Does Ephesians 1:3 and Galatians 3:13 teach us that the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 28 apply to us as Christians in the same conditional way that they applied to the Israelites? Of course, they couldn’t keep the law and neither can we. But since Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf and became the curse for by dying on the cross that we should now be free from the curses and receive the blessings of Deuteronomy 28.
Sounds great right? Who doesn’t want a life of blessings and no curses. But is this true? Is this what Paul was teaching in his writing? This leads me to some questions that need to be answered.
When Paul mentions blessings in Ephesians 1:3 is he referring to the list of blessings under the law from Deuteronomy 28?
“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.” (Ephesians 1:3 HCSB)
The various English translations of this verse all have two things in common. They use the past tense “has blessed us” and they also use spiritual blessing. What is a spiritual blessing? Could this refer to the blessings of Deuteronomy 28?
The Bible Knowledge Commentary on this passage says
Paul’s use of the past tense participle “has blessed” points to this blessing or prospering of believers as having occurred in eternity past. With what are believers blessed? With every spiritual blessing (in the Gr., this phrase precedes the words “in the heavenly realms”). “Every spiritual blessing” (eulogia) refers to every spiritual enrichment needed for the spiritual life. Since these benefits have already been bestowed on believers, they should not ask for them but rather appropriate them by faith. Similarly Joshua was not to ask for land since God had already promised it to him (Jos_1:3-4). But he was to enter into the enjoyment of that provision.The manner or sphere of this enrichment is in Christ. The place of these”blessings” is in the heavenly realms, as opposed to the earthly realm of the Ephesian goddess Artemis. Thus these blessings are spiritual not material, heavenly not earthly, eternal not temporal (2Co_4:18; Col_3:1-4). Five times Paul used the phrase “in the heavenly realms”: in Eph_1:3, Eph_1:20; Eph_2:6; Eph_3:10; Eph_6:12.Eph_1:3 tells much about God’s blessings on believers: (a) when: eternity past; (b) with what: every spiritual blessing: (c) where: in the heavenly realms; (d) how: in Christ.
Let’s consider the list of blessings from Deuteronomy 28. And ask ourselves some questions about them.
- Are these blessings material, spiritual or both?
- Did the Christians of the early church, Paul and the other Apostles experience these blessings?
- Does the rest of the New Testament teach that Christians receive both these blessings and curses conditionally?
Blessings conditioned on obedience
“Now if you faithfully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all His commands I am giving you today, the LORD your God will put you far above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come and overtake you, because you obey the LORD your God:” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2 HCSB)
This covenant was conditioned on the obedience of the people. We know from Israel’s history that they did not obey. We also know from our history that we do not obey the law either.
“For no one will be justified in His sight by the works of the law…” (Romans 3:20 HCSB)
Yes, we have received a righteousness from Christ. But does that righteousness mean that we receive the conditional blessings?
The first group of blessings are financial blessings.
“You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. Your descendants will be blessed, and your land’s produce, and the offspring of your livestock, including the young of your herds and the newborn of your flocks. Your basket and kneading bowl will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.” (Deuteronomy 28:3-6 HCSB)
Were Paul, the Apostles and the early Christians blessed like this?
“I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content–whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.” (Philippians 4:11-12 HCSB)
Paul experienced many difficulties and hardships in his life. Many of his enemies used this as an argument that he was not a real apostle. It is hard to imagine that Paul would have taught that the financial blessings of Deuteronomy 28 applied to him.
What about the early Christians? Did they experience this kind of blessing?
“For you sympathized with the prisoners and accepted with joy the confiscation of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves have a better and enduring possession” (Hebrews 10:34 HCSB)
All the evidence suggests that in the first century becoming a Christian was a good way to become poor and imprisoned. The fact is that the idea that God will bless you financially is nothing new. Even in Paul’s time there were false teachers who were encouraging this way of thinking.
“If anyone teaches other doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited, understanding nothing, but has a sick interest in disputes and arguments over words. From these come envy, quarreling, slander, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement among people whose minds are depraved and deprived of the truth, who imagine that godliness is a way to material gain. But godliness with contentment is a great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. But you, man of God, run from these things, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:3-11 HCSB)
Another group of blessings refer to military success. Our bible study leader didn’t go into this but I can’t imagine how this blessing applies to an individual Christian unless you turn it into success in the realm of spiritual warfare.
The Head – Always Upward
“The LORD will make you the head and not the tail; you will only move upward and never downward if you listen to the LORD your God’s commands I am giving you today and are careful to follow them.” (Deuteronomy 28:13 HCSB)
Wow – who wouldn’t want this? To be the head and not the tail? Only moving upward and never downward?
Of the twelve Apostles, 11 were murdered for the testimony of their faith and John was exiled to Patmos. Paul was imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead. Does this sound like the life of someone who is only moving upward?
Some people say – what’s the big deal? So what if he teaches this?
A believer who is taught these things will soon run into the hard truth that their life does not always move upward and that they are sometimes the tail. When they face these things then what? They become disillusioned and despair because they are unable to keep the law. This teaching puts people under the law.
“know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. And we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16 HCSB)