A reflection on Ephesians 1:1-14 for the Second Sunday After Christmas Day, January 2, 2021.
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, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 1:3-14 (NRSVA)
There are echoes here of the themes recently celebrated in the opening passage of the Gospel of John.
This too is a story from ‘before the foundation of the world’. It is an account of ‘blessing’ and ‘love’ – not curse and revenge. Like John, Paul recounts God’s actions in our ‘adoption’ – the making of us into ‘children through Jesus Christ’. Once again we read a recount of ‘…grace freely bestowed on us…’ – fleshed out in terms of ‘redemption’ and ‘forgiveness’. Again the action of God in Jesus has a surprising – or ‘mysterious’ quality. Here, like in John 1, we see the provocative and unapologetic use of the term ‘all’. Paul writes to a community who has recognised or ‘…set…’ their ‘..hope on Christ…’ – unlike many who did not initially recognise Jesus in the opening of the Gospel of John.
Strong echoes indeed.
Perhaps the main development here is the addition of ‘..the seal of the promised Holy Spirit…’ Even this is not particularly new – but a natural extension of what has gone before. We have moved from being ‘children of God’ to now expecting an ’inheritance’ and having a ‘pledge’ or ‘seal’ of this coming gift.
And that pledge – or ‘seal’ – is the very Spirit of God in and among us.
No wonder Paul stumbles over himself – writing his longest, most multi-barreled, sentence in any of his letters. We break it up for purposes of clarity. In the original this entire passage is a single sentence. It is like Paul has so much to celebrate in the gospel he proclaims that he blurts it all out to a scribe who is struggling to keep up.
Not time for pauses here!
No wonder Paul can open with the most audacious of claims: ‘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…’
Yes, in the gracious incarnation of Jesus the Christ – we have surely been blessed with a ‘every spiritual blessing’.
Worth celebrating, indeed!
Of all the ‘spiritual gifts’ listed here, which do you relate to the most? Which do you find most difficult to comprehend?
How do you most naturally celebrate the all encompassing grace of God?