The Father’s Love
October 8, 2017 sermon
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor
In the first chapter of Paul’s circular letter to the Ephesians and multiple churches, we are shown God’s answer to our deepest question as Christians: Does God the Father, God the Almighty, really love me? (Ephesians 1:1-6) This book about unity in Christ begins with God’s great love for every one of us that are in Jesus Christ, regardless of the circumstances that we find ourselves in.
Three Ways We can See the Father’s Love:
- In Christ, the “heavenlies” have become a place of blessing. (Ephesians 1:3). God the Father through His Son has already won the war between the spiritual powers of light and darkness, as Jesus declared victory over Satan: “It is finished.” (John 19:30), and in three days rose from the dead (John 20). Our Father set this all up for our welfare…because He loves us….whether our real lives are difficult or not, whether people tell us we are lovable or not, whether we are struggling with sin or not.
- In Christ, we were chosen from the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4) Even before creation, God the Father chose us…long before we chose Him. We were not chosen because of our goodness, or because God had to love us, or just for our well being, or even because Jesus loves us. We were chosen because of God the Father’s goodness, drawing us to Himself. The credit for loving us belongs to God the Father. If we truly understand this, we realize that God becomes much bigger and we become much smaller. God’s grace and mercy extending to the world (John 3:16) make us less judgmental. After all, it’s about God, not our merit.
- In Christ, we were lovingly adopted into God’s family. (Ephesians 1:5-6) God chose us and developed a plan to make us His adopted children “in accordance with His pleasure and will.” (Ephesians 1:5) It was God’s plan to bring us into His family by sending Jesus to show us His love (John 3:16). The price for this adoption was free for us, requiring our belief, but was high for the Father, sending to earth His only Son. God did it for us! He loves us…whether our circumstances are difficult, easy, or heart breaking.
God the Father loves us deeply. He chose and loved us before the world was formed, laid out a path by which we could be drawn into His family, and through Jesus Christ has lovingly adopted us as His own. It was and is the Father’s choice and pleasure to love each of us intimately. It is our choice whether to accept this love so that we can know Him: share in His love, wisdom, and provision here on earth and eternally.
- How can we be sure that God loves us?
- What difference does it make that God chose us?
- What does it mean to be adopted by God? (See Galatians 4:4-7)
- D. Bonheoffer struggled with his identity in his poem “Who Am I?” His conclusion was “Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!” Does this suggest love to you? How?
- How might knowing we have been chosen by God, affect how we think about others?
- In all honesty, do you experience the Father’s love (a) in your thinking (head), (b) in your heart (feelings)? (c) both.
I believe it was in the fall of 2008 that Kelley asked me the question. I remember it was late one night. We were tired. We were thinking about a major decision in our ministry. I was weighing the benefits and the drawbacks that I thought this ministry move could bring about. When in the middle of the conversation, Kelley asked me what seemed to be a random question. She said “John, do you think that God really loves you?”
What a silly question! At first, I gave her a pat answer. I said “Of course, God loves me. Scripture says so,” and I think I quoted a Bible verse to make my point. But that night, Kelley wasn’t in the mood for pat answers. She asked me again “No, not does the Bible think God loves you. Do you really think he loves you?” This time I tried theology. I explained that it was God’s job to love me, because of what Jesus had done on the cross. But again, Kelley asked “OK. But do you really think He loves you?” She can be irritating that way! Well, the conversation went on and on. I can’t remember everything I said to try and wiggle out of that question that night. I explained that love wasn’t just a feeling. I explained that God didn’t have to like me to love me. I talked myself in circles. But I remember that in the end, I was left with the unsettling feeling that Christian though I was – Pastor though I was – Bible College Teacher though I was – I struggled to really feel, to really believe that God really loved me.
Maybe today you’re in a moment like that, a moment where you’re wondering about God’s love. Maybe like the song Becklin just sang, you’re wondering because you are confused by what God is doing in your life. Or maybe you’re wondering because you were taught by a parent, by an authority figure, by a spouse that you’re not really loveable. Or maybe this morning you’re very aware of your sin. And when you think about how much you have disobeyed God, you struggle to feel His love.
Today I have great news for each and every one of you who have placed your faith in Christ: God loves you. He really loves you – not he has to love you, not he is committed to your well being, not Jesus loves you. God – God the Father – God Almighty – loves you!
Today we are going to look at a passage of Scripture that shows us the Father’s love. Turn in your Bibles to the New Testament book of Ephesians, chapter 1. Today we are going to start a new series on the first three chapters of Ephesians. The series is called “Foreign to Familiar.” First, because that is the title to one of my favorite books on how to understand people from other cultures. Secondly, it’s called “Foreign to Familiar” because that’s really the theme of the book of Ephesians. We go from being outside God’s family to inside it. Ephesians is a book that is all about our unity in Christ, all about the love, and compassion, and forgiveness that God has given us in Christ and how we can share that and live it out in unity with one another.
Ephesians will be an interesting study. This is one of the reasons that I picked it. Ephesians will be a good complement, a good counter-balance to the book of James. If you were here this summer, we studied the New Testament book of James. In many ways, Ephesians is the anti-James! Not that they contradict each other, but that they are very different:
- James is very practical and hands-on. Ephesians is more theological and meditative.
- James is very clearly structured. Ephesians, as we will see today, is more meandering in nature.
- In James, it can be hard to find the gospel. James is too busy giving commands! Ephesians is all about the gospel.
- James is like the school teacher that kind of scared everyone, but that you learned a lot from. James could teach Calculus! Ephesians is more like your Grandma. Paul is going to bake some cookies and pour us a glass of milk, and we’re going to sit at the table and talk about how much God loves us.
- One more difference. I’ve taught James a dozen times. I know it like the back of my hand, but I’ve never taught my way through Ephesians so we’re going to be learning together!
I’m super-excited about what we’re going to learn. We are going to start today by learning about the love that God, the Father, has for every one of us that are in Christ Jesus. If you are in Christ, God loves you in ways you never even conceived of. Today Paul is going to point out three ways that we can see the love of God, the Father, regardless of the circumstances that we find ourselves in. It’s my simple goal that every one of us here today will begin to know in both our heads and in our hearts that God truly, deeply loves us. Paul starts his letter this way:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 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. 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 to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
– Ephesians 1:1-6
Today we are going to look at three ways we see God, the Father’s, love for us as believers. That will be the structure of our sermon. Before we launch into that, let me point out a couple of things that will make it easier for us to understand this portion of Ephesians just to help us make sense of what we read here today.
The first thing is that the letter to the Ephesians is not just to the Ephesians. This letter was not just written to the church at Ephesus. Let me show you what I mean. Paul says this:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
– Ephesians 1:1-2
Now that’s a standard greeting for one of Paul’s epistles. You will find something like that in most of his letters. You see the words “in Ephesus” there in verse 1? Those words are missing in some of our earliest manuscripts of the book of Ephesians. There are no recipients listed. It’s just blank there. There are other places, both inside and outside of the New Testament where this book seems to be called “the letter to the Laodoceans.”
Now I’m not going to get into all the technicalities of that, but what it means is this: We think this letter was meant to be circulated from church to church. It probably started at Ephesus, but it was then delivered to Laodocea, and then to Collossae, and then to other churches in the area. It wasn’t just written for one church.
That means that the issues Ephesians deals with are not little, local, inside-the-church issues like 1 Corinthians or Galatians deal with. Rather, this letter is dealing with bigger issues that most churches, and most Christians face. Because it was written to different kinds of Christians, Ephesians gives us in many instances the big picture, 30,000 foot view of the Christian life. Most of what Paul is going to talk about is not just about the Ephesians or just about ancient Christians. Most of what he is talks about will relate to Christians of all times in all places. So it’s not just to the Ephesians.
Now the second thing I want to point out is something that I said in the introduction a minute ago. You may remember that there I said that, unlike James, Paul meanders a little bit in the book of Ephesians. We see that happen right off the bat. If you have a Bible, let me ask you to look at verses 3-14 of chapter 1. Do you see that? That is a beautiful, 11 verse prayer where Paul blesses God for all of the blessings that he has given us in Christ. It’s a beautiful prayer. Paul divides it in the way that we are going to divide it over the next three weeks. First, he gives the blessings in Christ that we have from the Father. Then he gives the blessings that come from Christ himself. Then he gives the blessings we have received in Christ from the Holy Spirit. So it’s a beautiful Trinitarian passage: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
That passage – all 11 verses of it – is one gigantic sentence in the Greek! One Greek scholar said, and I quote: “This is the most monstrous sentence in the whole of Greek literature.” Talk about your run-on sentences! This one is 202 words in Greek! I feel sorry for the first guy who tried to translate this into English! The point is: verses 3-14, which we are going to be looking at over the next three weeks, is all one prayer (and one sentence) that praises the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for the blessings we have in Christ.
So that’s a little background on Ephesians. Now we are going to start today with God, the Father, and the blessings we have received from him so Paul shows us. Three ways that we see the Father’s Love. The first way we see the Father’s love sounds a little strange and it is this:
In Christ, the Heavenlies become a place of blessing
Paul begins this prayer of praise with these words:
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.
– Ephesians 1:3
Paul says God, the Father, has blessed us “in the heavenly realms.” Now, that may not sound surprising to us. We normally think of heaven as a place of blessing. When we think of heaven, we think of a place of eternal bliss, a place where everything is as it should be. All apples in heaven are Honeycrisp apples, the BBQ is Kansas City BBQ and the Chiefs always win. Just kidding! When we think of heaven, we think of blessing. So it’s no surprise for us to hear that in Christ, the heavenlies are a place of blessing.
But the Ephesians didn’t think that way at all. For them, the heavenlies were not just a place of blessing. I don’t understand everything that I’m talking about here. We’re learning together about this. But in the Ephesian’s mind and in Paul’s mind that term, “heavenly realms” did not just mean good things. In their thinking, that term “heavenlies” – “epouranious” in the Greek – meant more than just the place where God has his throne. It meant the non-material world, the place where God dwells, but also the place where angels – both good and bad and spiritual beings and even Satan – dwell. When you see epouranious in Ephesians, you could almost think “spirit world,” and you would be correct.
This is why Paul says in Ephesians not just that Christ is seated on his throne in the heavenlies,
but that we are to show his wisdom. We are to announce his victory to the heavenlies. Not only does he say that, but it says in Ephesians 6:12 that “We wrestle – we struggle – not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places.” The heavenlies were not just a place of happiness and blessing. They were a place of spiritual warfare.
To many of us modern western Christians, that means almost nothing. We live our lives with disregard for the Spirit world. We don’t think about it. We don’t mess with it, and it doesn’t mess with us. Our poison of choice here is atheism, so it makes perfect sense to me that Satan would keep a low profile.
But to people and Christians throughout much of the world, the spirit-world – the heavenlies – are a place of great power and great fear. There are places in Africa, in Asia, and in Latin America where the Spiritual world is very powerful. Kelley and I have seen things. We know missionaries who have seen things that defy normal explanation. While for some of you, the spiritual world is of little concern, for others of you it’s a great concern. Like my missionary friends, some of you have seen things, you have experienced things firsthand, and you know the reality and the power of the Spirit world. It’s of great concern to you.
You need to know that Ephesus was a place like that – a place of great spiritual warfare. If you read the book of Acts, Paul spent three years in Ephesus. It was a place of conflict and magic and spiritual power. Some of Paul’s strongest exorcisms and miracles took place in Ephesus. It got to the point where if a handkerchief touched Paul’s skin, they could carry it to someone, and they would be healed and demons driven out of them. When the Ephesians became believers, Luke tells us they gathered their books of incantations and magic spells. There were so many of those books that the total value was 50,000 day’s wages! Just like to some of you, to the Ephesians the heavenlies – the spirit world – was a place of fear.
But notice what Paul says here: Through Christ, the heavenlies have become a place of blessing.
Jesus has won the war of the heavenly powers! There’s still some mopping up to do but, my friend, the war is over! Our enemy needs to know, and we need to know, and the world needs to know that when Jesus said “It is finished” on the cross and rose from the dead, it was over! The victory is His. The marching band is already on the field. We’re already tearing the goal posts down!
Jesus said “I saw Satan fall like lightning.” Revelation tells us how he will be judged, and sentenced, and thrown into a lake of fire. Satan offered Jesus control of this world when he tempted him at the beginning of his ministry, but Jesus said “No” because he had much bigger plans! (heavenlies)
He has cut off Satan at the source of his power. Satan is just like a branch that’s been cut from a tree. It may still look strong and alive for a time, but the life is gone and it doesn’t have a prayer.
Through Christ, the heavenlies have been turned from a place of fear and power and concern to a place of great blessing. All the blessings we will see over the next three weeks in this prayer come from the heavenlies. The Father set it all up for our welfare, because he loves us.
So the first way we see God’s love is that, in Christ, the heavenlies have become a place of blessing.
In Christ, we were chosen before the foundation of the world
Paul makes a paradigm-shifting, mind-blowing statement in verse 4 of this passage. He has just stated that. We have received every spiritual blessing in Christ. Now he begins to explain what he means in verse 4. Look at what he says:
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
– Ephesians 1:4
Literally he says God the Father chose us in Christ, not just before the creation of the world, but before the foundation of the world. God chose us, before the world ever began to be formed. This is mind-blowing. Think about that. God chose you! That means that God chose you before you chose Him. It means God chose you before you were born. It means God chose you before the world was ever created. If you are in Christ, you are in Christ because God chose you.
Now there are a lot of controversial places our minds could go at this point, because this relates to the topic of predestination. I mean the next verse says “He predestined us to be adopted as sons.” We could debate anything from how this relates to human freedom to the order of God’s creative decrees. But let’s not do that! Please don’t wreck your small group by turning it into an argument about predestination! You’ll miss the blessing! Just look at the text. Paul is blessing God, the Father, because He chose us! He chose us!
Here’s the humbling part, the part that will build gospel humility into our hearts, and love and unity into our congregation. He didn’t choose us because of our goodness. God didn’t choose you, because you’re such a good person. He didn’t choose you, because of some merit that he saw that you would have. Look at the verse again Paul says:
- God chose us he says.
- He chose us before the world was ever created.
- Look at the end of the verse: He chose us to be in order that we should be holy and blameless in his sight.
Now when I first read that, I have to admit, I didn’t find it very encouraging! I was like “Oh, so I’m supposed to be holy and blameless in God’s sight. That’s all!” How am I doing on that? Most days, actually, I read that and I thought “I’m not sure I measure up here.” That’s exactly the point. He didn’t choose us, because we were holy and blameless. He chose us so that we could become holy and blameless.
It wasn’t because of some merit on my part that God chose me. It wasn’t because of my good behavior. It wasn’t because I was holy. It wasn’t because I chose to come to Him. Jesus said “No man can come unto me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
God didn’t choose me because of my goodness. He chose me because of His goodness. He walked with me through the circumstances of my life, graciously enabling me to hear the gospel and drawing me to himself. None of the credit for my salvation goes to me. It all goes to God.
Once I understood that, it changed my view of the Christian life completely. It turned my old view on it’s head. God became much, much bigger, and I became much smaller. I became a lot less judgmental, because I realized that the difference between me and other people wasn’t my merit. It was God’s amazing grace. I realized that God didn’t have to love me, but He did. He chose me.
So we see God’s love because (1) in Christ the heavenlies have become a place of blessing, and (2) in Christ we were chosen before the foundation of the world. Now one more way we see God’s love:
In Christ, we were lovingly adopted into God’s Family
Paul says this:
In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
– Ephesians 1:5-6
Notice again that God predestined this. This isn’t some reaction to our goodness. This is God choosing us, and setting his affections on us, and developing a plan to make us his children. Let me show you something. Look at that last clause of verse 5: “In accordance with his pleasure and will.” When I first read that, I thought “Why did Paul say that?” Isn’t everything God does in accordance with his pleasure and will? That’s kind of the point of being God. You only have to do your will!
Paul is making a point, and his point is this: It was God – God, the Father’s, pleasure to choose you, and predestine you, and bring you into his family. It was his pleasure – like Chik-fil-a “my pleasure.”
Some people think of God, the Father, as harsh and demanding. They read the scariest parts of the Old Testament, and they conclude that God is really someone that you would just rather He didn’t notice you, like my old Junior High principal, Mr. Davenport. You would just as soon that Mr. Davenport wasn’t paying attention to you!
In fact, I used to kind of look at the Father that way – kind of like it was Jesus’ job to protect me from God, the Father. Like the Father didn’t want to love me, but he sort of had to because of what Jesus did. That’s the way I thought about it for years and years in my Christian life. That was what that late-night conversation with Kelley was all about. I felt like God didn’t really like me, but he had to love me because of Jesus.
Let me tell you something: Nothing could be further from the truth. God, the Father, doesn’t have to love us because of what Jesus did. God, the Father, was the one who sent Jesus to do what he did. It was his pleasure. “God, the Father, so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life.” The Father devised a plan by which he could make you, a beloved son or daughter, a member of his family. He chose you before Jesus died.
Some of you know that pain of having an earthly Father that didn’t choose you. You had a Father or step-father that never accepted you for who you were. I have a dear friend whose Father never really chose her, never accepted her. This showed up in many big and little ways in her life, but one literal snapshot of this happened when she was about nine years old. Her family was on summer vacation. They were at a big amusement park they had always wanted to go to. She and her siblings and her mom and dad – they went to take a family photo and her Dad asked her – just her – to step out of the picture. He said “Hey – let’s take a picture with just me, and your mom, and the other kids.” That was her life: Always being asked to step out of the family picture. Can you imagine how that feels? Some of you can. Some of you know that feeling. You have Dads that never chose you. Dads that chose money over you. Dads that chose a hobby over you. Dads that chose a sibling or TV or a bottle over you. You know the pain of not being chosen.
Please listen closely. I want you to get this in every fiber of your being: This is the opposite of that.
This Father, your Spiritual Father, God the Father, chose you. He chose you. He loves you before you were ever created, before the world was formed, He chose you. He predestined you. In the Greek, the word means to mark out a path. He laid out a path by which you would hear the gospel and know of Him. He drew you to Himself. He said “Come here. I want you in this picture. I want to commune with you. I want to hear what’s going on in your life. I want to share my love, and my wisdom, and my provision with you. I choose you. And my family picture is not complete without you.”
In Christ we are adopted into God’s family. But there’s one more thing we have to notice about this Adoption and really about all the blessings that we are going to find in this prayer. Look at verse 6 Paul says: “to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
This adoption didn’t come about simply because God likes us and wants to do something nice for us. Paul says it comes to us freely. There’s no cost. All we have to do is believe. But this adoption came about at great cost to the Father. To provide this life, these blessings, this adoption, the Father had to give that which was most precious to him. It cost him the life of his one and only Son. He did it anyway For you.
God loves you. Whether your circumstances are difficult or not, whether people tell you you’re loveable or not, whether you are struggling with sin or not, God loves you. He has made the heavenlies a place of blessing for you. He chose you before the foundation of the world. He has lovingly adopted you into his family. God loves you.
Let’s pray. Today, as we bow our heads maybe some of you have been struggling to feel the love of God. If that’s you, can I ask you to raise your hand? I’d like to pray for you. Others of you maybe you have never known the love of God. Maybe you have.