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We can hinder God's renown by either remaining silent about our devotion to Christ or by offering our own opinions that are not based in Scripture. God loves the lost so much, that He often allows His followers to suffer for their sake, so we must consider how we are suffering for the sake of those who don't know Him.
Believed the Truth? Received the Life? Then Walk in the Way.
Getting a Grip on What it Means to Love God
Believe What He Has Done, Be Living Like He Has Done It
The Blueprint of the Church, part 2
The Blueprint of the Church, part 1
A Reasonable and Right Response to His Radical, Redemptive Love
The Divine Dimension of Love
The Breadth, Depth, Width and Height of Puppy Love
A Suffering Steward in a Cell: What was True of Paul Ought to be True of Us
Things into Which Angels Long to Look
Look at chapter 1 with me. We're going to take a quick walk through right back to where we were. We're going to read a little of what we've already studied. Then we'll highlight and focus on three things specifically. As we get ready to do that, let's pray together.
Father, your Word is true. Your Word is sure. You have told us it is the truth which will set us free. You have told us it's your truth that will keep us from wandering astray from you. We desire to please you. Not just with song, but with the lives, we just go through singing, that we're going to lift up to you. So counsel us, instruct us, fill us now, and lead us by the teaching of your Word. In Christ's name, amen.
We've already talked about what the book of Ephesians is. It's our bridal portrait. It's what we ought to look like. There's a reason we're studying this book first as a body. Once we got through some introductory stuff, we went right into Ephesians because this is a book that shows you what a church ought to look like. It's your bridal portrait.
Every time the church reads the book of Ephesians, it ought to be a little bit embarrassed. That is the model which is set. Every time you go to give your doctrinal statement, you thesis, and you read the book of Romans, you ought to be a little bit humble in comparison to the book of Romans. When you go to set up a church structure and administration, and you look at 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, you get a little bit humbled when you see the qualifications the way that it ought to be all put together and the leaders we ought to have and the way we do appoint them.
Those are the books which set the standards. This is the book which sets the standard for us at the church. In chapter 1, you have Paul going through and talking about the blessings that you people have, the blessings I have as a child of God, and all that he's done for us. We find in 1:3-14 are one sentence. It's a run-on where Paul is just ridiculously heaping grace upon grace, truth upon truth, that you would fall to your knees and you would go, "What an awesome God we have who would do all this for us."
He comes out of that one long sentence into another long sentence in verse 15 or chapter 1 all the way down to the end of that in verse 23. In that, he basically says, "I pray that you now believe what I just got through telling you." Out of that, he goes to chapter 2. He says, "This is what, specifically in my prayer, I mentioned that you would know the surpassing greatness of God's power towards those of you who are saints, those of you who are rightly related to him by grace through faith."
In verses 1-3, he tells you your former state. Then in verse 4, it says , "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us…" God has restored, basically, all of us to him. So, in Ephesians 2:1-10, he says, "This is what he's done for all men." Then in verses in 11 down through verse 22, he says, "This is what he's done specifically for those who were formally outside of the covenant people, Israel. He has brought those who were far off and brought them near. He's taken those who were outside of the covenants of promise and given them the fullness of the promise."
So having done all of that, he gets now to chapter 3, verse 1, which is where we started last week. I just wanted to remind you, and let's read through this again to clarify it. Then I wanted to hit on three simple things, specially, that came out of last week that Paul says he is. If we also want to be moved the way Paul has been as a result of what the Holy Spirit has revealed to him, we'll respond in much the same way.
Look what it says. "For this reason I, Paul…" For this reason simply throws you back to chapters 1 and 2, specifically to what he just got through saying that he has done for the Gentiles in verse 11 through verse 22 of chapter 2. "…the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles…" Then there is a huge parenthetical statement, we said. From verse 2 all the way down through verse 13, Paul digresses. Again, I'll remind you now that in verse 14, you'll see exactly the same words you see in verse 1.
"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…" Paul is getting ready to pray in chapter 3. As he gets ready to pray, he stops in verse 2 and he says, "Well I'm going to tell you why I'm about to pray. I'm going to repeat some things I touched on in chapter 2, and I want to illuminate them. I want to talk more about them. I want to further encourage you with them that you too might respond properly. So he digresses.
Really, what you're going to have in verse 2 all the way down through verse 5 is a digression within a digression. Paul does this all the time. That's why sometimes, frankly, he's difficult to read. He gets off on all kinds of tangents and takes all little chutes, but they're all tied into one central theme. God's amazing work in your life. He says, "For this reason, I'm going to pray for you."
Then he goes and says in the parentheses, "...if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you…" In other words, if indeed you are people who were formally far off, have responded to the message which I have been preached and now been brought near… He goes on.
"…that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 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."
That is his digression within a digression. All he's saying right there is simply this. In fact, it was the same as the title of last week's message: Things Into Which Angels Long to Look. That is what Peter called it in 1 Peter 1. He said, "What Paul is showing you right here is good stuff. This is inside information. This is behind the scenes, heavenly stuff, where only God the Father and the Son and the Spirit knew what was going on. Angels did not have a clue," and Paul is revealing it to you.
The prophets of the Old Testament, guys who we sing great things about (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, Elisha), none of them knew anything about this mystery. It's things into which angels long to look, and now it's been revealed to you and me. Well what is it? He says specifically in verse 6, "…that the Gentiles [those who were formally far off] are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel…"
I mentioned last week that the mystery revealed is not so much that the Gentiles would be saved or would be blessed. That's revealed way back in Genesis 12 with a covenant God made with Abraham. He said, "Abraham, I'm going to make you a great nation. Through you, all the nations of the world will be blessed."
So the Gentiles, you and I who are not of Jewish lineage and heritage, were always intended to be blessed by God. But it was always through that nation. Now what we've found in the New Testament is that God has brought us who were far off near. We are now fellow members, fellow partakers. Not that we are just blessed, but we are his sons and citizens with them. So it says in verse 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. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places."
You and I are preaching to the angels. You and I are ministering to the spirits. You and I are a word picture, a living, fleshly example, a teaching tool God is using to teach the angels. "This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory."
There are three things that Paul says he is in those three verses I just read. We're going to focus on them. The first one is there in verse 1, where Paul says he is the " … prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles…" We're going to talk about Paul specifically being a prisoner. You're going to see later on down there in verse 7 where we found that Paul said he was made a minister of this mystery.
That word minister is also translated to servant. I think it's in the NIV. That is the right word. It's translated both ways. It's a word which we get deacon from. We have become servants to this work, the mystery of the church. Paul is a prisoner to Jesus Christ. He is a steward, a minister, of the mystery of the grace of God. The third thing that he is is in verse 13. He is one who will suffer greatly that you might know the glory with which God sees you. Let's talk about this.
Let's look at the very first one where it says Paul is a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ. Approximately 25 percent of the time that Paul was in the missionary field, he was in prison. Roughly, 1 out of every 4 days that he was out serving the Lord, he served it in a jail cell, a damp, nasty jail cell.
Cells and prisons in those days were not very pleasant. There weren't weights to work out with. There weren't TVs to watch. There were not books to read. In fact, the food that was there was so unhealthy that the government often would let people who loved you occasionally show up to give you food or you would die. In fact, so many men hated prison so much that they often begged for an early death or they committed suicide before their term was up. To be in prison was worse than death.
Paul spent a quarter of his time there. There were no separate places for people to use the restroom. Often the men and women were housed in the same area, so there was gross immorality that was happening all around you. This is what Paul was in the midst of.
What I want to do is a couple of things. We're going to come back to the idea of the suffering context, but you need to know that there are men and women who have for years gone to great lengths to endure things so you and I might have this book. In fact, God, in his wisdom, used these things which men intended for evil to have Paul stilled.
The workaholic, the type A who probably would've been constantly with people, constantly doing the work, God gave a place where he must be stilled, where his Spirit would cause his pen to flow that words might be written and sent out, that you and I could sit and have the advantage of Paul's ministry here with us today. That was not easy for Paul.
I want to say and take a little liberty with this idea of Paul being a prisoner. In the same way, I'm going to say that Paul was a prisoner in another sense, because we've established that now he was a prisoner in a physical sense, Paul was also a prisoner spiritually or emotionally to Jesus Christ. Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 5.
It is appropriate that I draw this analogy by citing an Alabama song. Those of you who know me know that I do believe that next to the holy Word of God, that country music does contain more inspired truth than anything else in our society. There is that song that Alabama has called "Love in the First Degree."
It says, "Baby, you left me defenseless. But I've only got one plea." It starts off with, "I once thought of love as a prison. A place I didn't want to be. But you came along and opened my eyes, and now baby, it's plain to see. I'm a prisoner of love in the first degree." When he describes it, he describes it like Paul Overstreet. This isn't a ball and chain. He said, "Love isn't a ball and chain to me."
"This is a good thing. I am a prisoner to you. You can throw the book at me. I am guilty of love in the first degree. I am a prisoner of my love for you." That's exactly what Paul's going to write here in 2 Corinthians 5. Let's look at this. Look at verse 11.
"Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men…" You have to immediately ask yourself when you see a, "therefore," what's it there for? It is there because what Paul just got through saying is that all men are going to appear before Jesus Christ and be judged for how they served him. You need to know this. All men will be judged, both Christian and non-Christian.
There will be three different judgments, if you will. I will say this. Salvation is always by grace, but judgment is always based on works. Judgment is always based on what you do. There is a judgment, if you will, whether or not you're a son. If you are judged as a son, then you will be not judged as a sinner.
If you're judged as a sinner, there will only be one judgment. You will be brought before the Lord at the great white throne judgment where he separates people for all eternity into the great abyss where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth and men will suffer, and there will be a place that there is nothing there that will even remotely remind them of God. So there is the judgment of a sinner.
If you're not a sinner, but by grace through faith you respond to Jesus Christ, then you are a son. If you are judged not to be a sinner but a son, then you will go into a second judgment, and it's called the bema seat. It's what you have referenced here in 2 Corinthians 5. Christians, too, will be judged. Not just as sons where they escape the judgment of wrath, but now as servants where they come before their master and are rewarded for the appropriate response.
You need to understand what this judgment is for. It is not a judgment upon which you will receive retribution or punishment. It is judgment upon which you will receive praise and honor. It is the same place an athlete would go to receive his wreath of honor, his medal. Athletes who competed would go, and they would not be punished if they did not win. If they were an athlete, they were immediately considered a great person. If you are a son, you are immediately passed over in the judgment of a sinner.
But then you want to be an athlete that runs in such a way that you are not disqualified and that you receive a prize, Paul says. And when you go before the bema seat of the master, that he gives you a reward. You hear these words. "Well done, my good and faithful servant." Paul is saying, "Every single one of us Christians are going to stand before God and be judged according to what we have done in right response to a relationship with him.
There is nothing that you can do that will make God love you more, and there is nothing that you cannot do that will make God love you less. That's the idea of grace. You are completely and freely accepted by him, but he will still judge you according to your response in right relationship to him. There will be a reward for acts that you have done that are pleasing to him.
Hebrews 11:6 says, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." All that is saying is that if there are acts that we do in our flesh down here, like if we dig deep in our pocket to give (it's a right thing to give), but we give thinking that is going to be something that will ultimately find us pleasing in God's eyes, we'll find that it won't.
We didn't do it in faith, believing that our humble presentation to the Lord to be acceptable in his sight, but we did it because we're thinking, "Hey, God, if you notice this is a pretty big check. If you've noticed, this is more than the basic 10 percent. I'm really going after it here, and you ought to be impressed." That is not faith.
That's being very prideful, and that's not pleasing to him. If we go and we are basing our pleasing of God on the things that we're doing in our flesh without depending upon him… In other words, if we don't believe apart from him we can do nothing, we're going to find ourselves discouraged on that day before the bema seat.
I don't understand all that will go on there. I don't think anybody does completely and very well, but you need to know this. There will be a judgment. Based on your relationship with God, your dependence upon him, the things that you do by faith in a right relationship with him, those are the things that he'll find pleasing in his sight.
If I get up here, and if God has gifted me and equipped me with a good mind and ability to speak, and I'm doing it in the flesh week in and week out, it might be a blessing to you but it will not be a blessing to me unless I am responding in faith. So it's not so much often what you do, but the manner in which you do it.
That is one of the reasons that Paul says in other places, "I don't so much make a big deal about how I judge myself or how you judge me. I'll let the Lord judge me because only he knows the motives and the intentions of a man's heart." That is what ultimately will find us right in his eyes. So Paul is saying, "I'm not concerned with what you think of me. I know I will be judged, and I want to be judged well."
"Therefore [since we must all appear], knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God…" In other words, we are made plain before God. He knows us. "…I hope we are made also plain before you and your consciences. We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart."
Let me throw you back two chapters. Look at chapter 3, verses 1 and 2. There were some people who came along and said, "Don't listen to this apostle Paul because he's not a guy who you should follow. He's not very impressive." Look what Paul wrote in these two verses (3:1-2). "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men…"
Paul says, "I'm not going to try and impress you with who I am. Your life that I've built into, that's my resume. That's the evidence that I'm somebody who is doing a good work…your changed life. So I'm not going to try and impress you with my resume or what others will say about me. You, and the way you respond, that is my letter of recommendation and accommodation before you. I'm not going to try and impress you.
So he's saying right here, "Although I do want to give you a reason that we can because of pride for you in a right way." In verse 12, it says, "…you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart [who look at the external and not the internal]." Look what Paul says in verse 13.
"For if we are beside ourselves…" Meaning, if we are insane or if we are doing things that don't make sense. "…it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us…" There is where I'm going to tell you that from that, I get the idea that Paul is a prisoner of love to Jesus Christ. He says in 2 Corinthians 5:14, "For the love of Christ compels me, constrains me, and motivates me. I'm enslaved to it. I'm guilty. That is what makes me act the way that I act."
How did Paul act that was so crazy? He just got through saying there are only two ways that we ought to be seen. One, if we are seen as crazy, it is for God. What does he mean by that? There were some times in Paul's life if you look back at home that he did some stuff that just frankly doesn't make sense.
When he was in Ephesus, the very book we're studying, there was a riot that took place because of his ministry. Some of the silversmiths in that town, who made little idols of the goddess Artemis, or Diana, who the people came to that town to worship, were losing some of their business and industry because Paul was preaching to not worship dead idols but to worship the living God. It was starting to affect their pocketbook.
The Chamber of Commerce got together, and there was a 20,000-seat amphitheater in Ephesus at the time of Christ. They went along that great marble way, and the people went down through the city, and there was a huge riot in the town. The people got in that big amphitheater, and they started to call for someone's head.
The guy they especially wanted was this man, Paul. So what's Paul do? Does he want to get in a boat and get out of there as fast as he can? He wants to go preach. He wants to go, "Hey, 20,000 of them are in one place. Let me give them a word." They didn't want your word; they wanted your head brother. Don't go. His friends wouldn't let him.
There was another time where Paul was preaching very early in his ministry. They had been a little offended at what he had done. It says that they beat him and stoned him until they left him for dead. The people picked him up, carried him outside the town, and threw him over the wall and left him there to rot. Paul came back to his senses, and he went back into that town. Amazing. You have to be a little bit off your rocker to do that.
There's a scene at the very end of Paul's life, again tied into Ephesus when he's with his buddy Trophimus from that town. He was accused of bringing Trophimus from the Court of the Gentiles into the Court of Jews. That's a crime punishable by death. So a huge riot was invoked in the capital city of Jerusalem. Again, the same thing. There's a huge riot. The Roman centurions come down and pull him out and go, "What have you done? These people are livid with you."
Paul was trying to tell them, but the people were yelling so much over the top of Paul, they couldn't get any indication of what he was saying. So they finally pulled him inside a cell. They go, "What have you done?" Paul then snuck his way out and said, "I want to talk to these people who have all gathered because they hate me, and I want to preach to them." That's a little bit off, isn't it? See that's a mob that wants to hang you. That is not a people who want to have you preach to them.
Paul goes through a number of different things and is persecuted again and again and again. He said, "This sounds crazy, doesn't it? But if I'm crazy, It is for the glory of God because for me to live is Christ and to die is to gain." Look what else he says.
By the way, Christians, people ought to look at you and go, "You're taking this stuff a little too seriously. You're giving up too many things that can be beneficial to you now for the hope of a kingdom that has yet to come." They ought to cock their head and look at you and go, "That just doesn't make a lot of sense." Christians ought to be a radical people because something radical has happened to them. They who are dead are now alive.
The second thing you ought to be is this. If you're not crazy, you ought to be of sound mind. There is only a hot or cold here; there is no lukewarm. If you're not crazy because the world cannot figure you out because you have an eternal perspective, you ought to be somebody who has wisdom beyond your years.
That's what Paul said. He said, if we're crazy it's for God's sake. If it's for sound mind, it's for your sake. When people heard Paul speak, he was in the middle of the wisdom of the day in Athens. When she speaks, wise men stop and they listen. They go, "This guy can communicate. This guy can quote our poets. This guy can talk our philosophy. What he speaks makes me think." They say, "We want to reason with you again, oh wise one."
I can remember when I first started hanging around God's Word a little bit. In fact, even between I was a Christian, I would sometimes read the Bible. I especially liked Proverbs because they were so simple. I can remember, in fact, and mostly because my parents told me, that I grew up in a church where I never really remembered hearing the gospel.
There was a time, apparently, I had been in a Sunday school class, and they were talking about the way that people should treat one another. We were driving home from church (my parents tell me I was 2), and they're in the front seat, and they got into an argument. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, this little kid pipes up and says, "Be ye kind. Love one another."
My parents said they stopped dead in their tracks, looked at each other, and the fight was over. A little 2-year-old instructed them, because I wasn't speaking with the mind of a 2-year-old, I was speaking an eternal truth. I was speaking the very words of God.
I can remember another time when I got a little older. I was around some guys and was hanging out with my brother and some buddies. My brother's friend was treating this dog in a way that was cruel and inappropriate.
I had been reading in Proverbs, and I said, "A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, but the compassion of the wicked is cruel." What? I said, "That's in Proverbs 12." They go, "You don't know Proverbs 12." My brother goes, "He knows Proverbs. He reads his Bible. I don't know how he knows that."
There were other times I can tell you that, again and again, people would say, "You have wisdom beyond your years," to me. There were a lot of times where I got the opposite diagnosis, if you will. At different times when I would go and do things… I'd sit there and be in the middle of an argument, or if I was in a position of leadership and somebody came up and gave me a story that was strong. I'd be ready to leech out and make a judgment and pronounce some verdict before I heard the whole story.
God would graciously allow Proverbs 18:17 to come into my mind. "The first to plead his case seems just, until another comes and examines him." As a young man, I would stop and go, "Let's not make a verdict until we hear the whole story. Where's the other side. Let's get him. Let's bring him in."
I can remember when I was in college, and I was in a fraternity. I posted a little sign that said, "Wine is a brawler. Strong drink is a mocker. Whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise." It wasn't very a wise to post that as a freshman who could still be hazed, and I was. The point is, if you spend time around God's word, people are going to look at you, and you're going to sometimes say things.
Have you ever noticed how many times people quote the Bible in defense of their argument (see Johnnie Cochran last week in LA)? When you quote this book, they go, "You're incredibly wise. You speak words that seem true." Why? Because thy word is truth. There are two ways a Christian ought to be seen if you are constrained by the love of Christ: somebody who is incredibly bright with insightful reason and principal beyond their years or absolutely crazy. You are forsaking earthly pleasure for eternal reward. Does that fit you?
The other thing Paul was (it says) and we read it, was that he was a steward of the mystery of the grace of God. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 4. By the way, in wrapping up that bit as you turn over, where did Paul get this idea that he ought to be either a wild man for God or a wise man for God? I'm going to tell you.
There was one who came before him who did something absolutely insane. He left the very comforts of heaven, who though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he denied himself. He took on the form of a bondservant. That is crazy. If you're God Almighty, and you can pronounce judgment and destroy these wicked people, it's crazy to go and to become a person yourself and to die for them. It's crazy.
That's where Paul's argument goes in 2 Corinthians 5. He says, "Now I'm controlled by the love of Christ. That he who gave his life for me, I'm now going to give my life for him. It's his example." If you look in the Scriptures, there are two places that it's written that Jesus Christ did something as an example for us.
The first place is in John 13, where he washed the disciples' feet. He said he did this as an example to them. The first example that Christ and specifically when those words are there…everything he did was an example. His words and his works were inspired. But there are two places it's written that he did this as an example.
The first is his example of a servant. The second comes up in 1 Peter 2. It says that if he did this or this happened that he might be an example for you. In 1 Peter 2, it talks about the way that he suffered. Christians, you want to know what you should look like if you're going to be one who models your Lord? You should be a suffering servant, wise beyond your years, who seemly, crazily forsakes his own good for the sake of the kingdom.
Paul says he's a mystery of the steward of God. He wanted to be regarded in one way and one way only. He wanted to be regarded as a servant of Jesus Christ so that his message would be seen as the message of God. That was all that Paul was concerned about. Paul never defended himself, except when he was uniquely tied to the message.
So for the sake of the message that that might not be scoffed at even as he was, he then stood up and defended himself, because the message was precious in his eyes, and he wanted to be a good steward of it. How can you be an unfaithful steward of the Word of God?
We are teaching a group of folks who are going through some evangelism training. One of the things they'll do when they go out and talk to people is they'll say, "What is the basic job of the church? What do you think the most important thing that the church could do is?" You'll get all kinds of varied responses when you ask that.
Ultimately, the Scriptures say the most important thing the church could do is not to feed the poor. The most important thing the church can do is not to make sure society doesn't get too deviant and too perverted. The most important thing the church can do, the very mystery the church has been given, is that the church would communicate the way of eternal life.
In fact, the church was not called Christians for a long time. They were initially called the Way. That is what the church was called first in Antioch. They are the Way because they have the way to God. Yes, certainly we're to love one another. That's the first and greatest commandment. And love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
But the goal of our instruction is love (1 Timothy 1:5 says) from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. If you love somebody, then the most important thing you can do is show them the way to eternal life that they might not incur eternal wrath. So we ask people sometimes and say, "Frankly, the church hasn't done a really good job of that. They haven't been good stewards of the mystery of the grace of God, have they?"
I grew up in a church. I share with them that to the best of my recollection, I never even heard of the gospel. It was not until I was outside of my church in a parachurch ministry for the first time that somebody explained to me that God loved me enough to leave heaven, that crazy fool, and to walk on this earth and to suffer the death of a wicked man, although he did not deserve it that I might not incur that same judgment myself, and by a faith relationship in him, death would pass over me, and I'd be in Christ, seen as holy and blameless in him.
I didn't hear that until I was a freshman. It was the summer after my freshman year up at a little camp I've told you about before. Young Life: Castaway in Minnesota. It changed my life. How are you doing as a mystery of the steward of grace? Are you ashamed of the gospel, which Paul says the power of salvation to the Jew first and also to the Greek? It's to every man. Are you teaching it well?
Paul says this. Look at 1 Corinthians 4. "Let a man regard us…" He says, "You want to regard me?" Again, what he's writing against is that people are speaking of certain men in certain ways. Paul says, "If you want to talk about me, here's what I want you to talk about me." He continues, "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." That's exactly what he said in Ephesians 2.
"In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me…" **He says, "I'm not discouraged, if you will, by the way you respond to me or what others say about me." Verse 3 says,"…it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself[in the sense that I'm ultimately okay just because I think I'm okay]. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted…"**
There are men and women everywhere, there are some sitting here tonight, that based on your own reasoning and account, you find yourself acceptable. You're certainly not as bad as Jeffrey Dahmer. You're not as bad as Manson. Bundy is further along the road of destruction than you are. So by your own description and by your own account, you are acquitted. Paul says, "Don't rest because the one who examines is the Lord."
"Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God. Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other [that you will have humility] ."
When Paul wrote in Ephesians 2, do you remember what he said? "I am a humble steward of the mysteries of God. The reason I have it is because it was given to me." Paul went places, and when he preached, and when he healed people, they wanted to worship him. They wanted to sacrifice things to him.
He and Barnabas literally had to beg and plead people not to do it. The purpose of most teachers is they want to be exalted, they want to be lifted up, they want to go, "You're right to think of me as a great man." Paul says, "No. I'm just a beggar who found out where there is free food, and I'm only here to pull you to it."
If you will, 2 Kings 7. It is a day of rejoicing. It's what we talked about the last time we had Communion. The lepers who are outside the city gate who are there left to die have stumbled onto a plunder. Now they are ministers (stewards) of the mystery of God's delivering work. Those people who were surrounded by the Enemy have now been delivered by the work of God.
Paul says, "Listen, I am just a poor beggar who knows where there's free food. I am humble. If you want to regard me, regard me as a servant of the word of Jesus Christ." How can you be an unfaithful steward? You can either keep your mouth silent, which is probably the sin of most of us, or you can speak that which is not true.
In verse 6, where it says you can, "…exceed what is written." You could speak with authority, your opinion, and your inclination. You could speak about your vision. You could add to the words of this book. That is an unfaithful steward. And God, it says, will deal with those people. They are all over the place.
They have that little temple up there by the aerobics center. They have their little cults down their south of us. They have their tracts all over this city. They knock on your door, and they are exceeding what is written. Don't make the same mistake. You have to study the book to know the Word that you might be a good steward of it.
Finally, turn to 2 Corinthians 11. Paul says in Ephesians 3, "The third thing I am in response to what God has done is one who suffers for your sake." He says, "Do not lose heart in my tribulation on your behalf for they are your glory. They show your incredible work. The fact that I suffer as greatly as I do and I am a child of the King, the omniscient one who can protect me and deliver me from any circumstance… The fact he lets me endure all this shows how much he values you."
"This is his son," Paul is writing about himself, "that is being led to beating after beating, prison after prison, that you might know how valuable you are." Guess what this is tonight. What Jesus would say is the exact same thing. "Don't be ashamed of my sufferings, for they are your glory. They show your incredible worth." That God himself, I fail to capture the thought, would die for me because he loves me.
Look what Paul writes about. Look in 2 Corinthians 11:24. "Five times I received from the Jews [thirty-nine lashes] ." The reason he got 39 lashes and not 40 is because it was believed in the day if you were hit 40 times with the cat o' nine tails, you would die. It was physically impossible to live with 40 beatings in your back. There were two men who counted, lest they go over.
Their law was that if you beat a man more than 40 times, you would die by the same way that you killed them. Because lashing was not to kill; it was only to inflict pain. Just to be sure that they did not go over, they stopped at 39. So Paul got the most severe penalty he could five different times.
By the way, they didn't wash your wounds after that. That's when they threw you into that cold, nasty, damp cell and put those same rags back on you that were filthy from your weary travel and your sores would get infested and infected. You'd rot in prison like that. No wonder they committed suicide before their time.
"Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned…" You go, "Well, hey. There's how he got through it all. The brother was stoned all the time, right?" That is exceeding the Word of God, my brother. That is not the idea. "Stoned" is what I told you about earlier in Lystra where they picked up rocks, and these people were professionals at killing folks with rocks. They threw it at him. He was stoned.
"…three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea. In my frequent journeys, I have been in danger from rivers and from bandits, in danger from my countrymen and from the Gentiles, in danger in the city and in the country, in danger on the sea and among false brothers, in labor and toil and often without sleep, in hunger and thirst and often without food, in cold and exposure."
That is not an easy road, and Paul says, "I have endured these things for your sake. They are to your glory. Do you see what I walk through for you?" It's like the song that says something like, "I'd walk across the hottest desert. I'd swim the farthest sea. I'd cross the bridge of eternity," God says, "to die for you."
Would you look at what he's done? All throughout the Scriptures, it shows again and again that God's people suffer because he loves the lost. Look at Jonah. Did he suffer a bit because God lost the wicked Ninevites in Assyria, the very enemies of the household of Israel, to be swallowed by a whale, and spit up on their land? I think so.
Look at Paul. Look at Peter and the things he endured. Look at Jesus himself as the ultimate example. There's no need to go any further, and we won't. That's where we're about to head, right there to that table, to not be ashamed of his suffering for it is for your glory to show your work. There is not a better message to preach on the night of Communion than this.
I am not ashamed of the cross. I'm not ashamed of the fact that my King was killed. I'm not ashamed of the fact that my King was called accursed. I'm not ashamed of the fact that my King was called wicked, because those are all things I deserve. He went through those for me. That that which I deserved, I would not have to receive, and that which he deserved, would be freely mine. That's what we celebrate right here.
Before we go, I have to ask you how you're going to respond to that. Are you seen as a prisoner? Is your love for Christ, your first love, so real and so true that people go, "That person is a prisoner. They are guilty of love in the first degree"? We're going to study at the very end of Ephesians that when the book of Revelation is written, and John is given a prophecy by Christ, he rebukes the church of Ephesus for one reason. Guess what it is? They're no longer a prisoner of love in the first degree. They've lost their first love. Have we?
As each individual, that's up to you to answer. I think I'm encouraged that many of you have not but ask yourself that. How are you a minister and as a steward of the mysteries of grace? Is your mouth silent? You're messing up. Are you teaching things that aren't true? Do you know things that are true and not?
Lastly, what are non-Christians seeing you do? How are you suffering for them? What hardship have you incurred that a neighbor might know their incredible value? Have you, after you were done mowing your lawn on a hot day, gone ahead and mowed theirs because you knew they weren't healthy? Do they see you living below your means financially because it's more important to you that others can go and share the gospel, or that others in this town can eat outside of your abundance?
I dare not go on because I don't want to limit things you need to do in areas of suffering to the things that I mention. If it is true that Christ is God, and he died for me, there is no sacrifice that is too great. The body of Christ, which is broken for you, the blood of Christ which is shed for you, and I shall live for him, we often say.
I encourage you tonight, and you'll do me a great favor if before you go to bed, you reflect on Communion and go, "Lord, how must I suffer? Teach me. Show me how I can suffer that somebody might know their worth from you. God, I'm going to be scared. I'm going to want to run away but make me strong that I might be a picture of your incredible love for them.
That even as my Savior, the suffering servant, died for others and did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many, may I do the same? Show me, Lord, where I need to suffer for your name's sake that people might know your love for them." What an incredible God that he would take his only child, his children, and call them to suffer for a time, that the world might know their value. Let's pray.
You know, Lord, these truths are so magnificent for me that I cannot attain to them. It's things that angels long to look in, but as I read them, as I stand before as a minister of the mystery of them, I admit that I must not comprehend even what I'm about to celebrate that I've celebrated countless times before. O God, that I may not lose the wonder of Communion.
I pray I would never, ever be ashamed of the cross, that it would be a reminder, instead, to me of your incredible love, that you took him who knew no sin and made him sin on my behalf, that I might become the very righteousness of God. Oh, you are a sweet and gentle Savior. How, indeed, softly and tenderly do you call me.
I pray that I would respond to that and respond not just in a nominal way, but in a way that my love and the love of my friends here would be so radical that the world would go, "You're crazy in love, but you're also wise in the way you run your affairs because you have the very oracles and words of God. You are not adrift on the sea, a slave to the best opinions of men, but you have a very sure and certain word that if you trust in it, will direct all your paths."
God, thank you for Communion. Thank you for the Lord Jesus, and how he, on the night which he was betrayed, took the bread, and he broke it, and he said that this was his body which is broken for us. As often as we eat it, do it in remembrance of him. We thank you that your body was broken for us. What an incredible suffering. What an incredible love. What an incredible mystery. Amen.
Most people are desperately looking for answers to such age-old human dilemmas as violence, greed and racism; not to mention personal pain and disappointment with our own duplicity and lack of fulfillment. In this series on the book of Ephesians, Todd Wagner challenges us to open our eyes to the truth that Christ has called us to be part of a completely new society called the Church. Our highest calling then is to be men and women whose lives have been regenerated and empowered through faith in Christ. Our 21st century challenges are not unlike those faced by followers of Christ in first century Ephesus. The Apostle Paul, author of this letter to the Ephesians, emphasizes that the problem with the Church then and today is not that God hasn't given it everything necessary to be successful in its mission. Rather, our problem is like that of a wealthy miser who dies of starvation rather than dip into the abundance of resources at his disposal. Allow yourself to be challenged and encouraged by this ancient letter that adroitly analyzes the plight of Christ's bride, the Church, and then paints a vivid portrait of what we can - and indeed do - look like as His redeemed people. This volume covers Ephesians 3:1 through Ephesians 4:32.