In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:4-6).Adoption!
Almost 20 years ago, I discovered a small discipline that has proven itself extremely valuable to me over the years when I look at a specific passage. When I begin to study a certain book of the Bible, I endeavor to sit down and read it straight through, beginning to end, at least ten times, before I start tearing into it, simply to get the overall emphasis and focus of the authors themselves. I will admit this is a lot easier with books like Ephesians, and much harder with books like Isaiah, but it has been invaluable at helping me personally see not just a tree, but the whole forest too, simultaneously.
If one was to read through the majority of Paul’s letters in one sitting, you would immediately begin to see this word—adoption. Paul does not apply this word to Jewish believers, only to gentiles. In Paul’s cultural context, adoption meant something quite different than it does for us in our culture. In Paul’s day and age, adoption was a process whereby a slave became a member of the family. This was done for many reasons. One possibility could be that a couple were getting up in years and did not have children to watch after them in their old age. Thus, they would select one of the household slaves they were fond of to adopt. Adoption was usually a win/win situation. It did not come without added responsibility, but it also usually came with the rewards and privileges of being “family,” which included, but was not limited to, an inheritance.
Sociologically, adoption was not always as altruistic as it can be today. Slaves were willing to enter into this relationship out of fondness for their owners but, more importantly, for the gift of their freedom and the inheritance that would follow. The slave owner sought to adopt to ensure some perfunctory family responsibility would be taken care of, that otherwise lacked someone to oversee it. Sometimes it was a family business that needed to be looked after, or as mentioned, care of the slave owners themselves when they became older; it may also have been simply a way of carrying on a family name.
We need to qualify for one minute, though, Paul’s use of the adoption model in Ephesians. He is very careful to state God’s motives in adopting us. God was not self-seeking. His motives were altruistic. God adopted us, simply and unequivocally, only because of His great love for us. But, Paul was quick to add, that did not excuse us, as gentiles adopted into the family of God, from the added responsibilities of carrying on the family name and carrying out the business of the family into which we have been adopted. And what is the family business, what is the family name, we are being asked to carry on?
In one word, it is simple: Love.
“Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He did not love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that” (Ephesians 5:1, 2, The Message).
“Love to man is the earthward manifestation of the love of God. It was to implant this love, to make us children of one family, that the King of glory became one with us. And when His parting words are fulfilled, ‘Love one another, as I have loved you’ (John 15:12); when we love the world as He has loved it, then for us His mission is accomplished. We are fitted for heaven; for we have heaven in our hearts” (White, The Desire of Ages, p. 641).
Something worth pondering, for sure.
I wish you God’s best this week.