The Extravagance of Wisdom

What comes to mind when you hear the word “lavish”? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’d characterize my usual reaction to the word as negative. By that I mean that it tends to conjure up a couple of different perspectives in my mind. The first is irresponsible extravagance that I curiously seem to find in the lives of other people much more than in my own. The second perspective includes the same kind of extravagance, but my evaluation of it shifts in an almost photo-negative fashion. It becomes the kind of life I desire, an attractive, albeit foolish idol to pursue. So I come up with either judgmentalism or idolatry. With an acknowledgment to Yoda: that way lies the dark side.

It’s all the more conspicuous, then, when I see the term applied specifically to God.

This is exactly what the apostle Paul does in the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians. The reference comes in v. 8, but I’ll include the surrounding passage to give important context:

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

This passage, in fact the first three chapters of Ephesians, are noteworthy in that they find Paul giving a detailed account of just what God has graciously done for his people in and through his Son. With that in mind, we find the apostle noting that, in Christ, “we have “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”

So God, it turns out, is lavish. Specifically, he is lavish in bestowing his grace. In other words, God gives his grace, well, extravagantly. This is no tight-fisted God, who only grudgingly parts with his undeserved blessing. No, Paul says God has taken the riches of said grace and given it abundantly. Imagine a banquet at which every guest ate to the point of satisfaction and yet the table was still filled with sumptuous foods. Such is the extravagance of God’s grace to his people.

But note one other thing. We might associate lavish displays with foolishness, a lack of modesty, or even a guilty pleasure. But consider how the passage characterizes God’s extravagance. Paul says God lavished his grace “on us with all wisdom and understanding.” In other words, this was not the product of a rich eccentric’s flippant whim. No, it was an action carefully crafted by the inexhaustible wisdom of the Creator and Lord of all there is. It was part of his settled plan—a plan formed before the foundation of the world—to fill your cup to overflowing from the vast storehouses of his grace. To love you when you were the most unlovable. To redeem you from your slavery to sin. To cleanse you from its stain. To welcome you into his own family as true heirs.

The appropriate response to all of this? Certainly wonder and—to quote Paul one more time—the “praise of his glorious grace.”

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