We could get quite well-distracted right there in the beginning of Ephesians, about what it means to be chosen and just how does that work anyway, because don’t we all want to be accepted and valued? We still remember that time-standing-still waiting, while the team captains picked for dodgeball. We are a long way from our beginnings, but sometimes on the inside we are still just five-year-old girls on the playground, with the fierce need to belong. So we read gladly what Paul says here, that “…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption…” (Ephesians 1:4-5) Being chosen, seen as special and loved, knowing that we are wanted and admired– these are building blocks of a girl’s identity.
And it is way too easy to keep following along those lines of human thinking, because we know how this works: when one is chosen, someone else is left out, and feelings are hurt, hopes crushed. So who is part of the in-crowd and who doesn’t belong, in Paul’s scenario? We’ve spent years learning to navigate the precarious social structure of the school-yard, to find a niche where we belong, and why would this group of Christ-following people be any different? Our own fear of being left out and our bent toward control could grab onto these first verses and wrestle with them endlessly.
But the point Paul is making is not about who was chosen, or who was not (so that we would scurry around trying to make sure we were on the inside rather than the left-outside). Nor is Paul’s point about when we were chosen (so we could figure out how much of a say we have in the matter). His point is so much more simple and so very much larger than any of that…the kind of realization that hitches your breath and fills your heart up. He is just pointing out the fact that we are chosen, that God loves us and wants us to be His own, and that means everything.
See the Jews were from the beginning God’s special people. Before any of them were born, He told Abraham that they were coming– that they would be special because He had chosen to bless them, that they would be His own in front of all the other nations on the planet, and that they would know Him personally. Every Jew came into this world knowing he was already one of the in-crowd: accepted and loved and singled out for honor in the eyes of the only One who really mattered. The most anyone else could hope for was to hang around at the edge of the crowd and catching some of the reflected glory, if you didn’t mind being a tag-along. (Everyone knows that scenario…it’s Playground Politics 101.)
And now Paul is telling some long-held heavenly secret to Gentiles, shouting out loud for anyone who has ears to hear, that they also”…were chosen to be God’s people, because from the very beginning God had decided this in keeping with His plan. And He is the One who makes everything agree with what He decides and wants.” (Ephesians 1:11) Everything that was created, all the people on earth who respond in faith, joined together in Christ as if the old labels didn’t even matter. We too were chosen to be blessed before we were born, brought up front to wear His name in front of everyone, able to know Him as a loving Father. We too get to belong in the center of God’s undivided attention. Best of all, it is what God had intended all along!
For us modern girls it’s easy to shrug off maybe, but to the believers along the coast of Asia Minor it was the essence of the Good News and a social/spiritual revolution: in Christ, anyone can belong to God. Because of Him all the social barriers marking who was on the inside and who was on the outside came falling down. All the names that told who was worth something and who was not, did not matter any more. Anyone who believes in Jesus has access to God’s rich blessings of grace. Paul assures us that his big news is true: “This was what God wanted, and he planned to do it through Christ….when the right time came, that all things in heaven and on earth would be joined together in Christ as the head.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)
Today the mystery of glorious grace is no less amazing (if we have ears to hear it and don’t get sidetracked into playground squabbles over who came first and who is in charge). We are loved. We are chosen to be the recipients of God’s blessings, a further evidence of His grace, because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. All we do is come to Him in faith. This is the basis of our identity and value in this world. Paul sings it out: “That is why since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks to God for you.” (Ephesians 1:15)
Beneath the cross of Jesus Christ,Grace So Glorious, Elevation Worship
No shadow remains for shame to hide;
Redemption shone for all to see,
Perfection bore our penalty,
With a grace so glorious.
Immortal day the veil was torn,
When mercy donned a crown of thorns,
As law gave way to liberty
And freedom for humanity,
With a grace so glorious.
Oh, the glory of the Savior’s love
Surrounding our surrender,
To know forever
We are welcomed home!
“For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Romans 10:12-13)