You and the Church (Ephesians 3:1-13)
Big Idea: God uses unlikely people, and they get to be part of his church.
There is only one cause in all the world today that will still matter a bazillion years from today. You can be involved, and on terms of grace. You can bring your weakness to the table, and the risen Christ brings his Spirit to the table, and you walk away clothed with power from on high to promote a kingdom that has no end.
That’s how Ray Ortlund Jr. began a sermon recently, and it’s a good way for us to begin today.
We’re concluding a series today on the church. Over the past three weeks we’ve talked about our strategy as a church. God wants us to go deeper into the gospel, deeper into fellowship, and farther into mission. That’s it. Everything that we do is going to be one or more of these things. There isn’t anything that we will do that doesn’t fit into one of these categories. This is what God is calling us to be and do as a church.
Today I want to finish with one simple question: Will you bring your weakness, and be part of what God is doing through the church?
My sermon is simple today. I have only two points, and then I want to ask you if you’re going to play your part. Here’s my first point.
God uses unlikely people.
Read verses 1 to 7 again with me:
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for 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, 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.
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. (Ephesians 3:1-7)
As Paul wrote this letter, he was probably under house arrest in Rome. If the average person had met Paul, they probably would have seen him as nothing more than a common prisoner waiting trial. But as you read this passage, you see that Paul understands that he is part of something much bigger. In verse 2 he talks about being a steward of God’s grace. Paul sees himself as having a God-given role in making the gospel known to others, specifically to the Gentiles who hadn’t heard it yet.
This gospel never ceased to amaze Paul. He’s already told us that what the gospel is in chapter two. First: God has taken spiritually dead people and has made us alive by grace through faith. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5). Second: God has already begun to unite all things together again in Christ, and he’s begun in the church. He’s done this by breaking through all the barriers that divide us to make us into a new humanity in Christ. He alludes to this again in this chapter, verses 5 and 6: God has revealed something now that nobody in previous generations understood. Sure, they understood that Gentiles would be included in God’s plan. But nobody ever thought that Gentiles would one day be on completely equal footing before God. We are, Paul says in verse 6, “are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”
In other words, Paul realized that he was part of something much bigger: part of the plan of God who created all things. Notice the change that it made:
He calls himself a “prisoner of Jesus Christ” in verse 1. Not a prisoner of Caesar, but a prisoner of Jesus. He could see that God, not Nero, was in control, and had put him right where he wanted him.
He said “on behalf of you Gentiles.” Paul had been arrested because of his association with Gentiles. He could see that his suffering had a purpose. It wasn’t just random. He was giving his life to a purpose that transcended his imprisonment.
He spoke of becoming a “a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace” (verse 7). Most of the time, I think we tend to talk about what we do for God. Paul didn’t. He saw ministry not as his gift to God, but God’s gift to him.
Then notice his humility in verse 8. He calls himself “the least of all the Lord’s people.” This isn’t false humility. Paul knew that he was in need of God’s grace as much as any person who has ever followed the LORD.
Because Paul grasped the gospel and his part in it, he had confidence and hope even in the middle of trials. He knew he was part of something bigger, and it gave him hope even under house arrest. Understanding the gospel gives us confidence and hope in our trials.
We all need to live for something bigger than ourselves. Paul David Tripp writes, “There is woven inside each of us a desire for something more – a craving to be part of something bigger, greater, and more profound than our relatively meaningless day-to-day existence.” That longing to be part of something more in your life – that’s God given.
What is it? It’s the gospel. Understanding the gospel allowed Paul to see his life completely differently. The same thing can happen for us. Instead of seeing ourselves as a teacher, or an entrepreneur, or a church planter, we can see ourselves servants working for Jesus Christ. When we suffer, we can see that even our suffering has a purpose. When we serve God, we can see the ministry as a gift from God rather than an obligation or something we’re doing for God. And it will give us a humility, because we’ll marvel that God has chosen us even though we are the least of all of God’s people. Understanding the gospel gives us confidence and hope in our trials.
Here’s what I want you to know: You matter. You. Not extraordinary you. I’m talking about ordinary you. Let me quote Ray Ortlund again:
Don’t waste your life in the false peace of worldly comfort and small ambition and being cool. Jesus is looking for gospel hooligans who want to get messy and relevant and involved. He wants to use you for the advance of the gospel. Don’t miss out. Don’t settle for a life that won’t matter forever. Do you want people to say at your funeral, “What a nice person,” and that’s it? Your life can count for many people forever. All he asks of you, all you can do, is keep listening to him moment by moment and then take your next step, whatever that might be. You provide your weakness and need. He provides his strength, his wisdom, everything. And if we will together live that way on mission, we will experience what only God can do.
If you ever go to the south coast of England, I hope you get a chance to stare out over the English Channel and imagine what happened there in the spring of 1940. Hitler had the Allied Forces in a corner and was getting ready to invade Great Britain. His troops were closing in on the Allies in what was going to be an easy kill. Nearly a quarter million young British soldiers and over 100,000 allied troops faced capture or death, and the Royal Navy could only save a small fraction of this number.
But a bizarre fleet of ships appeared on the horizon of the English Channel. Trawlers, tugs, fishing sloops, lifeboats, sailboats, pleasure craft, an island ferry named Gracie Fields, and even the America’s Cup challenger Endeavor, all manned by civilian sailors, sped to the rescue. The ragtag armada eventually rescued 338,682 men and returned them home to the shores of England, as pilots of the Royal Air Force jockeyed with the German Luftwaffe in the skies above the channel. It was one of the most remarkable naval operations in history. It didn’t involve warships and destroyers. It involved trawlers and pleasure craft. And for those few days they were more than trawlers and fishing boats, and they could put up with all kinds of trials because they had a purpose. You can have the same thing happen in your life. It’s the gospel that gives us purpose that we’re part of something much bigger even in our trials.
God can use you, friends. Don’t waste your life. Be part of what he is doing. And that leads me to my second point.
We get to be part of something huge: the church that God is building.
God uses ordinary people, but what he does with them is extraordinary.
Look at verses 10 to 11 with me. Not only did Paul see his life as part of something bigger, but he looked around and saw that as the mystery of the gospel was being revealed, God was accomplishing something that boggles our minds. He writes:
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:10-11)
This is going to blow our minds. The very existence of the church, Paul wrote, has a much higher purpose than we realize. It’s an amazing thing that spiritually dead people are raised to new life, and that former enemies become family with each other within the church. This is such a big deal that it is the way that God has chosen to reveal his wisdom in its rich variety. Think for a minute of all the ways that God could show to angels and demons that he is wise. The human genome shows that God is wise. Scientists are unravelling all the ways that information is stored in our DNA that makes us who we are. It’s amazing. The universe shows God’s wisdom. I could think of many ways that God could choose to show angels and demons his wisdom.
But look at how God has chosen to reveal his wisdom: through the church. As somebody has said, the history of the Christian church has become a graduate school for angels. Demons thought they had Jesus killed once and for all. All of his followers were scattered. But he rose from the dead. But then he left. You can’t expect much from a small group of followers who had never amounted to much. But then Peter – yes, that Peter – got up to preach, and thousands joined the church. Satan and demons threw everything they could at the church, but the church continued to spread all throughout the Roman Empire, so that this obscure, marginal movement became the dominant religious force in the western world for centuries.
John Stott says:
It is as if a great drama is being enacted. History is the theatre, the world is the stage, and church members in every land are the actors. God himself has written the play, and he directs and produces it. Act by act, scene by scene, the story continues to unfold. But who are the audience? They are the cosmic intelligences, the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. We are to think of them as spectators of the drama of salvation. Thus ‘the history of the Christian church becomes a graduate school for angels’
The very existence of the church is a sign to demons that their authority has been broken, and that their final defeat is imminent. God shows through the church that his purposes are being fulfilled and they’re moving toward their climax. F.F. Bruce says that the church is “God’s pilot scheme for the reconciled universe of the future.” God has chosen to display his wisdom in all its dimensions through, of all things, us, his church.
You know what this means? As Liberty Grace Church takes shape, demons are getting schooled. We are a tangible reminder to demons that their authority has been broken, and that Jesus Christ is victor, and that he is on the move. The progress of the gospel will not be hindered. God is on the move, and he uses us — us! — as proof to the spiritual realm that his kingdom is victorious.
Because Paul saw his life as something bigger, and the church as something much bigger, he was able to write in verses 12 and 13:
In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
Because of all of this, we have access to God that’s unhindered by hostile powers. We can have assurance that our sufferings have a purpose, and are actually tied to our glory. Understanding the gospel gives us confidence and hope in our trials. We can know that even though we’re ordinary, our lives are part of something that is far from ordinary. This church, as God builds it, is part of God’s eternal purpose. It matters, and it will matter for eternity.
The church of Jesus Christ is the most important institution in the world. The assembly of the redeemed, the company of the saints, the children of God are more significant in world history than any other group, organization, or nation. The United States of America compares to the church of Jesus Christ like a speck of dust compares to the sun. The drama of international relations compares to the mission of the church like a kindergarten riddle compares to Hamlet or King Lear. And all pomp of May Day in Red Square and the pageantry of New Year’s in Pasadena fade into a formless grey against the splendor of the bride of Christ…Lift up your eyes, O Christians! You belong to a society that will never cease, to the apple of God’s eye, to the eternal and cosmic church of our Lord, Jesus Christ. (John Piper)
Most of us live with little to no awareness to the drama going on around us. Our lives, and this church, have cosmic significance.
Your gift may seem small. Your life may seem small. But it’s not. It’s part of something bigger, and it’s part of what God is doing in the world. Don’t ever think that God can’t use you. Your weakness and God’s power are a perfect match. How can you take part? We’ve just covered it. Go deeper in the gospel. Get deeper into community. Go farther into mission. Repeat.
We’ve covered and started a lot this past month. I want to ask you to do three things.
First, take this strategy card. Internalize it. Put it into practice. This isn’t just a piece of paper. It’s the DNA of our church. Help us translate this card into reality. Someone has asked a good question about church mission statements and strategies: It’s hanging on the wall, but is it happening down the hall? Let’s resolve to work this so it’s happening. We’re off to a good start, but let’s keep going. Master this. Work it. It’s what God is calling us to do.
Second, join this church. If you have been coming out, and you are a follower of Jesus Christ, we are asking you to commit to this church. We want you to identify with this expression of the church, and say, “I’m in. I’m committed.” I’ve given you a membership covenant today. I’d like to ask you to take it, read it, and to return it. You can be part of what God is doing in this church. “You can bring your weakness to the table, and the risen Christ brings his Spirit to the table, and you walk away clothed with power from on high to promote a kingdom that has no end” (Ortlund).
Finally — Would you believe that we are part of something bigger? You are, and we are together. It’s not because we’re anything special. It’s because God uses unlikely people, and they get to be part of his church. It isn’t just you and Jesus; it’s you and the church. Enter into what God wants to do with your life. Walk in weakness, obedience, and humility before him. And he will use you in ways you can’t even imagine for his glory. Don’t waste your life.