Devotional # 100. 9/1/14. Ephesians 3:1-7.
Intro. Today marks 100 Devotionals!!! It’s been so cool to see God move through these 100 Devotionals over the last 2 years (almost exactly!) I pray for God to speak through another 100 Devotionals and that the Hungarian kids this was started for would come to know Jesus as their Savior.
We start chapter 3 this week. We’re going to split it into 3 parts over the next 3 weeks. In this week’s reading we see Paul change the focus from the church he is writing in Ephesus to looking at himself (Source 1). In doing so he explains why he has a passion for them…
v. 1. I have to admit trying to sort out Paul’s thoughts here even after reading through it over and over was difficult for me. Reading “Today’s English Version” was helpful. Verse 1 says “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles, pray to God.”
Paul recognized that we must serve one master or the other, sin or God (Romans 6:16) as Jesus taught (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13). Paul also made the commitment to being a bondservant* to Jesus (Romans 1:1). Here Paul explains he is happily a “prisoner of Jesus” and will do it again in the next chapter (4:1). In case we think he means something other than “prisoner” here let’s look at the original. “Prisoner” in Greek is desmios (G#1198) meaning “a captive” or being “in bonds” (Source 2). Stott makes a great point that physically Paul was the prisoner of Nero (which we read in Acts 25:11-12, Devotional # 68) but because Paul looked at his physical and spiritual life as given to Jesus he was speaking with dual meanings. Paul trusted that Jesus not only controlled his physical and spiritual lives but that Jesus was a good and fair master however He handled Paul’s life.
We can learn much from this verse. Paul recognized the fact that much of his suffering came from the fact that he taught that Gentiles had just as much a right to accept Jesus’ salvation as the Hebrew. When God puts us in a situation or gives us a life’s work, that makes us suffer, do we retract or do we accept it? When we accept it there is freedom and joy. If you fear whether you would be able to endure the pain, John reminds us in Revelation 14:12 “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” MacArthur states, “this is excellent scriptural support for the doctrine of perseverance, which assures all true believers in Christ that they will never lose their faith. The regenerate will continually endure, right to the end, in obedience to the truth, no matter what may come against them” (Source 3).
*bondservant– remember when we talked about how if a slave was at the end of their contract and realized that their life was pretty good they could become a bondservant? It meant they would choose to work for their good and fair master; we discussed it in Galatians 4:7, Devotional # 91.
vv. 2-7. Paul says that he has been given the answer to “the mystery” that other generations didn’t know. Was Paul bragging that he was more special than anyone else? No, he said that the other “apostles and prophets” of his generation had this revealed to them also. Was this something that Paul kept to himself? No, he shared it with all who would listen, explaining it in verse 6. Did he create a movement around it? Did he start “The First Church of Revealed Mystery”? No, he didn’t buy a stadium or charge people via a television ministry (which he then incidentally become a millionaire doing). He shared it openly, he didn’t start a secret organization or religion about it. He realized that it had been given to him so that he might share it with others. How? By developing relationships with other believers (discipling) who could share with other unbelievers (evangelism).
So what was the “mystery” that hadn’t clicked with other generations? “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (v. 6). Was this new doctrine? No, read Psalm 86:9, “all nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name“; Isaiah 42:6, (speaking to Israel) “I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles“; Isaiah 60:3, “The Gentiles to come to your light“; Zechariah 2:11, “many nations shall be joined to the LORD that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst“, to name a few. So why hadn’t other generations gotten it? Some had been hard-hearted, and for others it wasn’t in God’s timing yet. But now that He had revealed it what was Paul supposed to do with it? Share it and live his life accordingly. What is our discrimination? What people group don’t we like? If we’re honest with God, who are we prejudiced against? If we apply this Scripture then we must obey as Saul (the racist) did in becoming Paul (“the apostle to the Gentiles”).
Do we do this on our own power? Did Paul? No, it was “the effective working of His [God’s] power.” If we’re convinced that sharing the good news of Jesus’ salvation with others is the right thing to do, that’s not enough. Because if we rely on ourselves to share it, we’ll screw it up. We’ll be to heavy handed: we’ll preach that salvation is through legalism and that people have to obey the Commandments. Or we’ll be too easy going: we’ll tell people all they have to do is have Jesus come into their heart without explaining the cost. We’ll even go to the wrong people. It is the Holy Spirit who guides us to the individual, often forming a relationship with them, it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the words and it is ONLY the Holy Spirit who can break through their hard heart. Often we view sharing the good news as a machine gun (“if I can spray enough people with some truth about Jesus then my job is done”). But the Holy Spirit is an expert marksman. Our God is about the individual (why else would He know, or tell us that He knows, the number of hair on our head? –Luke 12:7).
Conclusion. It is very apt that our 100th Devotional (a special occasion in my mind) would be celebrated by God in giving us encouragement that He is the salvation for both the Hebrew and the Gentile. That He reminded us last week to get over our petty differences in fellowshipping with our Christian sisters and brothers; and this week He reminds us to get over our petty differences and racist views in order to share hope with the hopeless. That He would remind us that He allows us to be a vessel for the Holy Spirit to share this hope with others. We are Christians because 11 guys obeyed Jesus. Have you ever thought about that? When Jesus told His followers “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15) by being Christians now we are proof that they obeyed! You are a believer today because someone shared the Lord with you. What a privilege it is for us to carry on that most weighty and paramount tradition! To leave the Lord’s legacy with future generations. What is more important than that?
Source 1: John R.W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 1979, pp. 114.
Source 3: John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, 1997, p. 2012.