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Manifold Wisdom of God

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I love a good underdog story. Watching for those underdog stories is always one of my favorite parts of playoffs, really in any sport.
Of course, if you’ve been following the world cup, there’s an underdog story right there. It’s the Netherland’s first trip to the final, and they’re facing off against the US, who are on pace to win their fourth World Cup and break a record for most final wins. I always like rooting for the underdog, unless they happen to be playing my team, right?
Watching for those underdog stories is always one of my favorite parts of the playoffs.
I always like rooting for the underdog. And the passage we're discussing today is, in my opinion, one of the biggest underdog stories in the Bible.
Well, the passage we're discussing today is, in my opinion, one of the biggest underdog stories in the Bible.
I always like rooting for the underdog. And the passage we're discussing today is, in my opinion, one of the biggest underdog stories in the Bible.
In Ephesians chapter 3, Paul outlines what may be the greatest underdog story in all of history. And it is especially important for you and me, because if we look closely, we will find ourselves in the story and see that God has a message for us 2000 years after Paul first wrote these words to the church in the city of Ephesus.
Our text today is an ambitious one. I plan on us covering all of chapter 3, but I'm certain we can be through it in less than 3 hours. I kid. Only a joke.
But over the next 30-35 minutes, I want us to look at Ephesians chapter 3 in three major sections:
Verses 1-7
Verses 8-13
Verses 14-21
With us really focusing in on that second major section.
Ephesians 3:1–21 ESV
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of 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. 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, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Lead in Prayer

For this reason… I was made a servant (1-7)

For this reason...

Paul begins with the words "for this reason." Of course, that means he is pointing back to something he has previously written. Chapter 2 gives us that reason.
"This reason" is the gospel as Paul unpacks it in chapter 2 of Ephesians. It's one of the most beautiful descriptions of the gospel in all of Scripture.
Look back at chapter 2 and read some of the high points.
In verse 1 - it says you were dead in your trespasses...
in verse 3 - by nature children under wrath...
(v 4-5) - But God who is rich in mercy, because of his great love for us, made us alive.
He Continues...
(v 11) So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh...
(v 13) But now, you who were far away have been brought near.
(v 19) no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God's household. In Him, you are being built together.
For this reason, Paul was made a servant.
There are two quick things I want us to catch from this first major section:

I was made a servant.

Paul had a calling. It was a specific calling, he didn't decide what he was going to do, he was given his task by Christ.
Let's talk about Paul's apostolic function for just a minute. He would travel to places and people that had never heard the gospel, share this good news with them, and as people believed this news, they would be baptized and gathered into groups called churches. He would teach them from the Bible all the truths of the gospel and the mission they had as a church. Then he would move on.
However, even though he would move on, he would often come back through on his trips to check on these churches and give them further guidance and counsel. That is actually what the letters in the New Testament are. Many of them are Paul's writings back to churches giving them further instruction in what it means to be the church.
In fact, that's what Ephesians is... Paul writing back to the churches he had started in Ephesus giving further guidance about how to be the church of Jesus Christ.

The gospel is a mystery.

I also want us to notice that Paul begins a theme in these first few verses that will carry throughout the rest of the chapter. Paul refers to this gospel from chapter two as a mystery.
It was once hidden, but has now been revealed. This becomes a central point in Paul's explanation moving forward.

The Apostolic Ministry and the Centrality of the Church (8-13)

After telling the Ephesian church members that he was a made a minister of this gospel, Paul continues by explaining to them what his ministry looks like. What it is God has tasked him to do. And this is where I really want us to focus our attention today. What does this ministry look like?
Paul outlines that apostolic ministry in two specific tasks and one very important outcome.

The Tasks:

to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of Christ --

Of course we need to realize here that preaching does not primarily mean what I am doing right now. We can include what I am doing, but the word used in this passage is broader than that. It really means to speak the gospel to people. That could happen like this, but more often in the New Testament, we see preaching referring to conversations in small groups of people or between two individuals. So Paul is really talking about speaking the gospel to people who have not heard it, and that may have been one on one, in small groups, or in a more formal setting like a church service.
And the other word I want us to make sure we understand is Gentiles. We know already that the word Gentiles is used in the Bible to mean people who are not Jews. But, I want us to really understand that. The Greek term that is used here is the same one we translate as nations in other passages, like the Great Commission in Matthew, where it says go and make disciples of all nations.
If we read this passage that way, we realize that the gospel is for all nations, no one is excluded, and that it is our responsibility to share the gospel with everyone, no matter where they are from or what they currently believe.

to shed light for all about the administration of the mystery hidden for ages in God  --

God has had a plan from the very beginning.

From cover to cover the Bible tells us about God's plan, about this mystery as Paul calls it, about his multi-faceted or manifold wisdom.
God made everything right and pure, and then man sins in the garden, and sin entered the world.
But right after the fall, we see that God promises a way to fix the mess. He promises that a seed of the woman would one day crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). That's the very first proclamation of the gospel in the Bible. It's all the way up there in the beginning.
And then, only a few chapters later, God promises Abraham that through his lineage all the world will one day be blessed.
Many years later, King David is told that he will one day have a son that will sit on his throne and rule for all eternity.
The prophets speak of his coming.
And in the gospels, we meet him.
Jesus is the one who crushes the head of the serpent, he is the one from the line of Abraham that will bless all nations, and he is the heir to the throne of David whose kingdom will have no end.
By his death, by his sacrifice, we are healed. That evil that stained the world in the garden of Eden can be erased by the blood of the Lamb. And not just for the Jews. Not just for the sons and daughters of Abraham, but for all the nations of the world.
That is the multi-faceted wisdom of God. That is the mystery hidden for ages and now revealed because of Jesus.
So Paul outlines for us these two central tasks of the mission: (1) to preach the gospel to those who've not yet heard or accepted and (2) to shed light on how God's plan will unfold, and Paul accomplishes this last one by starting churches all over the Mediterranean.

The Outcome:

Why were these the two tasks of Paul's ministry, and by extension the mission of the church?

so that God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known --

Known to whom? It tells us: to the rulers and authorities in the heavens
Paul has already said that his work is proclaiming and revealing this mystery to all nations, all the peoples on the earth. Now, Paul goes further with the astonishing statement that it is so that God's manifold wisdom may now be made known to the hosts of heaven as well.
The mystery of God is now revealed to all of the universe, to all of creation, the entire cosmos. Everyone on the earth and everyone above the earth.

But perhaps the most outstanding part of all of this is how God accomplishes revealing this plan.

Paul tells us, right here in the text. The agent of God's plan is the church. As Paul and others preach to the gentiles, to the nations, they begin to form churches.
The agent of God's plan is the church.
As Paul and others preach to the gentiles, to the nations, they begin to form churches.
These churches then become the engines of gospel proclamation, the revealers of the mystery. The members of these little churches begin speaking the gospel to their family and friends, to their coworkers and neighbors.
And those churches are the center of God's plan to reveal his manifold wisdom to those on earth and those above the earth.

The Divine Drama:

Think of it like this: God is writing a story throughout all of history. It is a grand drama from the beginning to the end, that will ultimately reveal his great glory as creator and sovereign Lord over all that he has made.
The cosmos, all of the universe, is a giant stage, and right there in the center of the stage is the church. The church lives out God's great plan. After Christ's resurrection and ascension, now the church takes center stage and becomes the main actor in the grand drama.
That doesn't mean that we are the ones who make this drama happen, and it doesn't mean we are the ones with the power to remove sin and fix the world. It does mean that we are the ones at center stage through which God will reveal his manifold wisdom.
It is not the powerful governments of this world, with their rulers making decisions that shape the course of nations. That's not who this verse singles out. Governments are not center stage in history.
It is not the great businesses of the world that generate the world's wealth. Corporations are not center stage.
It is not the scientific discoveries happening at the world's best universities.
It is not even the angels or spiritual beings who will reveal to all the universe God's manifold wisdom. Paul says they are sitting in the audience watching the drama take place.
Who is center stage? It is the church. The simple, ordinary church.
In this passage, Paul lets us in on the mystery. That same mystery that was hidden for the ages is now clear, and what a startling surprise. God's great plan for the cosmos unfolds in little gatherings of believers just like this one all over the world.

Three important truths about the church:

A biblical scholar named John Stott notes that there are three important truths about the church in this passage.

The church is central to history.

Here's something for you to chew on for while. Among all the human institutions of the world... only the church survives history. When the old earth passes away and the kingdom of God is finally and fully consummated in a new heavens and new earth, it is the church, not any nation or corporation, not any social or political ideology that will one day rule alongside Christ in the new kingdom.
So the church is central to history.

The church is central to the gospel.

The church is both (1) created by the gospel and (2) the way the rest of the world finds out about the gospel.
(1) It is created by the gospel, because we are not just saved out of something, we are saved into something. If we rightly understand the gospel, then we realize it saves us out of sin, but that it also saves us into Christ's body. There is no biblical category for a Christian who is not committed to a local church. Today, we've gotten comfortable with that category, but there are no examples in the New Testament of Christians, people made into new creations by the power of the gospel, who exist apart from a local assembly of believers.
So, the church is created by the gospel.
(2) The church's mission is to proclaim the gospel. Christ was very clear that the mission of the church, and that means the mission of those who belong to the church, is to speak the gospel and make disciples of all nations.
That means we all have a very very important task.
The church itself is not the good news, but it is a result of the good news. The church cannot save the world or fix society. Christ saves the world, and he will one day return to transform the world into a perfect kingdom. No, it's not the churuch that saves the world, but it is our job to let everyone know who does.
We are the ones that Christ has trusted to continue sharing the message of salvation with anyone who will listen. We share it with our mouths.
But, we also demonstrate it in how we join together in community as a local church. The church and the way we live together now and how we treat those outside of the church should be a little preview of the kingdom that is to come.
So, the church is central to the gospel.

The church is central to Christian living.

The church is central to Christian living.

The church is necessary to live the Christian life well. Let me repeat it: There is no biblical category for a Christian that is not committed to a local church.
Kent Hughes, another biblical scholar, says it this way:
You don't have to go to church to be a Christian just like you don't have to go home to be married. (Kent Hughes)
Christian, I cannot stress enough how important the local church is to your life. You need each other.

Your church is essential for your holiness.

We teach one another. Not just from the pulpit, but with our lives as we live together. Church members, the way you treat each other should teach each other and people outside the church about the gospel.

Your church is essential for your joy.

When we love one another as the church should, we bear one another's burdens. And this produces the joy of the Christian life.
You may have a lot of friends or a big family, but no other group of people can supply for the Christian the joy that comes from real biblical community.

Your church is essential for your purpose and ministry.

Just as Paul had a specific ministry, given to him by God. So do we. If you have crossed the line into faith, then you have been grafted into God's church and you have been enlisted into God's mission. No exceptions.
The only way to truly participate in the mission of the church is to do so through the ministry of your local church.

God's plan all along

That the church would be this important, this central to the world was God's plan all along.
Verse 11 tells us: This is according to his eternal purpose accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord -- ()
This sounds like an overwhelming responsibility? How can a regular, ordinary church congregation be expected to do this?
Paul goes on in verse 12 to tell us. In him we have boldness and confident access through faith in him. -- ()
We can step into this important role as the church confidently, because we have access to God himself through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Word of Encouragement for Spring Woods

The reason I wanted us to look at this chapter today was actually so that I could encourage you. This passage shows us why what happens to your church here matters so much. Your local congregation matters more than you can ever understand. Because of your church the heavenly hosts get to watch the very plan of God unfold.
If you ever struggle to find purpose in what happens here. If you ever get tired of the effort of trying love and serve one another. If you get tired of speaking to the gospel to each other and to those outside of your group. And if you ever think that your church can't accomplish big things.
Know that your ordinary church is the thing God has chosen to reveal his wisdom to the cosmos. It is more valuable than you or I can comprehend. It is worth living for. It is worth working for.

Because the church is important, Paul prays for the Ephesians. (14-19)

And if we turn back to the chapter, we see that Paul understands just how important it is that members of the local church work with everything they have at this mission given to them by Christ.
After Paul has explained just how important they are to God's eternal plan, he continues. Paul prays for the church in Ephesus, he bows his knees before the Father for the members of this congregation. And Paul's prayer is my prayer for you and your church.
Paul prays for the church in Ephesus, he bows his knees before the Father for the members of this congregation.
And Paul's prayer is my prayer for you and your church.
That you would be strengthened with power through his Spirit.
That you comprehend just how big this purpose is and how much the work you're doing here matters.
That you would know the love of Christ, which surpasses all knowledge.
And finally, that you may be filled to the top with the fullness of God.

To him be the Glory (20 -21)

Paul closes this chapter with a benediction. He concludes by placing the praise and glory where it rightly belongs, with the one who orchestrated this magnificent plan in the beginning.
And Paul's words are fitting words for us to conclude as well.
Ephesians 3:20–21 ESV
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
To Him be the glory in the church. To Him be the glory in your church.
Close in prayer
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