COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS (Ephesians 1:3)
Ephesians 1:3-14 records what is called THE HYMN OF GRACE. It is so because scholars tell us that these verses record an actual hymn of praise that was sung in worship by the early church. Whether or not this is true, the content of this passage is still accurately labeled a hymn of grace. In the original Greek text, these twelve verses comprise only one sentence, even though no English versions translate it that way. In some remarkable way, this complex passage was one simple exclamation of praise in Paul’s mind. And this high praise is offered to almighty God for the sovereign grace by which he gives sinful people a new position in Christ. Verses 4-6 praise God the Father for choosing us for salvation. Verses 7-12 praise God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, for purchasing our salvation with his own lifeblood. And verses 13-14 praise God the Holy Spirit for sealing our salvation.This passage is a careful explanation of the God-centered, God-exalting nature of the Christian message of salvation. But this explanation begins with a celebration. Verse 3 says: “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.”
What does it mean to be blessed? This is one of the fast-growing list of words in the Christian lexicon that is often used, seldom explained, and very misunderstood. Consequently, there are many believers who spend their energy chasing down the seemingly-elusive blessings of God. And there is much jealousy, rivalry, and disunity in the church, as children of God quietly compete for supposedly bigger and better blessings. And then there’s the great cover-up of breaking news that we do not really talk about; namely, that the material and financial things we so desperately crave as blessings from God do not really satisfy. In the process, God’s sheepfold has become a zoo, filled with professing Christians whose view of life is no different than the people of the world who do not know God. So I raise this question with confidence that the right answer can change our lives, revive our church, and strengthen our witness. What does it mean to be blessed? Ephesians 1:3 provides a clear and comprehensive answer: “Bless be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Chris who has bless us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
I submit to you that every person who is united to Christ by faith is already richly blessed. Notice that this verse does not promise that God will bless us. And it does not announce that God is in the process of blessing us right now. It declares that God has already blessed us. It is a done deal, a settled reality, and an unimpeachable position. If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are sovereignly, abundantly, and eternally blessed. TOM JULIEN writes: “Some seek blessings and miss Christ. Others seek him and find both.” If you belong to Jesus Christ, you are richly blessed beyond measure. Now, I did not say that you will always feel blessed. The fact is that there will be times when you will feel abandoned, frustrated, hurt, neglected, and overwhelmed – anything but blessed. But your changing feelings have absolutely no affect on the reality, prosperity, and security of your blessed position in Christ. My wife has a sign on the refrigerator door that says, “I’M TOO BLESSED TO BE STRESSED.” But that’s not my testimony. I’ve discovered that you can be blessed and stressed at the same time. And the only way to handle some stressful situations is to remind yourself that you are blessed in spite of the stress. JOHN OATMAN JR. gave us some wise advice when he wrote:
WHEN UPON LIFE’S BILLOWS YOU ARE TEMPEST TOSSED,
WHEN YOU ARE DISCOURAGED, THINKING ALL IS LOST,
COUNT YOUR MANY BLESSINGS – NAME THEM ONE BY ONE
AND IT WILL SURPRISE YOU WHAT THE LORD HATH DONE.
R. KENT HUGHES rightly asks, “The Devil may curse us, but if God blesses us, what does it matter? If you are united to Christ by faith, you are already richly blessed of God. And Ephesians 1:3 highlights three dynamics of the blessed life that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ.
I. THE PROPER RESPONSE TO THE BLESSED LIFE
What is the proper response to the blessings of God? There are several ways to respond to God’s blessings on the believer’s life. For instance, it would have been proper for this declaration of blessing to say, “Trust in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Or, it would have been proper for this declaration of blessing to say, “Serve the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” But Paul did not choose these or any of the other legitimate responses to the God’s blessings we could mention. Instead, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote: “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.”
The NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION translates this verse: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” in order to avoid the potential confusion of the repeated use of the word blessed. But in so doing, it robs the reader of the beautiful play on words here. Literally, the verse says that we ought to bless God because God has blessed us. This word “blessed” literally means, “to speak well of” someone. It is the Greek term from which we get our word “eulogy.” Paul says that we ought to eulogize God! We ought to speak well of God. We ought to declare good things about God in grateful praise to him. In Mark 10:18, Jesus declares, “No one is good except God alone.” And since God alone is truly good, he is supremely and exclusively worthy of our highest expressions of praise. We ought to bless God with our praise for all his blessings toward us.
The same root word for blessing is used throughout this verse. But there is a difference between how we bless and how God blesses us. When God blesses us, it is both gracious and effectual. It is gracious in that God does not speak well of us because we deserve it. God blesses us because he is good and in spite of the fact that we are not good. Likewise, his blessings are effectual. When God declares his goodwill on us, his sovereign authority fully accomplishes everything he decrees. Paul affirms this by calling him “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In calling him God, Paul declares that he is our SOVEREIGN CREATOR. Psalm 100:3 says, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” God is our sovereign Creator. And note that Paul says he is “the God,” meaning that he is God all by himself. But not only is God our Creator; he is also our SOVEREIGN REDEEMER. Paul calls also him “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In verse 2, he is “our Father.” But now he is “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This description states the unique relationship between God the Father and God the Son. It declares Jesus Christ to be the only and eternally begotten Son of God. And God loved us so much that he sent his son to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, adopt us into his family, and qualify us for eternal blessings.
So when God blesses us, it is gracious and effectual. However, when we bless God it is deserved and useless. It is deserved in that we speak well of God because he is worthy to be praised. Or as WALTER WINK defines it, “To worship is to remember who owns the house.” And to say that it is useless is to say that our blessing God does not contribute anything to God in any way. We are wrong when we speak of magnifying God, exalting God, or lifting him up in any way that suggests we make God bigger with our praise. If God needs us to make him bigger, then he is no God at all. The biblical idea of magnifying God is that we are to treat God with the glorious magnificence that he rightly deserves. MARVA DAWN calls worship “a royal waste of time.” By this she means that worship is not a means to an end; it’s an end in itself. God alone is the SUBJECT and OBJECT of true worship. And we ought to bless him for blessing us.
This doxology teaches us much about true worship. First of all, it teaches us that true worship is to be God-centered, not man-centered. Real worship is not about who you are, what you have, or how you feel. It’s about who God is and what God has done for you through Jesus Christ. So when our worship begins to lapse, we really cannot blame the preacher, the music, or the atmosphere. When you find it difficult to worship God, it only means that we have forgotten what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. If you consider the spiritual blessings that are yours in Christ, you can praise God no matter what. John 4:24 says: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” That is, true worship must be with head and heart. We see that here in THE HYMN OF GRACE, where Paul is filled with both joyful exuberance and theological reflection. Likewise, our worship will have a proper balance of God-entranced joy and God-centered truth when we learn to bless God for Jesus Christ. May our prayer be:
COME, THOU FOUNT OF EVERY BLESSING, TUNE MY HEART TO SING THY GRACE
STREAMS OF MERCY, NEVER CEASING, CALL FOR SONGS OF LOUDEST PRAISE
TEACH ME SOME MELODIOUS SONNET, SUNG BY FLAMING TONGUES ABOVE
PRAISE THE MOUNT! I’M FIXED UPON IT, MOUNT OF GOD’S UNCHANGING LOVE
II. THE EXCLUSIVE MEANS TO THE BLESSED LIFE
Again, Ephesians 1:3 declares: “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.” That phrase, “in Christ,” is a succinct statement of the dominating theme of THE EPISTLE OF EPHESIANS. It, or some variation of it, is used more than thirty-five times in this letter. This phrase, “in Christ,” is theological shorthand that describes the believer’s spiritual union to, intimate relationship with, and new identity in Christ. In fact, the early Christians would begin their answer to the question, “Who are you?” with this simple phrase: EN CHRISTO – “in Christ.”
This phrase is, first of all, a statement about Christ himself. On one hand, it affirms the exclusivity of Christ. ST. AUGUSTINE was right: God is more anxious to bestow his blessings on us than we are to receive them. But God’s blessings can only be received in Christ. Note that Paul did not say we are blessed in Christ and something or someone else. Christ alone is the only means to spiritual blessings. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus Christ is the only way to the blessings of God. On the other hand, this phrase also affirms the sufficiency of Christ. That is, if you are in Christ, you already have full and free access to the God’s blessings. There is absolutely nothing lacking from your salvation. But this phrase is also a statement the Christian. It tells us that if we you are in Christ, you don’t have to be governed by your past, haunted by your mistakes, bound by your limitations, afraid of your weaknesses, or handicapped by your pain. You have a brand new identity in Christ.
In his book, Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?, JOHN POWELL writes of asking that question in a classroom. “Do you want my answer?” asked a student.” “Yes, of course I do,” responded Dr. Powell. “I am afraid to tell you who I am, because if I tell you who I am, you may not like who I am, and it’s all that I have.”
In the same way, many of us find it difficult to live authentically before others out of fear that others people will not like who we are. In fact, some of us are afraid to live authentically with ourselves out of fear that we will not like ourselves. But 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” If you are in Christ, you have a brand new identity. You are blessed in Christ. Verse 3 is a celebration of our blessings in Christ. But verses 4-12 are an exposition of our blessings in Christ. Verse 4 says you have been chosen by God. Verse 5 says you have been predestined and adoption. Verse 6 says we are blessed, accepted, graciously endowed by God. Verse 7 says you have been redeemed and forgiven. Verse 13 says you have been sealed. And verse 14 says that you have received the guarantee, the down payment of the Spirit. In Christ, we are richly blessed.
III. THE INFINITE SCOPE OF THE BLESSED LIFE
The infinite scope of our spiritual blessings in Christ is described three ways in this verse.
OUR BLESSING IN CHRIST IS SUFFICIENT. In verse 3b, Paul declares that God is the one “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Even though most versions translate this phrase to read “every spiritual blessing”; the original text actually reads all, not every. The intended idea is that there is one blessing that God gives the believer in Christ of which there is nothing lacking. It’s not that there is a series of individual blessings that God promises to give. There is no first, second, or third blessing that God gives us in Christ. There is just one blessing that is first, full, and final. MATTHEW HENRY wrote: “Those whom God blessed with some he blesses with all spiritual blessings.” Our blessing is Christ is sufficient. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Colossians 2:10 says: “and you have been filled in him.” And 2 Peter 1:3-4 says: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” Our blessing in Christ is sufficient.
A faithful but struggling missionary candidate finally raised enough funds to purchase a ticket overseas on a cruise ship. And when he packed his bags, he includes enough cheese and crackers to get him through the entire trip. And at every mealtime, while the rest of the passengers went to the dining room to eat, this missionary would go to the deck of the ship and eat cheese and crackers from a brown paper bag. Every meal, he would sit on the deck eating cheese and crackers. Finally, some one asked him why he kept sitting on the deck eating cheese and crackers during each meal. He explained that he barely had enough money to purchase his ticket. He definitely didn’t have the money to pay for the expensive meals that they were serving in the dining room. And he was shocked to discover that once he had paid for the ticket; the meals were provided for free.
I submit to you that we don’t really know how blessed we are. You can tell it in how we pray. We often pray for spiritual blessings that already ours in Christ. We sometimes pray for the love of God. But Romans 5:5 says “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” We sometimes pray for peace. But in John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” We sometimes pray for joy. But in John 15:11, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Sometimes we pray for strength. But Philippians 4:13 declares, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
WE HAVE A SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST. Again, verse 4 declares that God has blessed us in Christ with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” This word spiritual has two implications. First, it means that our blessings in Christ come from the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13-14 says: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” The wonderful Holy Spirit is the agent who delivers, affirms, and secures our spiritual blessings in Christ. But this term spiritual is also a reference to the nature of our blessing in Christ. That is, the blessing in Christ is spiritual, rather than material. In Deuteronomy 28:1-14, God promises material blessings to the obedient children of Israel. If the members of the old covenant kept God’s law, the Lord would reward them with long life, a large family, abundant crops, and protection from their enemies, among other things. But the obedient Jew could only enjoy certain spiritual blessings.
But in the new covenant, God does not promise Christians guaranteed or uninterrupted health and wealth. But he does bless us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Now, this is not to say that God does not bless his children materially. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” 2 Corinthians 9:8 declares: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” And Philippians 4:19 is true: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Now, God doesn’t promise to supply all of your greeds. But God will meet your needs. In fact, let me stop here give some advice to someone who may be having a hard time with limited resources:
IF THE WORLD FROM YOU WITHHOLD OF ITS SILVER AND ITS GOLD
AND YOU HAVE TO GET ALONG WITH MEAGER FARE
JUST REMEMBER, IN HIS WORD, HOW HE FEEDS THE LITTLE BIRD
TAKE YOUR BURDEN TO THE LORD AND LEAVE IT THERE
God can, does, and will bless you materially. However, even more than scripture promises God’s material blessings, it warns us about the spiritual dangers of material prosperity. In Luke 12:15, Jesus says: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” In a letter to his followers from prison, former televangelist JIM BAKKER wrote: “There is no way, if you take the whole counsel of God’s Word, that you can equate riches or material things as a sign of God’s blessing.”
WE HAVE A SECURE BLESSING IN CHRIST. Again, this verse declares that God has “blessed us in him with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” This phrase “the heavenly places” (or the heavenlies) does not refer to heaven itself, the glorious dwelling place of almighty God. It speaks of a real environment of spiritual activity that is beyond the physical ordering of the created universe. JOHN R.W. STOTT calls it “the unseen world of spiritual reality.” And that may be the best definition for the heavenly places. It’s the place of spiritual reality beyond the physical realm. And Paul introduces us to it in the verse to declare to us that our blessings in Christ are secure. They are secure because Ephesians 1:20 says that God has raised up Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is name, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And Ephesians 2:6 says that God raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And Ephesians 3:10 says that through the church the manifold wisdom of God is now made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Now, this does mean that the believer can enjoy a life without any struggles. Ephesians 6:10-12 says: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” I must warn you that if you determine to walk in the spiritual blessings that are yours in Christ, the devil will fight back. However, the good is that God has already provided everything you need to stand in victory. Ephesians 6:13 says: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” You can stand firm with the spiritual armor that God has given you in Christ.
BLESSED ASSURANCE, JESUS IS MINE!
O WHAT A FORETASTE OF GLORY DIVINE!
HEAR OF SALVATION, PURCHASE OF GOD,
BORN OF HIS SPIRIT, WASHED IN HIS BLOOD.