• The BaptistWay lesson for Sept. 7 focuses on Ephesians 1.
Karen Blixen’s novel Babette’s Feast tells the story of an acclaimed French chef who flees to Denmark to avoid persecution. She anonymously finds work cooking for two elderly sisters in a strict, fundamentalist religious community. Her only connection to Paris—to which she longs to return—is an annual lottery ticket. Yet nightly she prepares the austere women the same, unimaginative meal they demand—boiled fish and potatoes—because, they say, Jesus commanded not to worry about food or drink (Matthew 6:25).
Then one day, Babette wins the Paris lottery’s small fortune—10,000 francs! In excitement, she asks if she might prepare a full-course French dinner for the entire village to celebrate the community’s upcoming anniversary.
At first, the townspeople refuse, but Babette begs and finally they relent. Yet unbeknownst to her, they secretly vow not to enjoy the feast, believing the indulgence won’t be sin as long as they occupy their minds with spiritual things. Finally, the day comes, and the people gather.
The meal is exquisite! Because of her lavish and delicious kindness, they drop their guard and embrace her generosity. The sisters express their appreciation, assuming she now will return to Paris. However, Babette replies, “I will not return; I have no money. I spent it all on the feast.” Her provision for others cost her everything.
Christ’s provision for us cost him everything.
In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wanted the church to understand what God had provided for them. Paul knew them and their needs well. He visited several times and spent more than two years of his ministry serving there (Acts 18,19). Playing their part in the body of Christ wasn’t to be a duty, obligation or option. It was a privilege, because the source of their participation—their salvation—was lavishly and generously given through Jesus’ shed blood.
With that in mind, Paul opened this letter with the longest sentence in his entire library. In Greek, verses 3-14 are one sentence. It’s as if Paul wanted to stuff a list of all of God’s good provision into one big bag so as to not leave anything out. Here’s a few of the themes he emphasizes:
God chose us
God deliberately, willfully and specifically selected us as his own, and that’s a powerful thought. Before we were even capable of returning the favor, God set his affections on us. We can rejoice because:
• His choice was based on his character of love (v. 4), not ours.
• His choice was based on his wisdom (v. 8), not our ability to comprehend him.
• His choice was for his eternal plan and the hope of his kingdom (vv. 3,18), not because of our loveliness.
• His choice makes us “holy and blameless” (v. 4); it’s not because we endeavor toward or achieve virtue.
• His choice was accomplished by his power (vv. 19-20), not our strength.
• His choice was for a purpose (vv. 9-10).
God adopted us
In Greek culture, infant adoption was unusual. Rather, the Ephesians were familiar with adoption in which adults were embraced by wealthy, childless couples or families in which children were estranged or unreliable. Adoptees generally were chosen because adopters appreciated and cared about them, despite known flaws.
This occurs in the 21st century, too. In 2010, the Smith family adopted Billy, a 22-year-old U.S. Marine. Charee Smith, the mother, had known him while serving at a home for abused and neglected children. What a beautiful picture of belonging. Billy says: “Before, every decision I made, I made it for me. Now I consider what my mom, dad or sisters might do. There’s a sense of belonging to something bigger than myself.”
Adoption does that—it takes something and makes it intimately yours, creating a bond that didn’t exist before but can’t be broken now. God wants us to have that same sense of belonging to something much bigger than ourselves—the Church universal. He desires for us to experience the commitment, responsibilities, benefits and costs of family. Furthermore, God didn’t decide on a whim to adopt us. In love, he predestined—decided ahead of time—for us to be his children before creation was even formed, because the idea gave him pure delight.
Three years ago, my husband and I adopted a beautiful baby boy. He was five hours old when they placed him in our arms. At that moment, we had a choice to make. Not adopting would’ve been easy and far less messy. We were under no obligation—moral, legal, ethical or financial—to take this child.
We had no connection to his past and no reason to feel compelled to receive him as our own. We could walk away without responsibility. Instead, in love, we chose to take Joshua to be ours, with all the good and bad, and let him turn our whole world inside out and upside down.
God redeemed us
Our transcendent God deliberately chose to involve himself in our messy affairs, too. Our sin neither dissuaded nor discouraged him, but because God can’t have family members in his presence stained with sin, he had to do something to make us holy. Our forgiveness for salvation, Paul indicates, is rooted in Christ’s redemptive act of self-sacrifice, and is the foundation for all the other generous provisions, including the Holy Spirit.
Our Redeemer exchanges our ashes for beauty (Isaiah 61:3) and redeems our lives from the pit (Psalm 103:4), much like the “Recycled Orchestra” created by Favio Chavez, a young music professional in Paraguy. Chavez observed the desperate conditions of residents in and around a landfill there and opened a music school with five instruments.
Enrollment rapidly increased, so they began making instruments from recycled landfill materials: a flute from tin cans; a drum set using X-rays as the skins; a saxophone with bottle caps as keys; a double bass constructed from chemical cans. Together, the orchestra now infuses the landfill with dignity and beauty as they play music on the miraculously redeemed instruments.
Ultimately, God chose, adopted and redeemed us for the sake of the expansion of his kingdom, and his design is that the church be the kingdom on earth. The church is “God’s possession” (v. 14) and Christ is “head over everything for the church” (v. 22). Is your life as a member of “his body” (v. 23) lived in anything less than submission and grateful response to his lavish provision and for the “praise of his glory” (v. 12)?