Sermon 2013 01 13 AM

 

13.01.13 Sermon           God’s New Society # 1 (Ephesians 1:1-2)

 

Today, we shall be starting a series going through the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Looking at God’s incredible plans regarding his church in his world.

We as Wollaston Baptist Church have come back to this site, within a new building, and I want us to think again about the calling that we have received ‘to be church’, think again about the call upon us to be disciples, about the opportunity we have to share the gospel with Wollaston and beyond in word and deed.

As we consider the Motto for this year, the great commission that Jesus left with his disciples, as we go through Ephesians we shall see this commission fleshed out for us.

Ephesians has much to say to us as church today.

It was John Calvin’s favourite letter. It has been called the “jewel in the crown” of St. Paul’s writings.

Many have been brought to faith and been inspired in their discipleship through its message.

John Stott writes how “Ephesians promises unity in a world of disunity, reconciliation in place of alienation and the peace instead of war.”

So we begin Paul’s letter as he begins his letter - with these introductory words (1:1-2):

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

So, what do we learn about this letter’s author, its recipients and its message?

 

1. The Author

This is of course Paul. He introduces himself, as was convention then, at the beginning of his letter – a bit like our signature on our letters at their end. But what do we learn about this Paul?

Well, firstly, he is Paul the a. Pray-er

Ephesians is a letter with the character and form of intercessory prayer.

Paul is a persuader, but in this letter he makes clear that he is favouring prayer over and above persuasive arguments. In other words, when somebody argues with us, he or she may or may not persuade us; and they do not necessarily show their love and concern for us – they seek perhaps to win an argument or win us over to their way of viewing things. But when w know that someone is praying for us, then their relation to us is of intimacy, care, concern.

Paul wants to express his love and concern for the Ephesians and therefore prays for them.

May we be pray-ers in regard to one another.

 

Secondly, he is Paul the b. Affirmer

In this letter, Paul abounds in bold and joyful affirmations about God, Christ and the Holy Spirit.

John Stott writes, “Ephesians makes itself welcome and is a charming document just because it dares to let shine nothing else but God’s love and election, Christ’s death and resurrection, and the Spirit’s might and work among men.”

Paul is seeking to affirm again the great truths of the Christian gospel, to ensure that the Ephesians are heading in the right direction.

We would do well as church as we venture forwards together to remind ourselves of the basic times and time again – and go deeper into them. To grow deeper in our discipleship. To know Christ and to make him known.

 

Thirdly, he is Paul the c. Evangelist.

In Ephesians, Paul speaks about God’s saving purpose and action, his self-manifestation to and through the church, and the bold and joyful ambassadorship of Christians in the world.

Paul is not only writing to the church, reminding them of the truths of the gospel for their edification, he also reminds them of their call to go out into the world with the good news.

 

So, Paul the Pray-er, Affirmer, Evangelist writes to the Ephesians, but how does Paul speak of himself – what description or title does he give himself.

Well, he writes, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God …”

Incredibly, Paul claims the same title which Jesus had given to the Twelve – an apostle - someone specially chosen, called and sent to teach with authority.

You see, Paul had not volunteered for this ministry. The church had not decided to appoint him to this ministry. Paul had been chosen, called and sent by none other than God according to his divine will and the Lord Jesus Christ. This was God’s choice and Christ’s commission.

If this is so, then Paul speaks and writes as one with authority, and as we come to this letter of Ephesians we should do so with humility and reverence – we must give due and careful attention.

For, the author of this letter was not writing on a whim, he was not expounding his own thoughts, he wasn’t wasting the time of his readers – no! What he writes is important – therefore we must pay close attention.

Yes, Paul was a missionary, he was intelligent, he was a church founder, time and time over, he was a pastor … but these are not the titles that Paul uses. He is an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God – that is why the readers of his letter must give ear – this is the authority that he presents.

As we come to the Scriptures – we do so to listen, not to ignore, to obey, not to pick and choose.

Here is a teacher whose authority stems from the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, by whose inspiration he writes.

As we go through Ephesians together, may we take seriously its contents and come under its authority.

 

2. The Recipients

So Paul writes, with authority, but who to?

In the second part of verse 1, Paul uses several words to describe his readers:

a. saints

Paul is not referring to some spiritual elite within the Ephesian congregation, a minority of exceptionally holy Christians, but rather to all of God’s people.

We might use the word ‘saint’ to refer to someone who is above the rest … “you are a saint!” – when someone has done something really nice or good. But Paul refers to all of God’s people are saints (meaning : ‘holy’).

Disciples of Christ are Sanctified – set apart for God – to belong to him and no one else.

b. faithful

This word here means actively trusting in God, actively having faith in God.

This is not a word which means passively faithful. In other words, the dull and dreary faithful, those who regularly turn up at church and at the prayer meetings, regular as clockwork, out of habit, as part of their weekly chore, but without faith – without being faith-filled, no not that kind of faithful. Paul is referring to those who are actively and passionately expressing their faith in God – faith-full!

The faithful people of God, the household of God, united in their common trust in their Saviour and Lord.

c. in Christ Jesus

Paul writes to those who are found to be “in Christ Jesus” - this is a key expression in this letter.

To be in Christ is to be personally and vitally united to Christ, in the same way as branches are grafted into the vine and members part of the body. Paul also makes clear that to be in Christ is to be part of one another – to be fellow members, fellow vine abiders.

It is impossible to be part of the Body without being related to both the Head and the members.

According to Paul, to be a Christian is in essence to be “in Christ”, one with him and with his people.

d. at Ephesus.

Originally a Greek colony, Ephesus was now the capital of the Roman province of Asia and was a busy commercial port.

It was also the headquarters of the cult of the goddess Diana (or Artemis) whose temple, after being destroyed in the middle of the 4th Cent BC, had gradually been rebuilt to become one of the seven wonders of the world.

Indeed the success of Paul’s mission in Ephesus, as we read the account in the book of Acts, had so threatened the sale of silver models of her temple that the silversmiths had stirred up a public outcry.

Paul is writing to those who are ‘saints’ – set apart and now belonging to God, ‘believers’ because they have trusted in Christ – yet also to those who live in two worlds, they are ‘in Christ’ and ‘in Ephesus” – worlds that have collided.

Indeed, those who are Christians today are saints, believers and live in two worlds equally, with the tension that this brings. In the world but not of the world.

The Christian stands in Christ and yet also remains in this world, they are in the heavenlies and are thoroughly grounded. In the heights and the depths.

Many of our spiritual troubles can arise from our failure to remember that we are citizens of two kingdoms.

We tend either to pursue Christ and withdraw from the world, or we become preoccupied with the world and its ways and whims and forget that we are also in Christ and belong to him.

 

 

 

3. The Message

So what about the message that Paul brings in his letter?

Well, the letter focuses upon what God did through the work of Jesus Christ then and still does through his Spirit today, in order to build his new society in the midst of the old.

It tells how Jesus Christ shed his blood in a sacrificial death for sin, was then raised from death by the power of God and has been exalted above all others to the supreme place in both the universe and the church.

More than that, we who are ‘in Christ’, united to him by faith, have ourselves shared in these great events.

We have been raised from spiritual death, exalted to heaven and seated with him there.

We have also been reconciled to God and to each other.

As a result, through Christ and in Christ, we are nothing less than God’s new society, the single new humanity which God is creating and which includes Jews and Gentiles on equal terms.

We are the family of God the Father, the body of Jesus Christ his Son and the temple or the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore we are to demonstrate plainly and visibly, by our new life, the reality of this new thing that God has done.

We are, through the living of our lives to paint Jesus for people who have not seen him.

First by the unity and diversity of our common life.

Secondly by the purity and love of our everyday behaviour.

Thirdly by the mutual submissiveness and care of our relationships

Lastly by our stability in the fight against the principalities and powers of evil.

In the fullness of time, God’s purpose of uniting all things will be brought to completion under the headship of Jesus Christ.

How could we sum up the message of Ephesians, well, we could say that Paul sums up all that he will say in his initial greeting: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul, at the outset, reminds the faithful saints at Ephesus of the grace of God that they themselves have experienced – God’s free gift of is grace in the person of his Son.

And also the Peace that comes from knowing God and being found in his Son.

The peace of reconciliation with God and with one another as members of Christ’s body.

We could reduce the theme of Ephesians even further to this phrase - Peace through Grace.

And at its heart is the Lord Jesus Christ through whom the peace through grace comes.

For Paul is an apostle of Christ Jesus, the readers are themselves in Christ Jesus and the blessing comes both from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

As we step back and look at this letter, it combines Christian doctrine with Christian duty, Christian faith with Christian life, what God has done through Christ and what we must be and do in consequence.

And its central theme is “God’s new society” – what it is, how it came into being, how its origin and nature were revealed to Paul, how it grows through proclamation, how we are to live lives worthy of it, and how one day it will be consummated when Christ presents his perfect bride, the church, to himself.

It is through and in Jesus Christ that God’s new society has come into being.

Paul writes of a new creation, of new creatures – created for good works – created for a purpose.

The divine creator about a great and divine work – new people, new purpose.

God is about his great work in and through the church today and you and I as Wollaston Baptist are to be an active part of that. God is building his church. Amen.

 

 

 

Questions to Ponder

13th January 2013

Read Ephesians

1.  What evidence is there that the letter to the Ephesians is Prayerful, Affirmative and Evangelistic? How might praying rather than persuading (arguing) achieve better results? .

2. How do you approach the scriptures – do you submit to their authority? In what ways are you treating particular scriptures as un-authoritative?

3. If a follower of Jesus is a ‘saint’ (ie. set apart for God), then what needs to change in your life in order for you to give yourself fully to Him?

4. Are you passively faithful or actively faithful? What is the difference and what are consequences?

5. “To be a Christian is in essence to be “in Christ”, one with him and with his people.” How is this being / or not being outworked in your life?

6. How is the Christian to approach life in this world (on earth), when they belong to Christ and are found in him (in heaven)?

7. How would you sum up in a sentence the message of Ephesians?

 

 


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