A gracEmail subscriber asks what it means that God chose and predestined us before the creation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5).
* * *
These verses are part of a 203-word sentence in Greek that includes all of verses 3-14. Paul is bubbling over as he considers God’s overwhelming generosity to us through Jesus Christ, and once he starts talking about it, there is hardly any way to stop! “Blessed be God,” he exclaims in verse 3, “who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing!” The three words I just italicized are three different parts of speech, but they are all forms of a single root word that gives our word “eulogy” (meaning a “good word” about someone). We can properly say, therefore, that in his effervescent 12-verse sentence that follows, Paul is simply eulogizing God for his kindness to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Specifically, God has chosen us in Christ to be holy and blameless (v. 4; see also 5:27), and he has predestined us to be his children through Jesus Christ (v. 5). The word translated “predestined” produced our word “horizon,” and it tells us that long ago God purposely planned exactly how he would turn his kind intentions into action by adopting us as his children to receive an inheritance (v. 5, 11). Before coming to Maui Church of Christ as guest preacher for this month of September, I memorized the names and faces in the church directory, so that when we arrived and met the real people themselves, I could greet them all by name. Needless to say, they were startled, and I think rather pleased. Yet how infinitely greater is our joy in knowing that long before we knew God, he already knew us, and that he chose us before we chose him! Or, as John puts it, we love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:10, 19).
A few years ago I taught a series of lessons on Ephesians at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, kindly assisted by Phillip, my Jewish friend and fellow-lawyer, who operated my Power Point. Phillip had never read Ephesians before, and during the first lesson, he was deeply and visibly moved by the notion that God knew, loved and chose us even before we were born. When class was over that night, I asked Phillip if he would share his reaction at our next meeting with the whole group, and he generously did so. God’s grace is a powerful motivator, and Phillip later came to love and then to choose the God who loved and chose him first in Jesus Christ. Because God chose and predestined us before the world began, everything we ever do for God’s sake is always in response. The biblical teaching about predestination is intended to stimulate adoration, not to create argument. Properly presented and properly received, that is what it does.