Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about three men who died in a plane crash and went to heaven. When they got inside they noticed that heaven was absolutely full of ducks. So many ducks that they could barely walk around. An angel approached and said, “Welcome to Heaven, your home for all eternity! Here you can have anything you want, whenever you want, as long as you never step on a duck.” Years went by and eventually one of the men slipped up and stepped on a duck. The angel approached, accompanied by the most hideous woman the man had ever seen. The angel handcuffed the woman to him and said, “This is your eternal punishment for stepping on a duck.” More time passed and as fate would have it another of the men slipped up and stepped on a duck. Again, the angel handcuffed the most hideous woman he’d ever seen to him and again said, “This is your eternal punishment for stepping on a duck.” Years and years went by and the third man, having watched his step ever so carefully, had never stepped on a duck. Eventually the angel approached him with the most beautiful woman he’d ever laid his eyes on and handcuffed them together. The man exclaimed, “Wow! She’s beautiful!!! What have I done to deserve such a reward?!?” and the woman replied, “I’m not sure, but I stepped on a duck….”
Who knew there would be such high stakes in heaven! To step on a duck or not to step on a duck…choose your adventure! Alas, I highly doubt that’s what awaits us in our heavenly home. I suspect it won’t be a place for many choices, let alone consequences. Choices and the consequences that result from those choices are a reality of this world and this world alone. In this world we get to make choices and either benefit or suffer as a result of those choices. Thus is the gift of free will. God allows us to live our lives however we want to live them. Sure, He’s given us a bunch of laws to help guide how we live but we can choose to ignore them. Sometimes the suffering is minimal for breaking the laws of this world. More often than not the suffering is great. But by golly, God lets us choose to suffer if that’s what we want to do. Sometimes we convince ourselves the suffering is worth the sense of freedom we get from breaking his laws. It’s a short-lived freedom but it’s freedom nevertheless. And in that freedom there is a degree of joy. Surely God wants us to experience joy in this world, doesn’t He?! Well, of course He does. His laws aren’t meant to restrict our joy but rather to sustain it. Some might even argue his laws prolong our joy. Our joy can be not only maintained but extended and increased if we simply obey his laws. It’s a fine distinction to make but also an important distinction. Isn’t it better to have increased joy than maintained joy? I suppose there are differing opinions on this but the bottom-line truth remains: obey God’s laws and our joy can last longer, possibly greater, in this world.
So what does this all have to do with reading for this morning? I think God’s laws ultimately reveal God’s will for our lives. And God’s will is a most important thing to reflect on as introduced by our Ephesians passage. What is God’s will? What is God’s will for your life? What does God want you to do with your life? What is God’s will for my life? Surely we’ve all asked ourselves this question at some point in our lives, particularly in times when we’ve felt out of control of our lives. Times when we feel there’s nothing we can say or do to change the outcome of the choices we make or the choices others make. Again, choices and consequences…a very worldly reality! The choices we make in this world actually affect how we live in this world. We won’t have choices in the next world but in this world our realities are defined by them. But sometimes our choices run out and we can’t help but ask God, “Alright, God, what do you want me to do here? What is your will for my life? What do you want me to accomplish in this world?”
Paul begins to provide answers to these questions. He writes, “[God] destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will.” It is God’s will that we become his children through Jesus Christ. This is because in Jesus we are redeemed from our sinful natures and our sins are forgiven. This is God’s will, that we are redeemed and forgiven! And we can’t deny God’s will! We can deny his law but we can’t deny his will! God’s will WILL be done, whether we pray for it or not! And God wills that we are redeemed and forgiven, plain and simple. Paul goes on, “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.” SO THAT WE MIGHT LIVE FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY! Friends, we’ve been redeemed and forgiven so that we might forever praise his glory! This is God’s will for our lives–to be redeemed and forgiven and to forever praise him. We always have the choice to receive his redemption and forgiveness as well as the choice to praise him. We might not have any other choices available to us but we always have these choices!
Of course God’s will is flushed out a little further throughout scripture. In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he writes, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (5:18) In Peter’s first letter, he writes, “for it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish.” (2:15) And we can’t ignore the wisdom of the familiar passage from Micah, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8) All three verses give wonderful additions to the will of God but Paul’s words to the Ephesians are foundational–receive redemption and forgiveness and praise God. We won’t have a choice to heed God’s will in our heavenly home, might as well get accustomed to heeding it in this world! And let us rejoice in God’s will for our lives. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.