Question 1: Have I surrendered to the grand purposes of God?
Possible titles - ASK YOURSELF THIS QUESTION, YOU JUST HAD TO ASK, GREAT QUESTION, QUESTIONING YOURSELF,
This is the first in a series of six questions arising out of the NT book of Ephesians. Introduce the series, including the title you have chosen or created for it. You may want to ask them if there is a question they have been asked that has changed their lives ("Will you marry me? would be one example!). You may also want to mention some of the questions about life with which people wrestle (Why do good people suffer?).
If you are preaching this series during Lent (in 2011, it begins on Ash Wednesday, March 9, and ends on the Saturday before Easter, April 23), it may be helpful to give a brief explanation of Lent. There are 46 days in Lent, but officially 40 days because the 6 Sundays are considered "mini-Easters" and are not included. Among many themes that could be covered during the Lenten season (humility, repentance, the brevity and fragility of life, etc.) is the opportunity this season provides for self-examination, which fits well with the questions in this series.
Provide a historical background on the letter to the Ephesians (perhaps reference 1:1), including Paul's experiences there as recorded by Luke in the Book of Acts. Perhaps also share a significant letter that you received and why it was meaningful or how it changed your life.
Read the text. Note some of the key concepts such as God's pleasure (1:5, 9) and God's purpose (1:9, 11), which could easily be built into an outline for the message. The sermon starter outline suggested below focuses on the idea of being "chosen" (1:4, 11). You may want to share an experience of being chosen (or not) for teams on the playground, or for an award, or chosen out of an audience for an embarrassing experience.
- Chosen - His Plan is Eternal (1:3-10)
The eternal dimension of God's plan is captured in such phrases as "heavenly realms" (1:3) and "before the creation of the world" (1:4). In the booklet "Establishing Your Purpose" (Vision Foundation, Knoxville, TN) it identifies three purposes of God, each moving more toward the center of the target for an individual's life:
ULTIMATE PURPOSE - eternal in scope and much of which remains a mystery (often spoken of in prophetic portions of Scripture and in books like Revelation).
UNIVERSAL PURPOSE - God's will for every person (expressed throughout Scripture, but summarized in places such as Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 12:30-31).
UNIQUE PURPOSE - God's will for each person as they participate in His plan
It's humbling to know that we are part of a much bigger plan, and yet exhilarating to know God has a specific and special place for each of us in His eternal plans!
- God's Perception of us (1:4). We are "holy and blameless in His sight." Christ removes our blemishes (5:27). Reference common statements such as "perception is reality" and "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" (as a pastor, have you married people and wonder what they see each other?).
- God's Adoption of us (1:4-7). This passage has many parallels to Romans 8:15-17. This adoption occurs "…in accordance with His pleasure and will." Perhaps give an illustration of a couple who have adopted, and how their desire ("His pleasure") led them to a determined decision ("His will"). Adoption can be costly - it was for God to adopt us ("in accordance with the riches of God's grace").
- God's Communication with us (1:8-10). He has made known to us the "mystery of His will" (1:9) - not that we understand it all, but we catch glimpses of what will be finalized "when the times reach their fulfillment." Illustration of reading or watching a good mystery - often a good deal of suspense even while learning more as the story unfolds.
Notice the frequent references to "in Christ" (1:1, 3, 4, 7, 9, 12, 13) - the blessings listed above are only for those who have been included in Christ, which Paul goes on to address in the next few verses.
- Chosen - His Plan is Personal (1:11-14)
God not only conceptualized His desired relationship with us, but He has energized the working the plan He has designed - "works out everything" (1:11) - the root words carry the idea of energizes. Many times people have ideas but don't want to put energy into them - not true of God!
- Our Inclusion (1:13). We both choose and are chosen - two sides of a coin. There is God's part (1:4-5) and our part (1:13). John holds a similar tension - the "whoever believes" (John 3:16) is balanced with "all who the Father gives me." (John 6:37). By God's prevenient ("goes before") grace our choice is made possible but not determined. A visual might be a door -its outside sign says "Whoever believes is welcome" and once inside the sign says "Chosen in Him before the creation of the world."
- Our identification (1:13-14). God puts His mark or seal upon us but putting His Holy Spirit within us. You might say that God's commitment to us is captured in the common saying "He put His whole self into it."
The dimensions of God's eternal will that are "mysterious" (the unknowns that may create doubts) must not keep us from doing God's personal will that is known (salvation, Christian growth, serving, etc.).
Reflection & Action
Utilize the guide for either personal devotions or group discussion.
© Wayne Schmidt