Notice Paul says God "works all things according to the counsel of His will." This thought comes in the midst of a paragraph in which some commentators believe Paul reflects on how God arranged every detail to bring Israel out of a seemingly impossible situation in Egypt and into the Promised Land. It is perhaps most directly tied to Deuteronomy 7:7-8.
Consider Israel's roots, geographic location and history. They were a slave people in a foreign land, freed without a revolution, taken on a 40-year journey during which their needs were supplied, led to a stronger people's land and given it when they should have been easily defeated. This land, situated between stronger and larger nations, was constantly fought over, yet Israel somehow survived. Even today, they continue to exist, though the world thinks they have virtually disappeared!
Did all of this happen more or less accidentally? Paul is saying indirectly that even as Israel's history is no accident, and since the church has succeeded Israel as God's inheritance, God has a far grander purpose that He will just as surely work out in His sovereignty. Who can withstand what He wills to do? It is no accident that we are in the church because God has been working toward these events from the beginning, and what God wills is done. God is sovereign over His creation in all things.
Stretch that "all things" generally into other areas of life. It makes this subject very interesting in light of Jesus' statement that a sparrow cannot fall without God taking notice (Matthew 10:29-31). Perhaps we could make a case for saying that some things occur out in the world that are of no significance to God's purpose, but what about in His church, the apple of His eye, the focus of His attention? This is Paul's theme in Ephesians 1. Is God so unaware, so unconcerned about His children that things happen without His notice, without His scrutiny and His judgment about what He should do?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Introduction
Consider Israel's roots from its geographic location and history. The Israelites were a slave people living in a land that was not theirs, yet God freed them from that slavery without a revolution. God led them on a journey that took forty years to complete, through an area in which, from all the records, they did not grow a crop or tend huge flocks of animals, yet all their needs were supplied, at least all the basic needs—food and water.
Whenever they were attacked, God defended them. When that forty years was over, they were then led into another land that was not theirs—one already occupied by seven nations greater, mightier, and stronger than they, so much so that even the Israelites said, "We were as grasshoppers in their eyes." They were afraid to enter it. But they did, and they occupied the land relatively easily.
They should have been easily defeated by the people whose land they took over. Consider the geography of that land. The land was situated among stronger and larger nations, namely: Egypt, Edom, Moab, Ammon, Phoenicia, and Syria. They were surrounded on all sides, and all of those nations coveted the land because of its strategic position. It was situated where its possessor could become fabulously wealthy as a trading bridge between these other nations. Thus, these nations constantly fought over this land. But somehow, the Israelites survived. Even today, thousands of years later, they continue to exist, even though the world thinks they have virtually disappeared.
Consider these things in light of what Paul writes in Ephesians 1:11, that the history of Israel is no accident. We need to make this personal, as he is using the Israelite example to show that it is no accident that the church has succeeded Israel as God's inheritance. He implies in the context that it is no accident that you, personally and individually, are in the church, because God has been working toward these events from the beginning. What God wills is done. So, without saying it directly, what Paul is stressing that God is sovereign over His creation.
We can stretch "all things" in Ephesians 1:11 into other areas of life. Recall that Jesus said that a sparrow cannot fall without God taking notice (Matthew 10:29). That indicates close attention. Is God scrutinizing what is happening? Jesus concluded His saying with, "You are of more value than many sparrows" (verse 31), which is encouraging. It helps us to understand that if God pays attention to a sparrow, He will surely pay attention to us! He has not gone far off somewhere!
Perhaps one could make a case that some things occur out in the world that are of no importance to God's purpose. But could we say that about things that happen in His church, the "apple of His eye," the focus of His attention? This question fits the context of what Paul writes in Ephesians 1. Is God unaware? Is He unconcerned about His children so that things happen without His notice, without His scrutiny, without His judgment as to what He should do?
Is God really the Almighty? Either God rules, or He is ruled over by Satan. Either His will must be done or be thwarted by what He has created. Either He is the only King of kings who has perfect vision, limitless power, and unassailable wisdom, or He is God in name only.
It cannot be any other way; there is no middle ground in this issue. Perhaps we take this subject for granted because we say that we have no arguments that God rules His creation. Faith undergirds our reasons for following Christ, but living faith is itself undergirded—supported, strengthened—by an essential factor that enables us to produce good works: our knowledge of the true God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God (Part One)
Do we get the significance of the truth that He works all things in our lives too, according to the counsel of His will? This truth does not apply to just the "big" things of His overall purpose but even to us! Do we really perceive our relationship to Him as being one of the Potter to the clay?
As He formed and shaped Adam and Eve, He is forming and shaping us, and it is our responsibility to accept and submit. Do we live our lives as though He truly is omnipotent, omniscient, and individually aware of us? Do we conduct our lives in such a manner that we fully understand that this awesome Being is actively and personally involved in what we do?
By viewing Him as Potter, do we grasp that He has every right to mold the clay into whatever form or state and make whatever use of it as He chooses? He can fashion from the same lump one person to honor and another to dishonor. He can determine our sex, race, ethnicity, level of wealth, or location. He is under no law or rule outside of His own nature and purpose. He is a law unto Himself, under no obligation to give an account of His actions to anybody else. He exercises His power as, where, and when He wills.
He is not merely overseeing our lives but actively participating in them, and He is ultimately responsible for what happens in them just as much as those national and worldwide occurrences that we hear in the news. The sovereignty of the Bible's God is absolute, irresistible, and infinite. Our trust is to be in Him.
God's purpose and plan has been and is being carried out as He purposed, and nobody can turn Him aside. Now His purpose and plan has reached out to include us just as He predestined when He declared the end from the beginning. Have we caught the vision?
Are we willing to completely turn our lives over to this Being who does not always act in a way that is pleasant to us? God immediately struck Aaron's sons and Uzzah dead, but He has allowed countless others who perhaps did far worse things to live long and seemingly full lives.
God permitted Methuselah to live almost a thousand years. He chose to endow Samson with strength as no other person ever had. Jesus went to the pool of Siloam and chose one man to heal, paying no attention to the others. Why did He allow the Morgans, Carnegies, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and many others to amass incredible wealth, while allowing perhaps billions of people around the world barely to scrape by in miserable poverty?
When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the city of Jericho and its citizens stood barring their progress. God brought the walls down, and the city's defenses collapsed—the one and only time God did such a thing. Every other city had to be conquered by warfare, risking Israelite lives to take them.
Clearly, He treats and responds to individuals according to the counsel of His own mind, and He answers to no one. He does this even in the lives of His children. The apostle John lived to be around one hundred years old, yet Stephen was stoned to death, Peter crucified, and Paul beheaded.
Considering the witnesses of those great servants, what right do we have to complain about the discomforts He creates for us to endure and grow within? He could rescue everybody in every uncomfortable circumstance, but He does not. Have we fully accepted that He may choose difficult things for us?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part One)
At the time of the complete fulfillment of this redemption, "the earnest of our inheritance" will blossom into its entire fullness. What will we be heirs of? What will we inherit?
» The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are [present tense] children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8:16-17)
» And if you are Christ's, then you are [present tense] Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29)
» That having been justified [past tense] by His grace, we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:7)
» Are [angels] not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14)
The English words "will inherit," as translated here in Hebrews 1:14 from the Greek verb méllontas, make it sound as if it is in the future tense. Grammatically, however, it is actually "active present" tense in the Greek, and therefore it might be better rendered as "those who are inheriting salvation." Nevertheless, even with human inheritances, the entirety of the inheritance does not come immediately upon an individual becoming an heir, as the actual receipt of its benefits comes later (Hebrews 9:16).
Being heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, the total inheritance has not yet been totally given to us. So far, we have received just an earnest—a down payment—of the fullness of His Holy Spirit and the fullness of the associated blessings that we will receive in the future. Further, we have God's unbreakable promise that we will receive our full inheritance when the time comes: "Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath" (Hebrews 6:17).
Again, what exactly is the inheritance? What is promised to us? The apostle James makes it clear: "Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" (James 2:5). As well as being an indescribable inheritance, God's Kingdom is also a firm promise to us from God. He does not break His promises!
Thy Kingdom Come! (Part One)