Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Purpose in Tragedy
Someone very wise recently told me something that has really stuck with me. The best way to handle tragedy and trauma, they said, isn?t to just claim that it was okay when it was over?like ?it was okay that that car ran over my husband?I?m sure the driver didn?t mean to be drunk?it was just a product of their home environment.? Instead, we can look at hard times like spring-cleaning for the mind. They clear away all the normal stuff so what?s really important takes center stage. And when the difficulties pass we are left with new ways of thinking about things?sometimes because God, who controls the universe and holds us in His hands, actually gives purpose to the trauma. That?s what Paul is feeling as he?s beginning chapter 3 of Ephesians. He starts to say something and then has this thought digression that brings into focus God?s good purpose behind a bad situation.
Paul begins a thought that he doesn?t finish until verse 14 ? which we?ll get to next time. But he adds two qualifiers here about himself:
- ?The prisoner of Christ Jesus?
- ?On behalf of you Gentiles?
By this time Paul was being held in a Roman jail, waiting to appear before Caesar Nero?a Gentile who would ultimately order his execution. But notice that he says that he is a prisoner ?of Christ Jesus?, not a prisoner of Rome. Though Paul?s outward circumstances might have appeared as if he were controlled by the world, in reality, his entire life was now controlled by the Lord Jesus.
This is important for us to keep in mind as well. Remember what we read back in Chapter 2 verse 10? ?For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.?
No matter where you end up, no matter what happens to you?though it may appear random or some circumstance wholly created by forces in this age?if you belong to Jesus then it is He that is in ultimate control.
Notice too that he says it is ?on behalf of you Gentiles.? Paul was a Jew, but born as a Roman citizen. He was in a perfect place to walk in both worlds, and share the message that God had joined the two together in a new kingdom. I?m sure Paul didn?t set about to be the apostle to the Gentiles, but it was the mission God intended for him. Don?t sweat it if you end up doing something very different than what you imagined. It is His mission. You simply show up!
2 ? 3
The ?administration of God?s grace he gave to me by revelation? is Paul?s unique mission to the Gentiles. It occurred when Saul was on his way to destroy this ?way? in Damascus, Syria. Jesus struck him blind on the road and said: ?Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me??
A little later God called a man named Ananias to lay hands on Saul to heal his blindness. Ananias had heard of Saul and was reluctant, so God clued him in on what His real strategy was for this man:
Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to him, ?Go! For this man is My chosen instrument to take My name to Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for My name!?
What is your unique mission? Each of you has one, and perhaps more than one. How do you find it? What is unique about you? What do you like to do? What are you good at? What do you feel called to do? Answers to any of these questions can help you as you bring them to the Lord and leave it in His hands. You may end up doing something completely differently than you originally planned, but that?s just part of serving a King who is creative and a master strategist!
4 ? 5
Paul had a unique insight into what God was doing with Jesus?especially the joining of Jew and Gentile into one new church. Despite the fact that the Old Covenant is loaded with shadows and references to the Messiah being Jesus?no one put it together. I personally think one of the reasons it was veiled was so that the enemy couldn?t put it all together either. He tried hard to kill Jesus but I?m not sure even he realized the full extent of what the Son of God was doing in paying for our sins.
Now God has revealed it: Jew and Gentile are one.
The Jews always thought they would inherit God?s kingdom. They didn?t know that Gentiles would inherit it as well, and they didn?t know that we all came to that inheritance on equal footing through the Messiah.
The three words used here mean: co-heir, co-partner, co-body member. We equally get to share in the blessings of the Messiah, together, are equally a part of the church, and partakers together as one. We aren?t foster children in God?s kingdom. It?s important enough that Paul literally gave his life to make this known.
Paul is essentially saying that God gave him the mission of sharing this wonderful truth.
8 ? 9
Paul was not showing false humility. He really thought he was the least of all the saints because of the fact that he had persecuted the church (1 Timothy 1:3) and he considered himself to be the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).
Paul?s mission was to reveal God?s plan of salvation and how that plan was to work?what was God?s strategy? That strategy was that God, who created everything, intended to save humans through the Messiah and reveal it when Jesus came on the scene.
10 - 11
The forces of evil who fell along with Satan think they are so smart ? and they are much smarter than us humans. But they pale in comparison with God, whose wisdom is ?multi-faceted.? You can never out-maneuver God. Not only the forces of evil, but even the angels have really marveled at this incredible plan of God (1 Peter 1:2). Paul emphasizes again that God always planned to do things this way (?eternal purpose?). God wasn?t riffing when he planned to save humans through the death of Jesus.
Verse 12 is really amazing. Here Paul outlines just what God?s plan gives us. While previously our sins had separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2), now we have access, but look at the quality of that access:
Bold: The Greek word means ?freedom in speaking?, ?free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance.?
I like how the writer of Hebrews puts it: Heb. 4:16 ?Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.? He uses that same Greek word for boldness.
Don?t come timidly to God, but come boldly. Be free to speak your mind and have the courage to approach the King of Kings. He will not smite you but will wrap His arms around you. He may correct you, but it is as a loving Father, not a stern taskmaster or judge.
The word ?confident? means: ?trust and reliance.? This is a sure thing that you can rely on. God loves you and died for you and has you and will never let you go. In this age we are not always very confident in other?s love for us. You can always be confident in God?s love.
?Access? means ?the act of bringing to.? Not only can you come boldly and confidently, but it is God who is ushering you into this new relationship.
Paul finishes off this introduction to his prayer for them by asking that they not be discouraged because he?s in jail. It isn?t a failure, but part of God?s plan. It is for their ?glory?. In other words, Rom. 8:28 ?We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.?
Notice how Paul begins and ends this section with references to his current condition?in a prison cell awaiting trial and potential execution. In verse 1 he says he is a ?prisoner on your behalf? and then in verse 13 ?so don?t be discouraged over my afflictions on your behalf, for they are for your glory.?
Paul made this astounding statement to the Corinthian church: 2Cor. 4:17 ?For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.?
God did something substantial through Paul?s suffering and He will do the same through yours. We often look at difficulty as something to be avoided at any cost?and I?m suggesting that we purposefully make trouble for ourselves?but when it comes, try as hard as you can to focus on what God might want to do in and through you that could benefit someone else. This will help you endure it.
Jesus Himself employed this tactic in His suffering:
Heb. 12:2 ?keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God?s throne.?
That joy was knowing you could be with Him forever. What could God work in the lives of others through your times of difficulty?what ?eternal weight of glory? might He build in others through you? It might not even be what you think. I believe it?s not so much the outward bravado of faith that moves people as much as seeing someone broken but still in love with Jesus.
The question we must face is: what are we willing to suffer in order to see God?s goodness spread?