If God is for us

Christians with an African Traditional Religion background may wonder from time to time if Jesus is enough.  Can Jesus protect me from a curse invoked by an angry neighbour?  My sins may be forgiven at the cross, but can Jesus protect me from angry spirits?  Christians from a more “western” background may  have similar thoughts.  Is Jesus enough or should I consult the horoscope just in case the stars aren’t alligned?  I have Jesus, but everyone’s been telling me about this new book about finding the true spiritual path.  Ephesians 1:3 says,

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.

This eulogy at the start of chapter one forms the foundation for the subsequent prayer.   The word “bless” occurs three times in 1:3. God is to be praised or blessed because of the fact that he has already blessed the Ephesian Christians with every spiritual blessing. The eulogy emphasises God’s initiative in providing these blessings with the use of words like “chose” (v4), “destined” (v5), “purpose” (v11) and “will” (v5). Paul affirmed that the Ephesian believers’ salvation was the result of a divine plan. Far from being an insignificant sect in a polytheistic world, the Ephesian believers were part of the divine purpose of God. The reason God had purposed these blessings, was not because he was manipulated by magical incantations or smoky ritual, but because of his “love” (1:4), “grace” (1:7), “good pleasure” (1:9) and “for the praise of his glory” (1:12).

Every spiritual blessing

Paul stressed that this purpose of God is to be found “in” and “through” Christ (1:3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13). That which God purposed for his people from before the creation of the world is brought about by God’s action and will in Christ. It is in and through Christ that the believers have every spiritual blessing, that is, they have been chosen (1:4), destined to sonship (1:5), redeemed and forgiven (1:7) and received the mystery of God’s will to unite the cosmos, including Jews and Gentiles, under Christ (1:9-10). All this occurred when the readers heard and believed the gospel (1:13) and put their faith in the Lord Jesus (1:15). No rituals or subsequent rites or “spiritual” ceremonies were necessary. The redemption and forgiveness (1:7) the believers have is particularly through Christ’s death . Contrary to pagan worship which often sought to coerce the deities into some specific action, Paul shows that Christian worship is always a grateful response to God for what he had already done in giving believers every spiritual blessing in Christ. Worship is therefore not a means to an end, but an end in itself.

In the heavenly realms

The spiritual blessings in Christ are enjoyed, according to Paul, in the “heavenly realms” (v3). The term “in the heavenly realms” probably came from the Paul’s Old Testament and Jewish concept of heaven as the dwelling place of God and the invisible created spiritual order. The term would also be understandable to the Greco-Roman worldview as the hostile spirits and demons were thought to operate “in the heavens”. The term is also in line with the Jewish two-age structure and is seen from the perspective of the age to come, which is now inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Jesus. The “heavenly realms” and the present age co-exist until the consummation of all things in Christ (1:10, cf. 1:21) and thus the hostile “powers” are currently “in the heavenly realms” (3:10, 6:12). Andrew Lincoln helpfully writes, “The blessings can be said to be in the heavenly realms, yet they are not viewed as treasure stored up for future appropriation, but as benefits belonging to believers now”. The spiritual blessings of the age to come are a present reality. Paul mentions “all things in the heavenly realms” in 1:10 to emphasize that that not even the hostile powers that were thought to dwell in the “heavenly realms” could thwart God’s purpose to unite the whole cosmos in Christ.

Sealed with the Spirit vs. seeking the sangoma

In 1:13 Paul specifically addresses the Gentile believers. The Gentile believers were also sealed with the Holy Spirit, just as the Jewish believers were when they believed. For Paul, believing and being sealed were two sides of the same coin and therefore because the readers were believers1 they were recipients of the Holy Spirit. Sealing implied ownership and protection . It seems likely that many of the believers may have reverted to magic for protection from the “powers” that dominated Ephesian religious life. Magic – or visiting the witchdoctor (“sangoma” in African Tradition)- was not necessary as the believers had been sealed with the Holy Spirit indicating that the believers belonged to the all-powerful God and could therefore expect his protection2. The Holy Spirit was also the down payment of the believers’ future endowment (1:14). Paul maintained that the believers had been given an advance on their inheritance against the day of full payment.

If God is for us…

The original readers had been reminded in 1:3-143 that they have every spiritual blessing and the scope of God’s salvation in Jesus was cosmic and comprehensive. The appropriate response is to praise God (1:3). The eulogy sets the stage for Paul’s prayer in 1:15-23 (see my next Ephesian blog). We’ll see that Paul did not pray for new blessings, but for a renewed understanding, appreciation, appropriation and continuation of every spiritual blessing that the believers had already.

Christians have every spiritual blessing.  God the Father has chosen us.  God the Son has saved us by his death.  God the Spirit has sealed us.  If the triune God be for you, who – on earth or in heaven – can be against you?  In other words, there is no need to visit the sangoma or read the horoscope.  Rather keep trusting Jesus who is “far above any name that can be named” (1:21).

 

 

 

Notes:

(1) Although some see this as a reference to the believer’s water baptism and subsequent sealing of the Holy Spirit.  There seems however to be no hint of baptism in the context.

(2) Rodney Thomas has done an interesting study entitled, “The seal of the Spirit and the religious climate of Ephesus” where he observes that in a society where amulets and talismans were often used for protecting one from
evil.  The “seal” of the Holy Spirit would have been understood as a potent symbol of the Holy Spirit himself who offers protection from all forms of magical influence.”

(3) It may have been more logical for Paul to expound on the facts of their salvation (2:1-10) before expressing the benefits of their salvation (1:4-14). We may speculate as to why Paul did not begin his letter with 2:1-10 and follow it with 1:4-14.  One reason may be that the issue challenging the Ephesian Christians’ was not the reality of their salvation, but the comprehensiveness of their salvation to, among other things, protect them from evil.