Good Morning! This is Rayfield Benton Jr – and this morning’s message has been greatly affected by Rayfield – you might ask, how? Today, Rayfield Benton Jr. is being recognized as an elder/pastor at the church we helped to plant in 2002 – The Rock Community Church in Garfield Heights – and Mike Marette has headed up there to help ordain him – so he asked if I could share on Ephesians 3 this morning. H2O?
Last week Mike shared from Ephesians 2 and a little bit of Ephesians 4; he talked about how to use conflict as an opportunity to create healthy spiritual relationships. He described how Jesus broke down the barriers between Jew and Gentile and united them into one body in Christ, a holy temple with Christ as the cornerstone. Mike mentioned how Ephesians 1-3 are very theological and Eph. 4-6 are very practical. Well, leave it to Mike to take all the practical steps and to leave me with the theological – but I’ll try to derive some practicals out of the theological – and with that, let’s turn to Ephesians 3. Ephesians 3 can be divided into 3 parts
1)vss 1-13 Paul’s defense of his imprisonment and the revealing of the eternal mystery – his ministry to the Ephesian Gentiles
2)14-19 His prayer for the Ephesian Gentiles, that they would be have a greater understanding of God’s love for them, that they would be strengthened in God’s power, and that they would not be discouraged by Paul’s circumstances
3) 20-21 Paul giving glory to God and describing His abilities to do more than we could think or ever imagine.
Let’s stand while I read and pray:
3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles– 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 And 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, 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; 10 in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly [places.] 11 [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. 13 Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. 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 fulness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do exceeding 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.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the opportunity to share from Your Word this morning. Thank You for the power of Your Holy Spirit to change our lives and to help us to be more like You. Strengthen us today in our inner beings, that we might be empowered to proclaim You and to be more like You. Give us ears to hear and hearts to obey. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
For this reason – I, Paul – begins the sentence whose verb does not appear for 13 more verses… –
It is as if Paul got really distracted by the reminder that he was in chains in Rome – and had to explain to the Ephesian Gentiles WHY he was in chains – prisoner for the sake of the Gentiles – Paul was arrested and put in prison as a result of his ministry to the Gentiles. The fact that Gentiles – anyone who was not a Jew – not a part of “God’s Chosen People” – could become a part of the body of Christ was a mystery that had been hidden from the ages past. Now, don’t get me wrong – there were many CLUES to this mystery – interspersed through the Old Testament are verses that indicate that the Messiah would be a light to ALL THE NATIONS, not just the Jews, but when the time came, it was a difficult barrier to tear down.
As Paul is defending his conversion and ministry before the Jews in Acts 22, he gets to verse 21 and says, 21 “And He (Jesus) said to me, `Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”
22 They (the Jewish leaders) listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” And this was the beginning of Paul’s many imprisonments and trials stemming from being a minister to the Gentiles.
Remember, on a religious scale, the Gentiles were marginalized by the Jews and it was incomprehensible that they could become a part of God’s family – or as Paul puts it,
Eph. 3:6 [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 as a result of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles – he was imprisoned. But Paul didn’t view his imprisonment as a curse or bad circumstances – he saw them as “the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power” – He views the gospel as “the unfathomable riches of Christ “ – and he attributed his desperate circumstances to the eternal purpose of God. Paul viewed EVERYTHING in the light of the gospel.
Phil. 1: 12 Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my imprisonment in [the cause of] Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14 and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.
When we face difficult circumstances, we need to be like Paul and ask, ‘How can these circumstances bring God glory? How can my weakness show God’s strength? How can these difficult circumstances further the gospel? How can my loss become Christ’s gain?
April 15 was Abby’s birthday – we had flown to Houston for my niece’s wedding – and no matter how I tried to switch to earlier and easier flights, we were destined to have 2 layovers for a total of 4 airports that we would be in that day – Houston, Minneapolis, Detroit, and Akron. Instead of getting discouraged about it, we decided that God must have people for us to meet and we decided to be as much of a light for Him that we could be. On the flight to Detroit, I met an older Christian lady who had been caring for her mom. While I didn’t get to ‘share the gospel’ with anyone, we did have a spiritual conversation and maybe there was a word of encouragement that drew her closer to the Lord. So whatever circumstances you find yourself in, ask, How can I be a light for the Lord?
Students – you are heading back to school – ask, how can my imprisonment turn out for the greater progress of the gospel? Find out the life-stories of your friends; figure out where they are on the spiritual journey. Ask how you can pray for them – what a powerful question! – and you’ll find the power of His Spirit in you.
Parents – your kids are involved in all kinds of activities that you are expected to be at – ask, How can my imprisonment turn out for the greater progress of the gospel?” If Grace Summit – and more importantly, Jesus, are making a difference in your life – don’t you think your friends would welcome that difference in their lives as well? On the back table we have some cards that you can give to the other parents at soccer, t-ball, baseball, and football games.
Here is my first challenge of the week – Everyone take 3 cards and be intentional about giving them to 3 people this week.
Again, we need to continually ask ourselves, How can our circumstances turn out for the greater progress of the gospel?
Note, too, the use of the word, GRACE through this section:
— 2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you;
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…
We normally view grace as the saving grace of God – unmerited favor, as we saw in the last chapter – By grace you have been saved, through faith – not of ourselves, and not of works, that no one can boast. But Paul uses the word GRACE here as something for which he is a steward or manager, that by grace he has been made a messenger, according to the working of God’s power. This tells us that GRACE is a gift of ministry – we can’t be saved in our own strength and we can’t be God’s messengers in our own strength. God gives us the gift of grace to love and serve others – specifically to tell them of the UNFATHOMABLE RICHES of Christ; so as stewards of grace, we can no longer be passive, but grace empowers us for service. To borrow from Spiderman: With great grace comes great responsibility.
So we see that Paul was imprisoned because of his ministry to the Gentiles – and that this ministry was the fulfillment of a mystery that God had set up from the beginning of time. And we, too, by God’s grace, are to be His ambassadors – and we should view our circumstances in light of how to advance the good news of Jesus.
Continuing in verse 12:
12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.
This is one of those phrases that I tend to overlook in my casual reading – but what a powerful phrase – do you understand what this means? In Christ, we can approach the throne of God with boldness and confidence – as Gentiles, no less – but no need for any type of intermediary; we have been empowered through faith.
That is Part 1) Paul’s defense of his imprisonment and the revealing of the eternal mystery – his ministry to the Ephesian Gentiles.
All that through 14 verses and he hasn’t finished his original thought… the “for this reason” in verse 1 is the same “for this reason” in verse 14:
14 For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father… 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;
Wow. Are you feeling weak? Paul prays for the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen you in your inner man. Notice again, we can’t do it on our own – we need to be strengthened and empowered in our inner being by the Holy Spirit of God.
This week I was talking to someone in our life group about disciplining children. Regardless of what method you use, I emphasized the importance of never disciplining out of anger, not disciplining for accidents or mistakes, but for things that are direct defiance or rebelliousness – making sure the child knows why he is being disciplined, explaining to the child that you want him or her to do what is right and this is to help them to do what is right – and afterwards, to explain to the child how we can’t do what is right without the help of Jesus – so we should ask Jesus to help us to do what is right. And so it is with each of us – we need to ask that God would
16 …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;
Another verse where we may have heard the terminology but not really understood – or we’ve heard it so much we tend to take it for granted – WHEN WE PUT OUR FAITH IN CHRIST, He comes to DWELL IN OUR HEARTS. Wow! What a promise. Are you confident that Christ dwells in your heart? If not, come see me after the service – because I want everyone to be 100% certain that they are going to heaven when they die.
Paul continues his prayer:
17b [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,
Don’t forget, in this context, all the saints = everyone who has ever put his or her faith in Christ – note too that the Love of Christ has four dimensions – we normally think of things with length, height, and depth – but I like to think of breadth as through all time. When Christ died, he died for every sin that had been committed in the past, but he also died for every sin we would ever commit in the future – so His love spans every dimension including time…
19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge,
Did you catch the oxymoron here? That we would know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge? That we would understand that which cannot be understood?
That we would comprehend the incomprehensible?
19b that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.
What is the fullness of God? Obviously, it would be that we would be so full of God, that whatever we said or did would be as if Christ were living through us and we would just overflow with God-ness. I’ve been reading a book called Crazy Love – by Francis Chan. Each of the chapters has a video that Chan uses to further his point. Here is one he recorded describing the Awe Factor of God – and I like to think that God’s love and fullness is bigger than the universe – so to give you an idea of how big that is, here is Francis Chan.
Eph. 3:9 says that God created all things – therefore, He must be bigger than His creation – how amazing is that?
The third section of the chapter is the conclusion of Paul’s prayer, describing the surpassing greatness of God:
20 Now to Him who is able to do exceeding 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.
Wow. God is able to do EXCEEDING ABUNDANTLY BEYOND ALL that we ask or think. HOW? According to the POWER that works within us – What is that POWER? That is HIS Holy Spirit abiding in us. He is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or even THINK – according to HIS Spirit IN US. It reminds me of John 14 – Where Jesus tells the disciples that they will do even greater things than He did, because of His Spirit in them.
Now, how do we experience God’s love in a deeper way? Here is another practical for you this week:
John 14:21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.”
Interesting promise of Jesus, isn’t it? Like I said earlier, we cannot obey God in our own strength – we need the POWER of His Holy Spirit in us to do so. BUT, when we DO obey God, He promises that He will disclose Himself to us – we will know His love in a deeper way. So here is my second challenge for you this week: Put God to the test. I know He says to not do that, in the sense of jumping off a temple or something like that – but there are other areas where He calls us to test Him (see Malachi 3:10) So here is the test, and I believe this would be a test that God would approve of: When you are tempted to sin – stop and ask God to help you to do what is right. Titus 2:11-12 11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age
Then do what is right – and see that God’s way is better than your way – and see if this promise is true – “I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.”
So we have two challenges this week – the outreach challenge and the live by the spirit challenge. Remember, you can’t do either one of them on your own – you need the power of His Spirit working in you! Let’s pray: