As we were working our way through the Bible study last night, I was reminded of some thoughts I’d had as I was reading through Ephesians several weeks ago. It took me so long to find them last night that, by the time I’d found the verses, the discussion had moved on and it wasn’t relevant anymore! But I woke up early this morning, the sun is out for the first time this week, and I’ve sat down to pull it all together. I think several of the elements that we have been discussing over the last few weeks (particularly the issue of our calling, and the work and person of the Holy Spirit) have come together for me through this passage: Ephesians 1:1-14 in both the New International Version and The Message Bible.
Our discussion re: 'are we called, chosen, predestined..?!' is touched on in verse 4. In the NIV it says: ‘For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.’ I know predestination is a pretty hot topic, and there was some debate last night as to what it actually means. Does it fit with our understanding of God that he has chosen some and not others? For me, it doesn’t – and John explained it well by adding the element of God’s foreknowledge. If you really know someone well, you can know what they are going to do in a certain situation. Add to that the fact that God is outside of time, then the fact that he chose us ‘before the creation of the world’ is less problematic. Something I noticed in this verse that I hadn’t before was: ‘in accordance with his pleasure’. For anyone who has had to select a smaller number from a larger group, it doesn’t usually give pleasure! As a teacher, if I have to select who gets a certain award or privilege – it’s a painstaking process of weighing up each student, their contributions and merits, making it as fair and unbiased as possible. If God had to decide who he would choose and who he would not – I don’t think that would give Him pleasure. We read elsewhere in the Bible (if anyone else can think of a good reference, please add it in a comment!) that it grieves God when someone chooses to turn their back on God, to not accept His invitation. So if it was His decision in the first place, and the person had no free will in that – I definitely don’t think that would give him ‘pleasure’. I might be reading too much into this, but I wonder if the ‘pleasure’ God feels comes from knowing our hearts – from Him knowing (outside of time, and therefore before the creation of the world) that we would accept Him and choose to live our life with Him.
The Message puts it nicely: ‘Long before he laid earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, he settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.’ Carrying on in the same passage, verses 9-10 (NIV): ‘With all wisdom and understanding, he 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 reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.’
This starts to link in with what we looked at during the Bible study – our calling. Not only has God ‘made known to us’ his will – he wants us to be a part of it! We are involved in His plan to ‘bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth’. Wow! That’s huge – but at the same time, it isn’t really. We can bring unity by listening to a friend talk out how they feel, by showing a child at school that they are loved and valued for who they are, by learning to understand ourselves and helping others do the same (that links in with the Message phrase ‘to be made whole and holy by his love’.)
Verse 11 continues: ‘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, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.’ I haven’t really been able to picture before what that last phrase means – ‘to be for the praise of his glory’. But one of the last points John made in last night’s Bible study (which I need to listen to again) was along the lines of: our broad calling is to walk with God, and in the process allow the Spirit to help us become the best version of ourselves – in order to glorify Jesus.
I love the way the Message puts the same verse: ‘It’s in Christ we find out who we are and what we are living for.’ I read that at the very beginning of lockdown, and thought; 'Yes! Great! That’s what I want – to know who I am, and what I am living for'. After my initial excitement, I then started to think; well how do I do that when I am at home all day every day? I need to be out there, getting stuck in – finding new things out about myself through my interactions with people, through my job etc. But last night’s Bible study made more sense of that. If I focus on my broad calling to walk with Jesus, then the Holy Spirit will work in my life to help me explore all the hidden corners and areas that need work. That is how I become the best version of myself in order to glorify God. That is who I am and what I am living for. And thinking I could achieve that in lockdown was maybe a little ambitious.. That’s a lifetime journey! As Stephen mentioned last night – it’s a journey, there’s always more to discover. And as Di mentioned – there are seasons for the Spirit to work on different things in my life. In the last post that Kelly put on the Thoughts and Readings page it says ‘whether you ask for it or not, God will bring about opportunities to change things that hinder our journey and relationship with him.’ That is the Spirit working in our lives. I’m reminded of another verse in Ephesians: 3:20 ‘God can do anything you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.’ (The Message)