Sunday May 23rd
Some of you know that I have co-authored two books, one was called Imagine, You Being Rich, and the other was called Imagine, You Being Loved.
But I decided that my next book is going to be a mystery.
Or is it?
No, actually I already wrote a mystery novel.
Or did I?
Okay, I will stop with this stupid joke now.
Or will I?
As we study of Ephesians Chapter 3 today, we find the Apostle Paul focused on the mystery of God.
In Verse 1 he says:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles…
Paul refers to himself as a prisoner because he is writing this letter while under house arrest.
Acts 28:16 says “When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.”
Paul says that his imprisonment is “for the sake of you Gentiles.” That’s because Paul’s journey to this Roman jail began when he started taking the Gospel to non-Jewish people, which infuriated some of the Jewish people so much that they tried to kill him, and when they couldn’t kill him, they had him arrested.
Notice that Paul begins sharing an idea, saying “for this reason, I Paul…” and then he never tells what “this reason” is until verse 14.
What sidetracks Paul is the need to explain what he means by calling himself a prisoner of Christ for the sake of the gentiles.
He refers to this situation as a mystery:
2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you;
3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.
4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,
So the core of the mystery is that even though everyone originally thought that God had chosen only the Jewish people for salvation, now it was becoming clear that God had also chosen the Gentiles to receive salvation. Paul declares that through faith in Jesus Christ both Jewish and non-Jewish believers have equal access to God.
Where this mystery has caused problems for Paul is that all of the first followers of Jesus were Jewish, and some of these Jewish followers of Jesus were teaching the Gentiles that to become a Christian meant that a person had to follow all of the Old Testament Jewish laws.
Paul's response to these claims was to say NO!
The requirements for salvation have already been fulfilled by Jesus, and the blessings of salvation are for those who come to God by faith rather than by works or religious practices.
He tells us several things about the mystery:
First, he describes it as “the stewardship of God’s grace”, meaning that God had given this mysterious grace to be distributed in some way.
Second, it was given to Paul “by revelation,” meaning it came directly from God to Paul.
Third, this mystery was previously hidden from men for some reason, but has now been revealed.
So what is this mystery, exactly? According to verse six “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
The mystery that was once hidden but is now revealed is that we are all one in Christ. The entire mystery comes down to this one point – that through Jesus we are meant to be one.
Paul uses three terms to describe this oneness:
1) We are fellow heirs
2) We are fellow members of the body
3) We are fellow partakers of the promise.
Heirs are the people who get to split the inheritance. You don’t earn an inheritance – you receive it. Paul is saying that together all of us are receiving the inheritance of God. And it’s not like God is dividing up His riches and distributing a bit to you and a little bit to me. What really happens is that together we receive the same gift of salvation in its fullness. I get ALL of Christ’s riches, but so do you!
What does it mean to be fellow members?
Paul actually invented the word that he uses here. Paul invented a new word to describe all of us joined together, with Jesus as the head – because it’s only together that we can make up His body. If we’re not together, it can’t exist!
The third point of the mystery is that together we can partake in the promise. What promise?
We already saw from Chapter 1 verse 13 that the Holy Spirit IS the promise. “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” So the third thing that brings us all together is the promise of the Holy Spirit – and the fact that all who put their faith in Jesus for salvation receive the Holy Spirit.
Now Paul adds even more insight into the mystery:
7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things;
Paul talks about his experience of sharing this mystery with the Gentiles. He explains that his job is to preach “the unfathomable riches of Christ” and “to bring to light” the mystery of unity which had been hidden for so many years.
Then in verse 10 Paul adds this incredible reason WHY the mystery has finally been revealed: “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.”
Think about what is being said here; the unity of the church, a body of diverse people coming together in Christ – demonstrates to the entire spiritual realm (both angelic and demonic) the incredible wisdom and plan of God. God created the church, united us as the body of Christ, with Jesus as the head. And the very existence of the unified church demonstrates the wisdom of God and His perfect plan. And it not only demonstrates His wisdom and power to PEOPLE, it also demonstrates it “to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.”
So the unity of the body of Christ, the unity of the church, demonstrates to the whole realm of spiritual wickedness and darkness that God is GREATER than all of them and that His wisdom, power and glory are evident through the church that Jesus established through the shedding of His own blood!
But of course we can’t do any of this on our own. That’s why verses 11 and 12 say:
“This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.”
It’s only because of Jesus that we have access to God. It is only because we’ve been made into the body of Christ that we can come before God at any time. We, who were once corrupt and rebellious and sinful and the objects of God’s wrath, were suddenly, miraculously, mysteriously invited into God’s presence through our faith in Jesus. Through Jesus we can display the unity and love for one another that magnifies God’s greatness for ALL to see, men and angels and the forces of darkness!
Without Jesus it’s really hard to imagine all of us achieving true unity and one-ness.
But WITH Him and with access to the throne of grace we surely can!
It can surely be done, but nobody said it was going to be easy.
That’s why Paul adds these words of encouragement in verse 13:
“Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.”
Even if there is sacrifice and suffering involved in the process, it is WORTH IT to press on with this Christian walk, and to WORK TOWARDS the kind of unity that Jesus has called us to, because in the end, God will receive the glory that He deserves!
Now, if you remember, Paul started off this chapter by saying “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus…” But then he got sidetracked on a discussion of the mystery of unity. Now finally in verse 14, Paul gets back to his original thought about “this reason”.
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
So what is “this reason”? Paul is referring to all of the wonderful things that God has done by restoring people back to Himself and building them up together into a family of believers.
And what does “this reason” cause Paul to do? It makes him bow his knees in prayer and ask for even MORE blessings to fall!
First, he asks that God would strengthen us with the power of the Holy Spirit “in the inner man”.
Second, Paul prays that we will be able to grasp the extent of God’s love for us.
Think about it this way: When something is very limited and superficial we might call it one-dimensional. We sometimes describe pictures as two-dimensional and we call physical objects three-dimensional, but Paul says that God’s love actually is four-dimensional: breadth and length and height and depth.
If we want to measure something we often use the dimensions of length, height, and width, but Paul adds this additional measurement of how DEEP God’s love is.
Long before the Bee Gees turned it into a song lyric, Paul was telling us to ask God: “How deep is your love, how deep is your love? I really need to learn.”
And it’s actually true. We need to learn how deep God’s love is so that we can fully embrace the love that He is trying to pour into our lives. Here is an attempt to gain a perspective on the 4 dimensions of God’s love:
God’s Love: is wide enough to encompass all of humanity
God’s Love: is long enough to last for eternity
God’s Love: is high enough to take us to heaven
God’s Love: is deep enough to reach the most unreachable sinner.
In the last two verses of this chapter Paul again attempts to express the inexpressible:
20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Someone once said, “It wasn’t the nails that held Jesus on the cross, it was His love for you and me.” In the same way, we need to realize that the power that brought Jesus back from the grave was God’s powerful love for US – a love that wanted to break the power of death over OUR lives and to RESTORE us to eternal life with Him!
His love is DEEP and He will go as deep into our hearts as He needs to in order to accomplish His purposes and to overwhelm us with His love.
The question for us is; are we walking in that fullness? Do we understand the depth of God’s love for us; what He was willing to do in order to pay for our sins and give us eternal life?
Can you see God’s love for you? Can you grasp it? Can you see how much He loves those around you?
That’s my prayer today, just like it was Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church; that we will come to know how high, how long, how wide, and how DEEP God’s love for us really is!