Monday, June 4, 2012

Christianity in Action

Part 17 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



"For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory" (3:1-13).


Paul's Highlights 

Paul was born around the same time as Jesus in the city of Tarsus. He was brought up in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). Paul’s Jewish name was “Saul.” He belonged to the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:5) and was probably named after the tribe’s most famous member: Saul, the first king of Israel.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Gal. 1:14; cf. Acts 23:6; Phil. 3:5). He had also been a student of Gamaliel, the most honored rabbi of the first century (Acts 22:3). Paul was a fierce persecutor of the church. He was present at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1; 22:20). And he “began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison” (8:3). But Paul was converted on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-6). The church’s worst enemy became a Christian!

Paul describes himself as “a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles” (v. 1). Later, he writes, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (v. 8).

Paul’s mission: he was an apostle to the Gentiles. 

“[Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15). “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:21; cf. 26:17-18). “I am an apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13). “I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised” (Gal. 2:7; cf. Rom. 1:5; Gal. 1:16; 1 Tim. 2:7).

Paul’s message: he preached that God’s blessings are equally available to all. 

This message is described by Paul as a “mystery” (v. 3, 4, 6, 9). A “mystery” in the NT is something that is known only because God has revealed it. “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (v. 6).

Paul’s suffering: he was a prisoner. 

Ephesians is one of Paul’s “prison epistles.” Paul says he was a prisoner “on behalf of you Gentiles” (v. 1; cf. Acts 21:28; 22:21-22). “The Jews claimed that [Paul] was distorting God’s revelation and thus were instrumental in obtaining his imprisonment in Jerusalem (Acts 21:20-36) from where he was taken to Caesarea, tried, and appealed to Caesar (Acts 24:23-25:12). He was then taken to Rome and imprisoned while waiting for his accusers to arrive (Acts 27-28). Altogether he spent four years in prison: two years in Caesarea and two years in Rome” (Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, p. 420).

Paul was willing to follow God’s plan for his life in spite of the adversity. He was a prisoner “for Christ Jesus” (v. 1). Later, Paul writes that he is “a prisoner for the Lord” (4:1) and “an ambassador in chains” (6:20). Paul’s imprisonment showed that the Gentiles were valued by him and, more importantly, God. Paul says, “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory” (v. 13). In his letter to the Philippians (another “prison epistle”) Paul wrote, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Phil 1:12).


In Action 

I have been a hockey and baseball card collector for many years. When I was a kid, I loved the “In Action” cards.


Paul was an “in action” Christian. He says, “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace” (v. 7). “Christianity is not a religion of works, but it is still very much a religion of action” (Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, p. 171). Every Christian should consider himself or herself a minister.

Grace calls all of us to action. 

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder that any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:9-10). “Grace always bring responsibility; it never is merely privilege” (Snodgrass, Ephesians, p. 166). “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).