Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 10 (KJV)
God Picked You!
Devotional Reading: Esther 4:5–17
Background Scripture: Acts 19; Ephesians 1:1–14; Revelation 2:1–7
1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
8 Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;
9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:
10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:
12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.—Ephesians 1:3
God’s Exceptional Choice
Unit 3: We Are God’s Artwork
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. List spiritual blessings mentioned by Paul.
2. Compare and contrast physical adoption with spiritual adoption.
3. Make a plan to change one area of his or her lifestyle in light of adoption in Christ.
How to Say It
A. The Love of the Father
Completing the paperwork for an international adoption is a grueling process. The prospective parents must assemble birth certificates, medical affidavits, financial statements, etc. The family doctor and social worker must include copies of their licenses. Every signature must be notarized, and the county courthouse must verify the authenticity of the notary stamps. The county seal is “apostilled” at the state capital, a fancy way of describing another level of certification. The whole portfolio then goes overseas to be translated, with a new series of stamps added to verify the translation.
Now imagine if it were possible instead for just one person of great authority to look at the portfolio and put one stamp on the whole thing to approve the adoption. God himself has already placed His seal of adoption on us. Our text today celebrates our Father and His great love for us.
B. Lesson Context
The book of Ephesians is one of what we often call Paul’s prison letters. As in Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, Paul presented himself as “the prisoner” (Ephesians 3:1; compare 2 Timothy 1:8). It is reasonable to conclude that he wrote this letter while he was a prisoner in Rome (see Acts 22–28) in about AD 63.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has many of the features of his other letters. But unlike the others, Ephesians does not clearly address a problem or issues that arose in a particular church. Rather, it reads as a general reminder and instruction in the nature of the gospel and the Christian life. This is one reason some believe it was a circular letter that was sent to the city of Ephesus (in present-day Turkey) to be read and then shared in the surrounding region (see Ephesians 1:1b, below; see lesson 11 for more information about Ephesus).
Ephesians includes challenging language and ideas. Our scripture text mentions many concepts that long have been debated. But when we remember the challenges that Christians of both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds faced, we can reframe those difficult concepts.
A. From Paul (v. 1a)
1a. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.
A Roman apostle was an official messenger who conveyed messages from authority figures to the public. On the road to Damascus, Jesus claimed Paul as His own messenger (Acts 26:12–16). Paul’s zeal, previously misdirected toward murderous ends (9:1–2; Galatians 1:13–14), was put to use for the making of disciples for Christ. All this happened according to the will of God (1:15–24).
The word Christ is a translation of the Hebrew word messiah. Both designations refer to the anointed one, associated since David’s days with God’s chosen kings in Israel (1 Samuel 16:1, 12–13; 2 Samuel 7:8–16; compare John 1:41; 4:25). Before that, the term was not used but could have been appropriately applied to priests, who were anointed for their service in the tabernacle (Exodus 28:41; etc.). Jesus fulfills the roles of both priest and king (Hebrews 8:1–6; Revelation 17:14), making Him uniquely positioned to be the Christ.
B. To the Faithful (vv. 1b–2)
1b. To the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.
This greeting is descriptive but generic. Since Paul’s greetings are often very specific, this is one piece of evidence that the letter was meant for circulation instead of intended only to address those in Ephesus. Paul seemed intent to explain his doctrine succinctly, looking to what it means to be part of those who are the faithful in Christ Jesus. Saints simply means “holy ones,” affirming that these people were set apart from others because they belonged to God. This word had referred only to Israel until Jesus’ time (Deuteronomy 28:9; Isaiah 62:12; etc.). Paul used the word to emphasize that Gentiles were welcomed into faith in Jesus, on equal standing with their Jewish brothers and sisters who had also accepted Christ. It was not enough or even necessary to claim heritage in Abraham, because faith was and is the primary condition for determining whether one is a saint. The lives of saints are different, even out of place in the world, because our identity is found in Christ, not in human families, clans, or nations (Galatians 3:27–29).
What Do You Think?
What tensions do you feel living as a saint while engaging with unbelievers?
What texts guide you when deciding whether to continue witnessing about Christ or needing to disengage from an unholy situation?
2a. Grace be to you, and peace.
The greeting grace plays on the more typical Greek greeting rejoice. The words sound similar in Greek. Paul’s choice emphasizes the Christian nature of this letter (compare 1 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:2; Revelation 1:4). Peace was a typical greeting in Hebrew, a prayer for God’s blessing to fall on His people. Far from the mere absence of violence or discord, the word has the much more positive connotation of wholeness and wellness. Grace acknowledges that asking for peace is totally based on God’s good desires, not on anything a person or people have done to earn His favor. Together grace and peace turned an otherwise unremarkable greeting into an expectant expression of God’s blessing.
2b. From God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Naming God our Father in parallel with the Lord Jesus Christ highlights the Christian revelation of the Son’s equality with the Father. Unbelieving Jews considered this new Christian belief a sin against the command to love the Lord alone (Deuteronomy 6:4–5). However, naming Jesus Christ as Lord makes clear that Paul and other Christians understood that Jesus was well worthy of love and praise, just as God the Father is (Galatians 2:8–11).
II. Unbridled Blessing
A. Of God (v. 3)
3. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.
We sense Paul’s joy conveyed in the length of this sentence—in the Greek it doesn’t end until verse 14! This is the longest sentence in the New Testament at just over 200 words in the Greek. We can imagine his scribe (likely Tychicus; see Ephesians 6:21) frantically taking down Paul’s breathless praise.
Paul’s presentation of God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (compare 2 Corinthians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3) is in keeping with Jesus’ emphasis on God “our Father” (Matthew 6:9). The Jews of Paul’s day had many ways to describe God, but God as Father is not found very often. Yet God as Father is an understanding that runs throughout Jesus’ teachings (examples: 23:9; John 4:23; compare Romans 1:7; 8:15; 1 Corinthians 8:6).
Paul’s repetition conveys his overwhelming awe. He was a scholar in the Hebrew Scriptures, and his writings’ content and style both show Hebrew influences. One way Hebrew poetry strengthens a statement is by repeating it, either with the same phrase (example: Psalm 136) or with synonyms and other slight changes (examples: 1:1; 5:3). Paul’s multiple use of forms of bless suggests (by word and by repetition) the greatness of our God and our blessings. To call God blessed is to acknowledge that He is praiseworthy and exalted. To call His people blessed is to acknowledge the reality that God gives us good gifts (James 1:17) and works out all things for our good (Romans 8:28).
In heavenly places refers to the throne room of God (Ephesians 1:20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12). Because we are already part of God’s family, we experience blessing in His presence now, though we still suffer because of the fallen world around us.
What Do You Think?
What blessings will you praise God for today?
What is your current ratio of praise to petition in prayer? What benefit do you see in shifting toward more praise?
B. Through Christ (vv. 4–12)
4. According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.
Before the foundation of the world focuses on God’s plan before creation (compare 2 Thessalonians 2:13). Though God’s choosing us may seem like a statement of predestination (see Ephesians 1:5, below), it is actually a much broader statement of God’s loving intent for all people. We were all meant to be holy and without blame before him. The fall threw all people into a sinful tailspin outside of God’s good plan (Genesis 3:16–24; 6:5–6, 11; etc.).
But God was unwilling to let sin take its natural course and condemn all people to death. So God set in motion the plan that would call us back to him in love. Jesus was that plan. And through His death He conquered both sin and death, doing what we could not accomplish for ourselves. Our status changes as a result. We are counted as being holy (set apart in a godly way) and without blame (having our sins forgiven). We gain these attributes because of God’s efforts through Christ.
5. Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.
This verse implies that Paul’s audience is primarily Gentile, as they would identify with being adopted into the “natural” family Israel. The practice of adoption goes back thousands of years. Properly motivated, adoption is an act of grace toward orphans or children whose parents are unable to care for them. In the Roman world of Paul’s day, there was another important consideration when it came to adoption: a father who had no sons might adopt someone to be his heir. This allowed the father’s assets to be distributed according to his will—and for his family line and name to continue.
Predestinated echoes God’s pre-creation choice for people (see Ephesians 1:4, above; also 1:11, below). Some scholars believe this means that everyone’s eternal status was decided by God before anyone was born. However, we should not fall into fatalism—the belief that free will does not exist, that we can make no choices that influence the outcome. God has chosen us by His grace; we must choose Him through our faith (John 1:12).
The emphasis here is not on predestination but on adoption. God’s plan to adopt humans as His children in holiness was fulfilled only in Jesus Christ. Nothing that happened around Christ’s coming or in His ministry, death, and resurrection was haphazard, a fluke, or a mistake. This act of loving mercy is described as coming from the good pleasure of his will. Our adoption is not done grudgingly or under compulsion. God’s desire is for us to be reconciled to Him, to be included among His people. Inclusion into God’s family is a marvelous demonstration of God’s love (see 1 John 3:1).
6. To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
God’s pre-creation plan, when put into action, produces worship. Believers of all nations worship the God who made them His people (Revelation 15:4). Angels worship the God whose plan has been fulfilled (5:11–12). In Heaven and on earth, through both time and space, we are one congregation glorifying God (compare 5:13–14).
This blessed acceptance cannot be separated from the grand act of love that characterizes God’s work in Jesus Christ. He is referred to here as the beloved (compare Matthew 3:17). Christ is the Son of God in a unique way, but God’s love is extended to all who believe and are adopted as sons and daughters in Christ (John 1:12; Galatians 3:26). Our adoption results in full acceptance as children of God, with all the rights of an heir (4:7).
To the Praise of His Glory?
“Your daughter has no heartbeat.” Eleven and a half minutes with no heartbeat post-birth would leave my daughter with severe brain injuries—if she lived. Was this God’s plan, leading “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6)?
Three days later, with few answers, I wrote one of the most difficult prayers of my life: “I want her to be able to run and sing and laugh. But I entrust her into Your care and infinite wisdom. If she dies tomorrow, or if she can’t play or eat or breathe on her own, I trust that her life still will result in many people loving You. Be glorified, Lord. Amen.”
Six years later, my daughter requires extensive care. She can’t walk or eat on her own, but she laughs and plays in her own way. And many people have shared how my daughter has strengthened their faith in God. He has indeed glorified himself through my daughter—and how I thank Him for doing so! What have you thanked God for today? —N. G.
7–8a. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us.
Redemption and forgiveness are both terms used to speak of the liberation of slaves. The Ephesian believers were familiar with both words as they related to slavery in the Roman world. Redemption means to be “bought back,” as a slave might be repurchased. Forgiveness means “letting go” and can refer to the release of a slave. Paul drew on this cultural example to describe the passage from a sinful life into one of forgiveness in Christ (compare Colossians 1:14, 20).
The word translated sins is translated “trespasses” in Jesus’ explanation of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:14–15). The idea behind the word is “to stray from the correct path while traveling.” We are reminded of the common biblical depiction of life as a journey made up of choices (see Deuteronomy 30:15–18). Through the blood of Jesus, we have the means to be delivered from wrong choices and be put back on the path of God’s choosing (Romans 2:4; 3:24–25). The riches of his grace (also Ephesians 2:7) are truly marvelous!
What Do You Think?
In light of the fact that God has forgiven you for all your sins, who do you need to forgive for sinning against you?
How can you forgive a person when reconciliation is either impossible or unwise?
8b–9. In all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself.
All wisdom and prudence describes God’s way of dealing with His wayward children. Wisdom conveys the sense of knowing the difference between right and wrong and making the choice to do the right thing (compare Proverbs 1:10). In this context, prudence refers to correct thinking.
In the Bible there are various ways that God makes His will known to humans. One is that of a mystery being revealed, something initially hidden from human understanding but now being shown (Ephesians 3:9). We understand God as a self-revealing God, for we cannot unravel the deep things of God by our own deep thinking (Romans 16:25). A god that people can fully comprehend is more likely made in their own image rather than the other way around (Genesis 1:27).
10. That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.
God’s fulfilled plan restores and unites all of creation (Romans 8:19–22). Everything God created suffers because of the effects of sin. And because God loves all of His creation—from people created in His image to deep-sea creatures we will never see to mountains we can’t miss—He will gather together in one all things in Christ (Colossians 1:20). A key part of this is the reunification of humanity, which is divided into hostile groups. The barrier between Jews and Gentiles is broken down through Christ (Ephesians 2:14); these groups can be brought together in Christ according to God’s will and purpose (3:4–6).
All this is according to God’s plan, for it takes place at the fulness of times (see Galatians 4:4). Bringing everything together in Jesus will not be fully realized until He returns. But let us not miss how Christ is already accomplishing this promised future. Whenever by God’s mercy a sinner becomes a saint, whenever through the gospel the estranged are reconciled, whenever through their lives of loving service Christians bring a greater measure of justice to the world, we see God’s plan already being fulfilled (Mark 1:15; Romans 5:6).
11–12. In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
Once again Paul reassures the reader that nothing happens without God’s allowing it (Romans 8:28; see Ephesians 1:5, above). Regardless of believers’ physical circumstances, we are experiencing already the blessings of God. The proper response following redemption is giving praise and glory to God. This concept is once again couched in adoption language. Our adoption results in the inheritance (Romans 8:29–30; Hebrews 6:17–20). We do not inherit money or property, though, but the spiritual treasures of God (Ephesians 1:18–21).
What Do You Think?
How can you better demonstrate the unity you have with fellow Christians?
How does your answer apply to Christians who hold doctrinal beliefs that differ from your own?
C. In the Spirit (vv. 13–14)
13. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.
Roman officials affixed wax seals to documents to indicate their authenticity and authority. Paul used this image to help us understand the nature of the gift of God’s Spirit to the believer. After we accept the word of truth, the gospel, we are in line for a marvelous inheritance (Colossians 1:5). We do not wait to begin to enjoy the blessings of this inheritance, for we are sealed by God through the gift of the holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).
Paul pictures this spiritual sealing as a promise (compare Acts 2:16–18). This gift of the Holy Spirit is bestowed after faith (John 14:16–17). While the Holy Spirit plays a role in drawing people to faith, the Spirit’s presence in the heart is a gift promised to believers (Acts 2:38–39).
14. Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is not our full inheritance, but is the earnest of our inheritance. The key word earnest is a legal term that refers to a down payment in a transaction. The idea is that of a “first installment” (compare 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5). The Spirit is a gift promising more gifts to come. Through the Holy Spirit, believers experience God’s presence and power now, a taste of what we will experience in full when Christ returns. The future holds not only the final defeat of sin and its effects but also spiritual fulfillment and completion.
Paul finished this long, complex, Greek sentence (which began in verse 3 of our text) with an observation regarding praise. Praise of God is our recognition of His mighty works and person. When Paul said that God acts for the praise of his glory (see Ephesians 1:6, 12, above), the apostle was not implying that God somehow needs human approval. Humans should praise God because it is good, proper, and part of our created nature.
What Do You Think?
What prevents you from wholly trusting the Holy Spirit?
Who are believers you trust to mentor you in deepening your dependence on the Spirit?
After 45 years of marriage, George’s wife passed away, leaving him alone and lonely. One day he decided to do something special for his daughter and two daughters-in-law. He carefully divided his late wife’s jewelry into three piles, then wrote notes explaining how much his wife had loved them. George packaged and mailed the gifts. But his daughter was furious. How dare her father give her mother’s jewelry to her brothers’ wives? The conflict left George even more heartbroken than before.
Such squabbles certainly don’t honor the giver. Response to the inheritance that Paul describes should be different. God grants this inheritance both to Jewish and Gentile believers, to “the praise of his glory.” How will you honor your Father’s decision in celebrating the inheritance He leaves for you and your brothers and sisters? —N. G.
A. Praise Him!
The ability to praise and worship God freely and properly is indeed a part of our inheritance and a manifestation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. While all His works offer opportunity to worship, our adoption into God’s own family is an especially joyful reason for praise. May we, who have been brought into the Father’s family through His loving Son and His trustworthy Spirit, erupt in praise for our salvation.
Glorious Father, we are in awe of Your grace! Remind us always of our standing before You, even as we wait for Your Son to return in glory. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember
Rejoice in God’s plan for your salvation.