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Edward F. Markquart

Books of the Bible- Ephesians
The Strong Will of God

Ephesians Series     Ephesians 1:1,5, 9, 11; 5:17 

Today, we begin a series of sermons on the book of Ephesians.  The Lutheran Church follows a lectionary, a guided system for reading the Bible every Sunday, and today begins a series of six sermons from the book of Ephesians. There are so many preaching themes in Ephesians that it is difficult to confine oneself to six sermons.   At the present time, I am planning for perhaps eleven sermons on Ephesians. 

During the weeks that lie ahead, knowing that some of you read the Bible regularly, I am hoping you will immerse yourselves in the book of Ephesians.  The more you read and saturate yourselves with the thought patterns of the book of Ephesians, the better.  So, if you are reading your Bible daily or you want to begin, let’s read the book of Ephesians in preparation for the sermons.

The opening chapter of Ephesians is very complex.  There are very many concepts in that first chapter.  In our preaching, we could focus on grace, predestination, or the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  But in the first chapter, there are four clear and specific references to the will of God, and that will be our focus this morning.  There is a book titled, “Getting in on the Will of God,” and that is what we are going to do today:  attempt to get in on the will of God for our lives. 

When I think of this theme, knowing the will of God, my mind is now thinking on three strong willed people.  That is where I would like to begin:  by focusing on three very strong willed characters. 

The first strong willed person I am thinking of is Norris Halvorson, Pastor Norris Halvorson, who was the interim pastor here at Grace Lutheran when I arrived in 1973.  Talk about strong willed.  Talk about one crusty old goat.  Norris was as strong willed of a person and pastor as I have ever seen. He told me many stories, some of them to impress a new, young pastor, and I would imagine that he exaggerated quite a few of his stories to tease me.  Well, a church councilman was intent on building a new education unit at First Lutheran Church in West Seattle, and he telephoned and ordered the lumber delivered to the church. When the lumber arrived, Norris was furious and ordered the lumber returned to the lumberyard. He then telephoned the church council member and challenged him to a fistfight.  Norris went and put on his boxing shorts and boxing gloves and went out to a street corner to meet this church council member and have it out. Now, that is being strong willed, determined, a feisty bantam rooster who didn’t really care about what you thought or what others thought or what a council man thought.  Norris had made up his mind, and his will was to prevail.

A second story.  One of the most famous books of an earlier generation was GONE WITH THE WIND. It also became a famous movie, starring none other than Clarke Gable.  The heroine of this story is Scarlet O’Hare who was passionate, determined, and strong-willed in her determination to preserve her beloved Tara, her southern plantation during the Civil War.  We have seen movies or read books from the Revolutionary War or from the Civil War or seen video clips from war torn countries today, and a persistent theme is the burning and destruction of the family plantation.  Well, it was the Civil War and the enemy wanted to burn Tara, but the enemy would burn Tara over Scarlet O’Hare’s dead body.  She was willing to sacrifice anything, including her lover Clark Gable, in order to preserve Tara.  She was a strong willed woman.

Third story.  About Hannibal.  Hannibal was the ruling general in 225 BC and he wanted to attack Rome and the Roman Empire from Carthage or Gaul.  Hannibal was a young twenty-eight years old.  He had made up his mind to conquer Rome by crossing the Alps in wintertime.  Hannibal had 50,000 troops and they were going to begin to climb the Alps in September with elephants.  Can you imagine 50,000 troops climbing the northern Cascade Mountains in the winter with elephants?  Nobody in their right mind can imagine it, but who said Hannibal was in his right mind.  Immediately, 10,000 soldiers quit, and so Hannibal began his march over the mountainous Alps with 40,000 men and elephants.  20,000 survived the march and they attacked 80,000 Romans and defeated them royally. Hannibal didn’t ask anybody’s opinion.  He had made up his mind what he was going to do.  He had a plan, a vision, a destiny, and he was determined to attack and defeat those Romans, which he did.  He was a strong willed character.

Now, as we look at Halvorson, O’Hare, and Hannibal, we discover that these strong willed characters, had at least two characteristics:  First, they had a clear goal, a vision, a perception of what they wanted and needed to do.  Secondly, they had this determination to accomplish that goal. Nothing was going to get in their way of accomplishing that goal.  They assembled all of their energy, their resources, and their intelligence to accomplish that goal.

So also, our God is a strong willed God.  Just like Halvorson, O’Hare and Hannibal, our God has a clear goal, vision, and purpose. God has a clear destiny for this world and our lives. Secondly, God puts his energy, resources, and power into accomplishing his goal, his vision for the world, your life and mine.  God has two qualities: a clear vision and a determination to get that vision done.

Now, I would like to do a Bible study, and I ask you to take out your insert with Ephesians l:1-11 printed on it, and you will notice that I have italicized the four times in this section where the phrase, “will of God” is used.  I would like to be a Bible commentator now, and teach you about this first chapter.

First, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.”  Please notice that Paul has been chosen by God to be an apostle.  Paul is very clear and emphatic about this.  His apostleship is not his own choosing; this is God’s choosing.  He could have inserted, “I am an apostle, not by my own will, but by God’s will.”  Consistently, Paul emphasizes the will of God as being important, not human will.  The focus is on what God is doing, not on what we human beings are doing. 

Please focus on the word “pleasure” and the sentence “In love, God predestined us to be his adoption sons and daughters…in accordance with his pleasure and will.”  God’s will is associated with pleasure.  God’s will for your life and mine, for the earth, is associated with a smile, with pleasure, with happiness.  Whenever you think of God’s will, always smile inside, because God’s will for your life is something good, not something awful or something to be dreaded. Smile inside when you think of God’s will or destiny.

Please focus on the word “adoption” in that sentence. This is the key. God’s clear and definite purpose is to lovingly adopt us into his family, so that we clearly know we are sons and daughters of God. God treats us and loves us as sons and daughters.

There was no concept of adoption in the Old Testament.  The word “adoption” wasn’t even used in the Old Testament because the Jews didn’t practice it; adoption wasn’t part of their mindset. Nor was the word or concept in the mind of Jesus who was a Jew. Nor is the concept of adoption found in the first four gospels.  But for the Apostle Paul, adoption was part of his Roman world and adoption was used at least five times by Paul.  You need to understand Roman law to understand adoption. For example, girls weren’t adopted under Roman law. It was part of Roman law that only sons inherited property.  The Roman Caesars’ adopted sons frequently in order to give them their grand inheritance, and the focus was on the Caesar who chose a son to be adopted.  In adoption, it was the will of the Caesar that was important; not the will of the son.  The Romans practiced “patre potentus,”  the patre = father;  potentus = potent.  Adoption presupposed a potent father.  All legal rights were with the father and none with the son.  It was the father’s will which controlled everything.  The concept of adoption was pleasureful, a source of happiness and joy as the Caesar designated his adopted son to be his designated heir and receive a grand inheritance.  It is the pleasureful will of the Caesar that is important; not the will of the adopted person.  Caesar was a strong willed character, even stronger willed than Halvorson, O’Hare or Hannibal. 

As an example of this, my nephew and his wife recently adopted two children from China, a girl and two years later a boy.  There was and is a happiness and full-bodied pleasure in their hearts as they adopted.  And what would have happened to these Chinese children if they hadn’t been adopted?  Especially the boy who was physically deformed? Would the children have languished in a Chinese orphanage for years?   The focus is on the good will, and persistent plan, design and purpose of the parents who happily, joyfully and energetically adopted their Chinese children.  This adoption will bring great joy to their family lives.  Adoption (Roman or current international) focuses on the strong will, energy, determination and desire of the parent(s) who adopted. God’s will, energy and determination is that we become the adopted children of a loving God, who gives us our inheritance. Our inheritance? The love in the family. A love that never dies but lives forever.

Please focus on the word “son” and add “daughters.”  When we are adopted, we become full sons and daughters.  We no longer remain as orphans who may grow up to be sold off as slaves. There is no greater privilege than to be sons and daughters. What a grand and glorious privilege to be a son or daughter and be a recipient of a legacy of love.  The grand inheritance of a Caesar was the gift of being treated like a son or daughter, and the grand inheritance of God is loving us like a son or daughter and giving us eternal life..

Please focus on the word “mystery” and the sentence, “God made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure.”  There we see the word “pleasure” again, but my focus here is on the word, “mystery.”  The word, “mystery,” is often used by the Apostle Paul, and it means “sacramentum” or sacrament.  The sacraments are mysteries such as the Body and Blood of Christ on our communion table.  You can’t rationally understand the sacraments.  Marriage is called “sacramentum,” a mystery, and a person can’t rationally understand a woman, a man, and the two of the becoming united into one will and person and flesh.  Marriage, it is a mystery to the mind.  But we try to understand mysteries such as Holy Communion, marriage, or God’s will for our lives.  We can spend a lifetime trying to understand Holy Communion, marriage or God’s will for our particular lives. 

I would like to tell you a story about Howard and Edie Wills.  They were both great people.  Howard was a loud singing monotone and I, with the acolytes, would stand outside the door into the sanctuary and listen to Howard’s glorious growling which he thought was singing.  Howard also belonged to “Mensa,” an organization for geniuses.  He was a machinist with Boeing, and like a lot of people, he was highly intelligent but he didn’t go to college. One day, Howard was standing in the hallway of Highline Hospital, outside the hospital room of his wife who was dying of cancer.  He explained to me the mystery of her dying and his life.  He said:  “Our lives are like standing beneath a Persian rug which is elevated above your head.  You look up at the rug and all you see is dangled strands of yarn, in a pattern, but not in a perfect pattern.  But if you look at that Persian rug from above, you see clearly the perfect pattern imprinted on that rug.  So it is with God. From above, God clearly sees the pattern and imprint of our lives, but from below, you and I don’t see it nearly as clearly as God, who sees from above. From below, our lives are like jangled yard, a pattern, but not nearly as clear as from above.”  Ever since that conversation, I have understood the will of God for my life more clearly. From above with God in heaven, I look down and see the patterns in my life very clearly. From below where I am, the patterns are often a tangled mess, like the yarn on the underside of a Persian rug. I have read this analogy of the Persian rug elsewhere, but I first learned the truth of the Persian rug from Howard.

The will of God is a sacrament.  It is a mystery to be discovered, not something to be handed over simply to you on an intellectual platter.  God’s will is to be delved in to, thought about, prayed above, in order to gradually discover what the will of God is for your life.  God’s will for our lives is often like tangled yarn beneath the Persian rug.  The pattern is vaguely clear, but from God’s point of view, God’s plan for our lives is crystal clear. God’s clear purpose is that we are to be his sons and daughters, part of God’s loving family. We all need to discover this for ourselves. 

Please focus on the phrase:  “Bring all things together under Christ, the head.”  God’s purpose for our world is harmony and peace.  It is not God’s purpose for us to be at war with each other.  It is God’s purpose that Israelites and Palestinians, Catholics and Protestants, Russians and Americans, blacks and whites, rich and poor, live in harmony and peace.  God’s purpose is never warfare and bloodshed.  When God works peace between the Israelites and Palestinians, Russians and Americans, rich and poor, God smiles inside because this is God’s will.  God will put all his resources, energy and time into making peace, for that is his will, his goal, his destiny. What is the will of God? That we as God’s children are to live in peace with each other, that there is to be peace in our human family and Christian family.

Please focus on the last sentence, “In God, we were also chosen, predestined according to the plan of God who works out everything in conformity with his will.”  So, you and I are also chosen, predestined before we were born like the people of faith in the Old Testament.  Again and again, the Psalmist says,  “Before you were born, I chose you to be my servant.”  God’s will for us to be his children was  created even before we were born. 

This concludes our Bible study of Ephesians, chapter one, about the will of God. According to the Apostle Paul and Ephesians, what is the strong will of God? That there would be peace and harmony among us, God’s adopted children.

Now, I would like to change focus and to think with you about Jesus and the will of God.  Not only the Apostle Paul talks about the will of God, but so do the Gospels and Jesus.  With Jesus, the will of God is not something we think about or contemplate.  With Jesus, the will of God is always something we do.  To know the will of God is an occasion for action, doing, accomplishing.  Let me give you several examples.  From twenty-one years ago, I have two pages of single spaced typing of quotations from Jesus and the Bible about the will of God.  …One time, when people noticed his mother, brothers and sisters around him, Jesus said, “My mother, brothers and sisters aren’t people who are blood related, but those who do the will of God.”  Jesus says that his family members are those people who do the will of God.  This is an incredible saying. … Jesus also said:  “My food is to do the will of God.” In other words, his source of energy and strength is doing, is doing the will of God in his life.  To do the will of God brings nourishment and strength to your life. … Jesus told the story or parable about two sons:  one who listened to the father and didn’t do what the father said.  The other son listened to the father, didn’t do what the father asked, changed his mind, and finally did what the father asked.  That was the good son.  Not the one who talked the talk, but the one who walked the walk, the one who actually did what the father asked.  … Jesus taught his disciples to pray:  Our father who art in heaven, holy be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.   The only thing Jesus said in this prayer about God’s will was to do it.  It’s the Nike slogan:  Just do it!!! … In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was facing enormous suffering and he prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

So when we study the will of God in Jesus and the Gospels, we hear a clear persistence and insistence that we Christians not to spend time thinking about, contemplating and discovering the will of God. The Bible’s clear insistence is that we do the will of God.

The stories from Jesus’ life are so clear: we are to do the love of God for all people around us. The true family of Jesus are the ones who do the love, who don’t simply talk about it, pray about it, think about it. That’s what the Pharisees were good at: talking and praying and thinking about the will of God as a clever devise to cover up the fact that they were not doing the love of God in their daily lives.

We have examined the will of God in Ephesians and in the Gospels.  Now we ask the question: what is the will of God for my life?  What is God’s blueprint for my life? Is God’s will for us a divine blueprint? Does God have a divine blueprint as to what job we are to have, who we are to marry, in what house we are to live? It seems to me that many people may want a divine blueprint for their lives, a detailed plan for their daily lives.

One way of discovering a blueprint for your life is to discover the unique gifts that God has given to you and not given to you. But that is another topic for another sermon.

Many Christians live devoted lives but still can’t quite articulate clearly God’s blueprint for their lives. You can be a devout Christian and still not have all the right answers about this mystery of the will of God for your life.  Let me give you an example.  Nancy Welliver, who died a few years ago, was the wife of Bert Welliver, the vice-president of technology at Boeing who died several years ago.  Nancy was a faithful wife to Bert in all of his life, but especially as she cared for him as he died.  Bert was my neighbor, good friend, and chairman of the call committee who called me in 1973. Members of the Welliver family were the first visitors to our home in Eugene, Oregon, before moving here to Seattle.  Nancy was an incredible lady:  a devoted mother of four children, school teacher, ran a business of sewing dresses for ice skaters, moved to Colorado with her daughter as her daughter tried for the Olympics in skating, was a church council member, a wife of Bert.  It was no easy task being married to such an outstanding man as Bert, as is true of many women who are married to a powerful person like Bert.   Every once in a while, Nancy would come into my office and be depressed, down in the dumps, not feeling very good, and occasionally she would say:  “I just can’t figure out the will of God for my life, if I am doing the will of God.”  When I think of the will of God, I normally think of Nancy and her asking the question of me about the will of God for her life.  And I would repeatedly say to her, with all the fervor I could muster:  “Nancy, you are doing the will of God.  A mother, a wife, a teacher, a businessperson, a teacher of the Bethel Series.  Nancy, of all people, it is so clear to me, you are doing God’s will.”   But in those moments, it wasn’t so clear to Nancy, and she is a symbol for me of all those fine Christian people who are doing and living out the will of God in their daily lives but don’t quite understand they are doing it.

Some people want a clear blue print for their lives revealed to them, and for them, that blueprint is the will of God. They want a blue print for their choice of occupation, their spouse, their home, or the critical decisions facing them. Should I get married to this person or not? Should I get a divorce or not? Should I take this job or not. God, give me a clue. Give me a sign. God does give us clues and signs about important decisions. God lives us brains to gradually figure out the best choices before us. This is important to do. But more important than figuring out the right choices before us, is to be a loving person in all situations. To do God’s love. To do God’s peace.

The will of God.  God’s plan and design is so clear;  for us to know and live like we are God’s loving sons and daughters. God’s design is so clear. And then God puts energy, determination, and will into accomplishing that great plan. Amen.

CHILDREN’S SERMON   I shared in detail the story of my nephew’s adoption of two Chinese children, and what a blessing it was to be adopted by these parents.  I focused on the will of the parents, their dreams, their persistence in working out these adoptions in a foreign land.  And I then applied these concepts to God.

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