Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 09/02/1997
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.
Who wants to be blessed this morning? Not sure? OK, who wants to be cursed? Well, a blessing is the opposite of a curse. A curse declares or wishes something bad for the recipient, and a blessing is a declaration or a wish of something good. The power of the blessing or the curse would depend on who was making it. Therefore, the greatest disaster that could befall any human being would be to be cursed by God. That would bring a failure of meaning and fulfillment to a life that would amount to nothing less than the destruction of its very humanity. So by contrast, the best thing that could happen to any person would be to be blessed by God. That would bring a success and fruition of meaning in that life that would amount to eternal happiness and bliss. The one eventuality would be the very definition of hell, the other of heaven. And so we return to verse 3 for a second week, because in it lies the possibility of blessing for us. Last week we looked at the God of blessing; this week we examine the blessing of God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”
Blessing in Scripture is not something we strive for but something God does. It is He who has blessed us. It is stated as a simple fact, demanding a response of blessing from us. And what is it exactly that God has done by blessing us? The word translated “bless” here is not the familiar word from the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” etc. That is makarios, the basic meaning of which is “profoundly happy.” Here the word is eulogeo, which literally means “good saying.” It refers not to an emotional state but to the pronouncement of goodness, the declaration of God’s intention to bring goodness into our lives. But here it is stated not in the future tense but in the past—not just the declaration of God’s intentions for his people but the fact that He has already acted to bring these intentions to pass. The aorist tense refers to a definite, specific, once-for-all action at a particular point of time in the past; it is usually used for something accomplished and completed. Well, when was that time? Was it the incarnation of our Lord? His crucifixion? His resurrection? Our conversion? No, it is something even more fundamental than any of those crucial moments. Look how Paul continues in verse 4: “ . . . just as He chose us in Him, before the foundations of the world.” This blessing is coordinated (“just as”) with Election. It happened before the universe was even created. Before he even made a world in which it could happen, God made a determination that he would bring blessing to his children. Indeed, creation itself, yea, the entire history of the universe, was planned in order to bring this blessing to pass. The world was created so that this blessing might be.
Do you understand what Paul is saying? Before the foundations of the world, God made a choice. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you may believe that it was a choice about you. Looking at you with the eyes of His foreknowledge, God saw a sinner who did not love Him, who could not love Him or obey Him or believe in Him or in any other way respond to Him, because He saw you dead in your trespasses and sins. Not because of anything He foresaw in you—not even that you would come to believe, for how could a dead person do that unless God had already done something miraculous to him?—but only because of His own grace, because of who He is—God decided to bless you anyway. Simply out of His incomprehensible grace He just up and decided to bless you. He made a pronouncement to that effect, choosing you for the greatest conceivable blessing there could be, adoption as His son or daughter. And because, dead in sin as you were, you were not only utterly ineligible to receive this blessing but utterly unable to receive or appreciate it, He therefore also determined that He would send His Son to redeem you and His Spirit to call you and regenerate you and give you the faith to accept all of this and to seal you in it. The verse we are reading today is the fountainhead of a section called “The Great Blessing,” which extends from verse three through verse fourteen. It is all one sentence in Greek, and I would urge you to read it as such over and over again, until you see that everything I have just said is included in verse three and flows from it with a beautiful inevitability. God made up His mind to do this thing before the foundations of the earth, and from that moment it was as good as done. Your whole life in this world and all of eternity in the next consists of finding out what this means in its fullness. We are just making a small start today.
Hear then the aorist force of this phrase: God has blessed us! It is something He has done. It is all of grace, His unmerited favor. He has done everything; you can do nothing except receive it. There is only one way to find yourself in this verse, and that is by the words of the hymn, “Nothing in my hands I bring; / Simply to thy cross I cling.” There is nothing you can do except to receive it, but receiving this blessing means you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Why would God do such a thing? Why would He do this great thing? There is nothing we can say in response to this except what Paul said: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”
There are two things to be said about the extent of this blessing. First, it is a spiritual blessing. What does that mean? The key to understanding that is 2 Cor. 4:18. “The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are unseen are eternal.” The word spiritual here refers to the unseen. The unbeliever lives primarily for what he can see, hear, taste, touch, or feel. If he can’t eat it, drink it, wear it, drive it, play with it, go to bed with it, or make interest on it, he doesn’t know what to do with it. His whole focus is on the seen, that is, the material. What gives meaning to all or any of these things is obviously not something that you can see; but that does not mean it is unreal. When you become a Christian, a whole new dimension is opened up to you. You become an enigma to the non-Christian, because now, while you receive material blessings with thanks, your focus is on something else, something he may not even believe exists but in any case does not understand. How is it that we have come to have a version of “Christianity” that makes the same mistake as the secular mind and finds God’s blessing in “health and wealth”? The emphasis here is on spiritual blessings: forgiveness, acceptance, love, purpose, meaning, fulfillment. These are not things that are going to pass away, but things that, because we find them in God, are eternal.
The second thing to notice is that this declaration by God includes “EVERY spiritual blessing.” “Every” is a pretty all-encompassing word. Whatever is essential to your eternal spiritual happiness, fulfillment, and wellbeing is included. Nothing is left out. Included are justification, regeneration, adoption, sanctification, reconciliation, purpose, power, assurance, the fruit of the Spirit, and ultimately glorification. What we should note from this is the sufficiency of God’s grace. Nothing you need to serve God faithfully now or enjoy Him fully forever has been left out. All of it has been provided in Jesus Christ! This should make us leery of those who divide the work of Grace into two definitive stages or two experiences. If you have truly received Christ, you have received everything. Of course you need to learn more about it, to experience it more fully, to grow into it—it takes some growing into. But there is nothing “extra” you need. You just need more of Christ. In Him is every spiritual blessing. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”
While we begin to experience the blessing now, we will not know it in its fullness in this life, but only in the next. That is what is means to say that the blessing is “in the heavenly places.” Peter uses similar language: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:3-4). And Paul will also elaborate in chapter two: God has “raised us up [with Christ] and seated us with Him in the heavenly places” (2:6). There is a twofold emphasis here. First, the full experience of knowing Christ awaits us in the next life. But second, if we do know Him, we are already as good as there, already seated with Him in heaven in the mind of God and therefore, in a sense, in reality. That is why we already begin to enjoy the firstfruits of the blessing here and now. There is a present reality, and it is the basis of our hope in a greater reality in the future. It is kept for us already in the heavenly places. And therefore, even while we live on this earth, we should be heavenly minded people.
Please understand: this is not “pie in the sky by and by.” It is pie in the sky right now! It is a future promise that is relevant to the way we live our lives at this moment. It is relevant in at least two ways. First, being the recipients of this blessing gives us an identity, a purpose, and a relationship with God that inform and direct everything about the way we live in the present. (The whole second half of Ephesians is about laying out the details of that way, as we learn to “walk worthily of our calling.”) And second, we already begin to enjoy the blessing here and now. Pie in the sky? I have painfully good memories of my Mom’s apple pie. My mouth is watering right now, not in anticipation of a piece, which is not forthcoming, but just thinking about those past moments when I was in anticipation. She would open the oven to check on something and the aroma would fill the house. Talk about a heavenly aroma! So when Paul says that God’s blessing is in the heavenly places reserved for us, do you know what he is saying? THE PIE IS ALREADY IN THE OVEN! When you read your Bible, when you hear it faithfully expounded, when you join your voices with the congregation in singing His praises, when you receive the Lord’s Supper, do you know what is happening? God is letting you peek in the oven! Look at the juices bubbling up through the crust! Watch that crust turning golden brown! God is giving you a whiff of the aroma! Doesn’t it make your mouth water? Oh, get your focus off of the world and smell the pie! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”
What a rich sentence this is that we have been reading this morning! And the Apostle has saved the best part of it for last. The very essence of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places is that it is in Christ. In Christ: it is perhaps the deepest, richest, most profound phrase in Scripture, and it is the key not only to this sentence but to the whole book of Ephesians. What does it mean?
We have no time to survey all the usages of this phrase today, but surely here it means this: There is only one Chef who can make and serve the kind of pie we’ve been discussing. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by Him. Here it means at least that; but it is more than that. For Christ himself is the very essence of the blessing. It is all bound up in Him. He is its height and its depth, its final summation, its be all and end all, its alpha and omega, its beginning and its end. In Christ we have everything that makes life good and worth living, yea, even for an eternity; apart from Him we have nothing.
What is there in salvation that constitutes God’s blessing, His declaration of good for us? There is justification, the forgiveness of our sins: it is in Christ; it is nowhere else to be found. What of the meaning of life and the purpose of existence? It is in Christ; it is nowhere else to be found. What of peace with God, peace with ourselves, and peace with our fellow men! It is in Christ; it is nowhere else to be found. What of love, joy, power, confidence? They are in Christ; they are nowhere else to be found. What of eternal and abundant life? It is in Christ; it is nowhere else to be found. The whole spiritual pie? It is in Christ; it is nowhere else to be found. Francis Foulkes put it well: “As the root in the soil, the branch in the vine, the fish in the sea, the bird in the air; so the place of the Christian’s life is in Christ.” It is nowhere else to be found. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”
Is there a slice of this pie reserved in heaven for you? Oh, unsaved friend, invite Christ into your life as Savior and Lord today, confess Him as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, and all these things will be true of you. Is there a slice of this pie reserved in heaven for you? Oh, Christian brother and sister, get your heads up out of the things of the world and smell the pie. Then you will not only understand what Paul is saying, but you will join with him in saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Amen.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams