Tag Archives: spiritual blessings

Study Notes on Ephesians 1:3

17 Jul

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

We now transition to the body of the letter. And we open with this magnificent sentence in Greek which runs from verses 3-14. You heard that right. Verses 3-14 is one long sentence in the Greek text. It is the second longest sentence in the New Testament, a sentence of 202 Greek words. So though our English translations sometimes break this sentence into parts for the sake of clarity in English, remember that this whole section is one sentence. The fact that it is one sentence means that Paul intended it to be read or heard in a very connected way. So we will be trying to understand throughout how this section fits together and how it fits into the big picture of the book of Ephesians as a whole.

In terms of the section itself, there is a basic structure here. There is a general statement of praise – “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” followed by the general reason for praise – “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” So verse 3 lays out the reason for the paragraph – praise to God, and the basic grounds for that praise – because we have been blessed in Christ. From there the sentence proceeds to show us specifically how we have been blessed. The three specific ways we have been blessed revolve around three aspects of God’s work and the three persons of the Trinity and three periods of time. The first ground of God’s blessing (1:4-6) is election and the focus there is the good plan of God the Father given before the foundation of the world. Election – Father – Past. The second reason we are blessed (1:7-12) is redemption and the focus there is on the good work of the Son which is presently ours. Redemption – Son – Present. The third reason we are blessed (1:13-14) is inheritance and the focus there is the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the focus is on the future blessing of the inheritance. Inheritance – Spirit – Future. Now within this sentence there are, of course, senses in which all the persons of the Trinity are at work. So the work of election is not exclusively the work of the Father, for example. Since we worship ONE God in three persons, it makes sense that there would be overlap and interplay. Yet there is at the same time a certain emphasis in the ministry of each person of the Trinity. Along with this Trinitarian focus there is a threefold repetition of a phrase . . . “to the praise of His glory.” We will get into the meaning of this phrase when we come to it in the text but let me just say for now that Paul’s insertion of this phrase seems to do two things: first, it gives the whole sentence a heightened sense of praise. Chapter 1 really can be divided into two parts: praise (1:3-14) and prayer (1:15-23). There’s not much better to do with our lives than praise and prayer. So this phrase reminds us of the blessing and joy of praise. But in addition to this flavor of praise, this phrase reminds us that while this sentence enumerates God’s blessings to His people and that this is a cause for praise, ultimately all these things have happened for the praise of God’s glory. In other words, election, redemption, inheritance and all the rest are about God, not merely about us.

So on the whole, this sentence opens the book on a note of praise. This is fitting based on the contents of the book and is a good pattern for us. We could probably all benefit from less time trying to solve the world’s problems and more time cultivating the grace of praise.

So let’s get into the text itself now. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

Blessed. This Greek word, eulogntos, sounds like our English word “eulogy.” We think of a eulogy as a speech given at a funeral but at its core the word carries the idea of thanksgiving for the life being remembered. Here in Ephesians we have a statement of praise to God for His work of salvation in its many facets. You may notice that this word appears in three places in this verse. The major note of this verse is that of blessing, or praise. Yet the blessing is different in each of the three cases. The first is a statement of praise to God, the second and third describe the blessings we receive from Christ and the location of those blessings, which we will look at in more detail in a moment.

With all this said, let me say that I believe this verse is also significant for its Jewish flavor. This language of blessedness is common in Jewish literature and common in the Old Testament. The book of Psalms in particular uses this formulation several times. Jewish people were taught to pray this way. There were in the first century a series of prayers called the “Eighteen Benedictions” that Jews were taught to pray morning, noon and night. These prayers were all headed by the words “Blessed are you, Lord.” So it appears here that as Paul adopted a common Gentile greeting in verse 2 and reshaped it theologically, now he is doing the same with a common Jewish expression of praise. He uses this same phrasing in 2 Corinthians 1:3 but interestingly, Peter also uses this phrasing in 1 Peter 1:3, meaning that it is at least possible that by this time this phrase was a common one in Christian usage. Based on the Jewish background of the apostles, it is not surprising that they would adapt existing Jewish forms of prayer and language to bring the saving work of Christ to the forefront. In Ephesians 1:3 we are brought  right back to the point Paul is making in this first theological section of the book, namely that through Jesus the universe has been fundamentally reshaped: individual salvation gives us one blessing after another, there is one people of God from Jew and Gentile, the height, and depth and breadth of God’s love has been realized. Causes for praise abound in the New Covenant.

be Here the word “be” is supplied, it does not appear in the Greek text, it is just understood. For clarity in English most translations add it here.

the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ  this phrase tells us that the blessedness goes to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, praise to God. God the Father is the source of every spiritual blessing. The God and Father are not two separate beings. The definite article — “the” – applies to both the word God and the word Father. But notice we have handled the whole phrase here because the God and Father is inextricably linked to our Lord Jesus Christ. This linkage serves at least two purposes. First, Christ is exalted as God through this linkage (as well as through the descriptor “Lord”) and second Christ’s is exalted as instrumental in the praise that goes to God the Father. In some sense (which we will see going forward) the praise that belongs to God the Father comes through His work through Jesus Christ. Notice here it is not Christ Jesus as in verse 1, but Jesus Christ. The emphasis here is not on His saving work as the major note but on His Lordship, His rule. This ruling nature is another mark of divinity, of equality with God. Jesus is Lord. He is Lord in contrast to the ruling Caesars, he is Lord ruling and reigning with God the Father. Praise God. And He is our Lord. He is the Lord of all who believe. He is not simply ours in the sense of possession but He is ours in the sense of our submission. We yield allegiance to Him first and foremost. He is Lord. Somebody sent me an order of service the other day from another church and their July 1st service began with the National Anthem, included the Pledge of Allegiance, contained a patriotic sing-a-long and otherwise made America the center of the service. There is nothing wrong in and of itself with an appreciation of country but it should never compete with our allegiance to the Lord. Our citizenship is in heaven. Jesus is our Lord.

So we praise God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But why? Because He is the One who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

who has blessed us in Christ The Father and the Holy Spirit are essential to the work of God in our lives, but Christ is the center of this passage. In these first 14 verses, Christ is mentioned some 15 times. The phrase ‘in Christ’ or ‘in Him’ is used 11 times. This is so encouraging because all our lives apart before we were saved we were not ‘in Christ’ we were ‘in Adam.’ In Adam we were in sin, under the wrath of God, bound by futility, destined for hell. This reality will be further explained in chapter 2. But the contrast is being implied here at the outset. We are in Christ, we are all through faith in Christ. And that is the place not of curse but of blessing, because Christ has borne the curse. The ESV puts the words “in Christ” at the front of the sentence but they are actually at the back of the sentence in Greek and in many English translations. I think the ESV sounds better in English but just wanted to let you know that.

The focus now shifts to the what of the way God has blessed us through Christ? with every spiritual blessing There are two aspects to note here, seen in the word ‘every’ and in the word ‘spiritual.’ The word every points in the direction of what were are going to see in the next few verses and what we have already hinted at, namely that the blessings of Christ are varied and numerous, encompassing God and His work past, present and future. These varied blessings are spiritual blessings. This may be a contrast to the old covenant realities that many of the blessings of God were material. Land, cattle, a good harvest, etc. were among the blessings promised under the old covenant for those who were faithful to God. When the Old Testament prophets looked toward the new covenant they looked to a spiritual reality that would change everything, particularly realized through the Holy Spirit’s work in the human heart. So Ezekiel and Jeremiah both speak of the work of God in the heart and their words describe how God will put a new spirit within us. Material blessing and the provision of God are not entirely done away with, as we see in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus calls us to not worry about material things even as He promises their provision when we seek first the kingdom of God. It is clear to me that the blessings enumerated here in verses 3-14 are mostly spiritual blessings. And it is telling to me that many people looking at this reality would count the spiritual blessings inferior. If you would count land or a good harvest of more value than eternal redemption, there is a failure to understand the reality of existence. But because these spiritual realities are only now realized in part, we can have more trouble seeing their worth. There is another aspect of this as well. I believe these “spiritual” blessings not only have to do with the realm of spirit as opposed to the physical, it also has to do with the work of the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament promises of the new covenant pointed to the Holy Spirit work, the book of Acts revealed His work and the epistles confirmed His work. The nature of these blessings is found in the fact that they are spiritual, of the Spirit, applied by the Spirit.

John Stott says, “The teaching of verse 3 is thus to seen to be extremely important. Christians are Trinitarians. We believe in one God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We affirm with gratitude and joy that God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. That is, every blessing of the Holy Spirit has been given us by the Father if we are in the Son. No blessing has been withheld from us. Of course we still have to grow into maturity in Christ, and be transformed into his image, and explore the riches of our inheritance in him. Of course, too, God may grant us many deeper and richer experiences of himself on the way. Nevertheless already, if we are in Christ, every spiritual blessing is ours. Or, as the apostle puts it in Colossians, we ‘have come to fullness of life in him.’

The verse concludes with addressing the issue of where these spiritual blessings are to be found. And the answer is in the heavenly places,

Now this phrase is interesting. When we think of heaven, we usually think of the eternal dominion of God. We think usually of the future. But notice here the spiritual blessings appear to be ours already. And they are in the heavenly places. Now this could be something different than what we normally think. It may be that Paul is contrasting the spiritual with the earthly. In other words, Paul may be saying that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ in the spiritual realm. So are these heavenly places referring to the future reality of glorification or is it referring to our present life? Well, it refers to all of it. In a sense, Paul is reminding us that our union with Christ is so real and so sure that we are already united with Him in the heavenly places. Our future is secure and even now the Lord Jesus intercedes for us. Yet, in this present life we experience union with Christ, we enjoy fellowship with Him, we are empowered by Him.

Bryan Chappell helps us understand what is going on here. “On our family vacations, we enjoy going to a cabin that adjoins a deep set of woods. At certain times of the year the woods are so dense that when we have been out hiking, it is difficult to find the path back to the cabin. As night closed in during one such hike, we knew that we would not be able to spot our regular landmarks. So we began to angle through the woods in the direction we thought the cabin was. It got darker and darker; no familiar landmarks came into view. The children assumed that we were lost. I kept a brave face, as if I knew where we were, but ultimately I turned around to tell them the real situation. But just as I turned, a light from the cabin caught my eye. In the dark and dense woods we had actually walked past the cabin, but seeing the light, I knew we were safe. We were not yet inside, but the light meant that we were already safe and secure. What was my reaction to being ‘home’? Relief, and peace.

It is a similar reaction that Paul intends for us. He does not promise that we will never have to walk through the dark and dense woods. Trials are still here, disease still comes, finances are still hard, jobs and relationships remain difficult, and next steps may remain uncertain, but in Christ we are already home. We do not have to worry that there will be no place for us or that our God will not receive us, because He has already united us to His household through His Son and included us in His purposes. This gives us the confidence to be courageous in the face of opposition whether inside or outside the church.”

 

 

 

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