A number of years before moving down here to Mexico I served on a team at our home church to help set the direction for the adult Sunday morning classes. I remember one of our first meetings it became clear that while we all brought many different positive elements to the table, we also brought something else to the table: disagreements over where we were going to go with our adult Sunday school program. This became a good thing because it forced us to brainstorm together the question, “What do people need to know, believe and do” in terms of their relationship with God and how can that shape the direction of our investment in the lives of the adults in our church.
Right now each of us carry with us answers to the above question whether we realize it or not. How we have answered this question directly affects what we focus on in our own relationship with Christ, and affects how we relate with others as we seek to help them grow in their own relationship with Him.
In the first chapter in his letter to the Ephesians we catch a glimpse into how Paul answered this question for his own church plant and it is worth paying attention as it carries some implications for our own lives and relationships with others.
Hidden in a Prayer
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe… -Eph. 1.16-18
Notice what Paul is praying for. Does he pray that they would be healthy? Does he pray that they would have financial success? Does he pray that they would have no hardships in their lives? No. He prays for “a Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Christ.” He prays that they would “know what is the hope” they have been called to, their “inheritance in the saints” and the “greatness of His power” towards they that believe.
Not exactly what we typically pray for others.
What does it mean, though?
Looking back, the Ephesians were just taught that as believers in Christ, they had been:
- Blessed with every spiritual blessing (v.3)
- Chosen in Him to be holy & blameless (v.4)
- Predestined to adoption as sons (v.5)
- The recipients of His grace (v.6)
- Redeemed (v. 7)
- Forgiven of their sins (v. 7)
- Lavished in His grace (v. 8)
- Enlightened as to the mystery of His will (v. 9-10)
- The obtainers of an inheritance (v. 11)
- Predestined to be the praise of His glory (v. 11-12)
- Sealed in Him (v. 13)
- Recipients of an inheritance (v. 14)
All of this became reality the moment they by faith appropriated the work of Christ as payment for their own sin problem before God.
Seeing the passage as a whole, what Paul is saying to the Ephesians is this: I am praying that you would grasp deeply and internally who God is towards you, what He has done for you and who you are because of it. How He has cared for you, the lengths at which He has gone to bring you back into relationship to Himself. Who He has made you now and the future you have in Him.
What Paul tells the Ephesians is the same thing God is telling us in this passage and the same thing we are hoping to bring our disciples into an understanding of: You have been given a lot and you are far more valuable than you probably think you are right now. You have been and are loved.
Consider the vastness of His compassion towards you. You are not who you think or feel you are, you are who God says you are. And what you are is loved. Your entire destiny has been shaped by God’s compassion towards you.
Too Good to Be True?
Every one of us affirms at least verbally that we know that God loves us. Even so, we have some hang ups when it comes to growing in our understanding of the extent of God’s love, and especially imparting it to others.
For one, we tend to assess ourselves (and others) in light of our failures or successes. We have lived our lives in a world system that bases a person’s worth on their successes. Did we get good grades? Did we make the team? Were we better than the other guy? Did we excel at everything all of the time? If not, our failures are evidence of our own lack of value, an affront to our self-worth.
We need to let our sense of value and self-worth be determined on the basis of God’s compassion towards us displayed through Jesus Christ’s perfect work on the cross as full payment for our sin debt. We need to get over who we think we are and adopt who God says we are. We need to consent to be loved.
Not so. In fact, this concept is one of the greatest challenges in the life of the believer: to see oneself as God does. But I truly believe it is the soil from which true spiritual life grows. Alternatively, to not appropriate the reality of His love for me is to toil to make a name for myself before God. It is to be thrust from rest in Christ’s work for me into my attempts at success for Christ.
Another hang up we have in this area is it feels wrong to “go so easy” on ourselves, especially after we’ve blown it. In a world of broken relationships and misunderstanding about what love really is, we have truly become persuaded that personal successfulness is a prerequisite for deserving love. It feels wrong to feel loved when we truly sense we do not deserve it.
This makes sense to the world we live in. But God is different. He doesn’t bestow love only on the deserving. He gives it freely to the underserving. Seeing ourselves as underserving and yet still loved by God is, then, one of the greatest challenges, not only in coming to Christ in faith, but to living in relationship with Him for the rest of our lives, especially when we feel alienated from Him because of personal failure.
To believe, and to consent to be loved while unworthy, is the great secret. -William Newell
How you see yourself and others before God directly impacts the framework for how you choose to live your own life. Are you living to earn God’s approval or do you already have it? Are you secure in His love or are you insecure? Is there a threat hanging that if you don’t do well you will ultimately be rejected? As long as you are living to earn approval you will never be free to truly love others sacrificially in any real selfless sense; you will never sense the joy and freedom that comes through understanding in your own mind and believing in your own heart that the final verdict of God’s love for you was settled through Jesus Christ’s shed blood on your behalf.
Relating This to Others
Even if we can bring ourselves to fully embrace the love of God for ourselves we have a difficult time dispensing it towards other believers. Not only does God care for you, but He cares for those around you. You are a part of the body of Christ; collectively loved and cared for. None of us were deserving of it and yet we all have freely received it.
In our relationships with other believers, we need to resist assessing their value in light of their failures or successes, and occupy ourselves with loving them on the basis of Christ’s success on the cross on their behalf. We need to reject operating on a “you meet my standards and I accept you” basis, and start operating on a “Christ has met God’s standard and therefore I accept you” basis. It frees us to love them, to be patient with them, to forgive them, to get over the things that annoy us about them, and to choose unity in our shared state as sinners made saints by the blood of our Savior.
Ask yourself: When I relate with others in the body of Christ, am I encouraging them towards security in God’s love or am I unknowingly creating insecurity by operating on a performance based approval system? I would argue that security in God’s love may be one of the most important things we need to encourage those around us in.
The apostle Paul knew that the Ephesian believers’ ability to grasp deeply and internally who God was towards them, all that He had done for them and who they were in Him would shape the course of their lives. It would become the framework from within which they would set out to be all that He made them to be and do all that He called them to do.
Is it wrong to give people a sense of safety and security in their relationship with God?
In his letter to the Romans, he delivers to us one of the most encouraging and powerful statements about the extent of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Consider it for yourself, but also consider it for those around you who have received the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. If this isn’t an encouragement to rest in the safety and security of God’s love for you, than I don’t know what is.
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 8.31-39