of salvation these blessings became ours. God decided to do it. The second question we need to ask is who receives these blessings? Who receives these blessings? Well, look again at verse 3. "Who has blessed us"—blessed us. Here Paul includes himself along with the believers in Ephesus and the surrounding region to which he writes. So, here's the short answer. If you are a believer, then these blessings—all of them—are already yours. And here's the miracle of divine grace. If you're here this morning and you know you're not a Christian, all it takes is a willingness on your part to turn from what you know to be sin and embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior—as Hassam did just three weeks ago—and these blessings become yours even today. Who receives these blessings? Us. Us who have come to the place of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. These blessings are ours.

A third question is what blessings? What blessings do we receive? Well, notice he says, "Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing." Look first at the word "spiritual." This is the character or nature of the blessings that are ours. They are, by nature, spiritual blessings. You see, God blesses all men with material earthly blessings. You live in a community and in a country where we are blessed beyond measure with material blessings. Unbelievers enjoy these as well, as an expression of God's common grace to all men, purchased even at the cross. And the New Testament doesn't deprecate, doesn't depreciate our earthly blessings. In fact, Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:17, "God richly supplies us with all things to enjoy." But the emphasis of the New Testament is not on material blessings. This is where your health, wealth, and prosperity teachers go amok.

Guys like Joel Osteen, promising that you'll have a Cadillac, and Victoria as your wife. That's not at all what the New Testament teaches us. Instead, it teaches us that we have to focus on and anticipate spiritual blessings. And that's what Paul is talking about here. He's talking about spiritual blessings. That is, those blessings that have to do with the Holy Spirit. Those spiritual benefits that are produced by and come from the Holy Spirit. Those are the blessings that are ours. And notice that we haven't received just a few of these spiritual blessings. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. God has not withheld from us one blessing in the realm of the Spirit. Not one. They're all ours. Look at the list that follows, even here in this context. Here are the spiritual blessings that are ours: notice Ephesians 1 verse 4: election—He chose you; verse 5: adoption—He predestined you to adoption as sons; verse 6: He lavished you with grace; verse 7: He redeemed you from the penalty and power of your sin; verse 7 again: He forgave your sins, including even individual acts of rebellion against Him; verse 9: He has made known to you the mystery of His will; verse 11: He has given you an inheritance. That's a great truth. We'll talk about that when we get there. I don't think we fully comprehend that we haven't fully begun to appreciate all that's ours in Christ and will be ours in the future. We have an inheritance. Verse 13: He has sealed you with the Spirit. He's guaranteed your future glorification—your future likeness to His Son. So, every spiritual blessing includes, then, the past blessing of election, the present blessing of redemption and forgiveness, and the future blessing of a promised inheritance. Those are the blessings that are ours. Every spiritual blessing in Christ.

The fourth question that we need to ask and answer about the reason for our praise, is where are these blessings from? Where are these blessings from? Notice the little phrase, "He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." You'll notice that the word "places" is in italics in the New American Standard, and that's because it's been supplied by the translators. The word doesn't appear in the Greek text. Instead, the word in the Greek text leaves it somewhat vague. "In the heavenly [you fill in the blank]." The reason they've supplied this word though, is because of how it's used in the rest of Ephesians, and even in the rest of the New Testament. Paul uses this same Greek word translated "heavenly" some five times here in Ephesians. Here in this text—look down at verse 20 of chapter 1. "He raised [Jesus] from the dead and [He] seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places." Chapter 2 verse 6. He did the same thing with us. He raised us up in our conversion, with Jesus, and "seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Chapter 3 verse 10. God is displaying His manifold wisdom; it's being made known through the church, to the rulers and authorities which are in the heavenly places. And Chapter 6 verse 12, another reference to spiritual beings. Chapter 6 verse 12. In the context of putting on the armor, we read, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." Now, it's used two other times in the New Testament. I won't have you turn there, but in Hebrews chapter 8 verse 5 and Hebrews chapter 9 verse 23. In every occurrence where this word exists, it points to a place, to a realm, to a location. So, Ephesians 1 verse 3 must have the same meaning as well. It's referring to the realm of heaven. The realm where God exists. And that's why the translators, then, have used the word "places." In heavenly places.

Now, don't be confused by this expression. If you just look at it at face value, you might come to wrong impressions about what it means. This does not mean that we have to wait for these blessings until we get to heaven. They're ours now. He has blessed us with these blessings. We already enjoy redemption. We already enjoy forgiveness. We already enjoy the promise of an inheritance. So, it doesn't mean we have to wait for these blessings until we get to heaven. Nor does it mean that these blessings are somehow less real, that they are kind of phantom, or unreal, ethereal in some sense. So, what does it mean? It means that these spiritual blessings that are ours, come from the heavenly places or realms, and they are ours now; but they are really more of an expression of life in heaven than of life here. It reminds us of the fact that we don't belong here. We have already begun to taste of heavenly blessings. We are citizens of heaven. That while we enjoy the benefits of our heavenly citizenship here, those benefits don't really belong here; and if you think they do, just look around. These blessings that Ephesians 1 talks about, that we have received, these have no value at all to the people who belong to this earthly realm. So, our blessings are in the heavenly places. They're from a different place, and they don't really belong here.

Let me see if I can help you understand this. There are certain sports, certain activities that seem to be bought and embraced by specific cultures. For example, if you're going to enjoy the game of cricket, you have to live in England, or in one of the places where the former British Empire expressed itself. That's where cricket is played. I mean, there are stadiums full of people watching this, and sometimes it lasts all day. That's the short match. And then, there's the multi-day match where you show up day after day to watch these men in this inexpressible, unexplainable, incomprehensible game in which there are forty-two laws. I don't know if you knew that or not. Forty-two laws of cricket. And you have to try to follow what's happening. You have to live there to fully appreciate it. And if you don't live there, you don't really appreciate it. The same is probably true of some of the games that we play. People around the world scratch their head at why we would sit and watch football or baseball or hockey. You have to live there to fully appreciate those things.

Well, the same thing is true for these blessings that Paul is talking about here. They really belong to the heavenly realms. And to fully appreciate them, you've got to live there. You can't enjoy them if you don't belong to heaven. Let me put it in blunt terms. Unbelievers could not care less about Ephesians chapter 1 and all of these blessings that we are going to look at. In fact, let me just give you a little test. If you're seated here this morning, and you don't really care about this stuff, that's really all the evidence you need that you're not a Christian, because genuine Christians respond to the spiritual blessings that are theirs in Christ. Why? Because they've been given a new heart and a new citizenship and a new love for God and a new appreciation for what He's done. Instead, what the people of this realm care about is their careers and their cars and their houses and pleasures and entertainment and amusement and having a good time. That's what occupies them. But because we belong to heaven, because we are citizens of heaven; we have a different set of desires, a different set of appreciations, a different set of blessings. These spiritual blessings only matter to people who belong to heaven. One last question that we have to ask about these blessings—about the reason for our praise—is, how do we receive these blessings? How do we receive them? What is the channel through which they come to us? Notice the last phrase of the verse "in Christ." I must confess to you that it really was only recently that I came to fully appreciate the richness of this term. There's so much here. There's so much to understand about this little two-word preposition "in Christ." In fact, I would venture to say, it is one of the most important phrases in all of the Bible. And so, I plan for us to study that phrase, Lord willing, in detail, next week. But for now, let me just give you a real basic understanding. Understand it like this: the only reason you enjoy all of these spiritual blessings is because God has connected you to Jesus Christ. It's because you are connected to Christ, that you enjoy these spiritual blessings. That's how we receive them, because we are in Christ. There's so much more to be said about that, and we'll look at it, Lord willing, next week. So, the focus of our praise then is our God. The reason for our praise is that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.

Lastly let's consider the third lesson that we need to learn: the expression of our praise. The expression of our praise. Go back to the beginning of the verse, "Blessed be God." How should we respond to God for all of the rich spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ? We bless God. [cough] The Greek adjective "blessed" occurs some 87 times in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Mostly of blessing God. God, in the Old Testament, is blessed; usually for what he's done, for His care, for His provision, for responding to prayer, for delivering the people from evil, from enemies, for spiritual salvation. Sometimes, in the Old Testament, God is blessed by the people simply for what He is, for who He is, for the truth about His character. Now this "blessed be God," this expression, this kind of blessing, was characteristic—and still is by the way— of Jewish prayers. The Jewish Berakhahs they're called—the eighteen benedictions that are still part of many synagogues and their worship—were finalized near the end of the first century. They are recited three times daily in the synagogue, and they end with a phrase like this "blessed are you, O Lord." To bless God is simply to praise and thank God. Again, I like the way John Eadie puts it in his commentary.

God blessed us, and we, in turn, bless God. But His blessing of us is one of deed. Our blessing of Him is only in word. He makes us blessed; we pronounce Him blessed. He confers on us wellbeing, and we ascribe to Him wellbeing. God acts, we speak. God actually confers spiritual blessings on us, and we praise Him for what He has done.

Now why does Paul start with this expression of his own praise to God? Why do we begin the letter with Paul's outburst of praise "Blessed be God"? It's to challenge our own hearts to praise. I can't put it any better than John Calvin has in his commentary on this passage. He says, "The lofty terms in which Paul extols the grace of God toward the Ephesians are intended to rouse their hearts to gratitude, to set them on fire, to fill them even to overflowing with the truth of what God has done." That's what God intends to do to you through our study of this passage. He intends to ignite your heart in a fresh way with an appreciation for what God has done for you in Christ. In other words, Paul wrote this to teach us how to respond in the same way. And by the way, this is the natural response for Christians. When we think about our salvation, we bless, and praise, and thank God. In fact, let me just say that this is another wonderful test of our confession of faith.

This morning, do you claim to be a Christian? Are you sitting here confident that you're in Christ? Then ask yourself if your heart is carried away in genuine praise and adoration and thanksgiving to God. Not for the material blessings that you enjoy, many unbelievers do that, but for the spiritual blessings that are yours. Again, Lloyd Jones says "there is no more true test of our Christian profession than to discover how prominent this note of praise and thanksgiving is, in our life." Look at your praise. Look at your thanksgiving to God for these spiritual blessings that are yours. That's a barometer of the presence of spiritual life.

One last observation I want to make for you, and that is that our gratitude for these things, these spiritual blessings, transcends our circumstances. Remember where Paul is as he writes this letter. He is under house arrest in Rome. He's been there for almost two years, and yet as he

writes this letter to the Ephesians and the surrounding area, whom he knew and loved; he is so captivated, he is so enraptured by the grace of God; that when he begins his letter, he just breaks out in praise. He can't help himself. May the Spirit teach us through Paul's example to respond to God's eternal plan of redemption in exactly the same way. Blessed be God.

Let's pray together. Our Father, we thank You for this great letter. We have already developed such a rich appreciation for its truth, and for what we will learn here. But we thank You that You have moved, in the Trinity of Your Persons. You have put in place an eternal plan of redemption that You have brought to fruition in the lives of every Christian here this morning. Father, thank You that You have blessed us, and You have blessed us with every spiritual blessing—blessings that have the flavor of heaven about them, and blessings that come to us only in and through Jesus Christ. Father, excite, stir our souls, set our hearts aflame in a fresh and living way with what You have done for us in Christ, as we study this passage. Father, may we overflow, even as Paul does, with blessing upon Your great and holy and gracious name. Blessed be God, "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." Father, if there's someone here today who desperately needs those spiritual blessings to become theirs, who needs to become Yours through new birth, I pray that today would be the day when You stir their heart by Your Spirit to faith and repentance. We pray it to the glory of Christ, and in His Name. Amen