Joyful, Joyful We Endure Thee.
What an Acquaintance We Have In Jesus.
I Surrender Some
Sit Up, Sit Up for Jesus.
Amazing Grace, How Interesting the Sound.
It may be the cynicism of the age, abandoning faith where we once found hope.
It may be the egotism of the culture wherein we doubt anything but our own feelings.
It may be the superficiality of our relationships that makes commitment so hard.But wherever we point our finger, we must admit that when push comes to shove, when times are tough, it is hard to trust, it is hard to be confident, hard to be certain that God will do what He says He will do. Our passage today helps us see that, despite our misgivings, the faith weve received is trustworthy, the message we read in Scripture is certain. We can have confidence in the truth of the Gospel. Last week we started our examination of this passage in which Paul pulls back the curtain on his own life, revealing how he viewed his work as an apostle. Pauls autobiographical sketch is not purely academic, for he wrote this to instruct his readers not only how he viewed his work, but how we should perceive the effect of the Gospel in our lives as well. Last week we saw how the theme of service runs through this passage. Service is possible in the face of suffering because we serve by means of Gods grace. Pauls suffering was a direct result of his serving his Gentile readers. Paul was in jail because his enemies hated the message that God would accept both Jews and Gentiles apart from their merit and only because of the merit of Christ. Paul served in this fashion because his service was not self-imposed, but graciously given by God who called him. With the proper perspective on service, we, like Paul, can serve.
This raises the next question. If we, like Paul, are to graciously serve, that is, serve by the means of Gods grace enabling us to serve, then we must have sufficient confidence that God will indeed help us in this endeavor. This passage forces us to ask and answer the question: Where is your confidence? On what does your certainty rest? Lets turn to this passage once again to digest the wealth of riches that are here for us.
We can serve because we have confidence in Christs message.
We can be confident because the message is a gracious gift - verse 2Pauls confidence rests in the fact that what he believes to be true did not come from within himself, but is external to him. The message is from God to us. Pauls emphasis in this autobiographical section emphasizes that the Gospel message is a gift. Look at what he says: verse 2 - given to me for you; verse 3 - made known to me by revelation, verse 5 - revealed by the Spirit; verse 7 - became a servant of the Gospel by the gift of Gods grace given to me through the working of his power; verse 8 - this grace was given to me.
Paul is clear as to the origin of his message. This is not something he would come up with on his own. In Acts 9 we read of how God stopped Paul in route to Damascus to arrest Christians. All Paul was told was to do was go into the city and wait. Meanwhile, God spoke to a disciple named Ananias, telling him what to do: Acts 9:11-16. This event shaped the way Paul understood who Christ was. It was not something Paul intellectually formulated, not something that was clear to him prior to this event. Rather God supernaturally came to him, guiding him to the truth. For Paul, understanding the Gospel was Gods initiation.
We, like Paul, are not owners of the Gospel, but stewards, given the privilege to tell others. Confidence is ours because we did not come up with this idea. Left to ourselves we will always invent a religion in which we have a vital role to play; we will somehow weasel in the idea that there must be something I do which will make God look kindly on me. But when we understand that what we believe is a gracious gift, what we tell others is not our invention, we can have confidence that we are not deluding ourselves.
This flies in the face of what we hear from our culture and believe ourselves.
For many truth is only certain as it is internalized. Rather than believing truth is an external reality, truth becomes truth when it is believed. That which is from within is the most certain. Confidence is purely personal. It is only valid when we decide to believe it should be valid. But such a view of truth leaves us always uncertain.
Our day and age celebrates such an ambiguous view of truth. But when truth is fluid, certainty ebbs away. Joel Achenbach, writing...in the Washington Post, said: "The danger is that we are reaching a moment when nothing can be said to be objectively true, when consensus about reality disappears. The Information Age could leave us with no information at all, only assertions." (John Leo, This column is mostly true, U.S. News and World Report, Dec. 16, 1996)
But our certainty, our confidence rests not in our own creation and personal holding to truth, but in Gods declarations of truth, in Gods Word, the Scriptures. Our confidence is firm because you and I did not invent this good news, but have received the good news by Gods grace.
We can be confident because the message is revealed - verses 3-6We have confidence in the message because God has graciously given this message, but secondly, because this is a revealed message. Paul calls this a mystery. What is a mystery?
In contemporary English a mystery is something unknown or unknowable. Like a murder mystery, the question of whodunit is something so veiled that it takes a specially talented person to unravel the puzzle. Other times we use mystery to refer to that which is irrational, nonsensical, or incapable of being comprehended. Don't confuse "mystery" with "mysticism" or "mistiness."
Many people use the word "mystery" to evade having to think. A mystery is something that we dont have the wherewithal to explain. Lets face it, trying to comprehend the Trinity, having one God and three Persons can make your brain hurt. So we say, "Its a mystery." Translated "Im too stupid and too finite to understand." But the biblical use of the term is different. "Mystery" is not to be equated with an inability to understand, but something that God has not told us yet.
But a mystery is not eerie or inscrutable or perplexing. This is not the meaning "mystery" had in Paul's day. In Greek the word mysterion (from which we get our word) refers to something known only to the initiated. It is not that the thing itself is unknown. It is known - but only to those to whom it is revealed. The word is used in this way of ancient mystery religions - the mysteries of Mithra, Isis and Osiris, Dionysius, and Eleusis. People in general did not know what went on in these religious cults, but the "mysteries" were revealed to the initiates. When the apostle used the word, it was with similar meaning. He used it to describe something that was unknown before the coming of Christ but is now revealed fully.
That which was unknown, but is now revealed is not an esoteric ideal, but deals with Christ. The mystery of the message is nothing more than what we call the Gospel. What in generations before Paul was shadowy, what those believers prior to the incarnation of the Son of God could only see dimly, Paul now explains so that we all can understand fully.
Paul is not saying that the message of Christ, the mystery of Christ as he calls it in the end of verse 4, that the Gospel was unheard of. It is wrong to think that the Old Testament knows nothing of the Fathers plan to redeem those who are His, of sending the Messiah to suffer and die for His people.
The promise of Christs work overflows every page of the Old Testament:
The Old Testament is replete with the work of Christ. What Paul means by this mystery is not that such pictures were not understood at all, not that believers in the Old Testament had no idea about a Messiah. But what is understood on this side of the Cross is so much more. What the Holy Spirit revealed through the apostles and prophets which interpreted the Hebrew Bible in light of the work of Christ gives us much clearer insight into what God was doing in the past. What was just a small seed before is opened up as a full flower today.
This raises the obvious question: What is now understood so much better? Paul explains this in verse 6.
That the Gentiles shared as fully in God's salvation as did the Jews was a blinding new truth for a Jew, and it is not surprising that it came to Paul by way of revelation. A Pharisee of the Pharisees would never have worked out such a truth for himself. The mystery may not at first seem that earth shattering to us, but that the Gentiles are inextricably interconnected with the Jews gives us confidence and hope in the message we believe.
We have confidence in the message of the Cross because of this union of Jew and Gentile.
We are heirs together with Israel - we are on par with Gods people through all time, having the same rights to inheritance as the Jews of the Old Testament, receiving the benefits of Gods unconditional covenant of grace. We are heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ. There are no levels of benefits, no inner circle of specially sanctified.
We are members together of one body- the distinction is removed; unity is complete. Paul picks up on this picture in the next chapter as the church is described as this body with Christ as the head. There is a connection to Christ which necessitates connection to one another.
We are sharers together in the promise - We all have the same promise of redemption; the promise made to our first parents, repeated to Abraham, and which forms the burden of all the Old Testament predictions. This is what Paul says in Galatians 3:14.
This message of the union of Jew and Gentile into one new man gives us confidence to face the future. When this union is misunderstood, people have devised schemes of the future which strip us of all confidence that God is in control.
There are those who will assert that the Old Testament promises made to Israel apply only to the Jews and not to the Church. Some will go so far as to call the Church a parenthesis. I recall a teacher of mine once who went so far as to say that if only Jesus was accepted by the Jews when He was here on earth, there would have been no reason for Him to die on the Cross and there would have never been a Church. But they rejected Him, so for a time there must be a Church, but God will get back to Plan A at the end of time. The Church will come to an end, and then once more there will be a restoration of the Jews as a nation and Christ will set up His kingdom among them. They draw a sharp line of division between the Church and the Kingdom. They say that the Jews are still a separate and a special people, and that the Old Testament prophecies only apply to them.
This is important because as we face the new millennium this kind of interpretation will take on some wild postulations regarding what our future will look like. Some have read the fictional accounts by LaHaye and Jenkins in the Left Behind series. A note of caution here. Dont let second rate literature shape your theology. Enjoy it for its escapist qualities (no pun intended) but dont adopt the pessimistic world view which permeates this outlook, in which God has constantly tried and failed to reach out and that we are ultimately in control. This view feeds the growing paranoia of our culture which undermines confidence in Christ who sits enthroned.
We dont have to wonder whether God will set us aside to rebuild a temple in Jerusalem, whether the antichrist is some political figure destined to take over the European Common Market. As we see this millennium come to a close, there are voices predicting the end of the world, whether getting the last bit of hype out of Y2K or through some prophecy program. But this passage is clear in its portrayal that Gods hand in history, especially through the Church, is to benefit His people. We have confidence now because of what Paul describes here as the union of Jew and Gentile. The impact of the Gospel is that that which was once divided, antagonistic, alienated is united and healed when part of the body of Christ.
Now you and I can speak to our friends and neighbors and tell them that God has graciously reached out to make those who were before far from God His own. Too often people perceive that we must try our best to get close to God; we have to do certain actions to make God happy with our lives. But the Gospel message is one in which we can with confidence proclaim that God will make you and me the inheritors of all the promises given in Scripture. We were far off, but have been brought near.
We can be confident because the message is sent through the church - verse 10Confidence is ours in the Christian life not only because what we believe is Gods gift to us and what we believe has been revealed to us, telling us that all Gods people are united together with Christ as the head - but finally we can have confidence because God uses us, the Church, to tell others about this wonderful news. The Church exists to share this message.
The message is not just from God to me; it is not so individualized that I have to wonder if Im the only one for whom this applies. This message was revealed by the Holy Spirit not directly to me, but by the Spirit through the apostles and prophets. The foundation of the church is based on the message given to the Church. As individualistic and egotistic people, we think we are the final arbiter of the truth. But in 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul is quick to remind his readers that it is the church who is the pillar and foundation of the truth. You can not walk away from Pauls writings and especially from Ephesians and not be struck with the corporate nature of the Gospel. The message we proclaim is one which unites those who are separated into a body we call the Church. It is from this body that the Gospel goes out. It is not up to me individually to be sure that Gods voice is heard.
Paul's view of the historical significance of the Church could not be more in conflict with prevailing secular opinions. John Stott expresses it like this:
"Secular history concentrates its attention on kings, queens, and presidents, on politicians and generals, in fact on 'VIPs.' The Bible concentrates rather on a group it calls 'the saints,' often little people, insignificant people, unimportant people, who are however at the same time God's people - and for that reason are both 'unknown (to the world) and yet well-known to God."Secular history concentrates on wars, battles and peace-treaties, followed by yet more wars, battles and peace-treaties. The Bible concentrates rather on the war between good and evil, on the decisive victory won by Jesus Christ over the powers of darkness, on the peace-treaty ratified by his blood, and on the sovereign proclamation of an amnesty for all rebels who will repent and believe. "Again, secular history concentrates on the changing map of the world, as one nation defeats another and annexes its territory, and on the rise and fail of empires. The Bible concentrates rather on a multi-national community called 'the church,' which has no territorial frontiers, which claims nothing less than the whole world for Christ, and whose empire win never come to an end." (Stott, Gods New Society, 127-128) We can have confidence because God has determined to use people such as us to demonstrate not our supposed goodness, but to illustrate Gods wisdom. Paul calls this Gods manifold wisdom. This term means multicolored or variegated, being used of an intricately embroidered pattern of cloth or flowers. The message of our being united not only to Christ, but also to one another, focuses not on us, but on Christ. We exist so that the universe will know more fully Gods wisdom and grace. That the message of Gods grace, His power to change our lives, to unite us as one people, was what God had planned from eternity past. All this was to be accomplished through Christ so the message is Christ centered. Far too often we present the Gospel, the good news of Christ as though it was designed for our personal enjoyment. "Christ died to make me happy, peaceful, have a nice family...etc." Rather Christs death, burial and resurrection, His work of redeeming us as His people, is to show the universe that the Triune God and He alone is worthy of worship and praise. Notice the focus of attention here - all this is not about us; we are not the topic of interest; we are not what life is all about. The focus is not on whether we are happy and content, but the focus is on Gods work of redemption. We are graciously made participants and have the privilege to share in all this, but our job is to point to Gods multicolored wisdom. How do you view your Christian life - is your chief end to glorify God and enjoy Him forever or is your Christian life more ego-centric than theocentric? Does the Church exist as a means to make you a better person or do you exist in the Church to praise God for His grace? The way in which you view this point will greatly affect how you "do" Church. If we have the proper view of the Church and our place in it, we will see that we as Gods people exist as one to not serve ourselves, but Gods glory; therefore we will want the message of the Cross to be our pride and joy; it will be our anthem. We can be confidence in what we believe because our confidence is based on the work of Christ for us. The focus of our faith is Christ. Lets conclude with the ancient Irish hymn: "Be Thou My Vision," for here we are reminded of the confidence we have because of Christ's work for us.