Sermon Notes Feb 6th

The Mystery of God

Ephesians 3:1-13


I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. – St Paul.

Main Idea: God has revealed a new and definitive stage in his eternal plan that involves creating a people for himself consisting of Jews and Gentiles united to Christ and joined to one another. All who have faith in Jesus Christ become a part of this new community and have direct and immediate access to the Father. This new plan, which Paul calls a “mystery,” reflects the infinite wisdom of God and is a message of defeat to the evil supernatural realm. Paul explains that God has given him the ministry of proclaiming and explaining this marvelous plan. – Clint Arnold

Ephesians 3:1–13 (NIV) 1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. 7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Christians often get discouraged because of affliction, and we feel guilty and unsure what to do about it. After all, we know that God is good, loves us, and gives us grace. But sometimes Christianity can seem as if it’s not “working” because we are suffering. While life in Christ doesn’t prevent us from facing affliction, it does empower us to endure whatever we may face by God’s grace and for his glory and our good. The Christians scattered in churches in and around the city of Ephesus were in a season of discouragement. They experienced collective, vicarious, empathetic, testimonial, demonic, and providential affliction. Their pastor, Paul—who planted the first church in their region, labored for years to train other leaders in their church, and loved them well— was imprisoned far away in Rome and experiencing at the least Adamic, demonic, victim, collective, vicarious, testimonial, and providential affliction. Sitting imprisoned alone, likely cold, and hungry in what was perhaps a literal hole in the ground turned into a cell, their pastor could have easily been discouraged as well. He was not suffering merely as a Christian but for being a Christian, calling himself “a prisoner for Christ Jesus” (v. 1 ESV). Paul suffered because of his love for Jesus. As a result, he couldn’t enjoy the companionship of fellow Christians back home. The example for Christian discouragement in Ephesians 3 comes from the pen of a man perhaps lying on a cold floor in the dark with an aching body from repeated beating, truthfully speaking of his “tribulations” while exhorting his brothers and sisters in Ephesus to “not lose heart” (v. 13) during theirs. How can we, like Paul, suffer affliction without losing affection? What is the secret to avoiding discouragement, bitterness, unbelief, anger, sullenness, indifference, or rebellion? How do we as victims of gossip, abuse, assault, betrayal, mockery, abandonment, theft, slander, adultery, and the like “not lose heart” while suffering? Paul didn’t give us pithy steps to victory. He didn’t put on the tough-guy act, saying we need to simply toughen up, move on, and stop being babies. He didn’t assume the hyper-spiritual stance, quoting lots of Bible verses promising nothing but blessing and protection for those who love God. He didn’t give us the ever-smiling optimist routine, glibly promising that God must have something better for us. He didn’t dish out the bony-fingered “Repent!” treatment, assuming that suffering is the direct result of our sin, which we need to uncover and repent of if we hope to stop suffering. He didn’t give us the guilt routine, reminding us that someone, somewhere has it far worse. And he didn’t do the Eastern religion thing, saying suffering is simply an illusion. Instead, Paul modeled deep thinking about suffering while himself deeply suffering. He opened Ephesians with reflections on suffering, introducing himself as, “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus” (v. 1 ESV) and closed chapter 1 by saying, “Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.” Because afflictions cost us so much, they are too precious to waste. Though God may not cause your affliction, he can use your affliction for his glory, others’ good, and your growth, if you are in Christ. Only by trying less to dissect and avoid our sufferings and instead embracing them as opportunities in Christ to grow, glorify God, and share the gospel will we begin to “not lose heart,” and instead find joy in our circumstances, whatever they may be. – Who Do You Think You Are?