Count Your Blessings

Series: Preacher: Date: February 12, 2012 Scripture Reference: Ephesians 1:1-14

There was once a rich landowner named Carl and Carl loved to ride around his vast estate on his favorite horse to celebrate his great wealth. One day as he rode he came upon Hans, a poor old tenant farmer who worked some of his land. Hans was kneeling under a tree and after greeting Carl, he said, “I was just thanking God for my food.” Carl replied, “If that is all I had to eat, I wouldn’t feel like giving thanks.” Hans said, “I disagree. God has given me everything I need, and I am thankful for it. By the way, it is strange you should come by today because I had a dream last night. In my dream a voice told me, ‘The richest man in the valley will die tonight.’ I don’t know what it means, but I thought I ought to tell you.” Carl snorted, “Dreams are nonsense,” and he galloped away. But, try as he might, he couldn’t get Hans’ words out of his head: “The richest man in the valley will die tonight.” After all, HE was obviously the richest man in the valley—so he invited his doctor to his house that evening and he told the doctor what Hans said. The doctor examined him and then said,“Carl, you are as strong and healthy as your favorite horse. There is no way you are going to die tonight.” Nevertheless, the doctor stayed with Carl all night and to pass the time they played cards. In itself this showed how rich Carl was. I mean, who could afford the price of that house call?! The next morning the doctor left with Carl apologizing for becoming so upset over the old man’s silly dream. About nine o’clock, a messenger arrived at Carl’s door.“What is it?” Carl demanded. The messenger explained, “It’s about old Hans, your tenant farmer. He died last night in his sleep.”

I realize the ending of this story is somewhat predictable but I decided to share it with you anyway because it because I think it illustrates a very important principle: The richest people in the world are not those who own huge estates. The richest people in the world aren’t those first one thousand people who became millionaires by investing in Facebook before it went public. The richest people in the world aren’t those rare individuals who win the lottery. No—the richest people in the world are those people who tap into the abundant resources that become available to any individual who puts his or her faith in God’s Son. The Apostle Paul begins his Ephesian letter by boldly reminding his readers of this priceless principle. He tells them that in Christ they are rich.

I mention this because today we’re beginning a series of sermons in which we’ll do an in-depth study of this little epistle. I’m calling it simply, “A Walk Through Ephesians” and before we start out on our “walk” let me give you some background and a little overview.

The Book of Acts tells us that Paul took three lengthy mission trips throughout the Roman Empire in what are considered some of the greatest evangelistic endeavors in church history.

Sometime in the year 53AD while on his SECOND mission trip, Paul ministered in Ephesus but he didn’t stay there very long on that first visit. No…Acts 18:19-21 says that Paul, “…went to the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. But as he left, he promised, ‘I will come back if it is God’s will.’ Then he set sail from Ephesus.” Acts 19 tells us that two years later, while on his THIRD mission trip, God made His will clear that Paul was to go back to Ephesus—so he did. In fact, he stayed there for at least two years. This was longer than Paul stayed with any of the other churches that he started and while in Ephesus on this second lengthy visit he founded what became a very strong church.

Now…let me try to give you a picture of Ephesus itself.

The Romans had made it the capital of proconsular Asia and as such Ephesus was the political and commercial center of a large and prosperous region. Much of Ephesus’ wealth came from it’s port. As you can see in this slide, Ephesus was on the Cayster River, not far from the Aegean coast. This helped make it the chief communication and commercial link between Rome and the East. Merchants flocked to Ephesus making it a melting pot of nations and ethnic groups. Greek and Roman, Jew and Gentile…all mingled freely in its bustling streets—and they were bustling because there was a lot to do in Ephesus. For example, Ephesus boasted the largest of all Greek open-air theaters; it held 25,000 spectators. There was also a stadium where you could see chariot races and gladiatorial combat. But the main “tourist spot” in down was its huge temple to the goddess Diana, also known as Artemis. It was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The temple measured 425 by 220 by 60 feet (about four times the size of the Parthenon) and housed a gigantic statue of Diana. This temple was also the depository for huge amounts of treasure and was in effect the bank of Asia.

Paul’s letter was written nearly ten years after he started the church there. And if as you read through Ephesians (3:1, 4:1, or 6:20) you’ll see that the great missionary wrote this letter in 62AD from his prison cell in Rome which means that Paul was very close to the end of his life.

Here’s something else that I find very interesting. By reading Ephesians as well a Paul’s letter to the Colossians and the one he wrote to a man named Philemon we learn that while imprisoned in Rome, Paul met a runaway slave named Onesimus. Through this friendship with Paul Onesimus became a Christ-follower. A man named Tychicus, who was apparently one of the pastors of the church at Colossae—a church that met in Philemon’s house—Tychicus was in Rome to discuss some issues with Paul. Philemon was Onesimus’ owner. Paul gave Tychicus the responsibility of delivering the letter to the Ephesians as well as his letter to the church at Colossae. At the same time he sent Onesimus along—sent him back to Philemon with a note explaining the situation. Here’s what Paul wrote in Philemon 10-18:

[Philemon] I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.

He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. So, if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back.

Understand—as a runaway slave, Onesimus’ life was in danger—so Paul was helping him here—by getting him back to Philemon—while at the same time telling Philemon that Onesimus was now a Christian…his brother in the Lord. In any case, Tychicus was not alone on his journey. Onesimus was with him as he delivered the letter to the church at Colossae, the letter to Philemon, and what we call the Ephesian letter.

I call it “the Ephesian letter” because I agree with most people in saying it was probably not intended solely for the Ephesian church but rather it was meant to be read by all the seven churches of Asia. In other words it was a circular letter. Yes—verse 1 says that Paul wrote it, “…to the saints at Ephesus,” but the words “at Ephesus” do not appear in the oldest manuscripts. They simply read, “Paul…to all those who are saints and faithful in Christ Jesus…” Another thing that makes people believe this was more of a circular letter is the fact that it is very IMPERSONAL—which was not normal for Paul when writing to individual churches, especially when writing to Christians like those at Ephesus, with whom he had served so long.

Now—don’t misunderstand—the fact that it’s a circular letter in no way diminishes its power.

In fact, it’s just the opposite because in many ways it is Paul’s best letter—in that he included things that He felt all Christians needed to understand. Perhaps this is why William Barclay calls it: “the queen of the epistles” and Samuel Taylor Coleridge went so far as to describe it as, “the divinest composition of man.” Many believers like myself are drawn to this little book because it presents the basic doctrines of Christianity comprehensively and clearly which makes it essential reading for any Christian who is seeking to BECOME a mature Christ-follower—and this is why I decided we should study it together…as sort of a bridge between our year of emphasizing BECOMING more mature as Christians and our year of focusing on TELLING others about our faith. With all this in mind, turn to Ephesians chapter 1 and listen as I read verses 1-14. Note all the blessings that Paul says every Christian has at their disposal.

Ephesians 1:1 – Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:

2 – Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 – 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.

4 – For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love

5 – He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will—

6 – to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.

7 – In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace

8 – that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.

9 – And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ,

10 – to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in Heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

11 – 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,

12 – in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory.

13 – And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,

14 – Who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of His glory.

As you can see, Paul does indeed begin his letter by reminding Christ-followers like you and me of the ABUNDANCE we have as God’s children. Imagine how the Christians in Ephesus felt as they read it. They lived in a very wealthy area—much as we do here in Montgomery County. And Paul is reminding them that TRUE wealth is not in our bank accounts. It’s not reflected in the size of our homes. He’s saying that all Christians are wealthy because of the blessings God bestows. I’m reminded of something William Secker said, “The Lord Jesus spreads a large table every day!” Let’s look more closely at that “table” this morning. What are the main blessings that we have as Christians? Or to put it in more “financial” terms, what do we see in our “spiritual bank statements?”

(1) Deposit #1 – The LOVE of God.

In verses 4 and 5 he says, “In LOVE [God] predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will.”

Please note how Paul describes God. Beginning in verse 2. He reminds us that God is our FATHER and I point this out because so many times our mental image of God gets distorted.

  • Sometimes people see God as a TYRANT Who capriciously moves us around like checkers on a game board.
  • Sometimes we think of Him as a JUDGE with a long stick to rap us on the shoulder any time we get out of line.
  • Sometimes we look at God as an IMPERSONAL FORCE to Whom we cannot relate in a personal way.
  • Other times we imagine Him as THE CREATOR—but distant and unconcerned with our daily lives.

Well, Paul’s opening WORDS open our EYES and help us see that none of these are Biblical pictures of God…no…God is described as being like a FATHER—the perfect Father. Remember? This is the way Jesus said we should think of Him…as our Father…our “Abba” — our “Daddy.”

Wouldn’t you consider it a BENEFIT…an amazingly huge “deposit” in your spiritual bank book to know that this is Who God is to you? Wouldn’t you consider it a huge credit to think of God as your LOVING Father?

My kids are not perfect—they get that from their dad—they are not perfect. At times they have disappointed me. At times I’ve been aggravated at them. But this is certain. I ALWAYS want the best for them and will do everything within my power to provide for their needs and even their wants…if I think they NEED it! When they hurt—I hurt. When they experience failure—I share their disappointment. When they achieve success—I share their joy! When they are afraid—I want to calm and reassure them. As long as God leaves me on this earth I will do everything I can to protect my kids from danger and open doors of opportunity for them. Why do I feel this way about them? Why do I do these things for them? It’s because I’m their dad.

To an infinitely greater degree—this is how God feels about us! And that makes us RICH! In Matthew 7:9-11 Jesus said, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much MORE will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” And Remember James 1:16 where it says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the FATHER…Who does not change like shifting shadows!” It’s kind of like Orphan Annie being claimed by Daddy Warbucks—because God, Who “owns the cattle on a thousand hills” has claimed us as His children.

And that leads me to point out HOW sinful people like you and me get to tap into God’s wealth—how we become the object of His great love. Look at verse 3. We must be “in Christ.” We must put our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. We must be IN RELATIONSHIP with Jesus.

In that relationship, like a branch attached to a vine, we have access to all the blessings that flow from God to us.

Paul stresses this fact by using the phrase “…in Christ…” at least nine times in fourteen verses. He says that “in Christ” God ADOPTS us as His children and by the way, in Paul’s time an adopted son had all the rights of a legitimate son and more. You see, back then adoptions were irrevocable. In fact, the law said a father could disown his birth son, but not his adopted son. It was a permanent relationship. So when Paul compared our life in God to ADOPTION, he was saying, “You’re part of the family now. Get comfortable. You’re here to stay.” As Christians then, we have an amazing benefit—we have the LOVE of God Himself! He has ADOPTED us as His very own!

And one more thing—Paul reminds us that God has loved us like a father for a VERY long time. Look at verse 4 where he writes, “[God] chose us in Him [Jesus] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will.” In other words, God has loved you like a father since long before you were born…long before the world was created….and that’s a long time!

Now—this phrase, “God CHOSE US” has been used to support a flawed understanding of a Biblical teaching known as THE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION.

Extreme Calvinists say that this text confirms their belief that before the foundation of the world were set, God CHOSE some individuals to be saved…ADOPTED…and chose others to be damned to spend eternity in Hell. Let me chase a little rabbit here and do my best to help us all better understand this controversial doctrine. What does “election” in the Bible REALLY mean?

A. First, it affirms the fact that our salvation begins with God.

And it does. God always takes the initiative in making our salvation possible. Jesus taught this in John 6:44 when He said, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father Who sent Me draws him.” So, one thing the doctrine of election says is that Salvation is not something we do. It is something God does. Salvation begins with God. He reaches out to us…not the other way around.

B. The doctrine of election also reminds us that our salvation is completely based on God’s amazing grace.

We don’t earn or deserve our salvation. It is completely unmerited. Paul underscores this fact when he says, “God chose us in Him BEFORE the foundation of the world…” In other words, God’s plan to save us took place before we could even THINK of doing something to earn it. Our adoption doesn’t depend on our goodness because we could never be good enough.

C. And then, most importantly, the doctrine of election helps us see that salvation comes through Christ.

Paul says “God chose us in Him…JESUS…” which means extreme Calvinists are at least partially right. You see, God does chose who will be saved and who will not be saved—and God did make that decision before the foundation of the world. But this was not a choice made arbitrarily individual by individual. No—God decided—He preordained to choose everyone who decided to choose Christ—everyone who BELIEVES. He elects to adopt ALL who use their free will to accept Christ’s sacrifice on their behalf. We are elected IN HIM. God chooses to accept only those who accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. Herschel Hobbs used to explain the doctrine of ELECTION in this way. He said, there was an election. The devil cast his vote against you. God cast His vote for you. And you cast the deciding vote when you chose to side with GOD through Jesus…or with satan by rejecting Him. This is the clear teaching of Scripture. As verse 13 of our text says, “You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having BELIEVED [of your own free will] you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”

D. One more thing about this doctrine. Election demands that our salvation be followed by holy living.

As Paul put it in verse 4, “God chose us that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” This means we are called to live differently than people who have not believed. We are to be HOLY—not holier than thou—not pious or self-righteous way. No…our challenge is to be different in a positive way. We are to be different in our level of forgiveness…in the depth of our love…in the strength of our commitment….in our selflessness…in the ways we seek to help people in a Christlike manner. We are to be different because IN CHRIST, we were chosen to be different.

I don’t know about you—but when I realize that ALMIGHTY, HOLY, GOD—has loved me like a father since before the dawn of time—well—I want to strive to become more holy. I want to live in ways that please Him. I want to strive to be WORTHY of what He did for me!

This reminds me of the second “deposit” of blessing Paul says all Christ-followers have in their spiritual “bank accounts.”

(2) We have the FORGIVENESS of God.

Look at verses 7 and 8 where Paul writes, “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…” I think there is nothing more VALUABLE…more precious to us than to know that our Creator has forgiven us. I mean, talk about “cha-ching!” This is why all faith systems involve some sort of “payback system” whether it be sacrifices or good deeds. It’s because inside all people know they need to be made right with God. All people want to be forgiven. This is why we talk about “making our peace with God” before we die. It’s why even atheists cry out to God in times of crisis. All this is because we all instinctively know we are fallen. We know we have gone astray. We know we have wronged God—and we want things to be made right. We want our relationship with Him back. We want His forgiveness.

Charles Colson tells of watching Albert Speer being interviewed on “Good Morning America.” If you know your WWII history you know that Speer was Hitler’s confidant—he was the man whose technological genius kept the Nazi factories running throughout WWII. He was also THE ONLY ONE of the twenty-four war criminals tried at Nuremburg to admit his guilt, which I think is why he was called, “the good Nazi.” Speer served twenty years in a Spandau prison. The interviewer referred to a passage in one of Speer’s earlier writings: “You have said the guilt can never be forgiven or shouldn’t be. Do you still feel that way?” Colson said he will never forget the look of pathos on Speer’s face as he responded, “I served a sentence of twenty years, and I could say, ‘I’m a free man, my conscience has been cleared by serving the whole time as punishment.’ But I can’t get rid of it. This new book is part of my atoning, part of clearing my conscience.” The interviewer pressed at this point: “You really don’t think you’ll be able to clear it totally?” Speer shook his head, “I don’t think it will be possible.” Colson says: “For thirty-five years Speer had accepted complete responsibility for his crime. His writings were filled with contrition and warnings to others to avoid his moral sin. He desperately sought expiation. All to no avail. I wanted to write Speer, to tell him about Jesus and His death on the cross, about God’s forgiveness. But there wasn’t time. The ABC interview was Speer’s last public statement. He died shortly after.” As Christians we have that PRICLESS thing that Speer longed for. We have been forgiven. The slate of our wrongs has been wiped clean. As Romans 8:1 says, “There is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are IN CHRIST JESUS.” As Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions from us!” In Isaiah 44:22 God says, “I have swept away your offenses, your sins…like the morning mist. I have redeemed you!” In Matthew 26:28 Jesus said, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for the forgiveness of sins.” 1st John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

So…we are RICH—rich because we have God’s love—rich because in Christ we have His precious forgiveness. Here’s a third “deposit” God has made to our “accounts.”

(3) We are rich because we have God’s PLAN.

Look at verses 9 and 10: “And [GOD has] 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 will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in Heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

Paul is reminding us that, unlike people who are not IN CHRIST, you and I know where this messed up world of ours is going. We know God has a plan. We know God is in control. We know that history is HIS story—and because of that, some day everything will be worked out. One day they’ll be no more war or disease…no more unfairness or injustice. We know, that as we used to sing, “We’ll understand it better by and by.”

Many years ago G. N. Clark gave his inaugural lecture at Cambridge and said, “There is no secret and no plan in history to be discovered. I do not believe that any future consummation could make sense of all the irrationalities of preceding ages.” Well, as I said, people who are IN CHRIST—people who have a relationship with God know otherwise. We don’t share the despair of people like Mr. Clark, who wring their hands when they watch the nightly news. We know that nothing in this world—not even death itself—has the last word. God does!

And that is an incredibly priceless blessing—not only because it gives us peace and hope even in the midst of life’s perplexities and sorrows…but because it tells us what to INVEST in! You see, we know that according to God’s plan this world and all that is in it is passing away—so we know that the only investments that can promise any sure return are things of eternal significance. It’s like getting an inside tip on a company who’s stock is about to soar. For example, if I knew this disposable grocery bag law was coming, I would have invested in companies that make permanent shopping bags. With that kind of investment my future financial security would have been “in the bag” — in more than one sense! It’s the same for those of us who are IN CHRIST. We know what to invest in. We know what kinds of things bring us lasting joy—we know the actions and attitudes that will pay off in eternity.

So…look around. Congratulate one another! In Christ, we are all rich because we have God’s Love…rich because we have God’s forgiveness…rich because we know God’s plan but there’s one more DEPOSIT.

(4) Paul says we are rich because we have His SPIRIT.

Look at verses 13-14: “Having 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.”

Probably my most precious PHYSICAL possessions are my books. I’ve often thought, if the church office were to catch on fire, I would brave the flames, run up the stairs, and start throwing books out the window right and left. In fact, I used to have some lick-on seals that said, “This book belongs to the private library of Mark Adams.” I would put them in the fly-leaf of each book. I ran out of the seals a long time ago so now I just write my name in the fly-leaf but the effect is the same. I MARK my books as belonging to me—because they are precious to me.

In a similar sense, that’s what God does when we accept Christ as Savior and Lord. He MARKS us with His Spirit…as a way of saying, “This person is precious to me. He is mine!” As Paul puts it in Romans 8:16, “The Sprit Himself testifies that we are God’s children.” But the Holy Spirit is more than that. He is also a “down payment” … a “deposit” guaranteeing our full inheritance. Romans 8:17 says that since we are marked as God’s children,“…then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.” I like to think of the Holy Spirit as a deposit you can TASTE, so you can know something of what is coming when the full payment is received. As Lightfoot put it, “The actual spiritual life of the Christian is the same in kind as his future glorified life.” It is the same kind but less. It’s like the taste of Thanksgiving dinner you get if you are nice to the cooks. It’s not the full meal…but it’s a taste of the glory that is to come when you sit down at that heavily-laden table.

Listen! As Christians we enjoy the presence of God’s Spirit in us…with us every day…and that’s WONDERFUL! But as Paul said it is still like seeing through a glass darkly. Someday it will be like that but infinitely better. We’ll see God face to face. We’ll know as we are now known. The Holy Spirit is like a movie trailer. He’s a pre-view. In Him or rather with Him IN us—we get to experience the priceless benefit of a taste of what Heaven itself will be like.

Well, do you feel a little more “wealthy” this morning? Are you less bothered by our nation’s economic downturn? I know I am!


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