Thursday, January 9, 2014

Those P and E words

I wonder if Paul knew what a debate - often contentious - he was beginning when he wrote the first part of his letter to Ephesus. It is one of the great passages in the Bible which we now call Ephesians, chapter 1. In it Paul refers to the spiritual blessings we have in Christ. Among those blessings are "predestination" and "election". or the "chosenness" of Christians. Those two blessings have caused a whole lot of consternation among believers in Christ. I was leading a Bible study on this text this week with men who have met together for a long time and who are serious students of the Bible. The lively discussion circled around the questions of "what about free will?, and "doesn't predestination mean that we have no choice?" One man, obviously vexed that we would talk about these things at all, said it just leads to division and doubt. One man brought  up the hyper Calvinist angle: what about all the people this passage excludes, those who are non-elect, not chosen and not predestined to salvation? A few men said that they believed all are chosen, or predestined but not all accept (which begs the question why Paul even brought this up then?) There were one or two who shrugged and said it is a mystery, the mind of God, after all, who can understand that? Most concurred that we are not going to understand it and a discussion of these things usually leads to more heat than light and what's important is that we believe in Jesus. In other words, a pretty typical discussion of election and predestination. I sensed some frustration among the group and I wondered if people left feeling like, "well that was a waste of time!"

I don't think it was. I think it's an important passage for a number of reasons. We tend to take what Paul said out of context. He was not writing about predestination or election. They are part of the spiritual blessing package Paul unpacks in Ephesians 1. Some theologians have taken those concepts farther than Paul ever did. Second, Paul is writing about what God has done. He has predestined us… etc. This is from our point of view in history. When we become believers in Christ, it is not long until we realize who was responsible for our believing. God was at work in us by his Holy Spirit way before we acknowledged his activity in our lives (before the foundation of the world, Paul wrote). That's predestination. That means He is still at work in us even if we don't sense that at times.

Next, Paul uses the idea of our being chosen to make us aware of God's grace. He chose us because he chose us. It had nothing to do with us. We made a choice for God somewhere down the line but it was in response to Him. It was not our idea nor our performance nor anything else within us that got us chosen. We are not in charge of our spiritual lives, God is. That means we are still chosen on our bad days.

Next, the whole point of his chapter is Jesus Christ. What God has done for us, he has done in Christ. These spiritual blessings come by means of our relationship with Christ. That means our lives are Christ centered, not me and my spiritual life centered.

Finally, Paul is painting the Big Picture here. This is what God is doing, calling out a People for the praise of His Glory. Not our glory. This is not about us. It is about God. We are chosen, not for our individual talents, abilities or just general all around nice qualities, but we are chosen to be the People God is shaping to live out the gospel of Christ in the world. Now and forever. Amen. That means no matter what is going on for us or with us today, we are part of something much bigger and greater that God has going on.

I think Paul knew what he was doing.