God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians: Revelation and Benediction

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on June 26, 2005

Ephesians 1:1-2

The Lord’s Day
Morning

June 26, 2005

Ephesians 1:1-2

“Revelation and Benediction”

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to the Book of Ephesians, chapter one.

John Mackay, who later became the president of
Princeton Theological Seminary, when he was a fourteen-year-old boy in 1903,
wandered out into the hills of the highlands of Scotland with his Bible in his
hand, and read through the Book of Ephesians. It was a life-changing experience
for him. He was gripped by the truth that he found in this book.

Young people, I want to say to you, this reminds us
that now is the time for you to do business with God. You don’t wait until you
go off to college, you don’t wait until you get involved in the RUF group, or
wait until you get married and settle down and have children. Now is the time
to do business with God. Now is the time to know Christ. Now is the time to know
the living God, savingly through Jesus Christ.

Well, here’s this fourteen-year-old. What in the
world did he see in the Book of Ephesians? Well, he tells us. He says, “I saw
a new world. Everything was new. I had a new outlook, new experiences, new
attitudes towards other people. I loved God. Jesus Christ became the center of
everything. I had been quickened. I was really alive.”

What did he see in the Book of Ephesians that had
that kind of impact on him? Why has this book been so precious and beloved to
Christians through the ages? Calvin called this his “favorite letter”, and one
commentator last century said, “This is the queen of the epistles.” Why have
Christians responded to the Book of Ephesians in this way?

Well, there are a lot of good answers to that
question, and I trust that we’ll come upon them as we work through this great
book. But let me suggest three to you this morning.

The first thing is that Ephesians is a book of
prayer.
Literally, it is a book of prayer. Do you realize that about half
of the Book of Ephesians is prayer? Prayer reports, prayer requests, and
invitations to prayer…even outlines of prayers that Paul has prayed for the
Ephesian Christians and for you and me.

Think of it! In Ephesians 6:19-20, what is Paul
doing? He’s making a prayer request, and he is telling the Ephesian Christians
exactly what he wants them to pray for him. Or, in Ephesians 3:14-19, he tells
the Ephesians what he is praying for them. Or, at the beginning of the book, a
passage we’ll begin studying next week, Lord willing, from Ephesians 1:3 all the
way down to verse 14 — what is it but a gigantic prayer of praise, a doxology to
God.

Or there’s the shorter doxology that you find at the
end of Ephesians 3. The book is filled with prayers: Prayers of praise, prayers
of thanksgiving, and prayers of intercession. It is a book filed with prayer,
and I suspect that the Lord has used that to open many a heart to Him over the
years.

In many of Paul’s books, Paul is giving an argument
– an argument for Christ, an argument about a particular issue. In this book,
he approaches it via prayer. We know because of our own fleshliness that when
someone gives us an argument, no matter how good it is, we have an instinctive
tendency to want to argue back, to want to put our defenses up and fight. When
someone says ‘I’d like to pray for you’ or ‘This is what I’m praying for you,’
it brings our defenses down. We sense that we’re in the presence of someone who
is a friend, and Paul speaks to us in that way, through prayer in the Book of
Ephesians. And I think that’s one reason why this book is so precious and
beloved to Christians of all ages.

Secondly, this book is a book about God. It
contains bold affirmations about who the triune God is. Think of it: In
Ephesians 1, we have this beautiful picture of God the Father’s electing love,
and Christ’s dying and rising in redeeming love, and the Holy Spirit’s power and
work on behalf of believers. This is a book of affirmations about God. It’s
very common to hear modern preachers, whether they be TV preachers or
theological liberals, say that they want to preach a message which is affirming
of you. They don’t want to come against you with negativity and talk of sin, but
they want to unlock the latent potentials in your hearts and let you be set free
to be all that you can be.

That message may tickle the ears of some, but it’s
so interesting that the bold affirmations of the Book of Ephesians are not
affirmations of us, but they are the affirmations of the God who alone
can save us
, and the God who alone can restore us to the fullness of the
image in which we were created. And so the creature is abased, and the saving,
redeeming Creator is exalted and boldly affirmed in this book.

This book is a book of bold affirmations about the
triune God, and in the end all Christians exult in that, because we know
ourselves and we know what we would be apart from God in Jesus Christ; and so,
when our God is exalted, we exult in Him. And so I think that’s probably
another reason why Christians down through the ages have loved this book:
because it contains these bold affirmations about God.

But Ephesians is also a book of evangelism.
Have you ever thought of the outline of the Book of Ephesians? Ephesians 1 and
2 speak to us of the missionary God doing His redeeming work: setting forth a
plan from before the foundation of the world; accomplishing it in the person of
Jesus Christ; applying it through the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 1 and 2 elaborate on that grand theme of the missionary God. He is
the one who reaches out to a multitude that no man can number, from every tribe
and tongue and people and nation, men and women, boys and girls, with this
saving work of Jesus Christ.

Then, if you look at Ephesians 3 and 4, we see
there what God has wrought through His saving work in His people, the church.

We’re told what God is seeking to accomplish in His work of redemption.

And we look to Ephesians 5 and 6, and there
we see this bold and joyful ambassadorship that we have been given by God
through Jesus Christ to be a witness to the world of His saving work in us
and for us, and of the only way of salvation, which is in Jesus Christ.

This is a book about evangelism, and so for that
reason I think many Christians over the years have loved this great book.

Well, I trust you’ll find many more by the time that
we finish studying Ephesians together in the weeks and months to come. But as we
begin to read the short portion of Scripture that is our text this morning, I
want you to be on the lookout for three particular things.

In verse 1, I want you to look at how the author, or
the sender, of this letter is described. In the second half of verse 1,
secondly, I want you to look at how the recipients of this letter are described.
And then thirdly, in verse 2, I want you to see the greeting which is given by
the sender of this letter. Especially look at the message of blessing which is
contained in that greeting, in that salutation. Look for those three things as
we hear God’s word.

Before we read and hear God’s word, let’s look to
Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.

O God, by Your Holy Spirit You inspired Your
word; and so, O God, by that same Spirit we ask that You would open our eyes to
understand the truth of Your word, and by Your Spirit that You would apply that
truth to our own hearts and lives, that we might respond trusting and obeying
the word of God. These things we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hear the word of God.

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints
who are at Ephesus, and who are faithful in Christ Jesus. Grace to you and
peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy,
inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

John Mackay, the young man that I was speaking of
who had that glorious experience of God’s grace reading this book of Ephesians
in the highland hills so many years ago, says this about the Book of Ephesians:

“What we read here in Ephesians is truth that
sings…doctrine set to music.”

What he’s saying is that this truth of Ephesians sets the
heart singing, it sets the heart ablaze with love to God and praise to God.

Now what is it again in this book that caused John
Mackay’s heart to respond so, and so many other Christians through the years?
Well, I want to suggest to you that at least one answer is the grand theme of
Ephesians: and that theme is that what God had planned from before the
foundation of the world, He has accomplished in the person and work of His Son,
Jesus the Messiah, and He is accomplishing through His Spirit today: that is,
the building of a new society in the midst of a dying one; a new order in the
midst of the old one; an outpost of the age to come in the midst of this passing
age. He has created through Jesus Christ a new family, the body of Christ, the
people of God, the church, to the praise of His glorious grace. And that grand
theme echoes from the beginning to the end of this book, and it orders the way
that we look at our lives and the world, and it instills in us a ground for
praise to our God.

So as we begin to study this book together today,
let me point you to three things.

I. The author, the message, the
words of this book, speak with Christ’s authority, by the decree of God.

Look at what we learn as we look at the
author, or sender, of this letter, in verse 1: “Paul, an apostle of Christ
Jesus, by the will of God….” And I want to suggest that even in that
description of the one who is writing or sending this letter, the author, the
message, the words of this book, we learn speak with Christ’s authority by the
decree of God. This book is not simply the words of man, but it is given to us
by God: by His will, by the appointment of Jesus Christ. We see this in two or
three ways.

First of all, notice what Paul calls himself. He
says ‘I am an apostle.’ “Paul, an apostle….” Now you know that an apostle in
the Scriptures is someone who is specially chosen, called, and sent to teach
with authority. Jesus had taken apart to Himself several special disciples, and
He had given them His full authority. He had clothed them with His full
authority to teach and minister in His name. And Paul is saying here that he,
too, is among that number. So this is not simply the word of a veteran pastor
or a missionary hero, this is the word of one who has been appointed by Jesus
Christ. You remember when Paul was appointed to this task: it’s when Jesus met
him on the road to Damascus and called him to be His apostle.

Then notice what else he says: ‘…an apostle of the
Messiah, Jesus.’ Paul is saying ‘I was chosen and called and sent by Jesus
Himself.’ And this is echoed in the words of Luke in Acts 9. Turn with me
there.

You remember that the early church wasn’t
particularly thrilled about the Apostle Paul’s call into Christian service. In
fact, they were highly nervous about Paul being numbered amongst their midst.
Paul had been the great persecutor of the church, and on the way to Damascus for
the very express purpose of imprisoning Christians and perhaps even contributing
to their deaths, Paul was met by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, when the Lord Jesus told Ananias to go and
minister to Paul, Ananias was reticent — ‘Lord, this is the man who has been
persecuting Your church!’ So what does Jesus say? Look at Acts 9:15. He says
to Ananias, “Go, for he [that is, Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to bear
My name before the Gentiles and kings and sons of Israel.” There Jesus Himself
is saying to Ananias and to His early church, ‘I have called Paul to be one of
My apostles.’ And Paul is just echoing that truth here in this description of
himself.

And then notice what he goes on to say — that he is
not just as apostle sent by the Messiah Jesus, but that he is an apostle by the
will of God. Paul is making it clear here that he was an apostle not of his own
doing, not of his own will, or the will of others. Paul was a persecutor of the
church. He wasn’t a person who sat down and took a vocational test and decided
that he would like to go into gospel ministry in the Christian church. He was
doing the exact opposite! He was one who wanted to crush the church, but God
got hold of him. Jesus confronted him, and called him and appointed him by His
own will to be a messenger, and Paul is emphasizing that here. He is a
messenger of God by God’s choosing, by God’s doing.

Now, my friends, there are many ways that we could
apply that truth, but one that we must not miss is this: We must listen to the
message of this book, to the message of Ephesians, with an appropriate attention
and humility, because this message does not come to us from the ideas of man.
This message does not come to us from a private individual acting on his own.
This message doesn’t even come to us from someone who was a gifted teacher, or
one of our missionary heroes. This message comes to us because God appointed
this man Paul to bring this message to us; and, therefore, when you hear Paul
speaking in this letter, you are in fact hearing the message of God Himself that
God appointed Paul to bring to you.

And I want to say, my friends, that that is vitally
important today, because one of the central errors in our thinking today is that
men and women have the right to decide for themselves anew and afresh what
Christianity is, what the church is, and what the message of the gospel is. And
the Apostle Paul is saying ‘No. The gospel is God’s. It belongs to Him. It’s
His message. Nobody alters the gospel. I am here to declare that gospel. It is
your business to sit under that gospel message’s declaration and receive it,
embrace it, believe it, to the saving of your souls.’ No, the author, the
message, the words of this book speak with Christ’s authority by God’s decree,
and so what we study over the next months together in Ephesians are not the
words of men or the ideas of men, but they are God’s message to us through men
whom He inspired by His Holy Spirit and carried along, and guided and protected,
and enabled them to pen the very words of God.

II. The description of the
recipients tells us what Christians are, by the grace of God.

Secondly, I want you to see what we learn from the
recipients. Look at the second half of verse 1: “To the saints who are at
Ephesus, who are faithful in Christ Jesus.” Now, that description, that
description of the recipients of this letter tells us what Christians are, by
the grace of God. And again, notice three things that Paul says about the
Ephesian Christians that are true of all Christians in every congregation of
Christians in the local church.

First of all, he says they’re saints. Now,
he’s not talking to some super-spiritual group within them. He’s not talking
about a group that has achieved sinless perfection. He’s not talking about a
group that has had a ‘higher life’ experience or a ‘second blessing.’ He’s
talking to every Christian in that congregation, and he says ‘You are saints.
You are holy ones.’ Why does he say this?

Well, turn with me to I Peter 2:9,10. I’m only
going to read from verses 9 and 10, but I want you to look at verse 11, as
well. He says, Peter does, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy
nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may claim the
excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous
light. For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you
had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Now, you recognize
that language. That’s language right out of the first five books of the Bible,
used to describe the people of Israel. And Peter is saying to you Christians,
‘You have been made by God a holy people. Just as God called Israel to be His
people, so He has called the church made up of Jew and Greek, slave and free,
male and female — men and women and boys and girls from every tribe and tongue
and people and nation — and He has called you into His body, He has called you
into His family, and He has made you His saints, His holy ones. He’s made you a
holy nation. This is why the Apostle Paul, in Galatians 6:16, can say to the
Galatian Christians, “You are the Israel of God.” Just as God had called Israel
out of the world to be His holy nation in the old covenant, so God has called
the church to be His “holy nation, His holy people, a royal priesthood, a chosen
race” in the New Testament. That is a reality of being a Christian. You are
a holy one.

You know I told you to keep your Bibles open and
look at verse 11, because the deduction that Peter draws from that (because God
has made you one of His holy ones), what ought you to do? You ought to pursue
holiness! It’s because God has made you to be one of His holy ones that
you ought to pursue holiness. It’s because God has made you to be one of
His holy ones that you pursue a life of holiness. And so Paul says to these
Ephesian Christians, ‘You are holy ones; you’re God’s holy ones.’

And then he goes on to describe them as
faithful
, or believing. They’re believing and trusting in Jesus Christ.
That’s what Christians do. Christians believe the Bible; they obey its commands;
they believe its promises; and they trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as
He is offered in the gospel.

Turn in your hymnals to page 856 for a moment. On the middle of
page 856, you will see the fourteenth chapter of The Westminster Confession
of Faith
. It’s on the subject of “Saving Faith.” It’s just defining what
the Bible means by saving faith, and in the second section of Chapter XIV, we
read this: “By this faith [saving faith] a Christian believes to be true
whatsoever is revealed in the word, for the authority of God Himself speaking
therein; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof
contains; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings,
embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come. But the
principle acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ
alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the
covenant of grace.”

You see what Paul is saying to these Ephesian Christians:
“You are people who believe. You trust in God. You are people who believe the
word, and you believe in Jesus Christ, and, consequently, you are faithful.”

Then thirdly, notice what he says: they
are not simply faithful, but they are faithful in Christ Jesus. You know
that when Paul says “in Christ”, he almost always has in mind what we call
“union with Christ”; that is, that we have been personally, savingly united to
Christ by faith, by the work of the Holy Spirit. Everyone who trusts in Christ
has been united to the Lord Jesus Christ, so that we are savingly brought into
union with Him, and with all those who trust in Him. We are His body, and He is
our head. And Paul is saying, ‘That’s what you are, Christians. You’re saints;
you’re holy ones; you’re believers in the Lord Jesus Christ; you’re the
household of faith, and you are in Christ Jesus.’

You see, that description of the recipients tells
the recipients what Christians are. We’ve been made holy, and we are to pursue
holiness. We’ve been granted faith, and so we’re to grow in faith and in
faithfulness. We’ve been united to Christ, and so we’re to abide in Him and
depend on Him, and delight in His commands. My friends, all those who know
these saving blessings delight in these things, and we manifest these things in
our relationships in the home and in the church to the watching world. God’s
purpose, you see, is not merely to save isolated individuals, but to build the
church; to create a new society, a new humanity, in which the old barriers have
been abolished. And this new community of Jesus presents itself to the world as
the true alternative society, which eclipses the values and standards of this
world. But when we are like the world, the compelling power of our witness is
completely robbed. And so when Paul says to the Ephesians, when he says to you,
‘You’re saints; you’re trusting in Christ; and you’re in Christ…you’re
united to Him; you’re in the world, but you’re not of it; you’re of Him and in
the world,’ is that not a call to us to live out those realities – to be
distinct from this world, to bear witness to this world, to not be conformed to
this passing age, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds?

III. The greetings convey two
inestimable blessings to all who trust in Christ.

But there’s a third and final thing I want
you to see here today, and we’ll see it in the greetings. Not only do we
learn something about the authority of this book from the very description of
the sender, the author, in verse 1; not only do we learn what Christians are, as
we see the description of the recipients of this book in verse 1; but we also
learn something about the inestimable blessing that belongs to all those who
trust in Christ, and we learn it even from the greeting we read in verse 2:
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Did you catch those two blessings which are heaped
upon you by the apostle? Paul’s benediction at the very outset of this book in
his greetings and salutations — “Grace to you and peace….”

You know what saving grace is: God’s saving and
powerful favor.
It is completely undeserved, it is wholly unearned by us,
it is freely bestowed, and it is expensively purchased. This favor which Paul
pronounces on all those who are trusting in Jesus Christ, this favor is
completely undeserved. There is nothing in us which calls God to bestow it.
It’s completely unearned by us. There is nothing that we could do to earn this
kind of lavish favor. It was freely given to us, freely bestowed on us. God in
His mercy simply extended it to us in Jesus Christ. But it was expensively
purchased at the cost of the blood of the Son of His love! And Paul is saying,
‘I pronounce God’s favor lavished on you in Jesus Christ. You haven’t deserved
it, you couldn’t earn it, but He’s freely given it at the cost of His own Son.
Grace to you.’

Now, my friend, every Christian…because we know
ourselves, every Christian delights in that grace. “Amazing grace, how sweet
the sound, that saved a wretch like me!” Every Christian delights in that
reality, but it’s a twin reality here. It’s not simply ‘grace to you’ here.
Notice, it’s ‘grace to you and peace.’

That old Hebrew word shalom (which means
so much more than peace often conveys in our language), means all
the blessings that flow from God’s grace.
Paul is going to spend the rest of
Ephesians 1 cataloging for us blessings that we have received, that we have
inherited, because of God’s grace shown to us in Jesus Christ. In other words,
he’s going to be cataloging for us the content of this blessing of the peace of
God.

The peace of God in the Scriptures refers not
simply to a cessation of warfare and hostility in this world, as we often have
in mind as we think of the words Peace on earth, good will towards men
out of the old King James Version. It has to do first and foremost, of
course, with peace with God.
We’re no longer under His just condemnation,
but we are under His fatherly acceptance in Jesus Christ. We have peace with
Him. Our consciences have been salved because our sin has been dealt with, and
the penalty of sin has been dealt with. So we have peace with God.

But peace in the Scriptures means even more
than this. It means that we experience the fullness of wholeness and
satisfaction no matter the circumstances of life in this world.
For the
Christian, these things are exceedingly precious.

And notice that Paul makes a point to say that
these are “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Contrary to
popular opinion, there is but one way to experience this peace. There is but One
in whom we experience this peace. There is one way to God, and that is through
Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord. As Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way and
the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by Me.” There is one
way to experience the grace and peace of God, and that is in Jesus Christ.

Well, I want to ask you this, friend: Do you prize
God’s grace and peace above everything else? Have you sought the fullness of
life and satisfaction through the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Lord Jesus Christ?

John Owen, many years ago, made this very insightful
comment:

“No one ought to look for anything in heaven but that one way or
another he has had some experience of in this life. If men were fully persuaded
of this, they would be more in the exercise of faith and love about heavenly
things than, for the most part, that they are. At the present, they do not know
what they enjoy, and they look for what they do not know; and hence it is that
men, utterly strangers unto all experience of the beginning of glory in
themselves as an effect of faith, have filled up their worship with images and
pictures and music to represent to themselves something of a glory which they
fancy to be above; for into that which is truly so, they have no prospect, nor
can they, because they have no experience of its power in themselves, nor do
they taste its goodness by any of the first fruits of it in their own hearts.”

You see what Owen is saying. Owen is saying that those who
know God have a present experience of that grace and peace which they will
experience forever. They have a present experience of that now. They have a
foretaste of its fullness now. And so, if you do not delight in God’s grace and
peace above all the things that the world can give you, chances are you have
never tasted God’s grace and peace.

And if that is you this morning, my friend, then
this Book of Ephesians is waiting for you. Come, join us. Join us on this
journey through this book which will explain to you the fullness of grace and
peace in God through Jesus Christ, and how you are able to receive it in Him who
is offered for our salvation in the gospel.

That’s the theme, that’s the adventure of this great
book. May God bless us all as we begin the journey. Let us pray.

Our Lord and our God, we ask that by Your Holy
Spirit we would love not this world or the things of this world, but that we
would set our hearts on heavenly things: on the grace of God and the peace of
God; on God Himself. Through Jesus Christ, this we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Now, before we receive the Lord’s benediction, let
me remind you that you have the opportunity upon exiting to give a contribution
to the Gideons for the spread of the Scriptures, so that some fourteen-year-old
boy or girl–maybe it’s in Bali, Indonesia…maybe it’s in China, or in Africa,
or in South America or some other part of the world–can pick up a copy of the
word of God and read the message of grace and peace from the Book of Ephesians
in their own language. Let us give lavishly.

Receive God’s blessing.

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and
the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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