Sunday, December 1, 2019


We had no church service at the Log Church this morning because of severe winter conditions. So I had no sermon today.
Nevertheless, I will post this sermon that I never preached and which actually should be read before the one below (two posts down - Called to Suffer).
A Bond Servant to the Message of Christ (Ephesians 3:1-13)

We may wish that Paul would have elaborated a bit more on this revelation of the church as the dwelling place of God, for the theme of what God’s eternal purpose is for the church is one about which we know very little.

Paul, in fact, may not have even known much more than he mentions here. We do not really know the extent to which God revealed things to him. Earlier I brought up the fact that Paul, contrary to what we often see in some Christian ministries today, did not bring his teachings to promote himself or his ministry. His purpose was to encourage the people and to bring glory to God.

Because of our position in the church as believers, and also because we know that God intends to bring us to perfection, we have the ability to approach Christ. This is because we are the body of Christ and under the administration of Christ. And, we have learned, this is the administration that will be revealed and fully implemented in the fullness of times.

In fact, to put it in Paul’s words, “We have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him.”

That which gives us this confidence is in understanding how God has determined that we are part of his plan for eternity. It is upon this that we can base our faith. 

Paul the Deacon

Paul calls this truth the “gospel.” This is the good message that he was bringing to the Gentiles. For this gospel he said this: “I was made a minister (servant – BSB) according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power” (Ephesians 3:7 ESV).

When we read that Paul considered himself a minister, the first image that probably comes to our minds is that of one working in the capacity of a pastor, vicar, or whatever other title one might give to a clergyman. On some level this is true, but it may not be quite an accurate impression.

The word translated minister here is the Greek word diakonos, which is also sometimes translated “deacon.” The office of deacon is one that was found in some early churches and still is today. However, even this image might give us the wrong impression of what Paul is really saying.

To help us to understand better, it may be helpful to see that most often; the word diakonos is translated as “servant.”

Jesus, for instance, in teaching his disciples told them, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26 NAS).

When Jesus told the disciples to be servants, he used the word diakonos. Actually, one could say that the impression that Jesus was trying to leave when he used that word was even stronger than what we would ordinarily think of in using the word servant, because as he continued, he said this: “And whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave” (Matthew 20:27 NAS). The word here for slave is not diakonos, but doulos, which really does mean slave. 
A Bond-Servant for the Good Message

This was the attitude that Jesus was trying to leave with the disciples, and this was the attitude that Paul used about himself. In another letter, Paul used the same word doulos in speaking of himself, when he said, “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants (slaves) for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5 NAS).

At one point, Paul described himself as “the least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9). When Paul spoke of himself in this way, he was describing how after the resurrection of Jesus, the Lord first appeared to the disciples and even to more than five hundred believers before appearing to Paul. It was as if, Paul says of himself, he was as one who was “untimely born.”

In all of this, we see the unassuming attitude of Paul in his service. Moreover, not only did he consider himself as the least of the apostles and one untimely born, and here in his letter to the Ephesians calls himself a bond-servant to the gospel, but now he even calls himself “the very least of all the saints.” 

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. (Ephesians 3:8 ESV) 

Later, we will be looking at what I consider one of the most astounding of all of the revelations given to the apostle Paul. This revelation begins with how Paul concluded the previous section of the letter, when he spoke of all believers in Jesus Christ as “being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22 NAS).

 However, before we look at this astonishing revelation, it is very important to see the manner in which Paul delivers this message. It is one of total humility. In these passages that I have quoted and in many others as well, we see that Paul views himself as not one to whom much is owed by means of respect to be given to him, but rather as one who is a great debtor.

Despite the outstanding nature of the revelations given to Paul, he continued to see himself as a servant and a lowly messenger of what is a great message, but one that he had no personal part in creating. Indeed, the greater the content of his messages became, his humility only seemed to deepen.

Paul’s attitude seemed to be as Jesus told the disciples, “When you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done’” (Luke 17:10 NAS).

  • As I said at the beginning of this post, we may wish that Paul would have elaborated a bit more on this revelation on the theme of God’s eternal purpose for the church, but even if Paul did have more of his revelation that he could have written, we must remember that this book of Ephesians this is more or less a personal letter more than it is an educational lesson.

It was not Paul’s intention to delve deeply into these subjects. As in other eternal truths that he touches on in this letter, they are mentioned mostly for the fact of giving the believers in Ephesus encouragement in facing their daily lives and the future.

That which gives us this confidence is in understanding how God has determined that we are part of his plan for eternity. It is upon this that we can base our faith. 

Paul the Prisoner

In this teaching, it becomes evident that there is much about which we as Christians can be encouraged, as we are part of the church of Jesus Christ. It is because of this fact—this hope, that Paul was able to tell the Ephesians not to lose heart.

This was true for Paul, even though at the time that he wrote this letter, he was imprisoned. We do not know the specifics of this imprisonment, but even while in this state of incarceration, Paul tells the Ephesians not to lose heart.

Paul calls himself “the prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of [the] Gentiles.”  Paul also mentions his imprisonment later in the letter when he calls himself “a prisoner for the Lord” (4:1) and “an ambassador in chains” (6:20).

Paul was put into prison more than once because of his ministry. He was, so to speak, a political or religious prisoner because of his work among the Gentiles and especially for the message that he brought to them. This was the message that the way was now open to them, as Gentiles, to also enter into the household of God. Because of Christ’s death and his resurrection, this became possible apart from the Jewish Law.

For this message and for Paul’s efforts, the Jews often accused him of creating civil unrest and sometimes succeeded in having him tried in the courts. A few times they actually managed to have him incarcerated.

For instance, some years after Paul had been in Ephesus, the Jews succeeded in having him imprisoned in Jerusalem. But in the end, all of these charges were shown to be trumped up and politically motivated. After a series of trials, Paul appeared before Festus, the Roman governor of Judea, in the city of Caesarea. Because Paul had earlier learned of a plot to assassinate him in Jerusalem, he had appealed to take his case before Caesar in Rome.

Festus was a bit embarrassed at this appeal, since he had no real charges against Paul that he could write to send to Caesar. Later, when King Agrippa, who ruled as a Roman king over the whole area, came to visit Festus, the governor took the opportunity to bring Paul before him so that the king could make some kind of decision on the matter.

Thus, Paul was brought before the king, as well as the king’s wife Bernice, Festus, and a few other officials. Paul told the gathering of his conversion to faith in Christ on the road to Damascus, and presented to them what his work had been among the Gentiles. After hearing Paul, Agrippa concluded that he had done nothing wrong worthy of imprisonment. Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:32 ESV).

God, it seems, had not only given Paul a ministry among the Gentiles, but now he was also giving him that ministry in Rome, the very center or Gentile culture, albeit as a prisoner. While in Rome, even though no real charges that were brought against him seemed worthy of imprisonment, he was put under a type of house arrest, where he stayed in his own rented quarters.

This gave him the freedom to continue his ministry. It is said that Paul had freedom in, “welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered” (Acts 28:30-31 NAS).

It also seems that at times he was actually put behind bars. We do not know much of these times and of his witnessing to the other prisoners or the guards, except by way in inference. For instance, while in prison Paul wrote to the church at Philippi the following words: 

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else. (Philippians 1:12-13 NAS) 

In that case, Paul’s efforts while imprisoned must have been blessed by God, seeing converts even in Caesar’s own family, since he closes the letter, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22 NAS).

This ministry is partially why Paul considered himself a prisoner for Jesus Christ on behalf of the Gentiles. In this sense he truly was, as he called himself, “an ambassador in chains.” But there were more reasons that caused Paul to see his imprisonment as something that was on behalf of the Gentiles.

Undoubtedly, Paul could have escaped much of his imprisonment had he kept a lower profile, and if in his wording of his message he might have moderated or softened it a bit so that it would not have been so offensive to the Jews. This, however, was not Paul’s character. He felt that in order to be faithful to the commission given to him by God, he had to do his work with all diligence.

While near the end of his life, when he later was truly incarcerated in Rome and awaiting what is generally believed to be his execution for his faith in Christ, Paul wrote to his young friend and disciple Timothy, telling him that “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner” (2 Timothy 1:7- 8a NAS).

He told Timothy to join with him in the suffering for the gospel, not because he saw any merit in suffering for its own sake, but that the power of God would be made evident to all.

This was the way of Paul’s life. In his view, external and physical circumstances, although difficult, ultimately do not mean anything. What is important is the power of God. “If we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8 NAS).

As Paul continued to write to Timothy, assuring him that God, “Has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity…for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher” (2 Timothy 1:9 NAS).

Paul saw his mission and purpose in his ministry as bringing the gospel to all who would listen, and he told Timothy that it was for this reason that he suffered many difficulties and imprisonments.

“But,” he said, “I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12 NAS). 

All of these are the reasons that Paul writes to the Ephesians not to lose heart over what he is suffering for them. As far as we know, Paul was not put into prison because of something that had specifically happened in the city of Ephesus, although it is true that the teachings that Paul brought to Ephesus upset the social order of that city. Perhaps it would be good to look at some of those things that happened. 

What Happened in Ephesus

Most of what we know about the time that Paul spent in Ephesus is found in the nineteenth chapter of the book of Acts. We earlier saw how Paul came to the city, already finding believers, but also learning that they had not yet been told of the promise of the Holy Spirit. We read how after Paul had laid his hands on the believers, and when the Holy Spirit came upon them, they began speaking in tongues and prophesying, much like what happened to the disciples in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ.

We also read about how Paul taught for two years in the hall of Tyrannus and how the word of his teaching spread throughout Asia (present day Turkey). Then, when God was doing extraordinary miracles through Paul by way of healing the sick and driving out demons, how the seven sons of the Jewish high priest, a man named Sceva, tried to counterfeit the power of God. In the end, these seven men were rebuked and overcome by the evil spirits.

Through all of these occurrences, there were many in the city that came to believe in the power of Christ. Many of these new believers were people that had before followed what the book of Acts called the “magic arts.”

Once these practitioners of magic had come to believe the message of salvation through Christ, these former magicians confessed and divulged their rituals, brought all of their books of secret arts, and burned them in the sight of all.

The value of these books was fifty thousand pieces of silver. It is thought that each singular piece of silver was worth a day’s wages of the day. By some calculations and put in equivalent terms, the total value could have been as much as six million dollars in today’s currency.

Ephesus was a wealthy city at the time when Paul visited it. It had grand buildings and homes. The pride of the city of Ephesus was the temple of Artemis, an ancient deity of the Greeks. This temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The value of the books of magic destroyed by the new converts to Christ is an indicator of the lucrative business that there was in various religious practices. Another indicator of this involved something that happened in the city when Paul was there.

Actually, it was just about the time that Paul was thinking of leaving Ephesus, when a controversy arose in the city, putting Paul in the center of it. In the city there was a silversmith named Demetrius who made silver shrines of Artemis. These were small shrines that the citizens of the city bought to be put in their homes. There evidently was quite a demand for these and other similar items, for Demetrius was not the only silversmith producing them. There seemed to be a sort of a brotherhood of silversmiths.

The market was large. Besides selling the shrines to the citizens of Ephesus, worshipers from other parts of Asia would also come to the city to worship at the temple. The silversmiths did a good business selling these items to the religious pilgrims.

Demetrius gathered together the silversmiths of the city and other craftsmen whose businesses were in some way connected to the worship of Artemis. He told them the following: 

Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods.

And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship. (Acts 19:25-27 ESV) 

With this, the people became enraged and began to cry out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” A riot broke out. The protest took on a decidedly undisciplined and unruly mob-like character. In the confusion of the moment, the rioters grabbed two men from Macedonia who were travel companions of Paul, and dragged them to the theater.

Paul was not present in the area at the time, but when he heard about the riot, he wanted to go to the assembly. However, the other disciples did not want him to go. Even some men from Asia, who were friends of Paul, sent repeated messages to him, urging him not to go. It seems that Paul was convinced, since in the end, he apparently never did go to the assembly at the theater.

Had Paul gone, it would have done no good, and potentially could have done much harm. The atmosphere at the theater was one of complete confusion, with most of the people not even knowing the reason that they were there.

One man named Alexander, a Jew, stood up to address the crowd. When the crowd recognized him as a Jew, they drown out his words with the shout of, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Since the Jew was not allowed to speak, we do not know what he had wished to say, but perhaps he wanted to disassociate the Jewish community with what Paul was preaching. However, since the Jews were also against idolatry, neither would the crowd allow him to speak.

The crowd at the theater was truly in a senseless mob-like mood. For a dumbfounding two hours, they continued to chant with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Finally, the town clerk was able to calm the crowd enough to speak to them. With an air of great reason, he said to them: 

Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky?

Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. 

If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another.

But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion. (Acts 19:35-40 ESV) 

With those words, he simply dismissed the crowd. Apparently they dispersed and went to their homes. Demetrius and the others, realizing that they really had no legal grounds against Paul, dropped their accusations. 

Although Paul had been the focus of a great unrest in the city of Ephesus, the fault was not his. Thus, the fact that Paul calls himself a prisoner for Christ on behalf of the Gentiles and that he told the Ephesians that he was suffering for them, there was probably no direct cause and effect link between the incident in their city and his imprisonment.

However, there is something in this statement of suffering that has a cause and effect relationship. This is the subject of the post, Called to Suffer.

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