There is an old song that I used to hear and sing a lot called ‘Count Your Blessings’. Paul never heard this song, but he takes its message to heart at the beginning of Ephesians by offering a note of praise to God for his blessings and then shares some of them with us. One of the things I find interesting about Paul’s list of blessings is that it bears so little resemblance to what most of us would likely come up with: sunshine, good health, recovery from sickness, great spouse, good job, pleasant experience, and most anything else that one finds to be positive.
God Has Blessed Us
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realm with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”Ephesians 1:3 NIV
Paul’s praise to God is for spiritual blessings rather than the physical things we generally identify as blessings. And these blessings are in the ‘heavenly realm’ rather than in the physical world we see around us. While family, home, health, and job can indeed be blessings, Paul is interested here in something even greater. Blessings that are unseen, but eternal. Those are the blessings he cares about. And maybe I should also learn to praise God for them.
Over the next 11 verses, Paul identifies at least some of these spiritual blessings. It is hard for me to know for sure just where to divide these verses up into specific blessings, and you may list them a bit differently, but I see at least the following:
Chosen In Christ
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.Ephesians 1:4 NIV
God chose us to be in Christ. Peter says that Christ was chosen before the creation (1 Pet. 1:20), and we were chosen to be in him; it is in Christ that we are chosen. And being in Christ, when God sees us, it is as holy and blameless. I am far from holy and blameless in myself. But I am not judged on my own merits, but on my place in Christ.
Predestined To Adoption
In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.Ephesians 1:5-6 NIV
God has predestined me to be adopted as his child. Why? Because he wanted to. It pleased him. This thought so thrilled Paul that it filled him with praise for God’s grace that he has freely given us in Christ. God owes me nothing. His actions toward me are based on his love and grace; and his desire.
Redemption and Forgiveness
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.Ephesians 1:6-7a NIV
It is because I am in Christ that I have redemption and forgiveness. Apart from my inclusion in Christ, there is no forgiveness. And this redemption and forgiveness come to me because of God’s grace. Not grudgingly doled out to me, but lavished upon me. This reminds me of the old hymn Marvelous Grace.
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,Marvelous Grace
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.
God’s Will Made Known
With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.Ephesians 1:8b-10 NIV
Mystery is a word that Paul uses often (Rom. 11:25, Rom. 16:25, 1 Cor. 2:7, 1 Cor. 15:51, Eph. 1:9, Eph. 3:3, 4, 6, 9, Eph. 5:32, Eph. 6:19, Col. 1:26, 27, Col. 2:2, Col. 4:3, 1 Tim. 3:16). He is referring to something that God had planned all along but had not yet revealed to us. But now he has. God has revealed his purpose in creation to us. And that purpose is centered in Christ. It was to bring all things together under Christ. This is a major theme of this letter to the Ephesians, bringing Jew and Gentile together under one head; under Christ.
Chosen and Included in Christ
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.Ephesians 1:11-13a NIV
At first glance, this seems like somewhat of a repeat of the first blessing. But I believe Paul is getting at something different here. He, and the other earliest believers, were not simply chosen in Christ. They were chosen for a specific purpose. To take the gospel to the limits of the known world (Acts 9:15). To establish the church. And in doing that, they brought praise to God.
But Paul is careful to also include those who came after him, through his faithfulness to God’s calling. We also were included in Christ when we heard the gospel message. Hearing the gospel is an essential step before belief is possible (Rom. 10:14-15).
Marked With A Seal
When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.Ephesians 1:13b-14 NIV
While we were chosen to be in Christ before the creation of the world, it is when we believe that we are included. And when we are included, we are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. The seal was a guarantee of authenticity, and proof against tampering. The Holy Spirit is also a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. This is similar to earnest money put down when buying a house. The deposit is a guarantee to the seller that the buyer will go through with the transaction. Both of these symbols illustrate the security we have when we are in Christ. And our redemption, that the Spirit secures, is drawing nigh. Praise God!
Repeatedly through this passage, Paul uses the expression “in Christ“, or some variant of it. We are blessed in Christ, chosen in Christ, have redemption in Christ, and are included in Christ. All of these happen, not because we follow Christ, but because we are in him. We are in Christ because of God’s action (v. 4) and our belief (v. 13). And being in Christ, his experience becomes my experience. In him, I have been crucified, buried, and resurrected (Rom. 6:1-10), and have been seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph. 2:6).
Throughout these 12 verses, Christ is central to all that God is doing. He is everything. We are nothing. But God was pleased to include us in Christ. And that makes all the difference in the world.
I join with Paul in praising God for the indescribable spiritual blessings that God has given to us in Christ.
Some Questions to Consider
- How often are you guilty of limiting the thought of blessings to just physical ones?
- Which of these spiritual blessings is the most meaningful to you? Why is that?
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- Ephesians: A Brief Introduction
- Ephesians: Spiritual Blessings (1:3-14)
- Ephesians: A Prayer for Believers (1:15-23)
- Ephesians: From Death Into Life, An Act of Grace (2:1-7)
- Ephesians: Amazing Grace (2:8-10)
- Ephesians: Tearing Down the Wall of Hostility (2:11-22)
- Ephesians: A Mystery Revealed (3:1-13)
- Ephesians: Rooted and Established In Love (3:14-21)
- Ephesians: Walking Worthy (4:1-6)
- Ephesians: Growing a Mature Church (4:11-16)
- Ephesians: Put on the New Self (4:17-32)
- Ephesians: Imitators of God (5:1-20)
- Ephesians: Life in the Family (5:21-6:9)
- Ephesians: The Bride of Christ (5:25-32)
- Ephesians: Spiritual Warfare (6:10-20)