Rooted in Christ’s Suffering Preached by: Matthew S. Black Text: Ephesians 3:1-13 Series: Rooted in Christ Date: March 4, 2012, 10:30am Living Hope Bible Church of Roselle, IL Introduction: Open your Bibles to Ephesians. We are continuing our series: “Rooted in Christ”. The title of the message is: “Rooted in Christ’s Suffering”. We are learning in Ephesians 1-3 who we are in Christ. This is Paul’s method in all his writings. We must know who we are in Christ before we can do what God wants us to do. You are not simply a citizen of this earth. You cannot keep your focus here on the things that are passing away. You need to keep your eyes on the heavenly kingdom! One of the things that seems to severely distract me and I believe all of God’s people is suffering. It comes in many forms. Sleepless nights, worries and anxieties, the aching and throbbing of your heart because of finances, the sheer terror of what could happen with your health, the agony of broken relationships – even physical or emotional abuse and a thousand other things. It may come from watching a loved one, friend or child go through deep suffering. If you live on earth, trials, tragedies, and incomprehensible pressures are as frequent as water. Suffering is common to man. How can we make sense of suffering? One of the biggest misconceptions is that either God doesn’t love us or He’s forgotten about us. Neither could ever be the case. Those are lies from hell. So what are we to make of suffering? What do I do when all the pressures of the bills, your health, my family and loved ones, conflicts and everything else start to add up? Some don’t know what to do. You may even be experiencing panic attacks and severe anxiety because you don’t know what to do with suffering. You may be experiencing many sleepless nights and tear-filled days. Life hurts doesn’t it? And you must be wondering, is this God’s plan for me? Recently a lost family member told me that she can’t take watching her son go through depression and anxiety, so she herself had to go and get herself medicated. There is a far better solution in Scripture than numbing the pain through medication. You may be asking then: What should I do with my pain? Paul answers question this in Ephesians 3:1-13. This morning I want you to remember 4 things when you go through pain and suffering in your life. We see how he addresses suffering – his suffering, and how it was confusing to the Ephesian believers. It was distressful to consider that this apostle was in prison. We see this in verses 1 and verse 13, “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.” Everything in between verses 1-13 tell us who we are in Christ so that all our suffering can work for God’s glory. We often want to lose heart because of our suffering or the sufferings of those we love. We must not lose heart. Why? Paul gives 4 reasons here. · Our Platform in suffering (vs. 1) · Our Power in suffering (vs. 2) · Our Privileges in suffering (vs. 2-6) · Our Purpose in suffering (vs. 7-11) · The Paradox of our suffering (vs. 12-13) I. Our Platform in suffering (vs. 1) Use Pain as a Platform for Gospel Ministry. Ephesians 3:1, “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—”. Serving Christ is Costly Serving Christ was costly for Paul, and it is costly for all who follow Christ. We cannot call ourselves Christians unless we love Christ above all others – no relationship or ambition can compete with our love for Christ. If it does compete, we are no longer worthy to call ourselves His followers. Pain sometimes has a way of testing our resolve to follow Christ. Can I ask you a question: Are you willing to follow Christ no matter what pain you experience in this life? There is a Purpose for Pain If we are to follow Christ, we need to expect suffering. God has a wonderful purpose for pain in your life. C.S. Lewis said that “pain is God’s megaphone”. God uses pain in our lives. God works in us through affliction to transform us, to cleanse us, to humble us and make us gentle, sympathetic and compassionate toward others so that we can be useful. Pain Advances of the Gospel Paul used pain as a platform for Gospel ministry. Last Sunday night we read in Philippians 1:12-14, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” John Piper: Don’t Waste Your Cancer We’ve heard several years ago when John Piper had surgery because of Prostate cancer – he said, “I don’t want to waste my cancer”. We must not waste our suffering. We must use it to advance the Gospel. Whether we are a prisoner because of the Gospel, or simply bound by sickness or tragedy or pressure – we must not waste our suffering. Pain is a Test of our Christianity Really when we get down to it, pain is a test of our Christianity. How we react to pain tells us how committed we are to Christ. Remember the words of Peter. · 1 Peter 4:12-13, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Use Your Pain as a Platform When you are sick or going through tragedy, rest in the grace of God and use it to advance the Gospel. Pain brings attention to us. We were not made to get the attention. We must deflect attention to God and give Him glory for His grace!! Accept Pain as a Part of God’s Plan Paul says in Philippians 4:11-13, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” A. God gives us grace for ministry that is far greater than our pain and suffering. Ephesians 3:2, “assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you”. Paul assumes His hearers have heard his testimony. He helps them to remember that whatever suffering he’s going through is nothing compared to the glories we are presently experiencing. So I’m in prison! So what – I assume you’ve heard of the amazing dispensation of grace. Explanation: oikonomia, dispensing The word stewardship (oikonomia) has the idea of an administration or dispensation of something that was dispensed to Paul. Look at the word, and it is easy. We are all familiar with what it is to dispense something. In other words, this dispensation was the power Paul received to carry out his ministry. We are all given grace to carry out God’s ministry. · Ephesians 4:7 (ESV), “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” · I Peter 4:10-11, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” II. Our Power in suffering (vs. 2) Ephesians 3:2, “assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you” God gave Paul a stewardship of grace to be given to the Gentiles. That grace was enough to help in suffering as well as enough to preach the Gospel to Gentiles. Application: Don’t let pain stop you from ministry! Don’t let your suffering keep you from ministering to others. Remember Paul’s jail ministry. He had just been beaten, but he didn’t say “Woe is me!” He sang with passion to God. And when the earthquake shook the prison, he started evangelizing the Philippian jailer. Paul, the Grace Dispenser What was Paul dispensing? What was Paul to be a steward and a manager of? Look at it here: He speaks of “the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you” (verse 2). Dispensing the Grace of God! Imagine Paul is said to be given a special dispensing of the grace of God to give to Gentiles. And in this verse we are going to see first of all that Paul was called by God to be a dispenser of God’s grace—he was to be a manager, a steward of God’s favor toward men. Wow! Imagine all the things people manage today—restaurant managers, sports team managers. They all have so much to think of to make sure everything goes right. Paul says he’s been made the manager of something completely different. He says God has dispensed to me His grace—His unmerited favor in Christ, i.e. the Gospel—I’ve been given the grace of God, and I am to give it out freely. Christians are Grace Dispensers: Tea Bag Christians are grace dispensers. Squeeze them, and grace comes out. Put a tea bag in hot water, and the hot water draws the tea out. Put Christians in hot water and whatever is in their hearts comes out. Do you really want to please God with your life? God will test your faith and commitment to that! Get Focus OFF of Self When you suffer, get busy serving God. Paul had no pity parties. When he felt he had to address his pain, he quickly turned the attention to God’s grace! No fussing and complaining here!! Becky Vaughn I knew a girl when I was in college named Becky Vaughn. A grease fire started in her kitchen when she was a little girl – literally exploded in her kitchen and knocked her and her mom out in 1978 when Becky was two years old. By the time they pulled her and her mother out they were severely burned. Becky was worse off, and not only burned but severely disfigured over 90 per cent of her body. Her father was my pastor in college, and he tells the story of struggling with God and praying for each of little Becky’s fingers in the ICU only to watch them fall off. Why would God allow this? Peace did not come to that family until they realized that this pain did not keep them from ministry, this pain was part of God’s ministry for them. Becky’s hands Once day Becky’s brother John, when they were younger asked, “Mommy, why can’t Becky play the piano like I do”. And Mrs. Vaughn replied, “Son, God gave Becky the exact hands that she needs to fulfill His will for her life, and God gave you the hands you need to fulfill His will for your life!” Wise words! III. Our Privileges in suffering (vs. 2-6) Ephesians 3:3-5, “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.” The Old Testament garbed the New Testament Church in Mystery A mystery is like a secret, or an open secret. It is something that was in shadow form in the Old Testament but is now revealed. The New Testament is in the Old concealed. And the Old Testament in the New is revealed. Car Covered with Veil: Have you ever seen the unveiling of a new make for a car? They have the car somewhat hidden, but you can see the shape of it. The car is covered with a covering, but you can see something amazing is underneath. Paul says, the “sons of men” had not ever seen what you and I take for granted here today. What we today see through the apostle’s writings (i.e. the New Testament) is something that the Old Testament prophets and people of God had hints of, but never knew in all its fullness. We are more privileged than the prophets of the Old Testament! 1 Peter 1:10-12, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long [or stoop] to look.” The angels are bent over stooping down to look at this! The prophets and even the angels have watched it unfold from the beginning. · The exile from the Garden and the Promise of Messiah. Will He come? Years and years pass by and it seems God has forgotten. Will He come? The angels are stooping down to see! · Moses and the Prophets: Moses and the Prophets would be amazed at all the privileges we have. When we suffer, we need to remember who we are! · The Temple: The Jews of Old could only get near to God by going to a Temple, and even then their were curtains and walls that kept them out. We ARE the temple of the Holy Spirit! · The Sacrifices: The saints of old looked forward to how Christ would come by offering lambs and bulls and goats. We have been cleansed by the blood of “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. · Then they saw the Advent of Christ! The incarnation, substitutionary death, and His resurrection of their maker. Paul was personally Privileged (Testimony) Paul gets into his testimony now. He assumed most everyone knew who he was. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees, and he had been · Romans 11:13 (ESV), “I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry”. · Acts 9:15–16 (ESV), “the Lord said to him [Paul], “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” · Paul later says in Romans 8:18 (ESV), “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The Offence: We are the Rejects! Ephesians 3:6, “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.” Gentiles? They were hated by the Jews. They were the rejects. There was no greater hurdle in the ancient world. It would be like saving Nazis and Jewish people and putting them together. Saving Paul and making him a minister to the Gentiles would be like saving the grand wizard of the KKK and commissioning him to reach people of color IV. Our Purpose in suffering (vs. 7-13) A. To fulfill our God’s purpose we must be small. Ephesians 3:7-8, “1. for the Gospel Ministers – I am nothing, God is everything 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…” Paul’s Awakening by the “working of Christ’s Power”. It wasn’t Paul’s idea to serve Jesus Christ. Minister means “servant”—diakonos. Paul was busy persecuting Christians, and one day on the Damascus road, he was “called out”. Jesus appeared to Him, and he was born again. Christ went after him, and if Christ does not go after a sinner, that sinner will not be saved. Paul’s conversion was unique, and at the same time it wasn’t. No one today is going to have a physical encounter with Jesus Christ, but every one who comes to know Jesus Christ will have a personal encounter with Him. The Bible calls this the “drawing” to salvation, or the effectual “call” to salvation. John 6:44 (ESV), “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” Small Paul Paul is using a play on words here. He takes the Greek word for “least” or “smallest” and adds an ending that comes out with the word “LEASTEST”. Some think he was playing off his Latin Name Paulus, which means Little or Least. The idea is: · “I am little by name, little in stature, I am truly the least of all Christians. · I am “Small Paul”. · He believed himself to be the “Chief of Sinners” and · the “Least of All the Apostles”. B. To fulfill our God’s purpose we must have an eye to reach all. …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 [OF REDEMPTION] hidden for ages in God who created all things, The Riches of Christ No one is outside the grace of God! No one is without hope! This is God’s plan hidden for the ages. No matter how spiritually impoverished and depraved a person is, we “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (vs. 9). Understand the “the plan of the mystery [OF REDEMPTION] hidden for ages” is able to save the most filthy sinner. · I don’t care what addictions you have. · I don’t care how deep the hostility is your family or in your marriage or with you mother or father. · It matters not how hopeless the spiritual poverty you are dealing with! Christ’s riches are without end! C. To fulfill our God’s purpose we walk worthy of our call (vs. 10-11). Our Audience is cosmic rulers in the spiritual realm! Verses 10-11, “so that through the church the manifold [MULTI-COLORED] 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”. V. The Paradox of suffering (vs. 12-13) A. In Suffering we often Feel God has Forsaken us. The opposite is true. In all our suffering He is more with us than we can imagine! Ephesians 3:12, “in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him”. B. In Suffering we often Feel there is No Purpose. The opposite is true. Suffering is not a waste of time. It brings about our own and others’ glory. Ephesians 3:13, “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.” · Through suffering we are conformed to the image of Christ. James 1:2–8 (ESV), “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” The testing of your faith produces a stronger more fruitful faith. · Through suffering we evangelize, and it works to the glory of others! Literally Paul is speaking of glorification! When a person is saved they are on a journey that cannot be thwarted. Glorification. When you are saved, God sees you complete in Christ! He sees you as His spotless Bride! He sees you as Our suffering results in our glory!! Suffering, persecution, and tribulation are those things which demonstrate that you are truly a Christian. If you are saved then Christ is saving you from your sin. He is testing you and drawing the heart out of you. He’s doing this for some of you through marriage, through jobs, through relationship problems, through tragedies, through powerful insults hurled your way. Are you really a Christian? Can you forgive? Can you live holy when you are not being treated well? Paul was in prison when he wrote this epistle. The suffering is for our glory. Paul’s suffering, and all of our suffering is for our coming glorification. It is for our present sanctification.