Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 October 11, 2015
“Ministering the Mystery”
Text: Ephesians 3:7-13
We continue this morning in our sermon series through Ephesians—and, in particular, we continue in the divine interruption of Paul’s Spirit-led train of thought. Paul, after ending a set of doctrinal instructions in chapter two, begins chapter three as if to pray, but the Spirit moves him to defer the prayer until verse fourteen. Now he writes, at the Spirit’s bidding, about the mystery of the Gospel. The material divides in two: first, Paul notes the mystery proper (3:1-6)—that the Gentiles and Jews are together formed into God’s now society (to use John Stott’s phrase) through the Person and work of Jesus Christ—and, second, Paul describes ministering to others this mystery he just noted (3:7-13). We treated the first of these parts last week, and now we come to the second. Let us hear God as He speaks in His written Word.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
There are four lessons that we can draw from today’s text. Our first lesson is this: We each have a ministry (3:7). Paul had his ministry, to wit, the declaration of God’s good news in Jesus Christ to non-Jewish hearers. We each, and all, have our joint and several ministries as well. These come, as we read in the text, according to the gift of God’s grace. This means, in general terms, salvation to all who trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord—and all benefits and responsibilities flowing therefrom. Specifically, however, this means that we each have ministries to discharge—and that God gives us those ministries consistent with our unique spiritual gift mix. The New Testament lists about twenty distinct spiritual gifts in Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, Ephesians 4:11-16, and 1 Peter 4:7-11. No Christian has all the gifts, and no Christians has none of the gifts. God gives to each the gifts, the total amount of each gift, and the relative preponderance of each gift in the life of each Christian—and all of this for the glory of God and the common good.
Moreover, our individual ministries are given by the working of God’s power. That is, they are not fundamentally natural in nature, though they do involve some skills that occur naturally. Our ministries, fundamentally, are supernaturally empowered by God. When someone notices us discharging our ministries, in the power and the joy of the Lord, let them see the evident finger of God upon our persons and upon our works.
Our second lesson follows hard upon the first, namely, our ministry will be consistent with the proclamation of the Gospel (3:8-9). This was true of Paul, and it is true also of us. No matter what precise shape our several ministries take, in God’s good providence, they will involve in some form the proclamation of the Gospel. Whether our service to Christ and others be teaching, or service, or encouraging, there will be at least to some degree an announcement of Christ’s unsearchable riches. Christ Himself, and all the unsearchable riches flowing from His unsearchable self, stand as the supply for our fundamental need—forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God. Not only do Christ and His riches supply our fundamental need, but they also supply the fundamental person of every soul who receives Him by faith. Our persons and ministries, then, should be incarnationally good news; may it be so and more over time in our lives.
This announcement of the Gospel, stated another way, is making known the mystery of God in Christ. As we learned last week, the mystery is that God will gather His people from all peoples—not just from one people—and this was the plan from ages past. We endeavor to make this mystery known to all: to everyone on earth within our (and the Church’s) sphere of influence, to be sure, but God makes His wisdom—expressed in this mystery—known even to the incorporeal beings. The angels, having never fallen and not possessing omniscience, long to look into the redemption of sinful (corporeal) beings. The matter with the demons is different; the making known of the mystery to them is the announcement of their present and future woeful doom. To sum this point, our ministries will in some way announce the good news of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Our third lesson is this: We have bold, confident access to God through Christ (3:11-12). Jesus, fully God and fully man, is the access to our triune God. He Himself declares, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6). The author of Hebrews alludes to Him as the new and living way (Hebrews 10:20). It is good indeed, as we minister the mystery, to have such access to God as we have. We come to Him in seasons of discouragement and receive His welcome encouragement. We come to Him when we do not know which way to go, and He directs us aright. We come to Him needy of supply, and His supply in enough and to spare for every circumstance we face. We can come to Christ in any and every circumstance, and we can come with a Godly boldness and confidence—for we find favor from God in Him.
Our fourth lesson is timely, though possibly less welcome: We may expect some trouble as we minister. Paul had trouble in his ministry, and, alas, so shall we. Our ancient foe, though on borrowed time, yet has time. Therefore, he will seek to work us woe while he has time. Paul, in his last New Testament correspondence, urges Timothy to endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:3). Later in that letter Paul spurs Timothy, among other deeds, to endure suffering (2 Timothy 4:5). This is sobering news, to be sure, but we need not tremble at this—for greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4). Jesus, at the very end of what New Testament scholars call His Farewell Discourse (John 14:1-16:33), reminds the Eleven, and us, “In this world ye shall have tribulation, but be ye of good cheer: I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Let, then, our ministerial troubles be for the glory of God and the blessing of many.
We see now once again that God has granted us infinite treasure in Himself. Let us go forth from this place freshly armed and invigorate, in the face of any attendant trouble, to declare the good news of Jesus by words and other forms of ministry.