Ephesians 1.3-14. Extravagant love

The passage from the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians is a very interesting one. In the original Greek, verses 3 to 14 are in fact all one sentence. It’s actually the longest sentence in the NT. Imagine taking a deep breath and then reciting all of that. This is typical of St Paul’s style of writing. Idea after idea bursts forth in a gush of unbridled excitement and enthusiasm. You can imagine Paul sitting in his prison cell or maybe under house arrest in Rome, dictating to his scribe and bubbling over with such animation and euphoria that the scribe is having to ask him to slow down a bit. In these verses Paul recounts all that God has done for him and for his readers in Ephesus. He’s intoxicated with the greatness and goodness of God in Jesus Christ.

 

If we try to summarise his train of thought then we have some difficulty. There’s so much going on here!

 

We’ve been blessed with every possible blessing

We’ve been chosen before the creation of the world

We’ve been adopted as his sons and daughters

We’ve been redeemed and forgiven

We’ve had the whole plan of salvation revealed to us through the life and ministry of Jesus.

We’ve received the promised Holy Spirit

 

Each of those statements is a sermon or bible study in its own right and we haven’t time for that today unless we want to be here until tea-time. Don’t expect to find a logical and rational argument there with each phrase leading sensibly on to the next. It’s just an outpouring of praise!

 

What is the underlying message here? To me it’s pretty simple. ‘God loves us’ with an incredible love. The question for us today is, ‘do you understand just how much God loves you?’ Do you realise that God’s grace has been ‘lavished’ upon us? That’s the message here. God loves us with an extravagant love. His love is lavished upon us in so many different ways. Do you think of God’s love as extravagant – almost wastefully extravagant? According to the Bible that’s exactly what it’s like! It’s the word ‘lavish’ in the middle of that long sentence that gives the game away.

 

But what exactly do we mean when we say ‘God loves us?’ In the English language we only have one word for love and that’s quite inadequate to describe the many different types of love that we can experience.

 

When we say ‘God loves us’, does he fall in love with us like we fall in love with another person? No. But there’s an element of that in God’s love.

 

When we say ‘God loves us’ do we mean he loves us as we love our children or our parents or our family? No. But there’s an element of that in God’s love.

 

When we say ‘God loves us’ do we mean he loves us as we love our friends and neighbours and other people with whom we get on reasonably well? No. But there’s an element of that in God’s love as well.

 

When we say that God loves us we mean much more than any of those. God’s love is very difficult to describe adequately. God’s love is unique. He is 100% committed to us whatever happens – whatever we say or do or think. Nothing we do can stop God from loving us. He loves us just as we are – weaknesses, failings, problems. He desires the very best for us in all respects. And most important of all he was willing to take on human form and live and suffer and die amongst us. God’s love is sacrificial. God’s love is unconditional. It’s unfathomable. It’s inescapable. It’s everlasting. And if you were the only person on earth that had ever been created, God’s love would still; be exactly the same. No wonder St Paul got so excited.

 

Listen to this quote from the German medieval mystic writer Meister Eckhart: ‘God is so besotted in his love for us. It is just as if he had forgotten heaven and earth and all his blessedness and all his Godhead, and had no business except with me alone, to give me everything for my comforting’. That’s from the heart of someone who really and truly understood that God loved them. And that God wanted to ‘lavish’ his grace upon them.

 

So if that’s the case and God really does love us in that way then surely he should shelter us from all harm; surely he should protect us from all hard situations; surely he should save us from any illness, pain or suffering. Surely if he loves us then our lives should be ones of constant happiness and comfort. Perhaps we should ask John the Baptist that…….

 

You may say well if God loves me as much as you are describing, why I am I experiencing so much illness or pain in my life? Why is my child being bullied so cruelly at school? Why is my husband or wife under such stress and pressure at work? Why this? Why that? How come if God loves me so much? I can’t answer that easily but all I can say is that the kind of love God has for us means that those things can happen but the love never stops.  Sometimes God’s love involves us in situations that we would rather not be in.  It can therefore also be ‘tough love’.

 

Look at the gospel reading – the rather unpleasant story about the events leading up to the beheading of John the Baptist. I don’t imagine the followers of John or the disciples of Jesus were without questions at this awful occurrence. How could a God who loves us with an unspeakable and immeasurable love allow something like this to happen? Read the epistles of Paul and you’ll see that he led a life that was far from being without trial and tribulation. Yet despite that Paul was able to write those words about God’s grace in the first chapter of Ephesians. Remember the story from a few weeks ago with Jesus in the stern of the boat asleep in the storm? The disciples woke him and said ‘Lord, don’t you care?’ Yet they were never in any danger because he was there with them.

 

In some strange way the events that seem to overtake us are all part of that love – hard as it may seem to understand this. As much as we would like to shelter and protect our children from harm and difficulty, we realise I think that these experiences are necessary if they are to grow up and become mature, well-rounded adults. Maybe it’s the same for God and his children. He wants us to grow in faith and trust and in our relationship with him. Sometimes his love leads us into situations and experiences that are far from easy but ultimately they will be for good not evil. Who knows what purposes God has when we find ourselves in these hard places? Who knows what the consequences might even be for the life to come? We need to try and keep an eternal perspective.

 

Let’s finally return to Ephesians 1. Do we understand just how much God loves us? Do we know just how special and unique we are to him? Do we appreciate the extravagance of God’s love for us? His endless mercy and the depth of his capacity to forgive. His deep compassion. His amazing patience. The limitless Holy Spirit. How much of this do we really deserve!

 

And if you think it was just St Paul who got excited about God’s love, let me finish with a quotation from St John – 1 John 3.1: ‘How great is the Father’s love that he has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God.’ The original Greek there has the image of a dam bursting and inundating a valley with water. We’ve seen some pictures of flooding recently, of water pouring through communities. Convert those pictures in your mind to God’s love and you’re getting close to what having God’s love ‘lavished’ upon us really means.

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