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Sep 19, 2010

Great Reasons to be a Romantic

Passage: Ephesians 1:3-7

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Postcards from the Front: A Wartime Romance

Category: Ephesians

Keywords: divine romance, election, choosing, adoption, gratitude


Paul gives a host of reasons why God's people, the church, should be passionately greateful for the divine romance between God and the church. Election and adoption are two mysterious works of God for us that should move every heart to deep gratitude and passionate love for God.


Great Reasons to Be a Romantic

#2 in the series “Postcards from the Front:  A Wartime Romance”

September 19, 2010

Ephesians 1:3-7 

Connecting Question: Something I always ask couples in their pre-marital counseling:

  • What was it about your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend that caused you to “fall in love” with them or initially caught your attention…and heart… about them? 
  • If you’ve never been in a romantic relationship, what are 3 of the top things you are looking for in someone you might someday be serious about?


A love relationship truly is one of life’s greatest wonders, no?  How can two so very different people find each other so fantastically interesting that they are willing to vow themselves to each other until death?  If it weren’t for the singular miracle called “love”, that promise “till death do us part” might actually be hastening your own demise! J

One of the things healthy couples find they do fairly often is to remember what they love about their beloved.  Healthy couples dwell on what invigorates, rather than what irritates, their love for one another.  Here are just a few of the kinds of things you might find loving couples love about each other. (From “101 Reasons I Love You.”) 

  • I love the way I know you'll never give up on me.
  • I love the way you look at me.
  • I love your ability to speak without saying a single word.
  • I love your love for the things that interest me.
  • I love how you demand respect but are not controlling.
  • I love the way you handle troubled times.
  • I love the way you respect me.
  • I love how you enable me to thank God everyday for bringing someone as wonderful as you into my life.
  • I love the fact you gave me the gift of our children.
  • I love the fact that we will grow old together.
  • I love your willingness to share everything and most especially your heart with me.
  • I love your strength of character.
  • I love your cooking.
  • I love the way you take the time to thank me for doing every-day things in our home.
  • I love the way you show your affection when we are around friends and/or family.
  • I love your courage to be you.
  • I love you because I nearly wet myself when you tell jokes.
  • I love you because…my mom thinks you’re hot.
  • I love you because…I didn’t have to date the other geek.
  • I love you because…everyone else told me to.

We’re in one of God’s greatest love letters of the New Testament, the book of Ephesians.  And we’re right at the beginning, which is also the best way to read a love letter. 

Last week we looked a little bit at the human author, Paul, and why he was such a terrifically unlikely candidate for being the human pen of a book that spends most of its time talking about God’s romance with this “thing” we call “the church.”  And we also looked at how God sees us and speaks to us, the church, when he wants to get our attention:  “Hey, saints, my faithful family….”

By the time we get to the second sentence, Paul is already making his list of “Reasons I’m In Love With God.”  Actually he begins the list by saying in vs. 3,

      “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

And then he ticks off his list of things that just make him smile…and shout…and go on and on about God.  Paul can’t keep quiet ten seconds without blathering on and on about how amazing God is to him. 

APP:  Don’t you just hate it when someone does that about you? J  When they keep telling others about what an amazing person you are?  When they take every chance they get to talk about your strong points, your accomplishments, what they love about you, where you really shine?  No, we usually love that!

      Lovers do that naturally.  If you hang around them very long, you keep hearing about how simply wonderful the person is whom they have fallen in love with.  From her flowing hair to his harry feet, they just can’t stop extolling the amazing virtues of this virtual god or goddess they have met. 

That’s a form of “adoration”.  It’s a form of praise.  And on the human plain, it has the power to really make someone feel valued and special.  Love and praise can change the plainest heart into feeling like royalty.  

      But that’s NOT why the Apostle Paul praises God in vs. 3—to make God feel “special.”  He already IS “special”—perfect, unlike any other being, beautiful beyond compare, intelligent beyond belief, etc., etc. 

      I think Paul starts this letter with a torrent of praise about God because gratitude, praise, expressed affection, and demonstrable love… all of it changes the giver even more.  When people extol the virtues of someone, they are being other-focused

      You can be very proud and arrogant while being the recipient of tons of accolades.  But people who are delighted in the wonderful qualities of other people usually aren’t terribly selfish.  People who can’t stop talking about how amazing someone else is usually are not too stuck on themselves. 

Praising the virtues of another changes the giver of praise.  It also shows the character of the one praising. 

Q:  Where was Paul when he wrote this letter?  (Prison.)  How would you be feeling towards someone you loved…and who claimed to love you deeply…who was powerful enough to keep you from being in jail…or experiencing hardship, for that matter…yet here you are, unjustly in chains awaiting a trial?  Most of us would be just a little ticked off at such a person…if not downright mad! 

All Paul can do is talk about how amazing his God is, right in the midst of this mess of life.  How can he do that? 

  • He had learned what many happily-married people have learned:  that a deep love-relationship is not all about making me “happy”; it’s about making us “holy.” 
  • He was learning that a vital love-relationship with God is about getting to know God in the midst of a host of different kinds of life experiences. 

Paul wrote in the book of Philippians, chapter 4, beginning in vs. 11--“…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

APP:  Most of us need to learn to focus on and appreciate more about the wonderful qualities of everyone around us…including God.  We need to stop being so self-focused that all we can see and think about are the things that others do or don’t do that bug us.  Gratitude changes the giver.  Gratitude changes our focus, our thoughts, our perspectives, our relationships. 

  • When was the last time you extolled some virtue of your spouse?  Your parents?  Your brother or sister?  Your children?  Your work associate or friend?  They not only will blossom under praise; YOU and I will too…when we give praise.  Challenge:  Think of someone near you who could be blessed by your praise.  Now, write down 5 things you find praiseworthy about them.  Now let’s pray for the will, memory and spirit to give them at least one praise a DAY this next week. 
  • How frequently do you find praise of God coming from your heart…coming out in song…or prayer…or talking to others about what He means to you?  We try to provide opportunity every week for that in our worship services—prayer in the back with someone, singing, time to reflect and write out a prayer to God or get on your knees and offer your praise to him; sharing how God has blessed you recently (as a few did last week).  Challenge:  enter into praise this morning with more passion, heart and honesty than you may have all week long.

This is what people “in-love” naturally do:  they extol the virtues of the one they love.  That’s what Paul is doing here with God.  He’s setting a model for us, the church.  And he’s going to get very specific about some of the things that move his heart to be SO engaged with the heart of God.

NOTE:  From vss. 3-14 is one continuous sentence in the Greek behind our English here.  Paul was a master at run-on sentences… which makes studying them sometimes a challenge. 

      Something to keep in mind about this whole passage that we’re going to look at today and next week is that the Trinity figures very strongly in Paul’s love-language here.  It flows like this:

  • Vss. 3-6—all about the Father
  • Vss. 7-10—all about the Son
  • Vss. 11-14—all about the Holy Spirit

Why would an effusive love letter be filled with references to the amazing things we have in the Trinity? 

      Because if we are going to talk about our relationship with God, we need to talk about the entire godhead.  The greatest love story in this universe is not about humans falling in love…or even about God being in love with us; it’s about God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit—3 persons in one God—living out the divine love-story they have always and will always have with each other.  Yes, how that overflows to undeserving rebels like us certainly seems like a close 2nd in terms of a love story.  But in order for that to be the case, we needed a God whose love was totally complete and fulfilled apart from us.  Anything less would make God a being somehow dependent upon us for fullness of relationship and love. 

      There is GREAT security in knowing that this extravagant romance God is building with us is anchored first, last and in between in God, not in us.  We change, mess up and generally give people, let alone God, way too many reasons to call it all off.  That’s why this whole romance with God really needs a God who is the initiator and finisher of the whole thing. 

Vs. 3—“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.” 

      For Paul’s first accolade for this divine romance he goes right to the top.  He starts with the BIG umbrella and then he is going to tell us what the different parts of that umbrella are that make him SO filled with romantic fervor for God. 

First, God the Father “blessed us in the heavenly realms..in Christ.”  What does that mean?

The “heavenlies” or “heavenly places” is a term that Paul will use 5 times in Ephesians (and nowhere else in his writings).  “Heaven” can mean…

  • The heaven of the atmosphere surrounding our blue planet.
  • The heaven of the universe with all its billions of stars and galaxies.
  • The heaven of glory which is the presence of God where the redeemed of God will live forever. 

But this reference to “heavenlies” seem to refer to the sphere in which God and all the angels and demons (‘principalities and powers’) operate (3:10; 6:12).  In other words, Paul chose to take THE fullest, most powerful, most permanent concept of ‘heaven’ to make certain we know there is no greater sphere in which we could have been blessed or are blessed. 

ILL:  If I were to tell you that I’ve been blessed in the realm of …

  • family, what would that probably indicate?  (I have a great wife, probably a bunch of wonderful kids, great extended family, etc.)
  • education, what would that indicate?
  • Friendships…spiritual experiences…finances…etc?

Paul is simply saying that, in the best, most powerful, most complete realm of life and existence, we have been blessed by God himself. 

Secondly, “…in Christ…” is simply reinforcing the entire biblical message that all of the blessings of relationship with God come to us who are ‘in relationship’ with Jesus Christ.  This is what drives pluralistic modernists nuts:  it’s not in any other being, any religion, any particular church or philosophy or theology you will be blessed.  God’s best is only found “in Christ.” 

      Why?  Because if you reject Christ, you are rejecting God in his most visible, comprehensible form, practical, observable, complete form.  If you don’t want Jesus Christ, you will hate the Father and the Holy Spirit.  But if you sincerely want relationship with God, then it is “in Christ” that you will find that and a million other blessings, many of which we have no idea about yet. 

      God cannot simply will to make his blessings available to mankind in someone or something else.  To do so would be to invite people to engage in idolatry.  God’s nature doesn’t allow him to do that.  So Paul reminds us that it is only as we are in ongoing and growing relationship with Jesus Christ that we’ll find all these “blessings.” 

Relationship does have privilege.  Because our children were both chosen by Sandy and me before they existed and before they could do any choosing of a family, there are certain “Repsoldian” blessings that are available only to them. 

  • Not everyone in Spokane or the world goes on family vacations with them.
  • Not everyone lives in our home with them.
  • Not everyone gets to clean the chicken-coop or pick up after the dog like they do. J
  • Not everyone gets the up-close-and-personal talks, hang-out times and much more with us that they get. 

Being “in relationship” with someone entitles you to special privileges. 

So now Paul is going to start specifying the different parts of that ‘umbrella’ of blessings God has over his kids.

  1. 1.       The past blessing of ‘election’, vss. 4-6 

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—

We’re full-blown into “election season”…just in case you didn’t know. J  So we understand this idea of being “chosen” to be God the Father’s kids, don’t we?  Well, no, not really.  A very few things about our “electing” people apply to what and why God chooses people. 

NOTE about this ELECTION:  you and I, being placed in the U.S. as citizens, do have a responsibility to exercise our right to vote.  It’s a stewardship issue.  God has given you, not a small privilege, but a big one—that of choosing those who will govern us.  Of all people in history, we are certainly in the smallest of minorities with that privilege. 

      So what if you fail to steward that very important privilege by failing to vote?  God will take it away from you and possibly generations to come…or he will cause us to live under the choices of people who do not hold God’s kingdom values.  He will allow you and your children to be governed by people who are enemies of God, opposed to His law and even the knowledge of him.  Is that what you want for yourself and your offspring?  Then get out in 45 days and do your civic and spiritual duty:  vote for the people you think best uphold the heart of God and the truth of the Scriptures.  Then, whatever the outcome, learn to PRAY for them—for divine wisdom, values, vision, etc.  Enough said!

What kind of “choosing” or “electing” has God done when it comes to our divine romance?

EX:  being “chosen” as a kid for the PE or after school sand-lot games.  Who was “chosen” as the “team captains”?  The 2 best kids in the sport, right?  Who got “chosen next” as the captains alternated choices?  In my case, everyone but me and about 1 or 2 other guys.  For me, it was more like “non-choosing”.  They got me by default. 

      How do you suppose that made me feel?  Even though I was “chosen,” it didn’t feel like a very neat thing. 

EX:  Sandy’s conversation with someone recently who works for a ‘baby-bank’ company.  It’s called an “andrology & cryobank.”  Wishful parents-to-be can choose the egg donor and the sperm donor based on a host of factors:  You want blue eyes? Done.  You want parents with a certain SAT score?  No problem.  You want a certain race, a certain hair color, a certain artistic or athletic ability in the family line, even a certain family medical history?  Not to worry. 

      You can even choose the parent’s “religious preference,” though I’m really not sure how that gets passed down genetically.  Your little Ethan or Emma can be virtually made-to-order.  Never mind how it divorces parenting from procreating…or the pressures it’s going to put on little Ethan and Emma if they turn out not to measure up to the purchased expectations!  How many eggs and sperm do you think get purchased from parents who didn’t finish high school…or were overweight…or didn’t play a sport or got in the lowest 20 percentile for SAT scores???

You see, almost all of our human experience with “choosing” when it comes to people is based on “success factors” our culture deems valuable.  And most of us will never measure up.  Most of us know that, standing in a line on the sidelines of life, we’d be one of the last persons chosen by this world’s ‘movers and shakers.’ 

Thank God divine election is not like this world’s election of people.  Paul tells us in vs. 4 that God the Father “chose us in him [Christ] before the creation of the world….”  God the Father’s own good purposes concerning both God the Son, Jesus Christ, and us met in eternity past.  “He” [God the Father], “us” and “him” [God the Son] in this sentence are all stacked up together.  

      God is saying, “I chose, before you ever came into existence… before you every did one thing good or bad…before there was any reason in you to either judge you or applaud you…I chose you to BE something amazing in my eyes—totally holy and blameless.”

      What would ever possibly move God…long before mankind was ever created yet knowing that we would all slide into terrible sin and rebellion…what could possibly move God to choose that route, especially knowing that the only ultimate solution to OUR sin problem would require God the Son to leave heaven, take on humanity and die a horrible death??? 

      God’s answer?  In LOVE he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will….” 

So here we are, smack dab in the middle of one of the most mind-bending doctrines in the entire Bible:  predestination and election.  It’s a doctrine that I’ve know churches to split over. It’s a doctrine that has lots of rabid radicals on both ends of this spectrum.  It’s a doctrine that, frankly, really troubled me during my days of questioning the faith. 

But I hope that we can all see today that election and predestination, whatever they are, are not unloving, unfair, capricious, unjust or ungodly in any way.  Instead they are meant to be a doctrine that provides security in the midst of my insecurities.  God revealed them to us so we would get off the squirrel-cage wheel of trying to win God’s favor by our performance in life.  They are doctrines that should give us more love, more joy, more peace and rest in this divine romance than any other relationship in life could ever possibly give. 

I think John Stott put it well when he wrote,

“Now, everybody finds the doctrine of election difficult.  ‘Didn’t I choose God/’ somebody asks indignantly; to which we must answer ‘Yes, indeed you did, and freely, but only because in eternity God had first chosen you.  ‘Didn’t I decide for Christ?’ asks somebody else; to which we must reply ‘Yes, indeed you did, and freely, but only because in eternity God had first decided for you.’

Scripture nowhere dispels the mystery of election, and we should beware of any who try to systematize it too precisely or rigidly.  It is not likely that we shall discover a simple solution to a problem which has baffled the best brains of Christendom for centuries.”  [John Stott in The Message of Ephesians, p. 37]

Very simply, here is the conundrum this doctrine brings to us. 

  1.  Election seems to us to be, at best, arbitraryFrom our perspective it seems like there is no reason why one individual rather than another should be “elected” or “chosen” to be adopted into God’s family.  The problem is that we are then saying, “God has no really good or sufficient reason why he elects one person and not another.” 

            But Paul tells us in this passage that God does have his own reasons and even tells us so.  Here in Eph. 1:6 we are specifically told that we’ve been “adopted as his sons [and daughters, obviously] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us….”  God has purposed to make known (glorify) his own amazing nature and person by saving some. 

            But then our mind goes to the next logical question:  Why did God elect one person rather than another…or one nation in O.T. times rather than all nations…or one person today rather than all people today?  Answer:  We don’t know.  BUT that doesn’t mean God doesn’t have very good reasons, very true-to-his-perfect-nature reasons.  God’s choosing is not arbitrary or without sufficient reasons.  He simply has not chosen to reveal to us every reason in every person. 

  1.  Secondly, election seems to be unjust.  We find it “unjust” that God should choose one rather than another… or that he should not choose all.  But this objection immediately has its own problems. 
    1. If we want to talk about divine justice, then everyone in the world, every sinner, would be under God’s judgment and condemned to the natural consequences of our rebellion—eternal separation from God.  Absolute justice would require absolute judgment in hell for all. 
    2. Well then, our sense of justice says, “Why not choose everyone then?  Save every human being from their rebellion.  Call every one of them to saving faith in Christ.”  But then what becomes of the nature of human freedom?  The fact is, millions of people every year are given the offer of becoming children of God through faith in Jesus… and millions reject that offer.  It’s stupid.  It doesn’t make any sense.  But millions of people prefer to be the absolute master of their own fate even if that ‘fate’ leads them away from this divine romance and into life and eternity apart from God. 

Election is not arbitrary of unjust; it is gracious and merciful.

It is truly amazing how that which should cause every human heart to well up in gratitude and love can be the very reason our twisted logic grabs onto to reject and rebel against God. 

Look at vs. 6 once again and listen to what the truth of being chosen…elected…did to the heart of Paul.

“In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”

Many of us in this room know first-hand about “being adopted” and about adopting.  We know how deeply it can change your life.

  • So many children who are adopted, rather than seeing the love and unconditional acceptance behind the choice of adoption, choose to focus upon the perceived rejection or abandonment by their birth parents.  Just as Christians can get all messed up arguing about the doctrine of election and miss the amazing wonder of it all, so adoptive kids can get all messed up focusing on their birth parents with whom they don’t have much if any relationship rather than rejoicing in their adoptive family with whom they have love, affection, commitment, and so much more. 
  •  If you’ve adopted someone, you know that the desire to choose to have an unknown child become part of the love your family shares is totally apart from what they can do for you or even who they are.  If anything, it may be the fact that they are people in greater need than most children that moves your heart to love.

When they arrive in your home, they are there because you have “chosen” them—not based upon their future potential or some attractive trait in them—but based upon the unconditional love of the adoptive parent that moved them to include in their family.  Almost always they are in a home that has far more resources, whether it’s material or spiritual or emotional, than they would ever have had were they never adopted.  And often they are there, adopted with all the rights of a natural-born child, at great personal expense and often pain to the adoptive parent.

      ILL:  It reminds me of what happened in the family of a woman who was, at one point, my Executive Assistant.  When she and her husband were young parents, they decided to take into their home and man who was being released from prison.  He needed a place to stay.  He needed a chance to start life again.  He needed a fresh start. 

      So they opened their hearts and home to him.  They were, at the time, parents of two young boys.  After this ex-convict had lived with them for several weeks, the husband suggested to his wife (the woman who was later my assistant) that she take their two boys and go to California for a visit with her family.  So she did.   She boarded the train in Spokane and headed off to CA. 

      Somewhere in Oregon, when the train stopped at one of the stations, she was met by the police and informed that her husband had been murdered.  The very man they had befriended and taken in had used their own shotgun to gun down her husband and steal his car in the get-away. 

The only thing that could have made this story more bizar would have been if this man had later married this family’s daughter.  Yet that is precisely what God has done for us.  We murdered the Author of Life, Jesus Christ.  It was our sin that nailed him to the cross.  Yet, in his divine love, he even cried out for our forgiveness while dying for our sins.  And after he rose again, Jesus came and “proposed” to each of us, inviting us to become part of his eternal family by becoming His bride, the church.    

What did OUR adoption cost God?  The incarnation; setting aside his eternal glory to embrace ignoble humanity; rejection by the very ones he came to love; unbelievable humiliation and suffering; becoming the object of His own wrath against sin; a torturous death that somehow even meant interruption of that unbroken and perfect relationship within the Godhead.