Ephesians Study Part 5: The Longest Sentence in the Bible

Review:

Last week we established that the book of Ephesians was probably a letter spoken aloud by Paul and transcribed by a scribe. In reality that means that Paul was speaking as if he were standing before one of the new churches and was speaking from his heart to the core of the new church. Because he addressed the letter to the saints, we know he was speaking to the true believers, not just the congregation in general. So as we continue to read the letter, keep in mind that he is not wasting a lot of dialogue to a general audience but is cutting to the quick with regard to the basics of Christianity.

After completing the study of verses 1 & 2 of chapter one with breathtaking speed last week, today let's see if we can do the same with regard to verses three through fourteen.

This Week:

As I read verses 3-14, I want you to listen and to see that this passage is entirely about Jesus. Everything discussed is about Jesus. If you don't pay attention, you will think it is about us and God's love for us. It is that too, but every phrase is about Jesus.

Let me start again from chapter 1 verse 1:

That is where we ended last week. Continuing:

So ends what has been described by several scholars as the longest recorded sentence in a Greek literature. [It has been broken down into a number of English sentences in this translation].

Last week I suggested that you understand verses 3 through 14 from the perspective of a verbal presentation rather a than a written document. Remember that I compared a normal written form which is usually in more concise and structured sentences to a verbal dissertation which is often rambling and complex.

Or:

There is another way to understand the structure of verse is 3-14.

This is a literary form where praise is heaped upon praise, one thought leading into another, which would then remind you of another. It is not uncommon in literature. In Hebrew literature such a series of phrases is called a berakah.  Such a structure which is used here as a eulogy for God and all the blessings that he brings his people is not unknown in the Scripture. It is more often used in poetry, and similar structures can be found in the Psalms. Its unique use here in prose causes us to see it as somewhat more unusual than if we saw similar structure being used in poetry.  One scholar beautifully referred to Ephesians as a "poem in prose".  It is almost as if Paul was overcome in expressing how overwhelmingly wonderful God is toward man, and simply couldn't leave out all of his thoughts about this grand realization.  This section is not so much a reasoned statement as a lyrical song of praise.  Paul's mind goes on and on, not because he's thinking in logical stages but because gift after gift and wonder after wonder from God pass before his eyes.

If you read chapters one through three you will realize that these three chapters are actually one long prayer culminating in a doxology.  It is almost a lyrical prayer contrasted to the more direct and corrective language of most of Paul's letters.  I think the difference, as we discussed last week, is that he had time to consider what he wanted to say because he was under house arrest and he was not working against the enemy of time.  And this was the grand summary of his realization of the grandeur of Christianity.

Next:

Now let's look closely at verses 3 & 4:

In this section Paul is thinking of Christians as the chosen people of God, and his mind runs along three lines.

  1. God chose us; we didn't choose Him.  The first concept that he thinks about is that God chose him.  Paul never considered that he chose God.  God chooses every Christian, by name, as an individual.  Jesus said in John 15:16, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit -- fruit that will last.  Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

    It was also Jesus that said in Luke 19:10, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

    It wouldn't be any great wonder if man chose God, but it is certainly a heavenly wonder that God would choose man.

    Note that Paul says that God chose us before the foundation of the world. Charles Spurgeon, a great Christian preacher and writer, said, "I'm glad he did it then; if he saw me now, he might have changed his mind."

    Of course this is not the only place that we are told that God made his plan before the foundation of the world.  Jesus said in John 17:24, "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

    Peter said about Jesus, "He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake." --1 Peter 1:20.

    The writer of Hebrews said, "Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, 'So I declared on oath in my anger, They shall never enter my rest.'  And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. --Hebrews 4:3.

    Paul in talking about the mystery of God says, "No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began." --1 Corinthians 2:7.

    Paul, writing to Timothy, refers to God saying, "(God) who has saved us and called us to a holy life - not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.  This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time. --2 Timothy 1:9.

    Paul tells his protégé, concerning the faith of a believer, ". . . a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time . . ." --Titus 1:2.

    The theme is throughout the New Testament.  God chose us and did it before time began.  That is a basic premise to the Grace of God; our salvation is not the result of our efforts or works.

     

  2. Blessings for the believers.  Paul's mind is focused on the unbelievable expanse of God's blessing on us as believers.  He says that God has granted all of the blessings that are found in the heavens.  The NIV says "in the Heavenly realms".  Many translations say "in heavenly places", or the best translations say "the heavenlies".  In the Greek, there is no word to support inserting places or realms.  The Greek says that we have been granted all the blessing in the heavenlies.

    There are certain rewards or blessings that man may be able to obtain on his own here on earth, but there are clearly many more important blessings that are beyond the reach of man.  It is these heavenly blessings, those that man could never obtain on his own that have been granted by God.  Man can acquire certain skills, can achieve certain positions of power or authority or can obtain certain amounts of assets; but it is impossible for man to attain things like goodness or peace of mind or grace.  Paul is going to tell us that these are blessings of the heavenlies and that only God in Jesus can bring them to man.

    Paul says that Christians have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.  This is interesting and challenging terminology.  The most literal translation is "all of the spiritual blessings in the heavenlies".  So what in fact are the heavenlies?  I think there are a number of ways to think about this.  Perhaps the most complete way to think about it is that the heavenlies are God's reality contrasted to man's limited reality.  You could think of that as the spiritual world contrasted to the physical world, but much much more; or you could think of it as true and complete reality compared to the very limited comprehension of reality that man has.

    Remember our discussion during the study of Genesis where we recognized that although this podium appears to us to be solid, we know by science that it is composed almost entirely of void space. And yet man's limited perception of reality sees it as solid.  I think that's a crude example of what a shallow and simple understanding we have of God's reality.  All we can comprehend is what we can see and feel and understand which is further limited by our restricted perception of linear time. Again back in the study of Genesis we discussed some of the concepts that even science understands exist well beyond our perceptions.

    I think Paul is saying that God has given us blessings that are the blessings of the true reality.  Those blessings, all of the 99% of God's reality that we can even comprehend.  So as Christians we have already received the blessings that are so far beyond our comprehension that we can't even appreciate them.

    How did God give us all the blessings in the heavenlies?

    If you diagram this sentence, you will see that God blessed us in Christ.  He delivered these blessings by giving us Jesus.  The existence of Jesus delivers God's blessings, all the blessings of God's reality to us.  Sure, Jesus delivers salvation, but salvation delivers to us the spiritual blessings that only God can give, and only God possesses.  God chose Jesus as the vehicle, the pathway, the deliverer.  Jesus delivered us from the death of sin, the eternal separation from God, but at the same time, he delivered to us all the blessings that God has for us.  Jesus is a deliverer, squared.

     

  3. God's Purpose.  Paul also is thinking about why God did this -- about what God's purpose was in granting all of these heavenly gifts.  And he tells us that God granted all of this to us so that we could be holy and blameless.

    "Holy" is the Greek word hagios. Last week we determined that hagios was the Greek word translated "Saints" or "believers".  It means sacred or set apart or set apart for God.  The concept here is that we have been identified as special, as different.  A temple is holy because it's different from other buildings.  A Jewish priest was holy because he was different from ordinary man.  The Sabbath was holy because it was a special day, different from the other days.  God is holy because he is different from man.  So Paul is indicating that Christians have been set apart.  They are intended to be different from other men.

    This raises a problem for us, one that we don't like the face, one that the modern Church does not like to face.  In the early Church, the Christians never had any doubts that they must be different from the world.  Paul understood that he must be so different that the world would probably end up killing him.  They would hate him for what he was teaching.   The tendency in our churches today is to play down the difference; to try to blend in.  "As long as you lead a decent, respectable life, then it's OK to be a church member and call yourself a Christian.  You don't really need to be that different from the rest of the people around you". The reality is, and Paul is focusing on the fact, that a Christian should be different; should be so different that he is identifiable in the world.

    You need to remember that Jesus told us that we do not need to be out of the world, but I think it is clear that we need to be different within the world.  Your Christianity should show in school, at work and at play.   Consider what the world would be like if enough Christians became hagios, obviously different in a Christian way.  Society would be drastically improved.

    The word "blameless" is translated from the Greek word amomos.  This word has to do with sacrifices.  Under Jewish law, an animal could not be used for sacrifice unless it had been inspected and found to be unblemished.  Only the unblemished was fit to be offered to God.  Amomos includes the concept that the whole man is suitable as an offering to God.  This would include every part of a man's life: in the work place, in your sports, in family relationships etc.  Paul indicates that God's plan for man is for him to reach a Christian standard of nothing less than perfection, which of course is only possible by God.

    What's the chance of your getting to that condition?   The same as mine . . . zero!

    The last three words are "the saving grace", (double entendre intended).

    So we do not have to get to holy and blameless, but we need to be holy and blameless in his sight.  Fortunately he sees us through a filter.  What is the filter?   Jesus.   When God looks at us, he sees us as holy and perfect because of what Jesus did for us.  He sees us through the blood of Jesus.  Even this thought is about Jesus.  Wheew!  I am winded again.

We got through verses 3 & 4, except for the last two words in verse 4 which really go with verse 5, but that is close enough for me.  I can't help it if the scholars who added the verse numbers missed it by two words.

Next week:

. . . we will speed right along with some more of this berakah.   To prepare, you could read the first 14 verses of Ephesians Chapter 1, again.