Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Sent into the World (Ephesians 3:1-6)

“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,” (Ephesians 3:1–6, NASB95)

“For this reason” is used to connect two things. It connects what Paul has already said with a response which we will see in verses 14 through 19 is his prayer for the Ephesian believers. But before getting to the prayer Paul first had some other things to say beginning with the particular and special ministry he had been given by God. Prior to him being sent Gentiles were coming to Christ, but they were largely the exception and not the rule. And even in this there was some confusion as to how they were to be treated. We see some of these tensions in how the Hellenist Jewish believers were treated in Acts chapter 6. Through the dispersion they had come to live outside of Palestine under Greek influence, even intermarrying and absorbing some of their Greek culture. And in Acts 6 there was some dissension in the church because the Hellenistic widows were not being treated the same and the Hebrew widows.

Timothy, who was personally chosen by Paul, was one of these Hellenistic believers. We read of his being chosen, “Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.” (Acts 16:1–4, NASB95) We see that though Timothy’s mother was a Jewish believer, Timothy was not raised in the same way as the Hebrew from the beginning—not being circumcised on the eighth day. But because of the ongoing ministry which included to the Jews, Paul had Timothy circumcised.

It was a difficult time. People were coming to Christ from vastly different ways of living and belief, and they were having to learn how to get along. Paul, as one who was foremost among the Jews and understanding fully his Jewish heritage, was given the ministry of bringing the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. In fact, he went to prison for this message. His concern for them was not a passing fad nor a far reaching effort of his own imagining. He had been specifically charged by Jesus to go out among the Gentiles to proclaim that salvation had come to them as well. Though they were far off, God was now drawing them near.

And here in these verses Paul affirms this call and their awareness of it. They were to be encouraged that they were an intentional part of God’s plan, that every single one of them who believes does so because God chose them from before the foundation of the earth. They were never an afterthought, and Paul was privileged to bring them this good news.

Though the Jews, and even some Jewish believers, might be inclined to treat them as outcasts or second class, they were first class to God. They were chosen by Him, and God had specifically charged Paul with unfolding this mystery to all who would hear. Sure, salvation came to the Jew first, but it also came to the Greek and this is exactly what God intended. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, NASB95)

Of course, here Paul is speaking of Jews and Greeks, and in Acts we read of Hellenists (Greeks) and Hebrews, but this was not they did not incorporate the fullness of those God had chosen. They merely represent the order which was first followed. From there we know that the gospel spread and continues to be spread to the whole world—to all the nations as God intends. This is the fullness of the work God started in men like Peter to the Jews and Paul to the rest (Romans 11:13; Galatians 2:1-10). This is the great commission.

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18–20, NASB95) 

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