Series Title: Our identity in Christ
Message: ‘The mystery of the Church’
Text: Ephesians 3:1-13
Introduction: PP: When Apple Computer fell on difficult times some years ago, their young chairman, Steven Jobs, went to New York to try to convince Pepsico’s John Sculley to move west and run the struggling computer company.
As they sat in Sculley’s penthouse office overlooking the Manhattan skyline, Sculley started to decline the offer. He said that Apple would have to offer him an astronomical salary and benefit package.
Flabbergasted, Jobs gulped and agreed, if Sculley would move to California. But Sculley would only commit to being a consultant from New York. Finally, Jobs confronted Sculley: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want to change the world?”
It knocked the wind out of Sculley. He hadn’t thought of it that way. He accepted the offer and moved west.
PP: Seeing the ‘Big Picture’ is about looking beyond ourselves and the immediate to see beyond ourselves to the fullness of something.
Seeing or failing to see the ‘Big Picture’ in life will affect the choices you make. That’s also true in the local church.
Pastor Cole continues: Many Christians don’t commit themselves fully to the local church because they’re too focused on themselves and they don’t have the big picture.
- The church is at the center of how God wants to change the world.
- It’s His eternal purpose to display His manifold wisdom through the church.
- We should respond by committing ourselves to it and praying for God to use it mightily.
- We should be willing to make sacrifices to see it become all that God wants it to be.
Now, you may be thinking, But Pb, the word ‘church’ is only used once in this text, why the emphasis on the church? Yes, but the idea of the church flows throughout our passage as I hope to reveal to you this morning.
Transition: Let’s see how the mystery of the church was revealed as the big picture both to those in Pauls’ day and in ours as well.
- Ephesians 3:1-6 Mystery revealed
- vss 1-2 Through self-denial
PP: For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles, assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you
ILL: Chris Vogel tells the following story: One Sunday morning, the pastor noticed little Alex staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the church. The seven-year-old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the pastor walked up, stood beside the boy, and said quietly, “Good morning Alex.” “Good morning pastor,” replied the young man, focused on the plaque.
“Pastor McGee, what is this?” “Well, son, these are all the people who have died in the service,” replied the pastor. Soberly, they stood together, staring at the large plaque. Little Alex’s voice barely broke the silence when he asked quietly, “Which one, the 9:00 or 10:30 service?”
Funny, but something to think about. The truth is, each follower of Jesus is called to die to self when it comes to serving Jesus.
- And He said to all, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (Luke 9:23)
- …in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! (1 Corinthians 15:31b)
Living a sacrificial life for Jesus and for the furthering of His Kingdom, is a requirement of the Christian faith.
- Yet, far too many Christians fail on this one essential point. And it negatively effects everything else they do in life.
At the very heart of what Paul talks about today, is the idea of self-denial and sacrifice… in the local church, for God’s Kingdom.
- We see that in how he starts this important passage: For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles
Paul wrote this letter while on house arrest in Rome. Note that he called himself a prisoner of Christ… not a prisoner of Rome. Paul saw the big picture of his imprisonment.
- It was not his chains, nor his trial that he saw, but the opportunity for God to use him in every life circumstance.
Paul denied self; he denied comfort; he denied pleasure, to be used as God chose, all for the glory of God.
- He acknowledges the sovereignty of God in all things… even his imprisonment.
Paul’s view of the Big Picture when it comes to his imprisonment is vital to us today… Look, if you see yourself as a prisoner of whatever it is life/the world is throwing your way;
- COVID restrictions, loss of a job, the overreaching expectations of others, even divorce…
- when you allow the choices and behaviors of others to imprison you… then you’ll only get angry and bitter.
But, when you choose to see the big picture; that God is sovereign, in control of all things in your life, and the only One Who holds your future in His hands,
- then you’ll face any difficulty with confidence, not in yourself or the circumstances, but in God’s desire and ability to care for you.
Paul then announces why he was imprisoned, not to blame the Gentile Ephesian Christians, but to show them how God was using him for their benefit, how God had called Paul to serve them, by denying self. He said
- on behalf of you Gentiles, assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you
Paul was acknowledging that they knew he was called by God (stewardship) to share the Good News of Jesus to them.
- And, that it was an act of God’s grace shed on Paul to serve God and the Gentiles.
Christian be assured, God’s call to each of us to deny self and serve Him and his church, always comes… with God’s abundant and amazing grace to see you through.
- vss 3-6 Mystery is the church
PP: (2 slides) how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
- This mystery is not a new teaching
- It’s an amplification of what was once only partially revealed.
It was made known to Paul through God’s revelation.
- Paul says it was not something he learned through a book or from someone’s teaching.
- It came from God Himself.
Paul refers to it as insight into the mystery of Christ. It would be better understood to say insight into the mystery of what Christ came to do. Remember in Matthew 16:18 Jesus said PP:
- And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
PP: Back in Matthew, Jesus’ disciples had little to no idea what Jesus meant by His church. In our text, Paul makes very clear what the mystery of Jesus’ church is:
- Gentile Christians and the Jewish Christians united by God’s grace into one body, one new creation.
And all together, we all are
- fellow heirs,
- members of the same body,
- and partakers of the promise
Of special note is the phrase members of the same body. We studied that in chapter 2 vs 16.
- The Gentile and Jewish Christians brought together as one body of Christ…
- is in fact the church, both universal and local as it’s in the local church that Christians serve God and His Kingdom.
Remember most of the letters in the NT were addressed to Churches.. local churches.
Transition: So, how is the body of Christ, His church to deny self and serve God and His Kingdom?
- Ephesians 3:7-10 Mystery shared
- vss 7-9 Bringing light
PP: Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of His power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things
Paul starts by saying that he was called by God to be a minister, the Greek word is simply diakonos, or servant. He is not talking here of a pastor.
- It’s important to note that Paul saw himself as just a servant of God.
Christian, that’s also how God calls everyone who has been placed in Christ by God’s grace to live. The Apostle Peter reminds us of that in 1 Peter 2:16
- Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
Paul writes that his service to God and to His people was a gift of God’s grace and that he was able to use that gift of service by God’s power.
- Christian, that should be a reminder and a great comfort for all who are called by God to serve in His church.
Paul mentions two ways he was called to serve and by application, God’s church is called to serve in those same ways: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.
- The Gentiles didn’t fully understand the fullness of all that was theirs as God’s children thru faith in Jesus.
- Paul was called to tell them… at least to show them in some small way God’s blessings, power, presence, guidance, forgiveness, mercy, grace, love, kindness, comfort, peace that were theirs thru faith in Jesus. And that was only scratching the surface of the unsearchable riches of Christ.
BUT… it was all theirs to experience, as they served God as His children.
That’s also our job in the church today.
- It’s so easy to get discouraged, depressed, beat down by the pressures of the sinful world and yes, even our own sinfulness.
- Followers of Jesus, we have the privilege and joy to be used by God to serve one another in ways that refresh the depressed, that bring healing to those beaten down and to offer forgiveness to those who have made bad choices.
That’s what we do inside the church to those who are part of God’s church. But we also serve those outside the church who are not yet part of God’s church.
and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things This tells us that:
- We serve God by seeking the lost.
- We serve God by revealing to them the One True and Ever living God who created and sustains all things.
- We serve God by both telling them and acting in such a way before them, that they see a loving, forgiving and holy God Who sent Jesus to die for their sins.
- We serve God by living in such a way that they see there is no division, no prejudice, no superior/special people in God’s church. All are welcome, all are loved, all are equal.
And we do this.. practically… through the local church.
- vs 10 Thru the church
PP: so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
This, friends, is the deep end of the pool. So we’ll just get our toes wet.
The specific idea is,
- The local church has the immense privilege and responsibility, to teach the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (angels) about the manifold wisdom of God, in particular as it refers to God’s plan of salvation.
It seems they won’t learn about it, without us. That’s huge!
The big picture is this.
- The church, yes even the local church is presented as a place of significant importance to God’s purposes.
Paul is stepping back to show us some of what God’s eternal purposes are for Christians. And it has to do with serving others rather than serving ourselves.
Christian, to put it simply,
- The local church should not, must not be reduced to something we just attend but don’t serve in or to something we only attend on holidays.
God’s Word tells us that they church, the local church, is infinitely more important than that. And demands our self-denial and sacrifice as we serve our God together in the local church.
- Ephesians 3:11-13 Mystery’ purpose
Paul ends with the purpose of the mystery, of the church. Here he’s addressing the God’s purpose for serving God’s people in the local church.
But, to see the flow better, I will start with verse 13 and end with verse 11.
- vs 13 Comfort
PP: So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
I believe the idea here is this…
- Paul wants his readers to be encouraged, and not discouraged, to hold on to and not give up on Christianity or the local church.
It’s as if he’s telling them
- Yes, I’m a prisoner, yes, my freedom is restricted, yes, I’m suffering, yes I’m on my way to a trial and I might receive the death penalty.
But… don’t be discouraged.
- You are part of the church God has created thru Jesus.
- Jesus is the head of the church.
- Jesus promises that nothing that comes against His church will win.
- God has promised great blessings to the church.
- Jesus promises that He will one day bring His Church to the Fathers presence in heaven.
ILL: To put this in perspective: Max Lucado, in his book, Facing Your Giants, talked about the time he participated in a half-Ironman triathlon. After the 1.2 mile swim and the 56 mile bike ride, he says, “I didn’t have much energy left for the 13.1 mile run. Neither did the fellow jogging next to him.
Lucado asked him how he was doing and soon regretted asking. “This stinks,” the man said. “This race is the dumbest decision I’ve ever made.” He had more complaints than a taxpayer at the IRS. Lucado’s response to him? “Goodbye.” Lucado knew if he listened too long, he’d start agreeing with the man.
Soon, he caught up with a 66-year-old grandmother. Her tone was just the opposite. “You’ll finish this,” she encouraged. “It’s hot, but at least it’s not raining. One step at a time… don’t forget to hydrate… stay in there.” Lucado ran next to her until his heart was lifted even though his legs were aching.
Who are you running around with? The naysayers of this world? Or your fellow Christians in the local church? (C. Philip Green)
Christian, self-denial, sacrifice isn’t easy for anyone. Serving God in the church often is not easy, comfortable or something that our unsaved friends/family will appreciate.
- Yes, Christians get depressed, anxious, afraid, overwhelmed.
- And it’s our responsibility to be there, here, to encourage them, to love them, to forgive them, to serve them, to help them in whatever way we can.
That’s what the local church does and when it does it well, it’s an amazing place to be.
- vs 12 Thru access to God’s presence
PP: in Whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him.
Paul continues to encourage those in the local church by telling them another reason not to get depressed, not to give up..
- No matter what you face, no matter how hard or how difficult life is…
- No matter how uncomfortable, or difficult serving God may seem in the church,
Listen my friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ,
- You can be bold in serving God
- You can have confidence when serving God
- You have direct, full access into God’s presence… anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
Through faith in Jesus, the door to God’s presence is always open! How encouraging is that?
- vs 11 By God’s eternal purpose
PP: This was according to the eternal purpose that He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord
- Self-denial, sacrifice, being an active part of God’s local church, by attending and serving.
Is in fact, what God has purposed for His church. It’s why He created the church.
- It’s what we Christians.. do!
Conclusion: PP: Look,
- You may not like what I’ve been talking about.
- You may think you can be a healthy Christian while not being an active, attending, serving part of the local church.
But the truth is.. all you are doing is lessening the importance of God’s local church. While the Apostle Paul has gone to great lengths in our text to elevate its importance.
God, through the apostle Paul wants us to know the great privilege and blessing it is to be a part of God’s church.. Big and little c.
Christian, the local church is God’s means of showing the world the manifold wisdom of His great grace.
And it’s the place where Christians gather, to live in community where our actions and words impact each other.
- It’s the place where we encourage those who are depressed, lift up those beat down, forgive those who have fallen short and love, just love each other.
Christian, we together, you and I, are, the church. We are together responsible to make it work for God’s glory.