God's Eternal Plan
The largest and longest running building project mankind has ever attempted is the Great Wall of China. Begun in about 600 BC it reached its greatest extend of 5,500 miles in about 1400 AD – about 2,000 years to build. But today we read about a plan that dwarfs anything mankind has ever attempted, not only by its sheer magnitude, but also by its success. This plan was instituted by God before the foundation of the world. We experience the fruits of it now, and it’ll finally come to completion at the end of time, when God brings all things together under Christ. It is God’s eternal plan for the world. As we’ll see in a moment it’s an eternal plan because he set it out before the creation of the world, because it’s effective right now and because it reaches into the future to the end of time.
God’s eternal plan is the theme of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
Paul begins his letter with the usual greetings to the recipients. He identifies himself in vs. 1 as “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God”. Apostle means “one sent”. So, an apostle doesn’t come in his own authority but the authority of the one who sent him. Paul’s authority comes from Jesus Christ who had called him and sent him as an apostle to the Gentiles.
“To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus” – Paul describes his audience as holy and faithful. “Holy” = Separated to God. Christians are people who have been set apart to serve God. “Faithful” = Believing, trusting, relying. Because we are set apart for a sacred purpose, we live our lives trusting in and relying on God. The words “in Ephesus” do not appear in some of the early manuscripts leading some to suppose that this was a cyclical letter, meant to be passed around among the churches. This would explain why Ephesians, unlike all of Paul’s others letters, contains no personal greetings. It is possible, therefore, to consider this letter as written to Christians in general—among whom we number.
After the preliminaries of vss. 1-2 launches into a hymn of praise in vss. 3-14. But in fact, it’s more than just praise. It’s more like an overture to a great operatic work. Here we find themes that are repeated later in the letter. Yet, like an overture it has an internal unity that allows us to study it by itself as we’re about to do.
These themes are seen in the numerous phrases that are repeated several times in this short passage. They’re the phrases like “according to his will” or “his pleasure”, or “according to the purpose of his will.” They’re repeated in vss. 5, 7, 9, and 11. But they’re summed up in the phrase in vss. 9 & 10
“9he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment-to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
What Paul is talking about when he talks of God’s will and purpose is God’s eternal plan, set out before the foundation of the world, and set to come to completion at the last day. So, what do discover here about God’s plan for the world?
Before the creation - he chose us and predestined us (vss. 4-5)
We’re told the plan began when God chose us before the creation of the world. God worked out beforehand everything that would happen. He chose us to be made his children by adoption. And he made us with a task to fulfill which we’ll look at in a moment.
A lot of people get hung up on these words chosen and predestined. I think it’s because the way we usually apply them has an elitist feel. “I’m chosen and you’re not.” That’s not the point. It’s not talking about some individuals being chosen to be saved and others not. The pronouns are all plural, “he chose us” “he predestined us”. God chose a people. Before the world was created, God predetermined the plan of salvation—that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will be saved. It’s the plan that he predestined.
Now –adopted as his children; we have redemption (vss. 5, 7)
Right now, in the present, we experience the outworking of that plan as we’re welcomed into his family as his adopted sons and daughters; as we receive the redemption that comes through Christ’s blood, shed on the cross; as we experience our sins being forgiven. And it’s a plan that continues to be worked out in the present as more and more people are accepted into God’s family on the same basis.
For the fullness of time - to bring unity of all things under Christ (vss. 9-10)
Thirdly, it’s a plan that stretches forward to a point in the future when God will bring all things to completion in Christ. The phrase used is “when the times will have reached their fulfilment.” It’s the same word that we use for a train or bus terminal. What we find here is that, despite what some people believe, history isn’t meaningless or without purpose. Nor is it an endless cycle. Rather it’s moving towards a final goal, and a glorious one at that. A time will come when all that is will be changed, when everything in heaven and on earth will be brought together in unity under one head, Jesus Christ. God’s intention for the human race is that all people be united under Christ. His desire is for a world where all people live together in unity. The next two chapters speak of the mystery of the gospel being that the Gentiles are now included in God’s people on equal terms with the Jews. That was the first step to this future reality. Where we are now is bringing people of different racial and cultural backgrounds together into a unity in Christ. But in fact, the future reality he talks about here includes all created things. In other words, this unity in Christ extends not only to races of people but to the natural world as well. In fact, it extends outward to the furthest reaches of creation. It’ll be a world in which even spiritual forces are at one with God’s purposes. So, God’s plan stretches in eternity from the start of time through to the present and on to the end of time.
The second thing to note about God’s plan is its Trinitarian nature. As God’s eternal plan is described we see that all 3 persons of the Trinity have a part in it. Vs. 3 is almost a summary of this idea. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” God the Father, God the Son, and by implication God the Holy Spirit by whose agency these spiritual blessings come about.
God the Father - who blessed us; - who chose us (vss. 3-6)
Paul praises God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly places. It’s God the Father who chose us before the creation of the world; who destined us to be adopted as his children; who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will.
Jesus Christ; in Christ; all things under Christ (vss. 7-12)
But it’s in Christ, or through Christ alone, that all these things come about.
“In Christ” is a key concept for Paul. It (or forms of it) occur 8 times in this brief passage:
· “blessed . . . with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (vs. 3)
· “he chose us in him” (vs. 4)
· “In him we have redemption through his blood” (vs. 7)
· “the mystery of his will which he purposed in Christ” (vs. 9)
· “In him we were also chosen” (vs. 11)
· “we, who were first to put our hope in Christ” (vs. 12)
· “you also were included in Christ” (vs. 13)
· “You were marked in him” (vs. 13)
For Paul, Jesus is the focus of everything. Everything we have spiritually comes from our relationship with Christ. There is nothing “in us” it is all “in Christ”.
Now let me suggest that this is a concept that you must come to grips with if you want to properly understand the Christian gospel. The only way we can stand before God, is if we do so in Christ. The only way we can have our sins forgiven is if we’re in Christ. One of the images that Paul uses later is that of putting on Christ. It’s an image of us being enclosed in Jesus’ person, the way we might put on a cloak that covers us so completely that all you can see is the cloak. But that’s only a poor comparison. When we put on Christ we’re incorporated into his being. It’s as though all that we are is now determined not by our own character or our own efforts, but entirely by Christ. So, if you’re trying to be holy and blameless before God, as it says in vs. 4, that’s excellent, but unless you’re doing it from the perspective of being in Christ, that is, already accepted and adopted and forgiven because you’re in Christ, then you’re wasting your time. It’s a question of what you want God to see when he looks at you. If he looks at you and sees your efforts to meet his standards, you’re in trouble, because you won’t have met them, no matter how hard you try. But if what God sees when he looks at you is Christ, not you, then you’ll be OK, because Christ has met those standards.
Sealed by the promised Holy Spirit, the pledge of our inheritance (vss. 13-14)
Thirdly, the way we know now that what God has promised will come true is that we have his pledge in the form of the Holy Spirit, sent to dwell within us. In fact, the Spirit himself is a sign that God keeps his promises. He’s God’s promised Holy Spirit. God promised to send him in the Old Testament. Jesus promised his disciples that he would send him to them. So, the fact that we experience his presence with us today is a reminder that God’s promises can be trusted.
Did you notice that Paul uses two different but related words to describe this idea of the Spirit as a pledge? First, he speaks of the Spirit as a ‘seal’ (vs. 13). The seal is a mark of ownership or of authenticity, indicating that we belong to God, that we’re truly his children by adoption. But he also calls the Holy Spirit God’s deposit or pledge by which God shows he’s in earnest when he promises to bring us safely to our final inheritance (vs. 14). It’s like the deposit you pay on the purchase of a house. It’s the first payment that secures your legal claim on the property and it’s also the first instalment on the final purchase price. So, it is with the Holy Spirit. In giving him to us God isn’t just promising us our final inheritance, he’s also giving us a foretaste of it; that is, he’s giving us our first experience of being part of his family, connected to him in a personal way.
Christ Centered but intimately involving us
Thirdly, if God’s plan is Eternal and if it’s Trinitarian, it’s also both Christ centered and at the same time intimately involving us. So, let’s look at where we fit in this eternal plan of God’s.
· We were chosen to bring praise and glory to God (vss. 6, 12, 14)
He tells us that we’ve been chosen with one purpose in mind: to bring praise and glory to God. Some Christians seem to think that God’s purpose is to make them happy. So, they’re surprised when something happens that makes them sad or that upsets their plans for themselves. But they’re way, out aren’t they? That theory derives more from popular culture than from the Bible. God’s plan for us isn’t to make us happy, though that might be a by-product of us doing what he wants us to. No, what he wants of us is that we bring him glory and praise. He wants the people of Pixley UB to be an example for godly living. He wants people to look at us and praise God, because they see God at work in our midst.
· We were brought in through the preaching of the gospel (vs. 13)
Next notice that how we entered this cosmic plan was the preaching of the gospel:
“13And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”
Therefore, we need to constantly remind one another that the preaching of the gospel is critical to the life of the Church. People come to Christ through hearing the Gospel. No-one will hear the gospel unless we tell it to them.
· To be holy and blameless in his sight (vs. 4).
But then we discover that our calling isn’t just to the heavenly realm. We mustn’t be so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly use. No, we’re chosen for a purpose: to be holy and blameless in his sight (vs. 4). Part of God’s plan is that his people show, by their lives, the sort of world God intended us to live in. He wants us to live holy and blameless lives so we reflect his character to the world.
The Focus: Always to God’s Glory.
Finally notice the focus of this eternal plan. Always in the scripture the focus is on the glory of God. Everything God has done is to the praise of his glory. Our life as a Church, our preaching of the gospel, our final redemption and rising to eternal life will result in God’s name being praised.
Notice that there’s lots in here about what God has done and not a huge amount about what we’re to do. Later in the letter he’ll address our response to God’s amazing grace and mercy but for now just notice those two things I’ve already mentioned. First, our life as Christians should result in God being glorified. If that isn’t the case then we need to do something about it. We need to work out whether our life as a believer is transparent to those around us or if we are hidden away from the sight of our neighbors. Do we talk about the life we enjoy or do we hide the fact that we belong to God?
Secondly, we need to be speaking about the gospel to those around us or they’ll never be able to experience the joy of knowing God and will never learn to praise his name. We need to be talking about the grace and mercy of a God who lowered himself to become one of us; of the sense of peace that comes from knowing that God is looking after us.
God’s great, eternal, cosmic plan is being worked out day by day and we’re part of it. I hope you’ll go away from our service today excited by the fact that you’re part of the greatest project in human history - the salvation of humanity.