Tuesday, 10 June 2008

"To us, for you"


We've been looking through Ephesians. It is one of Paul's most important letters because it brings us nearer to the heart of the man than probably any other letter.

In chapter 1, he blesses God for the blessings that have been given us in Jesus: chosen, redemption, forgiveness, a destiny and an inheritance, and the Holy Spirit. He prays for the Ephesian Christians that they might know this destiny and inheritance and power available to them.

In chapter 2 he declares that we were dead, but that God made us alive in Jesus. We are saved by grace through faith. And he reminds the non-Jews: 'you were without hope and without God'. But Jesus Christ came, and in his body he took into himself Jew and non-Jew, and he created a new humanity, a new family - built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ. And through him, we both have access to God.

It is all very reassuring for me. Paul is a pastor with two congregations: Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. They are different. They meet in different places. They use a different language. They worship in different ways. They are also dismissive of each other. In fact, in their heart of hearts they are not really sure that the other congregation is really Christian. The Jewish Christians are not really sure that the Gentile Christians are 'proper' Christians because they have not been circumcised and because they do not keep the law. The Gentile Christians are not really sure that the Jewish Christians are Christians because they are a legalistic, exclusivist bunch. And Paul - he is in the middle. He longs to see them come together, not for his sake, but because it is only when they come together that God's plan for earth and heaven will come to fulfilment.

v10 is fascinating: "so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places". It could mean through the preaching of the church, but I think it means that the being of the body of Christ, the church itself - including Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, old and new, traditional and modern, st peter st mary - is the ultimate expression of the wisdom of God.


And here in Chapter 3, Paul gets very personal. He is in prison. And he is writing to non-Jews, the Gentile believers - and he is saying to them: this stuff that I've been writing to you - this stuff about God creating a new humanity in Jesus, that it is for Jew and Gentile - that is why I am in prison. The Jews didn't like it. They rioted, they tried to lynch me - and because of that I am here.

But he goes on: I had to do it.

1. God revealed this to me (v3), and to the apostles and prophets (v5). It had to be by revelation because this is a new thing that God is doing.

He describes it as a mystery (v3), the mystery of Christ (v4), the mystery hidden for ages (v9). It is a mystery because it has been hidden. It is a mystery because it is not obvious. It is a mystery because we do not know how it works

But the mystery is this - and this is just one way that Paul summarises it - that the "Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise", through faith in the good news about Jesus Christ.


2. God called me to be a servant of this mystery.
I'm nobody - but for some reason known only to God - he called me to go to non Jews and to share with them the 'boundless riches of Christ' , and to make known to everyone (Jew and Gentile) the plan of God - to unite all things, all people, Jew and Gentile under Jesus.

And Paul finishes this section repeating what he has said earlier: through Jesus we all have access to God.


And Paul concludes in verse 13: "Don't get down because I am suffering - in prison. The reason I am suffering is because of God's calling to me. And that calling of God is your -Gentile - glory."


I long for men and women to be captured by the vision of this mystery.
To understand it with our minds, and to also understand it with our inner eyes.

1. It is the basis for authentic unity.

People try to build the house of unity on many foundations: civil rights and constitutions, law, education, technology, a political system - monarchy or democracy, tolerance, 'faith'. We don't need to knock them: the goal of what they are trying to achieve is profoundly right.

Our disagreement is in the way that unity is going to be achieved. The conviction of Paul is that true unity, which also preserves variety, is found when people respond to the good news of Jesus Christ and put their faith in him.

Of course, as the church we do not have the greatest of track records when we come to talk about unity. I am quite pleased that the early church was in just as big a mess as us.

It is all very well saying that in Jesus we find our unity, when we all disagree as to what it means in practice. But on this Ephesians is very helpful: the unity of the church is built upon the revelation to, and the foundation of, the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. Whatever else, our faith has to be true to the biblical revelation about Jesus. One of the answers to disunity in the church is clearer teaching.

2. It is the basis for self-sacrificial mission

There are four key words at the beginning of our passage: 'to me, for you'. (v2)
This revelation was made known 'to me, for you'

The thought is echoed twice
"I Paul a prisoner .. for you Gentiles" (v1)
"this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles .." (v8)

We need men and women of courage who have been captured by the message that all people can become fellow heirs with the people of God, members of the same body and sharers in the divine promise - through faith in Jesus Christ.

The reason that God reveals and that God calls is for the sake of other people. God never blesses a person in isolation from others. He blesses a person for the sake of others.

The reason that God has given us glimpses of understanding is not so that we can live a comfortable life in a little Christian ghetto blessing each other. It is so that we, at the right time and in the right way, 'with gentleness and respect' share with others the awesome mystery that in Jesus Christ there is access to God, forgiveness and new life, eternal life, for whoever comes to him. Even if it means we end up in prison accused of treachery.

This mystery has been given to us, not for us - but for others.

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