Ephesians 3:1-13 (The Message)
“This is why I, Paul, am in jail for Christ, having taken up the cause of you outsiders, so-called. I take it that you’re familiar with the part I was given in God’s plan for including everybody. I got the inside story on this from God himself, as I just wrote you in brief.
4-6 As you read over what I have written to you, you’ll be able to see for yourselves into the mystery of Christ. None of our ancestors understood this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God’s Spirit through his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I’ve been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.
7-8 This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.
8-10 And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!
11-13 All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud!”
Why is Paul in jail? Actually, Paul is under house arrest in Rome. That would be much more doable than being in the atrocious jails of that time. But I think we “pandemic folk” would understand why being confined to a house all the time would be considered jail. Being there literally all the time would be horrendous. Charles Swindoll in his Ephesians’ commentary (Living Insights) sums up the reason Paul is in jail:
“The Jews had accused him of being a rabble-rouser, a disturber of the peace, and the promoter of an illegal religion. His big problems began in Jerusalem, where he was falsely accused by Jews from Asia of defiling the temple by bringing Gentiles into the inner courts. In the midst of the ensuing riot, Roman soldiers actually rescued Paul from his Jewish attackers by arresting and chaining him. When given an opportunity to address the crowd of Jews, Paul recounted his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. He then took his testimony a step further. He shared a vision he had of Jesus, who had explicitly instructed Paul to leave Jerusalem, saying, “Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles”. (Acts 21: 27 – 22: 21)
Upon hearing this the Jewish crowd responded in rage: “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” So infuriated were the Jewish religious Zealots over Paul’s preaching of the Jewish Messiah to the Gentiles that several Jews swore not to eat or drink until they had killed him. Clearly, the Jews were unimpressed by Paul’s God-given mission to the Gentile church. Eventually, after several years of being shuffled around in the custody of the Roman government, Paul ended up under house arrest in Rome, having exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to Caesar. To the chagrin of Paul’s Jewish opponents, his message to the Gentiles never let up. While detained in Rome, he wrote four letters that continue to shape our lives to this day: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.” (page 213)
Paul’s determination to figure out how to continue his mission of reaching Gentiles and others really speaks to me. For a year now, we’ve been shut down and feeling isolated in this pandemic. Especially now that it’s winter, we’re not even seeing friends that much unless they want to go for a walk outside. Thankfully, we have Zoom, Google Messenger or Meets, etc. so we can talk face to face, but it’s still not the same. So, in this year of isolation, how have we continued to demonstrate our faith to those around us? Have we looked for creative ways to reach out to people, to help people?
But, there is another thing about what Paul says that brings home a message to me. I could look at Paul and excuse myself, because I’m not the amazing person that Paul was. Yet, look at what he says about himself. “I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities. And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head,” (v. 8) Paul didn’t think he was ‘Superman’, not at all. He felt totally unqualified.
Is that how you feel when you hear about something that needs to be done? Perhaps, it’s something that needs to be done around our church, or something you’ve heard about in the community. You’ve heard the Downtown Mission needs help, or the Downtown Windsor Community Collaborative, or Matthew House. Maybe it’s as simple as helping someone in your neighbourhood – making a phone call, or dropping a small gift off at the door, or helping shovel sidewalks. Maybe you stay isolated because it frightens you to reach out. What if what you think can do is not enough? You feel unqualified.
How did Paul do it? How can you do it? Let’s see what Paul says: “It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details.” (v. 7) “God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.” (v. 8) “My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels! All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud!” (v. 9 – 13)
God does it! Did you really understand that? God does it! God works in you and through you! It’s not your qualifications that are required for God to use you in some way. It has to do with “the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ” (v. 8) One of the things that I’ve discovered over the years, is that God whispers to us about things he would like us to do. Some idea keeps popping up in your head about doing something, helping somewhere, getting involved in some ministry, etc. What I’ve also realized is that when I act on those ‘whispers’, I discover exciting things. I realize that God wants me in that situation, and he provides the ability to do it.
So, is the Holy Spirit nudging you lately? Is there an idea of how to help someone, or some situation that keeps running through your mind? Remember that it’s not your qualifications as you think they might be – it’s God working in and through you.
“When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go.” (v. 13) Got it? Believe it? Go!
Our song for today is Strong Enough by Matthew West