Celebrate the Church of Christ: Study! (Eph. 3:1-7)
Celebrate the church of Christ!
Learn God’s Word!
I am holding in my hand the most recent Genesis County Yellow Pages that I have in my office - 2016-2017. This book is four years old. I don’t know if that means Dona hasn’t shared the newest editions with me or if it means they are not printed anymore. Does anyone still use a printed phone book?
I flip through the pages, to page 113 and I find the section titled “Churches.” This section, in Genesee County, takes up almost 11 pages. If my count is correct, there are 565 different churches in Genesee County. Does that please Jesus Christ, our Savior?
It, without a doubt, does not. Jesus told God, the Father, “I do not ask on behalf of these (His apostles) alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21).
Most letters in the NT contain some type of warning about the danger believing something that Jesus has not taught, warnings like that found in Romans 16:17-18:
"Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.”
Several weeks ago, I finished up our study of the minor prophet Amos, by showing that the church of Jesus Christ, Christianity, is a fulfillment of Amos’s prediction that the fallen tabernacle of King David will be rebuilt. After that lesson, the elders had a discussion and asked me to present a series of lessons on the characteristics of the church of Jesus Christ as it is revealed in the Bible and how those characteristics distinguish the church of Jesus Christ from the churches found in the yellow pages.
This series of studies will take most of the summer. I will interrupt the series for Father’s Day and for VBS and for my series of studies from the life of Christ from Mark. Other than that, we will have 7-8 sermons focusing on qualities of the NT church that distinguish it from the yellow-pages churches.
We begin with the most basic point in this whole discussion: the need for each one of us to learn the Bible. God has seen to it that every one of us have a copy of His word. God wants every person to have a copy of His word. In Colossians 4:16, Paul told those Christians: “When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea.”
We just learned two Wednesday nights ago in our Bible class that Paul wrote the letter of 2 Corinthians, not just to the church of Jesus Christ in Corinth, but to the whole group of churches of Christ in Achaia: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia” (2 Cor. 1:1).
You all have copies of God’s word and you all read God’s word and you all learn God’s word. Because nobody is infallible in their understanding and interpretation of the word of God. That’s why we need Bible class, to teach each other and to strengthen our learning of God’s word. More than once some member of the congregation has corrected something I have said from the pulpit. Just a couple of weeks ago, Dan Hryckowian corrected something I said. Curtis Jones has corrected something I have said. Ann Nance has corrected something I have said. I am not infallible. How are these Christians able to correct something I have said? Because they have read and studied the Bible on their own. God wants each of us to read the Bible, study the Bible, know the Bible, and live the Bible.
I don’t have to know what those 565 churches all teach. What I do need to know is what Jesus teaches me in the NT. I need to study and to learn so I can believe and obey.
Let’s take a look at our chosen text this morning: Ephesians 3…
THE CHURCH OF CHRIST HAS BEEN IN THE PLANS OF GOD THROUGHOUT ETERNITY:
Let’s jump down, first, to verses 8-13.
First, Paul says that “grace was given to me.” What grace was that? The grace to preach! We do not deserve to be God’s spokesman. We do not have the moral nature, the moral qualities, to be God’s spokesmen. Too often, we are characterized by pride, by jealousy, by self-interest. We do not have the moral nature to open our mouths and tell someone about God. But Paul here says God calls us to do that very thing, by His grace! By His grace! It is a work of grace to share the gospel of God! Wow! What a concept! Shouldn’t that make us take more seriously our talk about God? Presenting the word from God? Shouldn’t that argue that before we say, “God loves…” or “God accepts…” or “God believes…” that we ought to have a book from the Bible with a chapter and a specific verse to support what we are saying?
What did Paul preach: “the unfathomable riches of Christ!” What does “unfathomable” mean? It means that it cannot be fully penetrated! The “riches of Christ” cannot be completely and fully understood! But we know enough about Christ and His blessings to motivate us to believe Him, to love Him, to obey Him, and to follow Him even if it means our death. The “unfathomable” riches of Christ ought to compel us to follow Jesus to the grave.
Not only was Paul given grace to preach Christ, but he also says that he was given grace to “bring to light what is the administration of the mystery.” Let me stop there for just a moment. Paul says his job was to “bring to light” the administration of the mystery. What does the word “administration” mean? Well, the English word refers to the running of a business, an organization. It refers to all the decisions that have to be made and all the details that have to be thought about in order for a business to operate and to run properly. Now, let me say the Greek word and see if you recognize it: οἰκονομία. Doesn’t that sound like the English word “economy”? Now, what is an “economy?” We have our “household” economy. We have a “Genesee county” economy. We have a “state” economy and we have a “national” economy. What does that refer to? It refers to everything that has to do with us: 1) producing; 2) consuming, and 3) exchanging.
Paul says he was given grace by God to bring to light, to explain, to help us understand the “economy” or “administration” that was, at one time, a “mystery.” God’s plan to save man was a mystery. At one time. But now, look what happens: the “mystery, for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that (this phrase shows purpose), “so that the manifold (multi-faceted - think of a gem that has many different sides or angles to it) wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.”
That phrase “through the church” does not refer to evangelism. Paul is not saying that the church is to teach and make known the wisdom of God - although that is true. What Paul is saying is that the church of Christ - people who are saved together through a common body of believers - is the wisdom of God! The church reveals the wisdom of God! You and I are, if we have obeyed Jesus Christ - the consummation of the wisdom of God! All that God planned down through the centuries was fulfilled, consummated, completed, brought to its perfect end in the church of Jesus Christ! Everyone is supposed to know and recognize that fact - the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places! Even the angels and the demons understand now that the church is God’s body of saved people. That’s why Satan does all he can to keep people out of the church. He tries to twist and distort and pervert the message of Christ all he can to keep people from obeying Jesus Christ.
Look at what Paul says in verse 11: “This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.” The church has been in the eternal plans of God. You know what? Before God said, “Let there be light,” He said, “Let there be the church!” He knew how we needed it and He wanted to save people in a body of believers.
Now that we see how important the church is, let’s back up to verse 1…
THE STEWARDSHIP OF GOD’S GRACE:
Look at verses 1-2. “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you;”
For this reason… For what reason? In chapter 2, Paul has been talking about the fact that God saves the non-Jews (the Bible word for those are “gentiles”) by grace, through faith. in the same way, God saves the Jews, by grace and through faith in Christ Jesus. In verse 19, Paul had written that Gentiles are no longer strangers to God’s covenant and they are no longer aliens relative to God’s covenant. Now, they are “fellow citizens with the saints (the faithful Jews who converted to Jesus Christ) and Gentiles are of God’s household!” Isn’t that wonderful! That’s the grace of God!
Paul was preaching and teaching that Gentiles could become Christians and Jews could become Christians and they all became Christians based on the exact same requirements! The church of Christ, Paul writes there in 2:20, is built on the foundation of the apostle and prophets - didn’t I just emphasize how important their preaching and writings are? - we are built on the foundation of the teachings of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone!
Preaching and teaching that message is the “stewardship of God’s grace” Paul is talking about here in chapter 3. Paul was given this stewardship of God’s grace so he could preach the unfathomable riches of Christ to Gentiles and Jews so that everyone could obey Jesus Christ and be saved!
Wow! What a great message Paul had! But, it wasn’t anything new! Have I mentioned anything new to you this morning? If I have, and I say this gently and respectfully, it’s because you haven’t learned God’s word.
But it’s not hard to learn God’s word. It’s not hard to learn the unfathomable riches of Christ and the administration of God’s plans to bring the church of Christ into existence. All we have to do is study. There is nothing especially complex or complicated about learning God’s word. If you have a 6th grade education, you can understand - you have the ability - to understand everything in the Bible that you need to understand. God saw to it that His administration of His plans was fairly simple to understand.
The NIV is written on a 3rd grade level! The NKJV is written on a 9th grade level. The ESV is written on an 8th grade level. The NASV, which is what I use, is written on a 10th grade level. You can understand God’s plan for your life!
HOW DO WE LEARN ABOUT THE STEWARDSHIP OF GOD’S GRACE:
Let’s keep reading the text, verses 3-7:
“by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.”
“Revelation” is the same word from which we get the word for the book of Bible, the book of Revelation. It means a “revealing,” an “uncovering,” an “explanation.” So Paul says that God’s plan to save man through a body of believers was a mystery in the OT times, but now, God has explained that mystery! He has “uncovered” the mystery.” He has “revealed” that mystery.
But, let’s keep reading… “By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,” Look at that! Paul says “when you read, you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ!” “When you read, you can understand.”
The Holy Spirit does not give us insight into the mysteries of Christ in a direct way. Listen to me - there is not a single, solitary verse from the mouth of God that says the Holy Spirit speaks to me directly and reveals the mystery of Christ. No, Paul here says that the Holy Spirit revealed that mystery to the apostles and then, when I read his writings, then I can have his insight into that mystery. I understand when I study and read. You understand when you study and read.
“in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.”
In other generations, from the time of Adam and Eve until the time of John the baptizer, people did not know and understand how God was working to save man in this body of believers through Jesus Christ. But, Paul says, it has now been revealed to His holy - specially set apart - apostles and prophets by the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit.
So, again, the Holy Spirit revealed that message, the administration of the economy of God, the unfathomable riches of Christ to the apostles and prophets, including the apostle Paul, and you and I can read their writings, study them, and we can learn the same insight into God’s plan as those men had.
God believes in equality from that perspective. Everyone needs access to the word of God and God will see to it that everyone has access to the word of God who has the humility to study it and to obey it.
Let’s finish this paragraph before we make a few other observations: “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.”
Here is how Paul identifies that mystery: “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister.” Incidentally, the word translated “minister” here is the word that gives us “deacon.” I am a “deacon” in the sense that I am a servant of the word of God, just like the Christians who shared the gospel with Luke (1:2).
And Paul says again that God graciously called him to preach the gospel and God gave Paul miraculous power to use along with that preaching.
Now, let’s make two more points. I hope you understand that I have emphasized that we need to read and study and learn the Bible. If I share with you more information over the next few months about the characteristics of the NT church that contrast with the yellow-pages churches or what you have always believed or what you have practiced in the past, I simply encourage you to read and study the Bible and if you think I am wrong, come tell me. Let’s study the word of God together…
TWO OTHER POINTS:
First, I want to share with you what Jesus said in Mark 4:24 in the context of the parable of the sower: "Take care what you listen to.” Not everyone who claims to be a Christian has obeyed Jesus Christ. Not everyone who claims to be a preacher of the gospel is teaching the truth. Not everyone who claims to be honoring Jesus Christ is respecting His word. Take care what you listen to.
The second point I want to emphasize is this - this whole 3-month discussion is not an “academic” discussion in the sense that it is not relevant or practical. Listen to the words of Jesus: “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. “I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12:48-50). We are going to be judged by what Jesus taught. That’s how important it is for us to study, to learn, to understand - so we can believe and obey and be saved.
Take home message: As we begin this series on qualities of the NT church that distinguish it from the yellow-pages churches, we begin with the need for each of us to be students of the word of God. Be diligent. Accurately handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).