Ephesians 1:3-14 New Revised Standard Version
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
It’s still Christmas, at least for a few more days. We still have Christmas carols that either haven’t been sung yet or need to be sung one more time before we move on to the next season. If we are being strict in our liturgical observance the magi won’t arrive until January 6, though since we have two Sundays in the Christmas season of 2020-2021 it’s perfectly okay in my mind to jump the gun a few days early and use the Sunday before Epiphany to celebrate the coming of the magi. However, if you wish to stick with the readings for the Second Sunday after Christmas, then the second reading from the lectionary takes us to Ephesians 1, which has parallels to the Gospel reading from the Prologue to the Gospel of John (John 1:1-18). The reading from Ephesians 1 celebrates Jesus as the one through whom God pours out spiritual blessings on those whom God has adopted as children of God. These blessings are part of our inheritance as God’s children.
You might notice some similarities between this reading and the reading from Galatians 4:4-7 that we encountered the previous week. Both passages speak of our adoption and the inheritance that we receive in Christ, though this reading from Ephesians 1 is much more expansive than the reading from Galatians. Thus, the message of a week earlier is being reinforced. The point then is that in Christ, we find union with God and that leads to our redemption in Christ.
Whenever we come to the Ephesian letter, we have to acknowledge that there is disagreement as to the author. Is it Paul? Or is it not? I will confess that I haven’t made up my mind, so I leave it open (I did this in my participatory study guide on Ephesians and I’ll do the same here). One thing to take note of is that—whatever your view on authorship—is that this passage is all one sentence in Greek. In fact, this is the second-longest sentence in the New Testament. Fortunately, our English translations help us out by breaking this lengthy sentence into more digestible sentences!
In this passage, if we were to read it as one long sentence, the subject is God the Father (vs. 3) while the verb is “chose” (vs. 4). The remainder of the passage is made up of relative clauses and prepositional phrases that expand on that declaration. Lynn Cohick notes that in Greek the “phrases, terms, and synonyms flow rhythmically and produce a ‘chantlike effect’” [The Letter to the Ephesians, NICNT, pp. 85-86]. With this rhythm working in the passage, we can hear the message of God’s work in time and space through Christ and in the Spirit. God is the primary actor. God blesses, chooses, adopts, redeems, and makes those chosen and adopted in Christ heirs of God. The God who does all of this is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, linking definitively Jesus as a son to the father. You can understand why this has certain Trinitarian resonance, especially since the inheritance is sealed in the Holy Spirit (vs. 13).
As in Galatians 4, this mystery has been revealed in the fullness of time so that God might gather up all things in [Christ] (Eph. 1:10). In other words, none of this is happenstance. God had a plan developed before the world was created. Now, in Christ, in the fullness of time, God has implemented that plan. God chooses to act at this moment in and through Christ according to God’s wisdom. Thus, according to Paul (I will speak of the author as Paul), “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” (Eph. 1:7-8a). When it comes to God choosing (remember that in Greek this is the primary verb in the sentence), we need to pause for a moment and consider what Paul has in mind. Is this a matter of God determining who is in and who is out of the kingdom, whether by way of single or double predestination? Or is Paul speaking of God’s choice to redeem us in Christ? The latter is my preference.
Most importantly, it is God who does the choosing and the word we hear from Paul is that God chooses us in Christ. This act of choosing is rooted in love. By this act of choosing to redeem us in Christ, we receive forgiveness of our sins. As Karl Barth notes that “in love, God determined that we should be his children through Christ.” Thus, taking on the role of the electing God, God’s “act of electing must be understood as an entirely absolute action from beginning to end, is revealed in Jesus Christ as love” [The Epistle to the Ephesians, p. 100].
What is the result of this act of revelation in Christ? God will “gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth,” and as a result gives us an inheritance in Christ. All of this is sealed by the mark of the Holy Spirit, which I take to be baptism. If we embrace our chosenness in Christ, which is sealed in baptism, we can now give glory to God our Creator. Is this not a Christmas blessing?