American Journal of Biblical
Copyright © 2011, J.W. Carter. Scripture quotes from KJV
The Heracles Gate, Ephesus.
Several of the lessons we are taking from Paul's letter to the Ephesians have been tied to the illustration of the Mugwumps, those American colonists who could not decide whether to place their allegiance in the new country or keep their ties to King George of England. These fence sitters were of little use to the colonies. Likewise, some members of the Ephesian church were spiritual Mugwumps, reaping the benefits of their life in Christ without completely giving up their ties to the wicked world. Many of us still keep a foothold in Satan's dominion, and are, consequently, not experiencing all of the joy that God has for us, and are not effective ministers of the Gospel. In the verses to follow, Paul describes some of the foundational truths of the faith. An understanding of these truths can help us take our foot out of the trap of Satan's world and realize our true state as an heir to God's kingdom, and as a minister of the gospel.
For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
Paul repeatedly calls himself a prisoner. Why? First, he is literally a prisoner. He has been imprisoned in Rome awaiting an appeal to Caesar for false charges of sedition that were leveled against him by Jewish leaders. Notice, however, he does not refer to himself as a prisoner of Rome, nor as a prisoner of the Jewish leaders. Who does he state that he is a prisoner of? (Jesus Christ.) How can he be a prisoner of Jesus? Consider the metaphor he is using. From the world's standpoint:
- He is completely under the authority of the prison,
- He cannot step outside of the boundaries of his captors.
- He is totally dependent upon the prison for all of his needs.
- He can do nothing that is outside the influence of the prison.
- The prison sees everything that he does.
- Disobedience results in immediate and thorough discipline.
Likewise, he sees himself as a prisoner of Christ in the same way. Yes, he is imprisoned on Christ's behalf, but take a closer at the metaphor.
- He is completely under the authority of Jesus Christ,
- He cannot step outside of the boundaries of his faith that have been set by the Holy Spirit.
- He is totally dependent upon the Lord for all of his needs.
- He can do nothing that is outside the influence God.
- The Lord sees everything that he does.
- Disobedience results in immediate and thorough discipline from God.
If life in Christ is so much like a prison, is the Christian life actually a prison, or is it expressed in freedom? These characteristics of the prison all refer to the subjection of an individual to an authority. When the authority of a prison is impressed upon an individual they lose most of their freedom to interact with society, and to exercise the various pursuits that are engaged in the relationships encountered there. The prisoner loses his/her career, possessions, and interaction with people.
Life in Christ maintains all of the important things that are lost in the worldly prison and by subjecting them to God's authority, their value is greatly enhanced. Our career can take on new meaning, our relationships are bathed in God's love. Our pursuits can all be selected to glorify God and to take part in the testimony of His Kingdom on earth.
Is life in the world, apart from Christ, a prison, or is it freedom? People who have not experienced the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ often think that Christians are, in a sense, imprisoned because they no longer take part in many of the activities that they feel are "legal." However, when one is lost in sin, many are enslaved to it. We see addictions of every kind as the most obvious enslavement of the lost. However, because of their lost state, those who are outside of the faith are enslaved to sin and its eternal consequences.
As Christians, we have been freed from many of the enslavements of this worldly prison including hatred, enmity with God, and condemnation for sin. As Christians, we have been freed for for the purposes of expressing love and ministry to this lost world.
If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 4Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
These verses first speak of the Grace that God has administered (dispensation). What is this grace that he speaks of? Here Paul describes one facet of that grace as the gift of the understanding of God's will that he was given. How did Paul receive this insight? God initially revealed His will to Paul during his three year visitation in Asia immediately following his conversion. What did Paul do to deserve this gift? (Nothing.) In fact, prior to his conversion Paul was a Christian-hating Pharisee who felt his primary mission was to destroy the church. If God had reason to have squashed anyone like a bug it was Saul, because he was persecuting faithful Christians even unto death. This is why Paul understands so well the concept of Grace.
Many of us, fortunately, lack such dynamic testimonies and are not so motivated to appreciate God's grace. You probably have lived your life as a pretty good person, showing integrity and compassion in most of what you did, leaving no heinous sin for which you think you would deserve death. However, the truth is that the sin we commit as a good person without Christ separates us from God just as effectively as the heinous sins that we could attribute to Saul. Such separation is death, the penalty for Sin. It is only by God's grace that he chooses to forgive the sins of the faithful, not because we deserve it. For that we should be as excited about our salvation as Paul was.
Paul received his understanding of the gospel through pure revelation. After his conversion he spent three years in Asia, away from Jewish and Christian influence. When he returned, he showed himself to some very skeptical apostles who certified his doctrine. How do we gain insight into God's will? These verses instruct that the Ephesians can gain some of it from reading his letter. A dyed-in-the-wool Mugwump does not have a lot of resources available to ascertain God's will. The fence sitter is not going to search the scriptures for answers. The fence sitter is not going to spend quiet time with God to pray and listen. How does one get through to a fence sitter? When one tries to do so on their own, it can be a quite frustrating enterprise. The only way to get someone off of the fence is for the Holy Spirit to convict them of their sin. To do so the fence sitter has to be made aware. Paul used this letter to bring the Ephesians to repentance. Likewise we may use letters or words to encourage a fence sitter to make a real commitment. Or, as a fence sitter, we may need to listen to the Holy Spirit's convicting power. Paul clearly wants the Ephesians, and us, to appropriate for ourselves his personal insight into the mystery of Christ. Such insight can be as life-changing for us as it was for Paul.
What is the mystery of Christ to which Paul refers here? We find the answer in the next verse.
That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:
The Greek word for mystery, musterion, refers to a well-kept secret that has just been openly revealed. What is the secret that has been revealed? That gentiles would be heirs together with Israel. The gospel message declares that forgiveness is available to all people. Some people, oftentimes Christians, have misunderstood the dynamic that took place at the cross in a peculiar way. They think that God transferred the Kingdom from Israel to the Gentiles. This false doctrine has been used to persecute the Jewish race-nation ever since the middle ages. God did not transfer his call from the Jews to the Gentiles, He simply included Gentiles in the blessing that is already available to the Jews.
According to this verse, what is the difference between God's relationship to the Jews and God's relationship to the gentiles? There is no difference. The way of salvation is clear, and available to both Jew and Gentile alike. This does not mean that only Jews had faith prior to the Cross. The Old Testament has plenty of examples of non-Jews who demonstrated faith in God. However, the Jews considered themselves a singly called race, one body to themselves, tracking their lineage to Abraham. Now, gentiles can also track their lineage back to Abraham, and can be called a child of Abraham. How can this be? To be a child of Abraham is to be a part of the inheritance, a part of the family of God. As a Christian gentile, you have been adopted into God's family. That adoption comes with both blessings and responsibilities. What are some of the blessings that come with adoption? What are some of the responsibilities that come with adoption? We might find some answers to those questions by observing the characteristics of adoption.
Let's assume that you adopted a child. The child is yours, an appropriately legitimate part of your family. What would happen if your child was so fixated on his/her pre-adoption life that he/she refused to obey you, or even acknowledge you? Certainly such a position would introduce a significant conflict into the home. You would see your hope for a close fellowship and mutual love for that child challenged by the prospect of separation from him/her. You would still continue to love the child, but your relationship would suffer from the conflict. The child is still yours, even though he/she is disobedient and unfaithful. The child is still loved, still shares your name, and is still a recipient of your inheritance. Still, somehow, because the child has one foot firmly planted in their previous life, the relationship you have with him/her will never be what it is intended to be, and the joy of your relationship can never be fully experienced. .
This is why sitting on the fence as a child of God is so sinful. We are doing the same things to God, our Father, that are illustrated in this example if we still maintain a foothold in the world. What is the personal cost of such fence-sitting? That part of you that is still in the world is impacting you with the sin separates you from God the same way that the previous illustration describes. Fellowship is lost. The peace and joy that is promised to you in abundance is not fully experienced. Also, the Holy Spirit will continue to convict you of the sin, exposing a guilt that should be dealt with.
What is the cost to the Kingdom of such fence sitting?: God has a plan for you. (Eph. 2:10) God's plan can not be worked out through you when you are not fully available to God. You lose the joy that is found in ministry, those to whom God called you are not receiving that ministry, etc. An opportunity for God's work is left either undone, or done by someone else, taking them from yet another opportunity. One who is sitting on the fence is an observer, one who is watching the lost world around them wander off into an eternal separation from God.
Consider the following similar scenario: You are standing near two people at the Grand Canyon. One is taking a photograph of the other. As one is trying to compose the photo he/she is walking backwards past you, and is about to walk off of the cliff and drop 3000-5000 feet to their certain death. What would you do? Of course, you would warn them, stop them, etc. It would be nearly impossible to be so dispassionate as to stand there and watch someone mistakenly step off to their death. As Christians, we see the lost people of this world make the same mistake. A Christian fence sitter can sit on the fence and watch those around them drop into the precipice of Hell with little or no concern. Instead the fence sitter makes excuses. What are some of the excuses we use to rationalize our failure to share the gospel with others? Just as an excuse that might be offered by one allowing another to step off into the Grand Canyon pales in comparison with the death of the lost one, excuses we use to justify our own inaction in the lives of the lost people around us pales in comparison with their deaths. We could list the arguments that people use as excuses to rationalize away their feelings of guilt, but for each argument there is strength and guidance from the Holy Spirit to answer it.
Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. 8Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; 9And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: 10To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
Paul describes his call as a preacher of the gospel to the non-Jews. Why does he refer to himself as less than the least of all of the saints? A truly honest look at ourselves can be quite humbling. Paul fully understood that the only good in himself came from God; he had plenty of bad in him before his conversion to recall. Even in his present state as a saved child of God he still wrestles with sin, just as all Christians do. He sees himself not as anyone to be lifted up, but rather as a saved sinner, one who does not deserve such grace. He understood that it is only by God's unconditional grace that he is what he is, and he has the salvation that he has. Likewise we should also realize that it is only by God's grace that we are who we are. We have no justification for considering ourselves any better than the most grievous sinner, and we still exercise the sin of pride when we do consider ourselves as such.
The focus of these verses, however is on verse 10. Paul was the only apostle specifically called to preach to the Gentiles. How is the mystery of Christ now to be made known throughout the world? Since Paul is only one man, and is limited in his tiem and travel, the mystery must be propagated through the testimony of the church. That testimony was always presented in the New Testament in a clear and open manner. It wasn't hidden inside the doors of a church, or locked inside the silence of a Christian clique. Many of our modern churches have become social clubs, fraternities with a God theme and are of little real use to the Kingdom. They reach very few people with the gospel. In fact such people are lulled into sleep: thinking they are secure when, in fact, they are not. Such a congregation may be partially or completely in the hands of Satan, and not of God.
Who are the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms? This refers to Satan, his demons, and the power exercised by them, a power that is impotent in the face of the Holy Spirit, but roars like a hungry lion in His absence. By sharing the knowledge of the risen Christ with the world, the power of Satan is destroyed. It is the testimony of Christians that has the power to destroy the influence of Satan in this world.
According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:
Why and how has God determined to provide salvation this way? Because it has always been, and always been His plan and purpose. How did God accomplish this purpose? He did so through the prophesied Messiahship of Jesus Christ. God's plan for salvation of man through the atoning death of Jesus Christ is eternal, transcending the limits of our understanding of time, past, present, and future. It is through Jesus that Satan is defeated. It is through the church that the defeat is exercised on a daily basis as, through our testimony, people are turned from Satan to life.
In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.
What does this mean? There was a very popular photograph taken of John F. Kennedy, Jr. as a young child playing beneath the desk of his father, President John F. Kennedy, in the Oval Office of the White House. What was illustrated in this was that John Jr. had access to the most powerful person in the US. Why did he have such access? Because he was the President's son. Likewise, we have such access to God. We may approach God with freedom: freedom from the certain death that we truly deserve. We may recall the fear of death that the Hebrews in the Old Testament experienced from simply seeing God. To see God and be unworthy would end in death. We have no such fear, because God's plan is that through Jesus Christ we can approach God boldly and without fear.
We can approach God not only in freedom, but also in confidence. This concept is not humanly logical. When we realize who we really are, and who God really is, it is impossible for us to approach God with anything but shame and humility. However, we are taught that we can stand upright and approach God in confidence, just as a child can do with his/her own father. The doctrine this verse describes is referred to as the "sainthood of the believer." That is, every Christian has total and complete access to God through prayer and through the scriptures. We are all priests. We are all ministers. Consequently, we all have reason to be very thankful for the privilege.
This brings us full-circle back to the Mugwumps. As a priest, we have access to God and a calling as a minister in God's kingdom. Keeping a foothold in the world is like that prodigal adopted child. Though we are called to be priests and ministers, such a child can not be true to their calling.
Paul was called as the apostle to the gentiles. Peter was called as an apostle to the Jews. However, look at what Peter has to say to the rest of us:
1 Peter 2:9. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:
Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.
Peter and Paul were no closer to God than any other Christian. Their call to obedience to Christ was no greater than that of any other Christian. When we observe the life of Paul we see a person who lived an extremely difficult Christian experience as he faced continual persecution. Paul experienced beatings and imprisonment for his faith. The risks of living an uncompromised Christian life are far greater for most Christians today. Through compromise we might be avoiding the risks of appearing faithful in this unfaithful world, and by so doing look much like those Ephesians who are described in Revelation 2:4, as having "left their first love". I challenge you to look deep into your own life and see if there is an area where you have kept a foothold in the world. See if you have not completely given yourself and all you have and all you are over to God. Pray that God will take away the fears that are preventing you from fulfilling your true call as a priest and minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.