Date: October 13, 2019
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Scripture: Ephesians 3:1–3:11
Title: “A Stewardship of God’s Grace”
Text: Ephesians 3:1-1
Argument: The implications of the gospel are so massive that they put everything else into perspective.
Outline: Two categories that frame up a stewardship of grace
For centuries people have navigated their way across the unfamiliar territory by relying upon the GPS in the sky. The sparkling stars littered across the night sky are not only beautiful to look at, but they’re a helpful navigational tool.
One of the first things you learn when trying to get your bearings on this sky map, is you have to find the star Polaris. This is because Polaris, or the Pole Star, rarely moves. It’s fixed in its spot. And, all the stars in the North sky seem to rotate around it. Stargazers would tell you, “Find Polaris, get your bearings, and go from there.” Polaris provides the proper perspective to navigate the canopy of lights in the sky.
This is not unlike the gospel. It’s fixed and secure. It sets other things into their place. You can chart your course with it. It shapes how we view and relate to everything else.
And this brings my to my central truth that I want to persuade you of this morning: The implications of the gospel are so massive that they put everything else into perspective.
We’ll see this in the Scripture this morning. It’s interesting, this is a bit of a parenthesis. Paul wants to tell these Ephesian Christian that he’s praying for them, but something stops him. He interrupts himself and provides a personal detour. He stops and talks about himself. Most likely, the Ephesians were unsettled because Paul is in prison. They were discouraged and concerned—about him and them. So Paul wants to tell them that he’s doing just fine. In fact, he’s better than fine. He’s content. Why? Because the implications of the gospel are so massive that they put everything else into perspective. Even very difficult things.
At first, we might not think this has much to do with us because he is talking about himself. He’s in prison, not us. But I think, as we flip over the rocks here in chapter 3, we’ll see that it has far more to do with us than we would’ve first concluded. And you know what the key is? It’s the pole-star. The gospel. The gospel puts everything into perspective; for Paul and for us.
To see this we’ll look under two frames, first, a mystery revealed, in verses 1-6, and then a ministry received, in verses 7-13. Mystery and ministry.
Right away Paul mentions that he is in jail. But the way he does it might bring up a few questions. Notice he says that he is a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of the Gentiles.
In what sense is he a prisoner of Christ for the Gentiles?
It’s because his imprisonment is directly related to his ministry for Christ to the Gentiles (non-Jews). Remember, it was while he was in Jerusalem with representatives of his Gentile churches who were bringing their churches’ gifts to the Jerusalem church, that he was charged with violating the sanctity of the temple by bringing a Gentiles —Trophimus the Ephesian—in there. This charge, and others like it, still hung over him as he waited in Rome for his appeal to come up (cf. Acts 21:17-36, Romans 15:14-32).
Paul believed he was in jail because he was doing what Christ called him to do and because some people wanted him to stop. His presence in a prison was evidence of his faithfulness to Christ and his mission. This means it was about his commitment to the Gentiles. It’s in this sense that he was a prisoner of Christ and for the Gentiles.
But it’s the fact that he’s in prison that provides tension and opportunity. They are feeling for him and he is saying, this is the way it should be. He’s content.
You’ll notice in verse 2 how Paul talks about what he’s doing. He says, that he has stewardship of God’s grace given to him for you (or them). This means that his involvement in this ministry is a result of a divine draft and commissioning. God has called Paul and given him a job to do. He’s a steward. A steward has a responsibility before the owner to be faithful to the task he’s been given. For Paul, this involves bringing the gospel to the Gentiles.
And for Paul, he really sees his ministry as a privilege. God has been kind to him to allow him the opportunity to serve him in this way. The time in which he lived was one of unique opportunities. And the ministry he was given, was a true privilege.
He goes on to explain it. He talks about this mystery. What is the mystery? How do we understand this? It is key to how Paul understands his current suffering. It is key to his contentment.
First, we see that the mystery is something that was not previously revealed. We read this in verse 5.
Second, we see that God has revealed it now.
Third, we can see that it pertains to Christ. Paul calls it the mystery of Christ at the end of verse 4.
Fourth, we read more explicitly what this is in verse 6, “The mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Let’s put this together.
When you read the Bible you have to think of it as one book. Even though there are 66 books they are all connected. Written by nearly 40 human authors spanning over 2,000 years on three continents. But the unfolding of the biblical plan is progressive. You can’t just read the first chapter of Genesis and get everything any more than you could read the first chapter of Fellowship of the Ring and understand everything that is going on in the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings. Theologians call this progressive revelation. God reveals more details of his central plan over time. The core is there but the specifics and the nuance are revealed over time.
This is what we find here. Paul is putting a stake in the ground here in the first century and saying this is a big deal. God has revealed this mystery in detail. Something previously not fully revealed has been made known.
He says that the mystery is in Christ. This means that all of the blessings of salvation are found in Christ. He is the sphere and source of all of God’s blessings.
While from as early as Genesis God has communicated his plan to bless and save Gentiles (non-Jews), the specifics of how that was going to happen and what it would look like was not as clear. We find something amazing in the gospel. The gentiles were not only welcomed in, but they were given the right of being a family member. Look again at verse 6: 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.
Nobody saw this coming. That God would bless the Gentiles, wasn’t a new revelation.
What then was the new revelation, the mystery previously concealed?
It was this: that God’s blessing of the Gentiles would involve the obliteration of the old fences of separation that kept them away from the Jews and the incorporation of Gentile believers together with Jewish believers. There would be no discrimination, in the new, comprehensive community of God’s chosen people. This is the church.
Nobody saw this coming.
And Paul is pretty fired up about. Even while he is in jail he is talking about how amazing this is. Why? Because the implications of the gospel are so massive that they put everything else into perspective.
Three quick implications for us to think about here.
(1) Anything we know as Christians comes as a result of God making it known to us. He has taken the initiative and opened our eyes to see.
(2) Our identity as a church should be based primarily upon what the gospel reveals. What is spiritual rather than what is physical. It is about what the gospel has revealed instead of similarities to build community. In a helpful book Compelling Community, the authors introduce readers to a couple of terms to make the contrast. Gospel plus and gospel revealed.
“In gospel-plus community, nearly every relationship is founded on the gospel plus something else,” the authors observe. “Sam and Joe are both Christians, but the real reason they’re friends is that they’re both singers in their 40s, or share a passion to combat illiteracy, or work as doctors” (22). This might be a fine thing, but it says little about the gospel.
In “gospel-revealing” community, on the other hand, many relationships “would never exist” but for the truth and power of the gospel. The authors explain:
[This is] either because of the depth of care for each other or because two people in the relationship have little in common but Christ. While affinity-based relationships also thrive in this church, they’re not the focus. Instead, church leaders focus on helping people outside of their comfort zones to cultivate relationships that would not be possible apart from the supernatural. And so this community reveals the power of the gospel. (22–23)
When you think about this point, it just makes sense. Instead of seeing churches build natural things that will surely perish, God builds them on the eternal word and work of Christ. He will not build modern-day Babels that reflect us, but monuments of grace that showcase the glory of the Trinity.
(3) The God who has revealed this is pursuing people and bringing them into his family the church. Therefore, we must join in this work through evangelism, prayer, intentional hospitality, and the type of gracious conduct that adorns the gospel. May God forbid that we speak about being on mission with him while we have very little to show for his actual mission.
Just as God gave Paul the revelation of this mystery, he also gave him a ministry.
All of this language of Paul’s service to God has the scent of his Acts 9 on it. That is the portion of the Scripture that talks about Paul’s radical conversion to Christianity. You may recall that Paul was not just opposed to the church but he was vehemently opposed. He was violent. He terrorized the church. With license in hand, he was forging up to Damascus to arrest more followers of Jesus.
But then he met Jesus. And it was this encounter with Jesus that the one who was seeking to arrest Christians was himself arrested by the Christ.
And so Paul speaks of this as a gift of grace and working of power. It’s a gift of grace because he didn’t deserve it (actually he deserved wrath —not salvation!) but then also power, because in a display of God’s sovereignty he subdued this rebel from Tarsus and made him his own.
But this wasn’t the end of it. He didn’t throw him in prison. He didn’t put him in the boundaries or the fringes. No, God took this new trophy of grace and put him on the frontlines of ministry. The one who opposed the gospel would now preach it.
And Paul was cognizant o the fact that he didn’t deserve it. He knew it was all of grace. Look again at verse 8, “though I was the very least of all the saints, grace was given.”
He knew his heart. It was a horror film. It was scary. It was dangerous. He knew who he was. And he now knew that God loved him and would use him.
He couldn’t get over the fact of how undeserving he was. It’s like he’s still scratching his head in Ephesians after twenty years. Can you believe it? Paul says. Me?! The very least of all saints. He says this same thing in a couple of ways. He says in First Timothy that he is the chief of sinners. He is the head sinner. And here he says he is the least saint. The chief sinner and the lowest saint. This humility comes from a fresh swig of the gospel tonic. You see how undeserving you are and how gracious God is.
My Christian brothers and sisters. Do Paul’s words here resonate with you? Or do you think he’s going a bit overboard? He says, I’m the least of all saints and the worst sinner I know. He hasn’t gotten over God’s grace. The tonic of the gospel is swishing around in his mouth and he has a good gospel taste. He can perceive who he is and who God is. He is humble and happy in Jesus.
Let’s look a bit at this ministry he was given in verses 8-10.
He has something to proclaim and declare, doesn’t he?
First, he is proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Second, in this preaching of the unsearchable riches of Christ, he brings to light this previously hidden plan of God, that is the mystery of Christ.
What is the result of this preaching? (Verses 9-13)
The church makes known the wisdom of God. (vv. 9-10)
We see here that the church, through makes the wisdom of God known. How does the church do this?
This is done by making known this wonderful mystery that Paul has been talking about. How? We do this by declaring and demonstrating the gospel.
Remember there is something new and refreshing and compelling about what Paul is saying here. Like a bright light in the dark sky, illuminating the night, the truth of the gospel and its implications, bring to light what was hidden.
And so through the preaching and the living, the infinite worth of Jesus is declared.
Therefore, Paul talks about preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ in verse 8. If we focus in on that word unsearchable, it’s an interesting choice, isn’t it? It means incomprehensible, fathomless. It has the idea of infinite, like an ocean without a bottom. Like a concept unable to be fully grasped. Something we can’t get our minds around.
We are told that the closest stars are just over 4 light-years away. A light-year is about 6 trillion miles, so the nearest star is about 24 trillion miles. This means it would take us 137,000 years to travel to the closest stars. To attempt to put this into perspective, the earth is about 8,000 miles wide, you would have to walk around the earth over 3 million times in order to equal the same amount of distance it would take to travel to the closest star. The universe is, in some ways, unsearchable. On earth, it’s like we are hanging on to a tiny particle in the midst of a massive, incalculably large universe.
I think with this type of discussion we are moving a bit closer to the type of concept Paul is laying down when he talks about the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Jesus is so glorious, so weighty, that eternity will not exhaust his praises. We will forever, continue to exult in his great name.
Think for a moment about your Savior, dear Christians.
Have you considered some of the staggering realities present in the glorious gospel?
The concept of divinity and humanity joining together in a single person is mind-boggling. Jesus is both God and man; truly God and truly man.
The one who has eternally been enveloped in the happiness and holiness of heaven, condescends down, stooping to serve, and is born of a virgin and lived in poverty.
His whole life was characterized by humility; he was a tender shoot coming up out of seemingly nowhere.
But then, Jesus the blessed Son of God who has ever been the object of God’s delight is made to be, the object of his wrath. How is this possible? Why is this?
Well, it was in order that God could rescue his people, those whom he loved from all their sin and misery.
The one who has enjoyed the happiest days of heaven would undergo the most horrible day on earth. The King is given in exchange for slaves.
This is incomprehensible. Heaven is his throne, the earth his footstool. He made the universe. Yet, he comes to die. His body is laid in a cold earthen tomb.
And how is it that God could undertake to forgive sin without compromising any of his attributes? How can he maintain his holiness, justice, and unchanging character — while at the same time expressing love, mercy, and forgiveness? It is only upon the cross where God does not compromise that this is possible. It is on the cross where God can be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
And how about the glory of Christ shown in how he toppled Satan. The serpent hates man and always has. In the Garden of Eden he sought to destroy our happiness by tempting our first parents to sin. But, it is this scheme of Satan that secured our happiness on a much higher degree. For because of our sin, Christ the Savior has come to rescue a ruined people, and make us eternally happy in God.
And, in his effort to destroy Jesus with the cross, Satan with his fingerprints all over the defections and the kangaroo court that punctuated the passion week, he secured his own destruction. He thought he was triumphing over Christ by having him killed, but it was the death of Christ that secured his defeat. For in the death of Christ, Jesus bruised his heal by crushing the serpent's head.
And now by means of the resurrection and ascension, Jesus is once again at the right hand of God, exalted as the triumphant and eternally glorious Son. The one who saves his lost children.
Friends, this is just a brief tour of the galaxy of grace. The unsearchable riches of Christ.
Paul says, we get to declare this truth!
But there is another side. There is the demonstration.
I asked you a couple of weeks ago where we see the tangible demonstration of the kingdom of God. It is in the church. We see it amongst the body of Christ.
It is here that the springtime blossoms of an age to come first bloom. There is forgiveness, love, sacrifice, and unity. People united among lines that are not otherwise explainable.
And it is here in the church that people sacrifice and serve for the sake of the king and his kingdom.
I think this is the heart of what is going on in the passage. Remember, the Ephesians are sad because Paul is in prison. But he is in prison for the sake of the gospel. So, Paul says it is good.
Paul is demonstrating a proper theology of hardship. He can embrace suffering, adversity, and mistreatment because he knows it is worth it.
The implications of the gospel are so massive that they put everything else into perspective.
When we are calibrated with and to the gospel, we are able to navigate the otherwise confusing, shadowy, and surprising aspects of life.
The great pole-star puts everything in perspective.
And by living in light of this, we magnify the unsearchable riches of Christ.