“For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for 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.”Ephesians 3:1-13 ESV
It’s a mystery why God loves us as much as He does. I mean, He’s pretty clear in telling us He does, and we know that there is ample love in Him (as the Author of love) to provide the love we all need. We also know that God always seeks to glorify Himself, and rightfully so, and that He is glorified in loving us who have proved ourselves unworthy of His love. This is grace, intertwined with love, at work in us.
There are many mysteries that God has unfolded through Christ, and has yet to unfold as we await His return. The rejoining of Jew and Gentile together is another. God separated a people (the Israelites) for Himself from the rest of humanity, an exhibition of His love, a story of His grace, and an example of sanctification for all the world to see. And in the process, a line was drawn and a separation occurred. But in this rejoining of Jew & Gentile, God showed Himself to be the Great Uniter, to be the One Who Reconciles and the One Who Heals. There is mystery in this rejoining of peoples, a walking back to His original design, and what we find in Eden. One God, One people.
And He chooses to do this through His church. He made promises through Abraham, echoed them through the generations leading up to Christ’s 1st coming, but it doesn’t seem that anyone truly understood just what He was seeking to accomplish through His church (before He birthed it) and I think we still struggle with this work that He seeks to do through her. This hidden mystery, now known, is revealed through Christ & His bride. We are His servants, and He has chosen to reveal this mystery through us. This is a grace, and nothing that we have earned for ourselves. But we do need to be aware of this grace at work in us. We hold something that others lack. We have a sense of belonging that others long for. That God would, in His own way, in His own timing, in His own will, choose to bless the world through us (as He proclaimed He would do through Abram) we find ourselves as children living in the promise, and that is a great blessing to share, indeed.
We should never discount the mystery at work in us, or pass it off as something that belongs to paid ministry staff.
No this inheritance belongs to all of us who walk in Christ. This mystery and joy is something for us all to share in. And it needs to be shared. This is why Paul went on missionary journeys, started churches and found himself in prison and so often persecuted. This is why he still followed up, returned to places where he was accosted, and built relationships with people that had no spiritual foundation when they first met. He knew that the task was worth it, that God was worth it, that the people who needed Jesus were worth it, and so he simply obeyed, a servant of the mysteries, once hidden, now revealed.
We can share in this joy today. We can enjoy the sweet mystery of the Gospel as we watch God unfold Himself, through our testimony, through the example of Christ at work in us, in the lives and hearts of others who still stand in death and darkness.
“…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.”
This is my task, and yours, too. We do not invest in this world, but in the mystery of eternity. Because, one day, this mystery will be unfolded to us, and we want to be sure that we have done well with all that He entrusts to us before that day comes to pass.
“12 All those who sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all those who sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For the hearers of the law are not righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be declared righteous. 14 So, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts will either accuse or excuse them 16 on the day when God judges what people have kept secret, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus.”
So, who is it then that does the Law that will then be declared righteous? It is good for us to desire to obey God. It is good for us to act in that obedience, walking according to His statutes. But in reality, none of us are capable of keeping the Law. We will break it, struggling against our own sin, even as we try our best to walk according to the will of God.
Does that mean that we are without hope? No! Because of the grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus, He who does not allow for sin has made a way to continue to lift us up even when we do stumble. Through Jesus, He has made a way for us to be made holy even when we have been soiled with sin. Now, does that mean we kee on sinning, knowing that God will forgive us? As Paul will later say, “By no means!” we cannot continue in our sin, intentionally living in rebellion. We must make the consious effort to walk according to the will of God, choosing His ways over our own. The desire to do this comes from the movement of His Spirit within us, not from some sense of weighted obligation. It is based in love & thanksgiving, coming from that change of heart that He works in us through His grace.
Being a doer of the Law is evidence of this, not what draws the Spirit to us. That would put the power in our hands, as if we had some authority over God. No, we work and move according to His will, under His authority & because of His grace. Every marker, every bit of evidence points toward Him, bringing Him glory & honor. It isn’t about us. It isn’t about putting ourselves up on a pedestal. It’s about humbly submitting to Him, letting His light shine. In showing that the Law of God is written on our hearts, we show that He has worked a miracle in us, changing our sinful inclinations into righteousness. It is by His power that we live & move. It should then be for His honor that we do whatever it is we set our minds to, whatever tasks are produced by our lives of faithfulness.
God’s desire for man is plain. Even without the Law, people still know that murder, theft, lying & other such activities are wrong. There is no mystery to this. God has set a compass in the hearts of mankind that point us toward a sense of right & wrong, a desire to see justice done. So, as Paul says, the Spirit speaking through him, we are all without excuse. People will ask about the groups that never hear the Gospel, the people who were never taught the Law. Well, God’s answer to that series of questions is found here, too. Those who hear it are judged by it. Those who do not are judged differently, but they are still judged. God is fair & He is just. We must trust Him to do what is right & to weigh the hearts & lives of men. He will not act contrary to His own nature or statutes. He is unchanging.
As we GoLove others, we must tell them about the expectations that God holds for us, every single one of us. We who know are responsible. We who have the truth are the ones who have been commissioned to share it with the world. We do not bear the weight of judging the souls of men, but we will be held accountable for bearing the message to them. We do this, partly, by walkingin the rhythms of His grace every day, walking according to His will.
“24 As he was making his defense this way, Festus exclaimed in a loud voice, ‘You’re out of your mind, Paul! Too much study is driving you mad!’
25 But Paul replied, ‘I’m not out of my mind, most excellent Festus. On the contrary, I’m speaking words of truth and good judgment. 26 For the king knows about these matters. It is to him I am actually speaking boldly. For I am convinced that none of these things escapes his notice, since this was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe.’
28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?’
29 ‘I wish before God,’ replied Paul, ‘that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am — except for these chains.’
30 So the king, the governor, Bernice, and those sitting with them got up, 31 and when they had left they talked with each other and said, ‘This man is doing nothing that deserves death or chains.’
32 Then Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.'”
Read verse 29 again:
‘I wish before God,’ replied Paul, ‘that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am — except for these chains.’
The chains, being jailed…that was secondary to what was happening for Paul. He had audience with people who did not know Jesus, and so he was going to do whatever he could to share the Good News of the Gospel with them. He wanted them to see and understand the hope that he had in Christ. His heart was going out for them, he was concerned for their salvation, and his personal situation did not play into consideration.
Personal ease, an easy walk? These are not guaranteed. Jesus has promised to help us through every hardship, but we must keep our focus on Him. It’s not about making everything comfortable for us, but having us in a place where we are needed to do the Gospel work. Ease and comfort are not factors that determine whether or not we do what is required of us. If they were, there would never even be one permenant gathering of belivers. We would get upset with each other and scatter to the wind. Instead, we focus on Christ, not seeking excuses, and we do the work together, the work laid out for us in the Gospel.
If Paul was a consumer, he would be dissatisfied, but as a disciple he was simply doing what his Master asked of him. It could have been easier, yes. He could have settled down in Ephesus and had a fulfilling ministry, sure, but that wasn’t what God wanted of him. And so he did what was required, he pressed on through the difficulty, God giving him strength to do so.
As we do the work of Christ, answering the call to GoLove others, we have to remember that the work laid out before us is so much more important than our ‘feeling’ comfortable. We must seek our joy in Him, not in situations. We must find our joy in Him, not seeking out what the flesh calls ‘happiness.’ Ministry, our walk as Christians, is not about what is easiest, it is about what is required of us as disciples of Jesus. So, stick with it, power through in His Name and be faithful as Christ has been faithful for you, God getting the glory and giving you the strength to do so through His Holy Spirit.
“1 After we tore ourselves away from them and set sail, we came by a direct route to Cos, the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2 Finding a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we boarded and set sail. 3 After we sighted Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we sailed on to Syria and arrived at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there. 4 So we found some disciples and stayed there seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. 5 When our days there were over, we left to continue our journey, while all of them, with their wives and children, escorted us out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach to pray, 6 we said good-bye to one another. Then we boarded the ship, and they returned home.
7 When we completed our voyage from Tyre, we reached Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them one day. 8 The next day we left and came to Caesarea, where we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him. 9 This man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.
10 While we were staying there many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into Gentile hands.” 12 When we heard this, both we and the local people begged him not to go up to Jerusalem.
13 Then Paul replied, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’
14 Since he would not be persuaded, we stopped talking and simply said, ‘The Lord’s will be done!'”
To the unbeliever or the unstudied, this journey is becoming increasingly unusual. “Why is he going to Jerusalem? Why does he keep pressing on?” You’d think, that after all these warnings, and with all these people telling him not to go, Paul would get some kind of hint to settle down elsewhere and not go to Jerusalem, right? “Just stay in Ephesus, go back to Antioch. Be somewhere safe, and settle down in your old age. No one would blame you.”
But that’s not what Paul is about. That isn’t his mission. Paul hasn’t been called to retirement. He hasn’t been wired to shut down in the face of adversity. Remember, this is Saul who became Paul. He is a firebrand, a zealous, passionate man! He doesn’t have it in himself to shut up & sit down. God knew this before hand, this is why Paul was chosen for this particular task. Because, while things weren’t going to go well in Jerusalem, Paul wasn’t going to die there. Jerusalem would just be the hingepin that turned his journey in a very specific direction and that will propel him into a place and situation that he could not have manufactured for himself.
Going to Jerusalem was going to be the death of Paul…eventually. And it was the death of any hope or desire of a simple, comfortable path. Paul would have been glad to keep visiting the churches he had already planted over the course of his missionary journeys. We see just how strong the bonds are in every city that he visits. But, again, this is not the path for Paul. His fierce determination would help see conversations take place that will reach deep into the heart of Rome itself, even into the household of the Emporer. God was going to strengthen him again and again to see this done. Back in chapter 9, God told Ananias that Paul was going to suffer much for the sake of His Name. But this is a suffering that was going to be totally worth it.
So, Paul was bound & determined to go to Jerusalem. He knew He needed to go & te warnings of the others were just confirmation that he was on the right path. He knew what was going to happen & he was prepared in his heart and mind to face those hardships for the glory of God.
We aren’t naturally wired to act this way. We want to be safe and comfy and have things be easy. But God has never promised us that. And the ‘easy’ life? It doesn’t require faith as much & so we find a false comfort in the lack of needed effort. We think, “Oh, this is going smoothly, I must be on the right track.” And while there will be times where things are smooth and easy, God does provide those green pastures and still waters, we should be mindful that God has given us power through His Holy Spirit to do things that are more amazing and will have a greater impact than we could ever accomplish on our own if we will just trust Him and go where He leads us. It probably isn’t to be arrested and hauled thousands of miles from home. But it probably is next door, or to the next office/cubicle at work. God has places to use us that are going to require His strength, His wisdom and the determination that His Holy Spirit brings.
The call to GoLove as we have been loved, should be a deep, resonating call within our hearts. And the more we listen and respond, the more we will experience the power of God at work in us. The difficult path is the one that most often reveals our weaknesses and His glory. Trust Him in those moments. Take the road that scares you a little, and prayerfully see what God is going to do as you must rely on Him & your faith in HIm, rather than your own strength.