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TEXT: Ephesians 3:1-13
SUBJECT: Ephesians #5: The Mystery
Roger Silva is a man who knows what he wants, and is willing to do what it takes to get it. He found his calling in life at ten years old, and has followed it thirty-five years with an uncompromising passion and patience.
To get what he wants, Roger has done without most of the joys and comforts of life. He lost contact with his family and never married or had children. He went to bed hungry most nights, and on more than a few of them, he didn't go to bed at all. Always on the move, he made no close friends, found no career, and what he's going to retire on, nobody knows!
People have told Roger to be more reasonable. What he wants is a good thing-they all agree-but why be a fanatic about it? Roger has always turned a deaf ear to the counsel of moderation! No, he will not be 'realistic' because what he wants is so worth wanting that he will live and die for it, and with no regrets.
What do you think of Roger Silva? Is he dedicated.or crazy? Is he a wise man who has found something worth living for and means to do it.or is he a fool chasing after the wind?
At the moment, no one can say what kind of man he is. Because no one knows what he has been after all these years.
If he's a missionary bringing Christ into the dark places of the world, I say he's a wise man. If he's a scientist working day and night to cure cancer, or a diplomat trying to prevent war, I say his life has been well lived. Because the blessings of salvation, life, health, and world peace are things worth living for!
But what if Roger's lifelong goal is.to find the perfect haircut? Then I say he's a fool! Because his goal in life is not worth the time and energy he has put into it! Nothing wrong with a good haircut, of course, and there's no sin in looking all over town for one. But to give up your life for it is stupid!
My silly story-believe it or not-brings us to the topic of Ephesians 3:1-13. For the Apostle Paul is a man very much like Roger Silva. He is a man living for something, and the something he is living for is so important to him, that he has sacrificed his whole life to have it.
PAUL THE PRISONER
What is it he's living for?
He is living for the unity of the Church.
In v.1, he calls himself-
Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles.
This is not figurative language. Paul is in prison in Rome. Most scholars think it was his second go-round in Nero's custody, which ended with his head being cut off. Paul is no common criminal, but is in jail for his Christianity.
A few years after Paul's death, many disciples of Christ were jailed and martyred by the Roman government for insisting that Jesus is Lord-and Caesar is not. This is not why Paul is under lock and key. Being a Jew, no one has asked him to say the words or to offer incense to Caesar.
He's in prison because he's a troublemaker. Who says so? Not the Romans or other Gentiles, but the Jews. What makes them so mad at Paul?
Oddly enough, it is not his belief in Jesus, as understood technically to mean, He was born of a virgin, died for our sins, rose from the dead, and so on.
No, what set the Jews off against Paul was his belief that-because of Christ-there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, and that both may come to God by faith in Christ alone-and without being circumcised, keeping the kosher laws, observing Hebrew holidays, and the like.
Much of the Book of Acts can be cited in support of this, and no passage better than Acts 21:21-22. Remember the context. Paul has come to Jerusalem to observe its customs, which he does with complete orthodoxy. The Jews riot, however, because they say he has polluted the temple by bringing it a Gentile (which he didn't do). The Romans rescue him from the mob and wonder what the problem is. They can't make anything of it, and so they allow Paul to explain himself to the people. To win their favor, he speaks in Hebrew, and tells them one thing and another, which they listen to with respect. Until he gets to the words of Christ-
Depart, for I will send you farm from here to the Gentles. And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, 'Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!'
This part of the Gospel is what got Paul in trouble with the Romans, and what finally cost him his life. He was willing to suffer and die for the unity of the Church.
This brings us to.you. What are you willing to do-and do without-to be at peace with God's People? And, I don't mean God's People in the abstract, His Universal Church, living, dead, and not yet born. I mean the people in this room. I mean the Christians you live with, the believing husband or wife you sleep with. What are you willing to do to have harmony in the church and in the Christian home?
Paul was willing to go to jail and the chopper's block to unify the church, but you won't likely have to do these things. But you will have to.do what? How about holding your tongue when you're angry? How about being polite when you're not in the mood? How about giving your money to people who could be more responsible than they are? How about overlooking little faults and forgiving the big ones? How about loving a wife who doesn't deserve your love? How about respecting a husband who hasn't earned it? How about obeying parents who 'don't get it'? Or being good to kids who are behaving badly?
These are the everyday, practical ways of building church unity, and if we don't do them, we won't have it. I believe in the sovereignty of God as much as you do, but I also know that His Eternal Purpose is fulfilled, in part, through our obedience.
I wondered why the Lord refused,
To hear my prayers, so sore;
Until one day I read His Word,
And found I should do more.
THE TEMPLE OF GOD
Was Paul a fool to sacrifice his whole life for the unity of the Church? He didn't think so. Looking back to chapter 2, he says it is no sacrifice at all because of what the Church is. It is-
A holy Temple in the Lord.a habitation of God in the Spirit.
If a Levite, in Old Testament times, had poured his whole life into protecting the Temple and died defending it against men who had no right to be there, would you have taken him for a fool or a hero? I say, 'hero', because it was his calling and there is no shame in dying for the honor of God's House.
Which-Paul says-we are! The Church is what the Temple was, only better. Paul's life in service to it's unity, therefore, was no folly.
This is a quick look back, but now we move forward, to 3:2ff. The key word is Mystery. In the New Testament, a mystery is a thing that used to be hidden, but is now revealed. From the beginning of the world, the church was a mystery. Of course, God had long had a people, but for the most part, they had been related to each other; they were a nation who were also a family.
The prophets foresaw Israel becoming a far greater nation than it ever was, and that one day, God would add countless foreigners to His people. This would be a great day, they said, but the only language they had to describe it was.Jewish language. They saw the Gentiles converting to Judaism by the millions.
This didn't happen in the way they expected it to. The Lord kept His promise, people from every nation, kindred, tribe, and tongue were joining Israel, but as True Israelites, whose-
Circumcision was of the heart, and not of the flesh.
They were becoming children of Abraham, by sharing in his faith.
This was a mystery that not even the most learned and devout scholars knew at the time. But the Lord Himself revealed it to the Apostles, in general, and Paul in particular, had a calling to preach it, v.6-
That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the Gospel.
PAUL'S WONDER AND PRIVILEGE
Paul was staggered by his calling-not at its hardships, so much-as at its privilege. Who was he-of all people-to receive this honor? He wasn't worthy of bringing God's People together under the Lordship of Christ, but this is what He was permitted to do. He calls this fellowship two things-
God's eternal purpose, v.11, and the unsearchable riches of Christ, v.8.
Your calling is not identical to Paul's. You are not called to uncover the Great Mystery of the Church-it has already been uncovered. But if your calling is not as original as his, it is no less important. You are called to foster the fellowship, to enrich it, to rejoice in it, and to give up all attitudes and actions that hinder it.
Why does God want His church united? Much can be said here, and most of it is common sense. Unity makes for a happier church than its opposite. Unity keeps us from wasting a lot of time and effort mending fences when we might be doing better things.
Unity makes the church more attractive to unbelievers who are sick and tired of the chaos all around them. Unity is a powerful witness to the Lord's Presence and to our sincerity. Pretty much everyone agrees with the Psalmist-
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell in unity!
The human benefits of church unity must not be forgotten. They do both believers much good, and unbelievers too. But Paul is aiming a bit higher than earthly happiness. He says God created the Church, v.10-
To the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.
Principalities and powers are superhuman creatures, perhaps the angels, archangels, cherubim, seraphim, and glorified saints we read of in the Bible. Whatever they are, God wants to impress them; He wants to show them that their wisdom-as incredible as it is to us-is nothing compared to His wisdom.
What better way to do this than to take the mean, selfish, and unforgiving people we are by nature, and turn us into the Body of Christ, with each member loving others more than himself?
Principalities and powers are not easily impressed. Until they see knuckleheads like you and me-
Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
So in love was he with this display of God's Wisdom, Paul thought nothing of the pain he must endure to bring it to pass. It didn't take his heart away, v.13, and he said, 'Don't let it take yours away either'. Paul suffered for the glory of the church, and you have the same high calling.
SUFFERING OR SUFFERING?
Suffering in this life is inescapable. Poets have called this world A vale of tears, and rightly so, because even the happiest life has its share of crying.
But what are you going to suffer for? For your own way? For your own dignity? Or for something more worthy of your tears than these petty things? Why not suffer for the unity of the Church? Why not surrender your pet theories or your dinky desires or your smelly grudges? Give them up for the sake of brotherly love in the church and the believing home.
You're better off without them. The perfect haircut is not worth living for. But the unity of the Church is. Let us put our hearts and heads and hands to this great work, and-
Walk worthy of the calling to which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.
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