Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ephesians 3, Not Just for Some

(1) Christ Jesus made me his prisoner, so that I could help you Gentiles. (2) You have surely heard about God's kindness in choosing me to help you. (3) In fact, this letter tells you a little about how God has shown me his mysterious ways. (4) As you read the letter, you will also find out how well I really do understand the mystery about Christ. (5) No one knew about this mystery until God's Spirit told it to his holy apostles and prophets. (6) And the mystery is this: Because of Christ Jesus, the good news has given the Gentiles a share in the promises that God gave to the Jews. God has also let the Gentiles be part of the same body.

Notice in the first verse Paul talks about being a prisoner for Christ. The Greek word often used to refer to prisoners is Dulos. Additional translations may use the concept of Bond Slave or Servant. In hearing this it is important to understand the implication of what a Bond Slave or Prisoner of Christ was in reference to. During the times this passage was written, and before slavery still existed. One of the things about slavery though is that every so often those who were slaves would become free people. Bond Slaves were people who would give up their freedom, in order to continue serving their masters. One of the indications that people had become Bond Slaves is they would have their right ear placed on a door post, have a nail driven through it and put in a gold ear ring to designate that they had given up their freedom to serve their master. These were, if you will, among the first groups of men and women with pierced ears.

Paul understood all too well what this concept was he was speaking of. He was one who while a good Jew, was also a good Roman. He was used to living life from both ends of the spectrum. He also understood the concept of what it meant to give up your freedom. Notice here, Paul talks about being a prisoner, giving up his freedom, in order to help those who were different than he.

While Paul was a good Jew, anyone who was not a Jew was considered a Gentile. In today’s world we can obtain value from this in that we see that God cares about not only the religious people, but also those who aren’t religious. Paul starts off in sharing that love by pointing out some unique aspects.

Starting in verse 2, we see a side of God that unfortunately we don’t see so much in today’s world. We see a side of God that is kind and caring. That continues on throughout the first few verses in various ways.

Paul wants those reading this letter to know that God has gone out of his way to get to know the people who were not religious. He gives some explanation that it was God who made the mystery about Christ known to him. Truth is, many today are confused and lack some level of understanding about who Jesus is. For that reason God sends his Holy Spirit to help people understand.

Now the Holy Spirit is a tough aspect to explain. One of the best ways I can explain it is the old cartoons where you see an angel on the shoulder of a character and the devil on the other shoulder. They are usually telling the person what to do, one the good route, and the other the bad route. The Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit that is there to help lead us and help us. In today’s world we might call that an “inner voice”, or “listening to your gut,” things of this nature. I just happen to believe that that voice or the thing that gives you that gut feeling is God’s Spirit.

Verse 6 here should also be a reaffirmation of what Paul has already written. God wants to get to know you despite what your religious background is. The Gentiles then included all non religious people. It is the same today. People often ask me why I am so passionate about getting to know people who aren’t religious. I think the reason is I know the God I serve really does care about them. I know that many non religious people for example will read this. I can say, as your friend and hopefully someone who has shown you that I am different than a lot of “religious” folks, God loves you and wants to call you friend.

(1) Who are the Gentiles in today’s world?
(2) How is God kind in these verses?
(3) Who is responsible for giving the Gentiles the good news that they can know God?
(4) What can the non religious and religious people have in common?

(7) God treated me with kindness. His power worked in me, and it became my job to spread the good news. (8) I am the least important of all God's people. But God was kind and chose me to tell the Gentiles that because of Christ there are blessings that cannot be measured. (9) God, who created everything, wanted me to help everyone understand the mysterious plan that had always been hidden in his mind. (10) Then God would use the church to show the powers and authorities in the spiritual world that he has many different kinds of wisdom.

Paul now sees his vocation as spreading the good news that Jesus loves them. I can relate to that as I have often felt the same call. I personally really appreciate what Paul says in verse 8, he realizes that in the scheme of things, he isn’t anything more than a mere man, He sees others as more important than himself. Unfortunately, I also, as do many Christians, often get to the place where we see ourselves as being so important that we forget about the fact that God loves all people, even the non religious, and wants them to hear about his love for them. He uses another word here that I like to help those who aren’t religious understand what it is that God has for them, he uses the word blessings.

Paul is clear, the blessings, the love the things that God has for the non religious person is because of Jesus Christ. Paul don’t see Jesus as some off the wall religious leader, he sees him as the son of God who can make all kinds of good things happen for those that chose to have a relationship with him.

Verse 9 is also a reflection on who God is, he is the creator of everything. Notice Paul, nor should we get so caught up on the how did God create everything as he does the simple fact that he did create. We often want to put God in a box and have him fit our own criteria, but Paul don’t lose focus of what his point is here. He is making it clear, God wants people to understand the spiritual questions that linger in each and every mind. The questions about God are essentially the same today as they were during the time Paul wrote this letter.

Verse 10 is a verse I could spend quite a bit of time looking at. The truth is that we all need to understand that the church Paul refers to may, or may not be the church that exists today. What the church is supposed to do is the same, but what the church has become may not be following the intent of what God wanted. There are other things to see when looking at this verse though.

Paul recognizes the spiritual world that exists. It seems as if many times now the church ignores the spiritual forces that exist in our world. The people there had an understanding of the spiritual world, and many in today’s world also have that understanding. As I write this on Halloween Day, I am reminded of the fact that many will be talking about ghosts and goblins through out the day. Many will be watching horror movies and the like. There is still a search for the spiritual in the minds of people. Paul is saying it exists, there is good, and there is evil. Many within the church, and in fact many Christians have forgotten about this aspect. A part of this is not only recognizing that evil spiritual power exists, but so does Godly spiritual power. It is the Godly end of that power that the church is to show the world.

Again, I know on this area, that at times I fail, I also know though that it is God who gives me strength, especially when some of those within the church don’t understand why it is I do what I do, why I say what I say and so forth. Other Christians who read this will have experienced the same types of things. Truth is though, that despite the problems I see in the church, and among many of those who call themselves Christian, I still love them, and appreciate them. I still continue to strive after the one who is perfect, Jesus Christ. In some ways, that is an exhibition of the power that God has. I can see the faults, see the problems and continue to walk with God.

(1) What types of jobs do you think God has planned for people?
(2) What is the characteristics used to describe God in these verses?
(3) Does the church do the things God has called it to do.
(4) How, or how not does the church do God’s work?

(11) God did this according to his eternal plan. And he was able to do what he had planned because of all that Christ Jesus our Lord had done. (12) Christ now gives us courage and confidence, so that we can come to God by faith. (13) That's why you should not be discouraged when I suffer for you. After all, it will bring honor to you.

God had a plan, he had a plan to let others know that he loved them. Paul again, reemphasizes the point that it is because of Jesus and what he had done. In a world where we see so many religious leaders and teachings, we face the same struggles as did people during Paul’s time, what about this Jesus? Paul makes it clear, it was Jesus and Jesus alone who was the method of how God shared his love with others.

Notice in verse 12 that Paul refers to the courage and confidence of sharing about God. Remember that Paul would eventually lose his life, he went through a great deal of difficulty because of his desire to share about Jesus. Paul was one who had killed Christians so he knew the consequences of his actions. Knowing those consequences though did not deter him from sharing about Jesus to those who were not religious. Paul understood though where his courage came from, it was from Jesus.

Paul understands and is teaching that faith in God is essential. It is one of those things that people have to eventually act on. While some don’t see the actual presence of God, in their hearts they have questions, they wonder. Paul is telling us that we can exercise that act of faith, taking a step that we don’t know where it will take us. When we do this we will have a better understanding of God and what he can and will do in our lives. We as well will have courage and confidence, despite what others may say about us.

Paul recognizes that there is some suffering to come about because of his faith, and the practice of his faith. We should also realize that. In fact, I would say that if we aren’t at times ruffling feathers, among the religious and non religious, we have to question if we are serving the same God in the same ways that Paul did. While we may offend people on both ends of the spectrum, we will also be reaching people on both ends of the spectrum.

I must admit, one of the things I love to hear is individuals who aren’t religious say to me, “Mike if most Christians were like you I would consider your Jesus.” I must admit though, that the one thing I would love to hear even more is individuals who would say, “Mike I am going to take it on faith that the God you serve is real. I realize many Christians aren’t like you, but would you tell me more about the Jesus you serve, I would like to know him.” The truth is, at that point, I know that I have honestly made a difference. It makes all of the controversy, the conflict, the confusion worth it. You see, I know in my heart that God wants me to care about the people I care about. I know that many of them see me as being different than many other Christians. I say these things because I also believe that God has a plan for all Christians in this way. He has a desire that we develop relationships with people in such a way, that while we may have suffering, confusion, debate, and misunderstanding among others as a part of our lives, there will be those who see that we love them enough to be different and endure those hardships because we love them. For all of the criticism that Paul often receives from those who practice no faith, understand, he did what he did because he had a ultimate love for the people who didn’t know God. He was after all at one time one of those people, one in fact who made his living in part by killing those with faith. What a difference in his life after he met Jesus and discovered the real person of Jesus as opposed to what the religious leaders had been telling him.

(1) How long had God been planning to help the non religious followers?
(2) How did Jesus do in order to make the plan possible?
(3) How do we come to God?
(4) How did Paul see his suffering?

(14) I kneel in prayer to the Father. (15) All beings in heaven and on earth receive their life from him. (16) God is wonderful and glorious. I pray that his Spirit will make you become strong followers (17) and that Christ will live in your hearts because of your faith. Stand firm and be deeply rooted in his love. (18) I pray that you and all of God's people will understand what is called wide or long or high or deep. (19) I want you to know all about Christ's love, although it is too wonderful to be measured. Then your lives will be filled with all that God is. (20-21) I pray that Christ Jesus and the church will forever bring praise to God. His power at work in us can do far more than we dare ask or imagine. Amen.

I have mentioned before that Paul talks about several times the importance of prayer, (talking with God.) Notice that the closing verses of this chapter is in essence a prayer to God.

I love the fact that Paul takes a place of service in his worship of God. He gets on his knees. He recognizes that God is the giver of life, all life. Paul also recognizes and gives God praise, he sees the good things that God has done. Paul is compassionate about the work that God has done, he wants the non followers of God to come to know God, he wants them to follow God. Paul talks about the importance of faith, and encourages individuals to stand strong in their faith. Another attribute that Paul brings to light here is the love of God and the love of Christ for each individual.

There is an old children’s song called Deep and Wide. We used to sing it in our small group for children, but Paul is letting others know, just as the song did, that God’s love is as deep and as wide as one can imagine.

In closing, for those that follow Christ, call him your leader and your forgiver, how much do we desire to let others know about God’s love? In what ways do we go out of our way to build bridges of love? Notice Paul is finding ways to share the good news of Jesus, there isn’t a lot of condemnation of hell fire and brimstone preaching here in the way we relate to others. I’m not saying there is never a place for that, but look at what Paul is emphasizing. He is emphasizing love, he is emphasizing the benefits of each individual knowing God. Paul is giving hope, he is giving encouragement, those are wonderful models which we can use in sharing Christ’s love with others.

Paul also is letting those who don’t follow the teachings of Jesus know that there is love available. Paul is letting each person know that God can do more for them if they give him the chance than they could ever imagine. That word of encouragement is not only for followers of Jesus, but for those who don’t know Jesus.

(1) How do we show God that we respect him?
(2) Who gives life?
(3) What are some characteristics Paul sees when looking at God in these verses?
(4) How does God change the lives of those who follow him?
(5) What is Paul’s wish here?
(6) How can individuals and churches implement and show God’s power?

Oh Yea, here is that contact information again.

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