The Lord's Day Morning
August 7, 2005
“Living to the Praise of His Glory”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
We have said in our study of Ephesians, chapter one, that just as much of the Book of Ephesians is made up of prayer — almost half of it — that the whole, almost, of the first chapter is made up of prayer.
There are two great prayers in Ephesians, chapter one: from verses 3-14 there's a prayer of praise (or of doxology, or of adoration); in verses 15-23 there is a prayer of intercession (or request, or petition). In the first prayer the focus is on God… Paul's leading us to the throne of grace to praise God for who He is and what He has done for us.
The second half, again, as all prayer, is focused upon the heavenly Father, but this time to ask God to give us something. And in that case we're going to see, as we begin to study it in a few weeks, that Paul in the second half of chapter one asks God to give you and me a sight, a spiritual understanding and experience, of the things that we have just praised God for in the first half of the chapter.
Now, that in and of itself suggests to us that Paul is saying that there are certain things that God reveals to us about Himself and about what He has done for us that every Christian has heard and read about in the word of God (because they’re plainly set forth there) which we have not yet fully appreciated; and that fully appreciating those things are a part of being matured in the Christian life, part of realizing just how great God's grace and love has been to us.
And so we have been looking at some of those things for which Paul gives praise to God in verses 3-14, but which are also matters of blessing to us. In fact, it's been interesting how those things go together: Paul giving praise to God…and even as Paul gives praise to God, we are made conscious of how God has blessed us, even as we are giving praise to God for that blessing.
By the way, that's how thanksgiving in prayer always works. When we are faithful to thank God for His mercies, what we find is that His mercies begin to dawn in our hearts, because by nature we are ungrateful people, so the very act of thanking God for His mercies is often the instrument that His Spirit uses to awaken our heart to the greatness of His goodness to us. And so we see that in the passage before us today.
Now we're going to be focusing on the last two words of verse 10 and verses 11 and 12 today. We've taken our time; we've “camped out” in this prayer, because we've said all along it's a life re-orienting prayer. If we can understand what God is teaching us even in this prayer of praise, it will change our lives.
Now, there are three things that we're going to see today as we work together through this passage. The first thing we're going to see is the particular blessing that Paul is praising God for that is life re-orienting to you and me. So the first thing you’ll see in verse 10 and the first phrase of verse 11 will be the blessing, the truth, that is life re-orienting. Then, if you look at the second part of verse 11, which begins with “…having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will…” — if we look to that phrase, Paul is telling you there how you got the blessing which was described at the beginning of verse 11. So, he moves from the blessing to how you got the blessing. Then if you look at verse 12, he tells you why you got the blessing.
So that outlines what we're going to do with the passage today. We’re going to look at the blessing; how you got the blessing; and why you got it.
Now before we read God's word and hear it proclaimed, let's look to Him in prayer.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your word. We acknowledge that Your word is truth, and that You mean to sanctify, or grow us up, or mature us, or make us more like Jesus Christ, through Your truth. We know that in order to be matured, in order to grow in grace, we need more than simply to read Your truth: we need to understand Your truth as it is read and as we read it. We know for this we need the Holy Spirit's help; so give us the Spirit that we might know, understand, believe, trust and grow. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God.
“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.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Well, once again, not for the first time and not for the last, Paul has introduced us to a
life re-orienting truth. He has introduced us to a blessing which God has heaped upon us, for which he is praising God; so that even as we join with him in praising God for this blessing, we are realizing something that God has given to us. And Paul not only tells us what that blessing is, but he tells us how we got that blessing, so that we’ll praise God all the more; and he tells us why we got that blessing, so that we’ll praise God all the more.
Now before we work through that truth together, I want to say one more thing, and that is this: In every blessing of God there is both delight and obligation. Every blessing of God brings with it delight and obligation. As the believer begins to understand the blessing of God, the believer delights not just in that blessing, but in the God who has given that blessing. And the believer is also called to responsibility, to obligation: we respond to the blessing of God in a grateful, delightful fulfillment of our responsibilities. So, there is delight and duty in the proper Christian response to every blessing of God, and we're going to see the delight and the duty as we look at this blessing and how we got it and why we got it, today.
I. God's people are God's inheritance.
Now let's begin by looking at the end of verse 10 and the beginning of verse 11, which reads like this: “In Him…” [That is, of course, in Christ…all these blessings, we have said, are enjoyed only in Jesus Christ. These blessings are not generically given to everyone in the world. They are given to all those who trust in Jesus Christ and who are in Him; that is, who are united savingly to Him by the work of the Holy Spirit, by faith.
So, “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance….” Not only have we obtained the other things that have been spoken of by Paul all the way since verse 3 — “…every spiritual blessing” is ours. We've been loved everlastingly; we've been adopted into God's family; we've been chosen by God in order to be made holy; and, in addition to that he says (verse 11) “…we have obtained an inheritance.”
Now let me just stop right there. This is a difficult passage, and good commentators disagree as to how we're to take this. And one of the reasons it's difficult is not just because of the language…that language may look very simple to you…in fact, it is, in English; but how to translate this passage is a little bit of a challenge.
Should this passage be read as “We have obtained an inheritance for ourselves from God” or should this passage be read as “We have been made an inheritance for God”? In other words, is this passage talking about an inheritance that God has given to us, or is this passage talking about us as God's inheritance — the thing which He has chosen for His own inheritance?
Now one of the reasons this is difficult is, first, because both of those are biblical themes. In the Old Testament, God's people are said to have been given an inheritance. One of the great illustrations of that, of course, is Canaan, the Promised Land. It's an inheritance given to them from God. But it is also told to us in the Old Testament, not only in the Psalms but also in the Prophets, that God's people are His inheritance: they are the heritage, the legacy that He has chosen for Himself. So those are both biblical themes, and we meet both those themes in this passage.
We've already found out, for instance, in this passage, this prayer of praise, that we have been adopted as sons and thus made — what? Joint heirs with Jesus Christ, so that all of the inheritance of God which He intends for His firstborn, His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ — we share! So that theme of receiving an inheritance from God is already here in this passage.
And later in this passage (let your eyes look down to verse 18) the theme of our being God's inheritance will explicitly be articulated. Look at what Paul says at the end of verse 18. He's praying that “the eyes of your heart would be enlightened” so that you would know — what? “…the riches of the glory of…” — what? “…His inheritance in the saints.”
Now, I would suggest that that very prayer, since we've already argued that the prayer in verses 15-23 is designed to ask God to show us the truth that we've just prayed to Him, to experience personally the truth that we've just prayed to Him …that that very phrase indicates that what is in view here is not so much the inheritance that God has given to us, but the fact that God has chosen us for His inheritance. In other words, Paul is saying that “In Him…” (that is, in Jesus Christ) …we were made God's inheritance. He is saying that God's people are God's inheritance. You are what God has chosen for Himself. It's as if someone has found a vast treasure, and the leader of the expedition is asked “What do you want?” and he says “This is the piece that I want. This is the treasure of treasures. The rest you can have. This is what I want.” It's as if God has said, “This is what I want: you. I have chosen you.”
If I could let my imagination run for a moment — and I hope I don't let it run too far! If we could imagine a conversation between the Father and the Son before the foundation of the world, as the Father and the Son talk about this grand and unfolding plan of redemption that they will work out in time, and the Son says to the Father, ‘Father, what is it that You want out of this great redemptive expedition in which You will give Your Son and I will give Myself freely in order to redeem sinners from certain destruction and just condemnation, what is it You want?’ And the Father says ‘My Son, there is a thief on a cross that I want; and there is a prostitute who will one day anoint Your feet that I want; and there are beggars and lepers and outcasts, and there are even some Presbyterians in Jackson that I want. That's what I want for Myself. I choose them as My inheritance, as my legacy.’
And the Apostle Paul is saying to this mixed group of Jews and Gentiles, “Do you understand that even as the Old Testament people of God were called God's inheritance, men, women, boys and girls from every tribe, tongue, people and nation have become God's inheritance: the thing which He has chosen from before the foundation of the world that He wants for Himself.” That's what you are, Paul is saying. You are what God has chosen for His own inheritance, so live like it!
And you see, there's the delight and the obligation. If you begin to try and drink that thought in…(and I'm grasping…you see me grasping to try and communicate this to you!)…as you begin to drink that thought in, you can't help but delight in that thought: ‘Lord! You've chosen me for an inheritance? You've got to be kidding! No, it couldn't be!’ Yes, Paul says, that's what God has chosen for His inheritance: You, His people. And if that is something to delight in, it is also something that incites us to, and it evokes from us, a delightful obedience and obligation.
David Wells puts it this way:
“It is the inextinguishable knowledge of being owned by the transcendent God that forms our character, and His ownership challenges every other contender, so that we know that we belong to God, and that changes everything.”
It changes everything when we're in school, because we know that we belong to God. We’re God's children, we're God's inheritance, and so that changes the way we relate to the world. There's nothing that we need from the world. We don't need the world's approval and approbation, and therefore we can go about…because we've gotten our approbation from our heavenly Father, and we delight in Him more than anything else when we see that young girl in third grade being made fun of by her classmates and we know that if we don't join in that mockery, well, they may not like us. Nevertheless, we decide ‘No. I belong to God. I belong to Jesus, and I'm not going to do that, because that little girl is made in the image of God, and I'm going to treat her as she deserves because she's been made in the image of God. And I don't care what my classmates think of me, because I belong to God.’
We sing, you know, the Vacation Bible School hymn just a couple of years ago — if you want to cheat, it's 129 in your hymnal — “I belong to Jesus, I am not my own. All I have and all I am shall be His alone.” And, you see, that's a life-changing truth. When you’re in high school and you’re invited by a friend to engage in the use of alcohol; and again, you know that if you don't do it you’re not going to be thought part of the “in crowd”, the fast set. You’re perhaps going to be made marginal or peripheral to those that are most popular; and you remember, ‘I belong to God. He owns me. He bought me with a price. I don't get my approval from my peers, from my classmates. My approbation comes from God. I belong to Him. I'm going to glorify Him in my body.’
Or, when we're in college, and every opportunity for sexual immorality is presented to you, but you decide ‘No. In my relationship with my boyfriend, or with my girlfriend, I'm going to remember that I belong to God, and therefore I'm going to live like I belong to God. I don't care what that person thinks of me. I'm going to obey God's word, because I belong to God.’
So, there is both a delight and there is a duty. There is a delight and an obligation that comes with realizing that God's people are God's inheritance; that you are what God has chosen for Himself.
John Calvin said so many years ago, “We are not our own. We are God's. We belong to God; therefore, let us live for Him and die for Him.”
So there's the first thing that Paul draws our eyes to, and you see how life re-orienting
it is to realize that we don't belong to ourselves: we belong to God.
II. By God's will.
Now the question comes, ‘How did this happen?’ How did we become the inheritance of God? How did sinners such as we become the thing that God had chosen for Himself? Well, Paul just tells you point blank in verse 11. Take a look. “…Having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will….” You see what God is saying. How did you become the inheritance of God? By God's will. God chose you. You didn't become the inheritance of God by chance, you didn't become the inheritance of God by your own choice; you became the inheritance of God by His will.
It's exactly what John says in John, chapter one. Turn with me there to verses 12 and 13. John, as he is talking about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ into this world, says,
“As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become
the children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”
So John starts out by saying that everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ is counted as a son of the living God. As we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, we are counted as children of the living God: just what Paul was talking about earlier in Ephesians 1, that we're given the gift of adoption as sons.
But the question comes, “OK, how does it come to pass that some believe in Jesus Christ and others don't?”
Here's the answer that John gives in verse 13. How was it that these people became children of God? They were “…born not of blood…” (…wasn't genealogy that made them children of the living God, it wasn't that they had good blood lines, they weren't born as children of God through blood); “…nor the will of the flesh…” (it certainly wasn't the natural urgings of our sinful flesh that led them to be sons of God, nor was it the natural powers that we have as human beings that led them to be children of God); “…nor of the will of man.” (They weren't born like a child is born because of a husband and a wife uniting.) No, in none of these ways were they born to God. How were they born? “…Of God…” John says. It was God's work; it was God's will.
You see, Paul is telling you this so that you will rejoice in the sovereign and free mercy of God. We sing about this a lot. Take your hymnals out again and turn to 469. We sing this one often at mission conferences, and it's a great mission hymn, because it emphasizes God's sovereignty and it emphasizes the desire to see men and women and boys and girls from every tribe and tongue and people and nation come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and at First Pres we believe both of those things. You know, a lot of Christians think that those two things contradict one another. Well, we've got a million dollars a year here that says they don't. We’re very committed to the truth that God is sovereign and that He draws all those who come savingly to Himself through Jesus Christ; and we also are committed to going and making disciples of every nation. Both of those are truths of God's word, and this song so beautifully encapsulates both of these truths if you read it all the way through.
I just want to draw your attention to this: the song begins: “How sweet and awesome is the place with Christ within the doors…” The picture is of the upper room, fellowshipping with Jesus Christ; “…where everlasting love displays the choicest of her stores.” It's as if Jesus is gathering His people around, and He's showing the love of God to them in all the ways that God has manifested that love; “While all our hearts and all our songs join to admire the feast…” (We’re all rejoicing and praising God for the mercies that He has given to us); “…each of us cries with thankful tongues, ‘Lord, why was I a guest?’” How did I get an invitation to this feast? How could I possibly be savingly and eternally fellowshipping with You? How in the world can that happen?
And the question goes on: “Why was I made to hear Thy voice, and enter while there's room, when thousands make a wretched choice and rather starve than come?” And the answer comes in the next stanza: “ ’Twas that same love that spread the feast that sweetly drew us in; else we would still refuse to taste, and perish in our sin.” It was God's love that spread the feast that drew us in to enjoy the feast. It's the same truth being celebrated by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 1. It was God's will that these rebellious sinners would be invited in to eternal fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ.
And that's why…turn two pages forward in your hymnal. That's why in 471 we sing:
“’Tis not that I did choose Thee, for Lord, that could not be;
This heart would still refuse Thee, hadst Thou not chosen me.
Thou, from the sin that stained me hast cleansed and set me free;
Of old Thou hast ordained me, that I should live to Thee.
“’Twas sovereign mercy called me and taught my opening mind;
The world had else enthralled me to heavenly glories blind.
My heart owns none before Thee, for Thy rich grace I thirst;
this knowing, if I love Thee, Thou must have loved me first.”
And that's what Paul is saying. The reason that we enjoy that blessing of redemption, that saving fellowship with Jesus Christ, is because the mercy of Christ has reached out to us first. And so Paul wants us to delight in the sovereignty of God's mercy and to praise Him for this free salvation that He's given to us in Jesus Christ.
But again, what comes with that? Well, a life of mercy comes with that. You remember the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with tears and perfume? And the Pharisees and even some of Jesus’ own disciples were critical of her. You remember what Jesus turned and said to them? “Those who have been forgiven much love much.” And if we have received mercy from God, then we will be merciful people. No one can taste of the mercy of God and be hard and unforgiving towards his or her brothers and sisters in Christ. God's free mercy softens our hearts, because we have been loved much and forgiven much, and so we ourselves learn to turn in love and forgiveness to others. You see the delight and the duty, the delight and obligation that go together with all God's blessings. It's always that way.
III. For God's glory.
Now Paul's still not done yet. He's not only going to tell you how it was that you got that blessing of being God's inheritance, he's going to tell you why. You see that in verse 12. “…To the end that” — that tells you what he's going to tell you, the purpose, now — “…to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.”
Paul is telling us here that God's people are God's inheritance by God's will. Why? For what purpose?
Remember The Children's Catechism? “For His own glory.” That's the answer. For His glory. That's what God was up to! For His glory! And remember that God's glory is simply the revelation of who He is, the revelation of Him in the fullness of His character and His display of goodness and grace, and so Paul is saying to us here that God has chosen us – as His people, as His family, as His inheritance, as His heritage, as His legacy – as a display of His glory, so that there will be a multitude that no man can number who have been visited with the richness of God's goodness and grace; so that that goodness and grace can be displayed to the whole of the universe. Everything we are and have and do comes from Him and is for Him, and we are to live for His glory, to worship.
And you know, one of the unique things about this prayer is it lets us know that the early Christians understood that their reason for being, the reason that they existed, was to worship God in all of life. They were literally for His glory.
Do you realize how countercultural this is? We live in the most self-centered culture that has ever existed! People are focused on themselves. Groups are focused on themselves. Everyone's demanding their rights. And here is a totally God-focused, God-centered view of life. ‘I am not the center of life; God is,’ Paul says. It's all about God's glory, and that God-centeredness of life ends up freeing us from our self-preoccupation so that we can give ourselves to others; so it leads to not only the God-centeredness of the Christian life, it leads us not only to praise God and to live for His glory; it leads us to turn out from ourselves and be other-oriented in our ministry and our love and our concern in our relationships with others.
You see, understanding this truth is life re-orienting. As God makes a new family for Himself, it's not a self-preoccupied family. It's a God-preoccupied family that is other-oriented, and loving and caring and concerned because life is re-oriented when our lives are turned inside out, directed away from a preoccupation with ourselves to the praise of God, freeing us to be able to minister to others.
You see again how life re-orienting this is. On the one hand, to learn to delight in God's glory; to long that the nations would see Him as He is, to want more than anything to see God glorified by the world by the world knowing Him as He is. That's what living for the glory of God is all about.
Now there may be still some skeptics here who say, ‘You know, I've heard of some guys that live for God's glory. They flew airplanes into buildings. What do you have to say, Christian, to that?”
Well, it's a good point. I've got two things to say to that.
The first thing is this: If you live for God's glory, you better be very careful which god you live for, because there's only one true God, and the only true God doesn't get glory by people flying airplanes into buildings. Those who know the living God know Him as a God of righteousness and justice and goodness whose great design is the blessing of undeserving sinners, who says “I do not delight in the destruction of the wicked, but when sinners turn from their sin and return to Me.”
The second thing I have to say is this: When you are living to glorify the one true God, an interesting thing you find out is this: He says in the book He has written us, in the passage we've already studied, that no man can say ‘I love God’ and hate his brother. In fact, He says that those who say that are liars. Why? Because one of the ways that we glorify God is — what? By loving our neighbor, so that the manifestation of our desire to love God and to glorify Him is made plain in the way we treat one another, and the way we care for one another, and the way we practically, tangibly, love and show concern for one another.
And so the first and second great commandments as our Lord Jesus taught us are tied together. To love the Lord God with all of our being and to love our neighbor — those things are tied together. You cannot love the Lord your God without loving your neighbor, and you cannot love you neighbor as God intends without loving the one true God. So if you’re skeptical about what it means to live a life of glorifying God, I challenge you to consider those truths, those two biblical truths, about the living God.
Now let's look to God in prayer.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your mercies in choosing us as Your people. We know that we do not deserve it, and we thank You that You have done this all of Your sovereign mercy. It isn't based on anything that we are or have done or deserve. It's based on Your mercy. And we thank You, O God, that You have called us to live for Your glory. Grant that we would do so. In Jesus' name. Amen.
[Congregational hymn: Doxology]
Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.