By Rev. Lance Filio
Paul ends his grace section with Ephesians chapter 3 explaining his calling for the ministry and praying for them who received his message to grow and to mature in it. For Paul, the inclusion of the Gentiles in the grand scheme of God’s redemptive work signals a major movement in God’s redemptive history. This is the center of his gospel ministry. Verses 1-13 point out how Paul become a messenger of God’s grace to them and why in spite of his imprisonment, it serves as an encouragement rather than a discouragement. Verses 14-21 ends with Paul praying for them and giving them the benediction from God.
This morning, we will spend our time listening and learning the first part of this chapter from verses 1-13. We will hear them in detail by dividing them into three major points. 1) Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles; 2) The Defense of His Apostolic Ministry; 3) Paul’s Encouragement to His Congregation.
We are used to spend an hour listening to sermons. Moving forward, let us try to split them into two parts so we can target having 30 minutes worth of preaching every Lord Day. I’ve been receiving feedback about lengthy preaching. I would like to improve on it so let’s begin with this series. Let us limit ourselves to one point for this Lord’s Day and next week, we will continue with the second point and end with the third point.
Before begin, Let us pray…
Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles
“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.” ~ verses 1-6
Paul gets imprisoned for preaching and teaching the gospel to the Gentiles. He sees it not as a hindrance but as a means to further expand his mission. Paul had good reasons for believing it so. He is not simply looking at the bright side of things, just trying to be positive, nor spreading good vibes. In verses 1-6, Paul puts his hope in God with Christ and his gospel.
First, Paul reminds his congregation who puts him in prison and why he was there in the first place. He considers himself not a prisoner of Rome or Caesar but a prisoner of Christ. God puts him there. He understand that his apostolic ministry comes suffering and tribulation. His calling while a great privilege requires certain sacrifices. Jesus ordained Paul for this purpose and he said to Ananias these words about Paul’s calling: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15) and Paul himself mentions to the Ephesian congregation how his ministry will lead to his imprisonment and affliction (Acts 20:22). Therefore, his suffering is ordained by God and as such, it is covered by God’s sovereignty and providence. Paul is in good hands.
Second, Paul connects his suffering to his gospel ministry. For him, his imprisonment and afflictions validates the message he proclaims. Since the time, he preached the gospel of God’s grace in Christ to them, he experienced various trials and tribulations for it. And since God’s ordains his suffering, then God also approves of his message.
For Paul, his message is a message of God’s grace and he is simply a steward of it. The fact they are now reading his reading letter about it means they share with him God’s grace as recipients of his apostolic ministry. The relationship between him and his congregation allows them to verify his message. Paul revealed to them the mystery of Christ. And mystery is not a secret know only by the few elites but something hidden and now made known. He made it know to them by way of revelation. It a revelation he received directly from Christ. How? Paul receives the message of God’s reconciliation with the Gentiles when the Ascended Christ stopped him at Damascus and drastically changed his direction from persecuting Christians to ministering to them. Paul finally understood the mystery of Christ work of saving the nations. Revelation is the interpretation of redemption. Christ’s incarnation, his life, death, resurrection, and ascension signal a change in God’s redemptive work in history. Salvation belongs to Jews and Gentiles, without distinction in race, gender and nationality. Paul know how this message changes everything even his own life and ministry. He is now a prisoner of Christ and follows his bidding. The message he proclaims turn the world up side down and if it results to him suffering, he is more than willing to oblige. Christ owns him. He desires nothing else but make God’s glory known through these people whom he saves.
The first point encourages us to connect to ourselves to the apostolic ministry of Paul. The foundation he build where Christ is the cornerstone reconciles us to God through this gospel preached. It bring us together as one people of God regardless of time and place. It properly gives us a universal perspective for viewing the expansive nature of the gospel ministry of the church. It helps us see how the message itself is inclusive and commands us to bring it to everyone without distinction and discrimination. The gospel is free and freely preached to all nations. Nobody owns it nor does anyone have a patent for it. It is not a merchandise which we can franchise but a message we are called to announce to the whole world!
Also, the first point prepares to a life of trials and tribulation. It requires individual and corporate sacrifices. Let me take this opportunity to explain our plans for planting other reformed churches. God allowed us, in ZCRC (Imus), by his providence, to accept Bro. Kirby Figueras as a candidate to be an ordained Minister of the Word and Sacrament. Kirby came from a Pentecostal denomination and when he has come to his reformed conviction studied in Westminster Seminary in California where he receives his Masters of Divinity degree. After an internship in Alaska at Anchorage Reformed Presbyterian Fellowship, he came back to the Philippines with a desire to plant reformed churches beginning in his hometown in North Caloocan. Last September 28, he sustained his examination before our classis and now begins the official discussions for another church joining our federation.
The prospect church Kirby plans to bring for adoption is Lighthouse Community Church. They are existing an independent church who separated from their former denomination because of its prosperity and church growth teachings. I was able to preach to this congregation during their last church anniversary and Kirby is preaching there today. The plan is to meet with them again but this time together with our consistory (elders) to talk about us extending the gospel ministry to them. This requires tremendous wisdom and strength and as a church we need to prayerful and sacrificial about it.
How can we help?
First, we need your prayers. We need to pray about it in our family worships and corporately here every Lord’s Day. We need guidance from the Holy Spirit on how we can be of service to other churches on their way to becoming thoroughly biblical and reformed. Second, we need your encouragements. It will be our first time extending ourselves to plant other churches and while we may know what is required for this to happen, that does make it easy nor smooth. We are all partners in this gospel proclaimed to us and we only received it by God’s grace. We are called to do the same to others. Last, we need your sacrifices. I know it always hard for us to accept change specially when it has become personally inconvenient. I also think financially this work will also stretch all of us including the teaching ministry we have here at Imus. We need everyone to understand how this affects us but let encourage one another with these words from Paul in Acts 20:35b : “…we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
ZCRC (Imus), the gospel ministry God proclaims and Paul suffered for is present now in our midst. As recipients of God grace, let us continue this work of expanding its reach to those who believes. Let us encourage one another knowing our labor is not in vain. God is sovereign and in control of everything for he is the Creator and Lord of his church. May God continue to bring his gospel message to the whole world. Amen.