Devotional # 101. 9/8/14. Ephesians 3:8-13.
Intro. Last week I said that we were going to split Ephesians 3 into 3 parts. This week is part 2. There aren’t a lot of verses but please read through it slowly and let the words sink in. Make sure you read all the way to the end. John Stott gives us quite an exhortation!
v. 8. Paul is humble in this section (and will continue to be in verse 14 when he tells us that he bows his knees to God the Father). It is refreshing to hear a man who is held on such a pedestal (the greatest evangelist of all time, etc.) by Christians of all centuries, be honestly modest. There is no false humility here. Paul truly views himself as the worst Christian. In 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul says, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst” (NIV). He recognizes that although the sins that he committed in the past have been forgiven there is nevertheless repercussions and consequences to those actions (such as the death of believers prior to his conversion). Read Romans chapter 7 for Paul’s frustration at continuing to sin even though he is a Christian. We all know how this feels don’t we? The stuff that we hate doing ends up being what we do (Romans 7:15). But we must then read Romans chapter 8 for Paul’s realization for the goodness of God’s forgiveness. That is why we, like Paul, can recognize what a bad Christian we are when we stand on our own actions but then are able to keep going because we have been given “this grace.” God worked something out yesterday for today’s Devotional! Our pastor gave a sermon on “the grace” that Paul mentions in 2 Timothy 2:1. This is very specifically “grace” from Jesus. To hear the sermon go to http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=9814231803 .
Paul notes that he was given this grace so that he could share the gospel with Gentiles. This is a great tie in to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me’” (NIV).
vv. 9-10. Another reason Paul was given “this grace” was “to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery”. What does he mean? Well, we discussed the “mystery” last week (Ephesians 3:3,6; Devotional 100). Remember it was that Gentiles would be equal to Hebrews as “heirs”, from “the same body” and participants in forgiveness of sin from Jesus, the Messiah (3:6)?
“Fellowship” here is such a cool word. Fellowship in the Greek is koinonia (G#2842) meaning “fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse: the share which one has in anything, participation (https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2842&t=KJV). We saw this word used in our study of Acts 2 (Devotional # 44). Acts 2:42 is one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible about the unity of believers. It says, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
And do you remember last week when we discussed why this had been hidden? For some they had been hard-hearted, and for others it wasn’t in God’s timing yet. But here Paul tells us that it has been made known to “the church.” Notice that it doesn’t say this mystery has been told only to the Pope. It doesn’t say “God only revealed this mystery to Pastor So-and-So.” No, it says to “the church”. The “church” is every Christian that makes up the body of Christ. Don’t let someone tell you that they have previously unknown information from God. This person is a false teacher. Everything we need that applies to life and godliness is contained in God’s word (2 Peter 1:3).
vv. 11-12. So the “fellowship” of all believers was God’s “eternal purpose”. This should make us pay attention to how much love we give to other Christians! How exciting that God had planned our unity with other believers before anything was even created. This was accomplished by Jesus. Because of this we have “boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.” Most of us have never lived in a time when Bible reading and spiritual study were reserved only for a few special people. But the 16th century reformers had to fight, many being martyred, for their belief that the good news was for everyone and that anyone could pray to God to forgive their sins. They called this “‘the priesthood of all believers’” (Source 1, p. 124) which alludes to the access we have been given. We have talked about the 2 foot thick curtain that separated the holy of holies from the court of the priests. When Jesus died and that curtain was torn from top to bottom (showing that it was God above tearing down) it gave man access to God.
v. 13. This is a verse worth meditating on. Paul tells the Ephesians not to give up just because he was suffering in prison, in fact it was their “glory.” How does that work? Does it make sense that Paul’s pain would bring glory to the church in Ephesus! It does if we realize that the church was made up of Gentiles. Stott explains that Paul “is suffering in prison on their behalf, as their champion, standing firm for their inclusion in God’s new society” (Source 1, p. 129).
Conclusion. I can’t conclude this better than a quote from John Stott. Stott acknowledges that Paul had a special commission from Jesus so it could be expected that he would have to suffer for the church. But he says, “Nevertheless, the principle is applicable to all Christians. If the church is central to God’s purpose, as seen in both history and the gospel, it must surely also be central to our lives. How can we take lightly what God takes so seriously? How dare we push to the circumference what God has placed that the centre? No, we shall seek to become responsible church members, active in some local manifestation of the universal church. We shall not be able to acquiesce in low standards which fall far short of the New Testament ideals for God’s new society, whether mechanical, meaningless worship services, or fellowship which is icy cold and even spoiled by rivalries which make the Lord’s Supper a farce, or such inward-looking isolationism as to turn the church into a ghetto which is indifferent to the outside world and it’s pain. If instead (like Paul) we keep before us the vision of God’s new society as his family, his dwelling place and his instrument in the world, then we shall constantly be seeking to make our church’s worship more authentic, its fellowship more caring and its outreach more compassionate. In other words (like Paul again), we shall be ready to pray, to work and if necessary to suffer in order to turn the vision into reality” (pp. 129-130).
Source 1: John R.W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 1979.