Uniform Lesson for November 6, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Ephesians 1:1-14
For the final four lessons in this series, we shift to the book of Ephesians with a unit entitled “We Are God’s Artwork.” As Lamar Williamson pointed out long ago in God’s Work of Art: Images of the Church in Ephesians, the word translated “artwork” comes from a Greek word related to our English word “poem.” As a poet carefully selects the right words for her creative work, so the author of Ephesians celebrates God’s selection of the church as the right “work” to make evident God’s plans for the entire cosmos: “to gather up all things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (v. 10).
There is a great deal of evidence that much of Ephesians arose from the songs and prayers of the early church. Maybe our “exceptional choice,” made manifest in the book of Ephesians, is something not only to be studied but sung!
God’s exceptional choice
Thus far in this series, we have studied a variety of narratives describing the often-surprising choices of God. But here in Ephesians, we shift from stories to songs/poems. This is music to warm any Reformed person’s heart: music about the mystery of election; tunes regarding the inscrutability of God’s purposes; choruses that declare the good news of God’s choosing more than our choices along the way.
Just listen as the phrases pile up. At the very beginning, Paul declares himself to be an apostle “by the will of God” (v. 1). God has blessed God’s people just as God chose us “in Christ before the foundation of the world” (v. 4). God has “destined” us for a particular purpose (v. 5). God has “freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (v. 6). God has “lavished on us” (v. 8) redemption and forgiveness “according to the riches of his grace” (v. 7). Over and over again, the subject of these sentences is God, and the object of these sentences is us. God, God, God — chooses. We, we, we — are chosen. This is a chorus any Presbyterian choir should stand to sing.
Too often when we think of church, we first notice our shortcomings and short-changes and the many, manifold ways we fall short of the grace and glory of God. All this is true. But on this Sunday, the writer calls us to remember that ours is a story that’s not just about us but about God and God’s exceptional choices. In the more formal poetry of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the grounds for God’s election are made clear: “out of his [God’s] free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him [God] thereunto; and all to the praise of his [God’s] glorious grace” (6.018). This song’s not so much about us as it’s about God, and the good news of God’s choosing.
Our adoption in Christ
But God chooses us not just to be words in God’s poem or members of a winning team. According to Ephesians, we have been adopted as God’s children “through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his [God’s] will” (v. 5).
The doctrine of election can sometimes take on a coldness, an objectivity, a rationality that gets the church in trouble. Not only does it tempt us to speculate about who may not be chosen or adopted (the doctrine of double-predestination), but it misses the much more personal and relational nature of God’s choosing that we have encountered in our narratives thus far.
Today’s culture uses the term “children of God” quite casually and unthinkingly. “Well, we’re all God’s children, aren’t we?” The Scriptures make clear that this is no casual affair. Yes, we’re all God’s creatures, but to take up the claim of God’s children, well, that’s cause for singing indeed.
For the praise of God’s glory
Maybe the most remarkable part of this opening chorus is the stated purpose regarding what all this choice is about. “So that we … might live for the praise of his [God’s] glory” (v. 12). When all is said and done, the primary purpose for those who would claim God’s choosing is this: praise, praise, praise. In all we say and in all we do. Our lives are meant to be a poem, a song of praise, a chorus — to God’s glory alone.
Not all of us are gifted musicians. But all of us are called to praise. How are we called to participate in making a “joyful noise” to the Lord — both in church and out?
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