Monday, May 16, 2011

A Purposeful Gift (Ephesians)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
May 15, 2011
Some Music Used 

Song of Praise: "Come Now Almighty King" (Kauflin, Madan, Spiro)
Song of Praise: "Come, People of the Risen King" (Getty, Townend)
Choral Offertory: "Amazing Grace" (Newton/Lojeski)
Hymn of Sending: "We Are God's People" (SYMPHONY)

A Purposeful Gift
Text: Ephesians

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**


We are talking about being the church, using the ancient church in Ephesus as a case study. That church is mentioned a number of times in the New Testament. In Acts we have some history of its founding and development as well as a message from its former pastor (Paul) to the church leaders as he is passing through to Jerusalem. We saw in that message last week that Paul held out the twin values of grace and truth as essential nourishment for a healthy church. Today we will look at the letter to the Ephesians, written to that same Christian community and exploring God’s gift of grace for building up the Church for its purpose in the world. In coming weeks we will look at 1-2 Timothy, which are letters to Timothy, the young pastor that followed Paul, with instruction on guarding against internal division and false leadership through the truth of the Gospel. And in two weeks we will look at the letter to the church in Ephesus recorded in Revelation, where, as an older church, they are challenged to return to their “first love.”

Today I’d like to walk you through the whole letter to the Ephesians. I am drawing on notes from a Bible study we did a number of years ago. And one of the things we did in that study was focus in on the main idea of each chapter. There are six chapters, so I’d like to name those six main ideas and briefly say a word about each one. The verses you heard read today were the key verses in each chapter that name those ideas, so you can go back and dig in some more at home. 

Ch. 1: The Great Gift of God’s Grace in Christ

A key verse is Ephesians 1:3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

The first chapter of Ephesians is densely packed with theological words and ideas, from predestination to spiritual adoption and more. And most of the first chapter is one super-long sentence in Greek. And those verses can be mined over and over again for theological riches. And yet, those same verses speak of riches, of a treasure and inheritance, that is even more important than theological concepts. That is the blessing that is “every spiritual blessing.” That is the gift that is the inheritance of the adopted children of God. All of it points to one glorious and blessed truth: that God has gifted us with the supremely great gift of grace in Jesus Christ.

It is in Christ that we have the grace-gift of redemption and the forgiveness of sin (v. 7). It is out of God’s eternal knowledge and love that He sent Christ as a lavish grace-gift into the world (vv. 3-4) and adopted us into His family (v. 5). When you read Ephesians, chapter one, think GIFT – God’s loving grace-gift in Jesus Christ. 

Ch. 2: God’s Grace Radically Changes Our Identity

Key verses are Ephesians 2:1,4-5, and I’ll focus on the main thought – “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins… but God… made us alive together with Christ…”

The second chapter of Ephesians moves forward a step from the great gift and giver to the impact of that gift in our lives. It’s like the video camera on Christmas or a birthday moving from the newly opened present to the face of the one who has received the gift. But this gift is so significant, so life-changing, that it doesn’t just impact our lives; it transforms our lives. It changes our identity. We are not the same once we have received God’s great grace-gift. So this chapter explores that.

It’s in those key verses I already mentioned: you were dead, but God made us alive together with Christ. The chapter fleshes that out. How were we dead? We were dead in our trespasses, transgressions, and sins (wow, three different words for how we were dead!). But God – see verse 4 – but God, rich and mercy, because of His great love… even when we were dead in sin… made us alive together with Christ.

And not just alive, but raised up and seated with! Again, it’s far too much theology to unpack in one sermon. But God’s grace-gift changes everything about us, and radically so, from start to finish, in and out. We become God’s masterpieces (v. 10), made for good works and the glory of God’s name. 

Ch. 3: We Have God’s Grace to Share with the World

A key verse is Ephesians 3:8 – “To me… this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles.”

Starting about halfway through chapter two, and running through chapter three, we see that the radical change of identity that Jesus Christ (God’s grace-gift) creates is not just individual, but corporate. Not only does it brings people from death to life, but near from far off (2:17)… there are no longer strangers and aliens (foreigners), but one household with Christ as the cornerstone (2:19-22). This is the Church!

Remember back in Acts last week? One of the twin declarations of the Gospel was the grace of God which builds up the Church. That’s the message that runs throughout these chapters of Ephesians. God’s grace-gift in Christ doesn’t build up the Church by flattery – it’s not that kind of “build up” – it transforms lives and identities, drawing together and binding together people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

So this is summarized well in Ephesians 3:8 – “To me… this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles (those far off)…”

We participate in God’s transformation of the world through the grace-gift of Jesus Christ by proclaiming in word and deed the news about Jesus to the world around us. We have God’s grace to share with the world! 

Ch. 4: So Grow Up and Live in Unity and Maturity

There are several key verses in Ephesians 4 and I’ll name them as we follow the main thought of the chapter – “I… entreat you to walk… (as you have been called (v. 1), being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit (v. 3); as a result… we are to grow up in all aspects into [Christ] (v. 15); therefore… be renewed… and put on the new self (vv. 23-24).”

After explicitly using the image of “gifts” (4:7-8) to describe God’s grace in Christ, chapter four describes a different kind of transformation. God’s grace-gift of Jesus Christ causes an immediate change of identity from old to new, from orphan to adopted and beloved. It also brings us into the family of Christ where we are to grow up and grow together. This is another way of fleshing out the picture of grace-that-builds that we looked at last week in Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. Not only does God’s grace draw people from all over the world into the church, it also knits together this church for mission. We are sent out, not alone, but tied together. The image for that comes in 4:16, the image of a working “body” to do the work of Christ, the head.

I would note a brief excursion in vv. 14-15 that touches on the importance of truth as guard against false teaching. Remember, this was the other twin teaching in Paul’s speech in Acts 20. Paul held out grace and truth as needing to be held together, and so he does here in 4:15 – “speaking the truth in love”; but so far, the first four chapters of Ephesians have majored on the grace that builds together, up, and out. We will see that the end of chapter six has a bit more about being strong and on guard. 

Ch. 5-6a: Reflect God’s Image by Loving Like Christ

Key verses are Ephesians 5:1-2 – “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us…”

Having come back to the theme of shared mission within the body of Christ, chapter five emphasizes personal behavior, which is to be a reflection of God’s image, much like a child’s behavior reflects on the parents. Remember, we are the adopted children of the Lord. So, we are to behave as such, even as we mature and grow together.

Chapter five ends with a famous (or infamous) passage – you know, the whole “wives, submit to your husbands” thing. Two notes – husbands are also to submit… see verse 21. But more importantly, this whole passage is in here not to teach us about marriage, but to teach us about the church. Marriage is used as an illustration to help us understand what being the Church is all about – which is what Ephesians is about! It’s like saying, “You know how marriage is when it’s at its best? That’s what being the Church is like.” See, it’s there in 5:32 – “This mystery (marriage) is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” (And then v. 33 – “Nevertheless (while we are talking about the ideals of marriage)… work on that, too!”

This focus on Christian behavior carries on through the first part of chapter six, with examples in the family and in the society of that time. The point is back to, “If you are a Christian, then you are a child of God; act like one!” 

Ch. 6b: Be Strong and Stand Firm in the Lord! Be on Guard!

There are several key verses in Ephesians 6 and I’ll name them as we follow the main thought of the second part of the chapter – “Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might (v. 10)… stand firm (v. 14)… pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert… (v. 18)”

So finally, in the last part of chapter six, we hear at length the other twin focus named in Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. If grace builds up the church, truth protects it. So it is here. The Ephesian Christians are encouraged to “be strong,” “stand firm,” and “be on the alert.” This is not a physical conflict – “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (v. 12) but a spiritual one. So we are to stand in God’s strength and truth – not run away; not attack; but stand firm.

Again, we see the importance of holding together grace that builds the church up, together, and out, and truth that guards and protects. 

Conclusion

How would I consolidate all this into something to take away? It would go something like this: the great gift of God’s grace radically changes our identity, and builds us up, together, and out to bear witness of this gift of Christ in and to the world.

We have already received God’s grace-gift, Jesus Christ. If you have believed and trusted in Christ, that gift and identity as God’s adopted beloved is yours. You are part of God’s Church, united to one another through Jesus Christ, and led into participation in God’s mission in the world.

Live like it! Be strong, stand firm, and follow Jesus into the world that God loves, as bearers of the Good and hopeful News to those who desperately need to hear it. That’s what it means to be the Church; that is who you are! Amen.


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