Text: Ephesians 1:3-14
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. For God chose us in God before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in God's sight. In love God predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with God's pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which God has freely given us in the One God loves. In Jesus Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that God lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, God made known to us the mystery of God's will according to God's good pleasure, which God 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.
In Christ we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of God who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of God's will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of God's glory. And 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 Christ 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 God's glory.
Note: Chosen Ones
The letter’s author, Paul wrote in Greek to the church in Ephesus, and in its original form this entire section is one LOOOOONNNNNGGGG sentence. Paul is on a roll, and no punctuation is going to slow him down. He is spilling out these words of blessing and praise and promise to the Ephesians— a church community made up mostly of Gentiles.
There was an understanding for a very long time that God— Yahweh, the one God who had chosen the Jewish people to be in a covenant relationship and bring about God’s plan of salvation for the world— chose the Jewish people exclusively and not those outside of Jewish lineage. God’s plan was for the world, but those who had a role to play were Jews— those who had inherited the lineage and the religious rituals of the Israelites. So Gentiles could be God-fearers, people who revered God, who believed in the one God that the Jewish people professed and worshiped, who were devote practitioners, but they could not be full participants. They could not enter into the Temple further than the outer courts. They were not in the family; they were outsiders.
Early in the life of the church, Paul and Barnabas and Peter— Jewish followers of Jesus— were led by God’s Spirit to share the good news of Jesus’ life, message, death, resurrection, and reign as Lord of all things with Gentiles. And not only to share this message that they might know and look in on the action from the outside, but to actually invite Gentiles into this new community of Jesus-followers, into this Kingdom of God, into the family of God. The claim Paul makes is even bolder: Gentiles were never outsiders. This inclusion, participation, and family was God’s plan before the creation of the world. Jews and Gentiles participating together in grand narrative of God’s salvation and redemption of the entire world— ALL THINGS, as Paul writes— was God’s plan from the start. God predestined these Ephesian Gentiles and Jews to be a part of God’s community and mission through Christ.
This word, “predestined,” has been used as an exclusionary concept for far too long. In my own faith tradition it has been used to separate people into camps— those chosen by God and those not chosen by God. Those deemed worthy by God (articulated as by grace, but always containing more judgment than that) get to play on the field, while the rest sit on the bench, or worse are thrown out of God’s game completely (the World Cup is on my mind, so please forgive the imperfect analogy). This is the opposite of what Paul is proclaiming in rush to the Ephesians.
You are included!
You are participants!
God has chosen you!
Even though you thought God didn’t want you, that you were excluded from God’s promises and community, even though you were told by religious people that you were an outsider: God chose you from the start. And in Jesus, we’re all included; we’re all participants; we’re all chosen.
But we aren’t chosen based on our worthiness. We aren’t chosen based on our devotedness. We aren’t chosen based on our religiosity, our lineage, our gender, our ethnicity, our geography, our intelligence, our goodness, our giftedness, our abilities, our personalities, or our charisma. We have not been left out due to our inability, our sins, our faults, our awkwardness, our limitations, our lineage, our gender, our geography, or our wrongness.
We are in because of the riches of God’s grace that God lavished on us.
This may make you grateful to hear. This may make you angry at who else is included. This may make you think that God is a terrible judge of character. But trusting God’s grace, trusting the forgiveness Christ proclaims, and trusting the great story of God’s love and redemption of all things— that is our salvation. Here and now: It is my salvation and yours, it is the salvation of our shared life together, and it is the salvation of all creation.
Living in this trust, living in God’s grace, marks us, taps us into the power of the Holy Spirit, and catches our lives up in God’s love. We are holy and blameless in the sight of God as those drenched in grace and love. We are forgiven. We are being healed. We are loved more than we can imagine. This is the foundation, the center, the heartbeat of the life of a Jesus-follower. It is out of this reality, this gift, this calling that we get to play a part in all things being redeemed through Love.
May we be a people who live out of this expansive love of God in Christ.