Main Text: Ephesians 3:1-13
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 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. 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.
7 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. 8 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, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
The book of Ephesians is stretching us. So far we have learned:
- How incredibly good God is to us through Jesus.
- We deserve punishment for our sin, but through Jesus we have been transformed into the most blessed beings in all of God’s creation.
- Sin separates us from God and one another, but Jesus brings us back to God and each other.
- As Jesus brings us back – He brings us into the family and household of God because He is greater than the divisions that divide us.
Today, our text will give us encouragement to work hard together in ministry. The Church is a living picture of redeemed humanity working together. The mystery of God – the redemption of mankind (every tongue, tribe, nation) through Jesus – has been revealed to us and we are now called to make it known to others.
Our text carries the same tensions of Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) that Paul clearly laid out in previous verses. Paul, a Jew, was called by God to take the message of Jesus to the Gentiles. He describes it as a mystery.
As we join the Christian Church in the celebration of Palm Sunday, we remember the Triumphal entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. This was an ironically tragic day. The Jews were shouting, “Hosanna” which means, “save us”. They were hoping that Jesus would deliver them from the Romans. They wanted Him to be a political liberator. Many Gentiles, though not wanting to get involved, hoped that the Roman Empire would remain stable in spite of the flurry of concern over Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be a Jewish Messiah.
Today, we celebrate the ultimate liberation – freedom from our sin – through Jesus. We say, “Hosanna! – Save us!” and know that grace is a free gift. We now join the ministry efforts of those like Paul who gave his all to reveal this mystery of the Gospel to those that were far from God.
Paul is writing to the church on Ephesus from a prison cell. Verses 2-13 are a bit of a rabbit trail before Paul gets back to his original thought. He shares his heart about ministry getting tough and affirms his credibility. Ministry was often tough for Paul (2 Corinthians 11:24-28). The story of Paul’s imprisonment for this instance is recorded in Acts 21 and 22. If faced with the same situation, we would be full of negative emotions regarding our plight and God’s lack of intervention. Ministry can be tough in many ways. Serving others can be all demanding at times. In the following verses Paul shares what sustained him when ministry was tough.
Six reasons why ministry is worth the sacrifice
God has good purpose in the tough times
Verse 1 Paul literally states why he is in prison. But Paul sees Jesus’ purposes in putting him there. His ministry continues inside and outside of prison. Paul saw Christ as the One in control of his life and happenings. Why does God still allow us to experience hard times when ministering? Jesus is not in the business of giving us comfort; He is in the business of building our character (Romans 5:3-5). Paul did not lose hope.
I am getting the gospel to others like someone did for me
Ephesians 3:1-2. Ministry, by nature, is other-centered. The problem is that we are, by nature, self-centered. We tend to be very narcissistic about our faith and church. Paul was suffering in jail so that Gentiles could know that they could be forgiven of their sins and be a part of Christ’s Church. Just as God had reached down and supernaturally changed Paul’s life on the road to Damascus, Paul was now reaching into the lives of the others around him, specifically the Gentiles, that the Jews hated, and telling them about Jesus. Ministry would be easy if it was about meeting my needs. Ministry is about meeting the needs of other people. That is what makes it hard. That is what makes it costly.
Paul did not look at this his ministry as a burden; he looked at it as a privilege. He was stewarding God’s grace that was given to him to be given to others. It is a privilege to serve others in the name of Jesus so they know the gospel. Sometimes it is easy to forget this! Sometimes ministry is late nights and early mornings. Sometimes it means working on your days off. Why do we work hard and sacrifice in the church? We do it because God’s grace was given to us not to be kept to ourselves but to be given away to others. Do you see the mindset change? God has entrusted us with the gospel. He entrusted us with the gospel not to keep it to ourselves but to give it to others so they would have it.
The only way people can know Jesus is if the Church tells them
Paul talks about the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:3-6). Biblically, a mystery is a fact about reality that cannot be discovered by investigation and research but it needs to be supernaturally revealed by God. The fact that Gentiles and Jews are now equal members of the same body and both have access to God through Jesus Christ is something nobody could discover on their own. It just would not happen. This is a mystery that God kept hidden, and he supernaturally revealed it to Paul and the apostles by his Holy Spirit.
The only way for people to know that everyone can come to God through Jesus Christ, be forgiven of their sins, and through Jesus, become part of a new family called the Church is if God tells them supernaturally, like he did to Paul, or if we tell them. This is why we involve ourselves in missions locally and around the world. No one will know the gospel unless we tell it to them (Romans 10:13-15).
It is a gift to serve the church even in the most humbling ways
Paul looked at serving the church as a gift of God’s grace (Ephesians 3:7). The word minister in the ESV is sometimes translated as servant in other translations. The original word means an “in-the-dust-laborer” or “one who shovels dirt”. Paul said that working in ministry is a gift of God’s grace even when God calls you to serve in the most humbling ways. It is a privilege to serve others in the church, regardless of the task.
The privilege of serving is the opposite of what I deserve
Ephesians 3:8 - Paul knew that he did not deserve to serve. He remembered he wasn’t just far from God when he was born, but he heaped up a mess of sin in life. He was filled with pride. He was arrogant. He was boastful about being a religious elite in the Jewish community. He had hunted down Christians. He deserved nothing put the wrath of God; He considered himself the “very least of all the saints”.
Remember what you were before God saved you. God is rich in mercy. He never let us go. Even when we fled, God drew us back and gave us the privilege of serving.
The Church has cosmic significance
Paul assigns a lofty and cosmic role to the Church (Ephesians 3:9-10). The Church is the channel by which God’s wisdom is demonstrated in “heavenly places” (a spiritual reality beyond what we see). God’s manifold wisdom is displayed even to those that oppose Him. The majesty of God is demonstrated in the unity of the Jews and Gentiles. The Church’s very existence and conduct are making known how great God’s plan of salvation is – both to people and to the powers. This gives an unparalleled importance to the Church.
In the Church, for the first time, people who used to fight now together hang out together. People that are different from one another see each other as part of their own family – by doing this we scream God’s manifold wisdom on earth and in heavenly places.
Red Mountain doesn’t just have local significance; it has cosmic significance. Right now fallen angels and cosmic powers from around the universe are watching and fascinated by what is happening here.
The conclusion and point of Paul’s words are simple (Ephesians 3:13). Don’t lose heart in ministry it is worth it. Together we work towards…
The Mystery of God Revealed
Apply to Life
This week, as you reflect on the message, think of friends, co-workers, neighbors, family etc., that you could meet with to have a time of mutual sharing and fellowship as you open God’s Word together.
DISCUSS THE MESSAGE
Read: Ephesians 3:1-13
What is the ‘mystery’ that Paul is referring to in this passage?
When Paul speaks of mystery here, he is not saying that this is mysterious in the sense that it is difficult to understand, but rather that, at one time, it wasn’t understood as it is now. Describe the change in thinking concerning God’s Kingdom that Paul is now describing.
What examples do we see in Scripture that show us that this inclusion of the Gentiles was a difficult thought to grasp and even a scandelous reality for some to consider? (see Acts 10)
Put yourself in the shoes of a first-century Jew, how would you respond to this radical notion of God’s Kingdom extending to the Gentiles? Describe your thoughts, feelings and possible actions.
Paul’s story of conversion is told in many ways by the Apostle, what things does he highlight here about God saving him and sending him on mission?
Take a moment to retell your story of coming to Christ, even if the person you are with has heard it before.
Now share about the ways that you have not only been saved, but are sent as God’s Church into your various arenas of life: neighborhood, work, friendships, family, etc.
Paul here takes a moment to boast in the sovereignty of God, who did all of these (v.1-10) ‘according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord’. How do you remind yourself that you have what you have because of God? In what ways do you intentionally and purposefully boast in Him?
Take a moment to pray a prayer to God of adoration, declaring to Him how great He truly is and how compassionate He has been in your life. Use this time to revel in the goodness and grace that God has shed on your life.