By Mark Scott
The Bible is not flat. While all Bible verses are inspired by God, not all verses are created equal. Some verses point more strongly than others toward the big story. God has his own way of highlighting the big things of the book.
What is it that makes a Bible passage stand out so? Is it drama such as David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17)? Tension such Daniel and lions (Daniel 6)? Endearing moments such as Ruth not wanting to leave Naomi (Ruth 1)? Mystery such as God passing by Moses (Exodus 33)? Or is it because the passage is just so telling of the large story of the Bible? That is the case with our text today as it concerns the great love of God.
Great Love Reaches Down
In this epistle Paul marked out the blessings believers have (Ephesians 1:3-14) and the empowerment that they have (vv. 15-22). Next Paul reminded the Ephesians of how their salvation took place. This wonderful redemptive drama began by God reaching down from Heaven and meeting humanity at the point of need. The rescue operation by Jesus had to start in the midst of our sinfulness.
The old adage of getting someone lost before getting them saved applies here. Paul pictured our lost dilemma as being dead. The reason that we were dead was because we made a habit of choosing so poorly. Certainly the fallenness of everything around us (Genesis 3; Romans 3, 5) did not help us to choose better. But we continued in this downward spiral because we followed the ways of this world and the devil himself. The enemy and his minions are vividly described. He is the ruler of the kingdom of the air, and he inspires his work through the disobedient. We go from bad to worse by following our lusts that have burned red hot by the temptations of our adversary and ultimately become the objects of God’s wrath—not a pretty picture.
Great Love Raises Up
Verse 4 begins with one of the most contrasting phrases in the Bible: But . . . God. There is our downward spiral into sin but God’s glorious resurrection into life. The implied metaphor is that of resurrection. God has made us alive and raised us up and seated us with Christ. What privileges are afforded for us who were dead in sin.
Paul was so excited to explain how this love gets embraced that he snuck in the phrase, It is by grace you have been saved. He got ahead of himself in verse 5 previous to verse 8. But dare we ever get over grace—God’s love for us that we do not deserve that is expressed in Christ? We are so saved that we reign with Christ right now in the heavenly realms (spiritually). This raising up of us to life fulfilled God’s purpose by placing us in the display case of God’s goodness. When we were at our worst, God was at his best in showing up. We are the expression of his grace expressed in his kindness.
Next comes the grand formula for how this resurrection takes place. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith. God reaches down from heaven with his love, and we appropriate it by faith. This whole grace through faith system is not a result of something we do but is something based on what he has done. That’s why it is called a gift of God. And this very fact keeps boasting at bay. Nonetheless there is a faith response to God on our part.
God’s Love Stretches Out
Once the rescue operation is complete, we are able to realize the reason why God went to all this trouble. He wanted to make us into his handiwork. This word only appears one other time in the New Testament. It is in Romans 1:20 and there speaks about God making creation. This is also the word from which we get the English word “poem.”
God has planned for us to do good works. In fact, he planned for that to be the case before the foundation of the world. We were created in his image to have dominion over creation. We were re-created in Christ to serve creation. Stuart Townsend sang, “How great the Father’s love for us . . . that he should give his only Son to make a wretch his treasure.” Great love, indeed!
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.