The Lord's Day Morning
July 3, 2005
“Every Spiritual Blessing”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to the Book of Ephesians, chapter one. We started a study of the Book of Ephesians, the letter of Paul to the Ephesian church, last week, looking at the greeting…at the salutation found in verses 1 and 2.
And I want you to notice the rest of this chapter (from Ephesians 1:3 all the way down to verse 23) is prayer. We made that comment before.
So much of the Book of Ephesians, so much of Paul's writing is taken up with prayer. Almost half of the Book of Ephesians is prayer. It's either Paul recounting a prayer that he has prayed, or maybe it's Paul outlining a prayer or requesting a prayer, or exhorting the Ephesians to prayer, but this whole book is filled with prayer, and literally the whole of the rest of this chapter is prayer. If you look at verses 3 to 14 (one long sentence in the original)…if you look at verses 3-14, you’ll notice that it's a prayer of praise. Look at verses 15-23: it's a prayer of petition. The first half, 3-14, is a prayer of praise to God. It's directed to God; it's giving glory to God. The second half, verses 15-23, is asking God to do something.
In this case, if you look closely, the first half praises God for His manifold spiritual blessings to us in Christ. The second half asks God, by the Spirit, to open your eyes to see, understand, appreciate and experience the very blessings for which God was praised in the first half. Isn't it interesting? God's blessings lead to praise in the first half, and petition in the second half of the chapter. So, the first half of this chapter is adoration; the second half is intercession. The first half is doxology; the second half is supplication; but it's all prayer.
And we're going to read all of verses 3-14 this morning and each of the next number of weeks that we're in this passage, but today we're going to focus only on verses 3 and 4. In fact, I suspect that all we're going to do is to be able to get through the first three words of verse 3! In those two verses alone there are seven things that I want you to see Paul teaching, and I don't want you to miss any of it, and so we're going to take this slow. We’re going to see how far we can go as we work through this passage together. There's so much here that I don't want you to miss it! I don't want you to miss the big picture–I want us to see the big picture. I don't want to get us lost where we don't see the forest for the trees, but at the same time I don't want you to miss too many of the glorious details that are found in this mighty prayer of praise–and there's a reason. And the reason is that this prayer is a life-reorienting prayer. If you could pray this prayer with understanding, it would reorient your whole life. It would change your life to be able to pray this prayer with understanding.
Let me explain what I mean. I believe that this prayer is life-reorienting in at least three ways.
First of all, this prayer is life-reorienting because it is designed to remind us who is most important in this life: God. And that is something that Christians desperately need to be reminded of. I'm not talking about pagans; I'm not talking about atheists needing to be reminded: I mean Christians need to be reminded that God is the One who is most important in this life, because we forget that. That's why the first principle of theology is “There is a God”; and the second principle is “You are not Him.” And it is vital as we go on in the Christian life to remember both those principles of theology: There is a God, and I am not Him; because in the midst of our troubles, in the midst of the difficulties and trials and disappointments of life, our world tends to shrink and our eyes tend to turn in on ourselves and we think what is most important in life is getting out of whatever fix we are in, and that the most important thing that God can do is to accommodate us in that. And it's not. The most important thing in life is God. And so this prayer reorients us. It reminds us–it's designed to remind us–who is most important in all the world: God.
We've said it over and over again, that wonderful little phrase from J.I. Packer: “The secret to soul-fatting Bible study is to ask first the question ‘What does this passage teach me about my God?’”
So often we go to the Bible and ask ‘How does this help me to be a better husband or father?’ or, ‘How does this help me be a better man?’ Those aren't bad questions; those are good questions!
But the first question that we need to ask is ‘What does this teach me about God?’ Why? Because God is more important than anything, and this prayer reminds us of that. If we can just pray this prayer with understanding, it can reorient us to that.
This is vital, my friends. We are people under pressure. I understand that. We are people in our generation, despite the fact (just as Brister prayed) that we are in an incredibly blessed nation. We've been blessed with more material blessings than any other people in the history of the world. Nevertheless, we are under enormous pressures, and those pressures often blind us to bigger realities that are screaming at us all around us, because we're caught up in things which have been derived from the pressure of this world and we lose sight of the big picture, and we need to be reminded of that big picture, and this prayer does that.
But secondly, this prayer is a life-reorienting prayer in that it is designed to remind us what is most important in all this world, and that's God's glory. How does The Child's Catechism put it?
“Who made you?” “God.” (Notice, it starts with that question that points us to who is most important.)
“What else did God make?” (You and everything else.) “All things.”
“Why?” “For His own glory.”
That's the first answer to “Why?” all the time: “For His own glory.” And this prayer reminds us of that truth, that's why it's life-reorienting. It points us to what is most important in all the world: God's glory!
In my suffering, what is most important? That I stop suffering? That I make it through my suffering? That my suffering ends? No. God's glory is most important.
In my blessings, what is most important? That I enjoy them? That I keep having them? That I get more of them? No. That my blessings and my experience of blessing leads to the glory of God. There is something bigger in every experience of my life that I need to remember, and that is God's glory…so that my little set of personal concerns, and even my big set of personal and family and community and national concerns, does not comprise the big picture of my life. The big picture of my life is the glory of God. All the little things that comprise that are to the end of His glory, and this prayer reminds us of that. It's so vital for us to be reminded of that.
We are a generation under pressure, but let me tell you, my friends, we cannot personally even begin to understand the kinds of pressures that this Ephesian congregation was under. We don't know what it was like to profess faith in Christ and as a consequence immediately lose all our family relations. (Most of us don't, at any rate.) We cannot comprehend what it is like to profess faith in Jesus Christ and immediately come under the threat of persecution from our government so that we are threatened with either exile, loss of our material property, or our life.
And the Ephesians could not only conceive of that, many of them had experienced that. And precisely because of those pressures, they needed to be, themselves, reminded that the first thing, the most important thing in all of life is God's glory, and so Paul gives them this prayer. It reorients their life to Who is most important: God; and to what is most important: God's glory.
That's why it's so significant this morning to present this catechism memorization–a person who could have been thinking about her troubles (because they were real), decided to spend time in her troubles thinking about God. Now, that's a pattern for every one of us, no matter what circumstance we're in in life. We may be in the best season of life–and you know what the danger is there? The danger is there that you can think ‘This is as good as it gets.’ It's not. Nothing is as good as God's glory.
Or, you may be in what you think is the worst season of your life–‘Lord, if You don't get me out of this, I'm going to dissolve on the spot. I'm just going to cease to exist, I'm going to evaporate–it's that bad.’ No. What's most important in that circumstance is God's glory, from beginning to end, for better, for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness, in health; in plenty and want. God's glory is the most important thing in the world, and this prayer reorients us to that.
But that's not all it does. It does a third thing.
There's a third way that it reorients us, and that is it helps us to desire, to appreciate, to delight in God's glory above all things else.
One of the things that Satan wants to convince us of is that God is not worth living for, and he does that in a number of ways. One of the ways that he does that is to divide in our minds and in our experience God from the experience of blessing and fullness and satisfaction in life, and to say to us ‘If you follow God, you will never really experience true happiness, true satisfaction, fullness and delight in this life. But if you’ll turn your back on the way that God tells you to live, I can show you fullness, satisfaction, delight, and pleasure.’ And so he attempts to separate in our minds and our experience God and true delight, and Paul in this great prayer reminds us that all true delight is in God, so that apart from Him there is no experience of the fullness of delight; so that if we are going to experience the fullness of satisfaction intended by God in His creation of human beings, we are only going to do it when we find in Him all delight–the greatest of delight. And so this prayer reorients us to the whole of our reality 24/7, by pointing us to Who is most important, what is most important, and by helping us to desire and appreciate and delight in God's glory above everything else.
Let me say that this prayer does even more than that! This prayer tells us who God is, and what He is like. It is one of the most glorious descriptions of the Trinity you will ever find. In fact, this prayer explains to you how the doctrine of the Trinity is practical for your daily life. This prayer reminds you of the blessings that God has lavished on you, that you very often forget about; and that's why, God helping us, I don't want us to miss a thing as we work through this great prayer together.
So, before we read God's word and hear it proclaimed, let's look to Him in prayer and ask His help and blessing. Let's pray.
O Lord God, through Your word, by Your Spirit, open our eyes to behold You in all Your blessedness, so that in our hearts we would delight in You above all things. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Hear the word of God.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which 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, which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation–having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
The first chapter of Ephesians changed a fourteen-year-old boy's life–forever. He was struggling with assurance. He was struggling with the knowledge that he was saved, the certainty that he had been redeemed. He was born in a Christian home, he was reared in the church, he had professed faith in Christ, he had faithful VBS and Sunday School teachers, and a faithful pastor was preaching the word, but he struggled with assurance. And he struggled with his assurance because of two things, primarily.
He’d been taught it. He’d been taught it since he was knee-high to a grasshopper–his mom, his dad, his Sunday School teachers, his pastor–he’d heard it! But he didn't understand First, he didn't understand well enough the Bible's radical teaching on divine initiating, saving grace – at least, not well enough. He didn't understand God's initiating love; didn't understand how God reaches out to us before we're ever able to reach back to Him. He didn't understand that He loves us first, and that we love because He first loved us.
And secondly, he struggled with his assurance because he was still a sinner; and he knew that those who rest and trust in Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel are people who have been transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit so that they've been given new hearts. He knew enough to know that…Christians are people with new hearts; the law has been written on their hearts; they've been transformed. But he also knew that he was still a sinner, that sin still had a deep hold in him, and oftentimes he did things that he knew were wrong.
He saw this especially in the way that he related to his parents. Now, people on the outside would have said, ‘That's an obedient child. That's a really good kid.’ But he knew (at least a little bit) his own heart, and he knew how he related to his parents, and he knew in his heart times when his parents told him to do things, and he did them grudgingly, muttering…and then, other times, when he did not do what his parents told him to do.
And there were complex other things, but basically it was those two issues: he didn't understand what the Bible teaches about God's initiating, saving grace; and, he was struggling with the fact that he was continuing to sin even though he had professed faith in Christ, and it was unsettling his assurance. And it was this first chapter of Ephesians that sorted him out.
More about him later….what I want you to see today is what Paul points us to first. We’re going to find in these two verses, verses 3 and 4 that there are seven things that Paul points us to here: first, he calls us to bless God; second, he calls us to bless God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; thirdly, he calls us to realize God the Father as the blessing…as the source of the blessings…that we receive by the Holy Spirit; fourthly, he calls us to realize that we are recipients of every spiritual blessing; fifthly, he calls us to realize that we are recipients of every spiritual blessing only in Jesus Christ; sixthly, he calls us to understand that God has blessed us in Christ before this world was ever made. He's chosen us for blessing before this world was ever made. And, finally, he calls us to realize that God chose us so that we would be holy before His face.
Now, we’ll get to those, but what I want to concentrate on today is the very first thing he says, and you’ll see it in the first three or four words of your English translation, which will either say something like “Blessed be God…” or “Blessed be the God…” or “Blessed is God.” It doesn't matter how you translate it, it's all getting at the same thing, isn't it? Paul calls us here to bless God because He is blessed. It is a declaration that God Himself is blessed, that in Him true blessedness resides; that what is truly good and pure, and delightful, and satisfying, and wonderful about this world is found in God.
I want you to understand, my friends, how radical a statement that is! That is the most radical possible statement that you can make in this world. You don't have to have studied Greek philosophy or Roman philosophy or Medieval philosophy–or even modern philosophy–to know about the question that the philosophers ask about what is the sumum bonum – what is the highest good in this life? You don't need to know anything about philosophy. Every human being walking down the street has in their mind and heart an answer to that question about what the highest good is.
Some people think that the highest good is the unbridled gratification of their sexual desires, and that the more that they can gratify those desires the happier they will be. Some people think that the highest good is the acquisition of wealth and things, and some people think that the highest good is the increase of their own power and influence and reputation and authority…and on, and on, and on. You can fill in the blanks. Everybody has an idea of what the highest good is, and they live it out.
And here is the Apostle Paul at the outset saying ‘God is blessed. God is the One that is truly blessed, truly good. The highest blessedness resides in Him; the purest satisfaction is found in Him. He is the very personification of true delight. God: the one and true God, the triune God, the eternal God is blessed.’ And what does that do? It radically reorients our life, because our life becomes about the declaration of His blessedness, the declaration of His glory, the declaration of His goodness.
How did we open the worship service today? With a Psalm. What did that Psalm say? “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good.” It is precisely the affirmation that Paul is putting before us today: God is blessed. All blessedness resides in Him. All goodness is found in Him. Apart from Him, true blessedness cannot be found or experienced. God is what is truly blessed, and therefore, our life must be directed towards God and preoccupied with God in at least two ways.
First of all, that means that we worship God, we glorify God, we acknowledge that God alone is blessed, and that all blessedness is in Him in all of life. That is, we give Him glory, we count Him blessed, we show that He is the One that we prize as blessed with our lives…24/7, not just Sunday morning at 11:00 and 6:00, Wednesday night at 6:30, but with all of our lives, no matter what we're doing–whether we're a lawyer, or a doctor, or a ditch-digger, or a mother, or a chef, or an accountant, or a teller, or a clerk–in all of life, in all of our relationships, it is our agenda to declare through our life, our attitudes, our priorities and actions, that God is blessed. So that the lawyer, working through all sorts of tricky conundrums in a particular case, wanting to serve with integrity his client's interest but at the same time wanting justice to be done, working through the in's and out's of the maze of compromise that is the law today…the Christian lawyer is asking the question, ‘How in this work can I glorify God? In doing this work, my agenda, my purpose, is to bless God, to declare God to be blessed, to worship Him in this work.’
And the mother is asking that same thing as she cleans up after her infant. The father is asking that same thing as he relates to his child, and the employee is asking that same thing as he relates to customers and to his employer. In every part of life, seeking to bless God…why? Because God is blessed. Paul is calling us to a doxological life here, my friends. This is why this prayer is so radically life-reorienting.
But we're also called to glorify God with our lips, especially in the assembly of the saints, so that we desire not only to bless God 24/7 in all of life, but we long to gather with the people of God. It is our peculiar delight to be with them, not just because we like them and we want to fellowship with friends we don't get to see during the week; not just because it's a great place to make business contacts; not just because this is what my mama and grandmamma told me to do on Sundays–I was born in the South, for crying out loud! We do it because we anticipate glorifying Him forever, and we want to be with the people of God and our attitude is like the attitude of Richard Baxter, who said that on the Lord's Day we rise early and we stay up late, that we might commune with Him in the whole of that day, with His people, worshipping Him; and late into the night reflecting upon Him, meditating on His word, rejoicing in Him, adoring Him, praying to Him, praising Him.
Is that your attitude? Do you love the corporate worship of the living God? Do you long with all that you are, in your life and with your lips, to bless God? That's what Paul's calling us to in this passage. He's saying that Christian life is doxological. It's directed towards God. It is preoccupied with God. It's God-intoxicated. It's exactly what our Shorter Catechism is talking about when it asks, “What is the chief end of man?” What is the purpose of our life? “To glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”
Lord God, teach us by Your Spirit to bless You and to count You as the One, only, who is blessed. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn: How Vast the Benefits Divine]
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.