3 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
The Mysterious Plan of God
A sermon based on Ephesians 3:1-12
By Pastor Scott Hannon
Do you like a good mystery? I do. I read books by Clive Cussler, David Baldacci, Greg Lies, Michael Connelly, and the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul, you might ask. Yes, today’s scripture lesson is definitely a mystery. Verses two and three tell us that: “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known tome by revelation, as I have already written briefly.” Of course, the mystery the Apostle Paul wrote about is different than any written by the other authors. Instead of being about a whodunit, it’s about an unexpected outcome, at least to the religious officials of his day.
Normally, authors surround themselves with environments that promote their creativity. I would imagine the Apostle Paul would have liked to have been able to do that. But he was not able to. Instead he had to write in the environment provided for him, which was a prison. And instead of writing literature meant for entertainment, he wrote a letter meant to help establish and maintain churches, which he helped establish. The letter from which today’s scripture lesson is taken was written to the people in Ephesus, which today is located in Turkey.
Now, let’s get into the mystery itself. In verses four, five, and six, he tells us about it. “In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. But through the Holy Spirit’s revelation to the apostles and the prophets, it was finally revealed.” To the people of Paul’s day, that was startling. Previously, God only favored the Jewish people. They were the exclusive recipients of God’s blessings. Now, with Paul revealing the mystery, Gentiles were included.
To explain the mystery, it is for everyone to be given the opportunity to have faith in Jesus. To make the mystery a reality, we are called to share our faith with others. To do so, we can be missionaries and go to foreign countries to share our faith. Or, we can go next door. There are people in this community who have never heard of Jesus. Or if they have heard of Jesus, they do not know him well enough to claim him as their savior. So we need to do what we can locally to communicate the Gospel to them.
It was because of God’s grace that Paul had been chosen to be an evangelist. Because he had helped torture and kill people who followed Jesus, he could not have qualified to be an evangelist. But that is the thing about grace. You cannot qualify to receive it. You just receive it. Paul did. The question is: Have your received grace? If you have, you have been called to be an evangelist; but of course, not in the same capacity. Paul’s background made him suitable for large-scale evangelism. Lacking such a background, you are called to be an evangelist by telling our friends and neighbors about your faith.
Do you feel your faith is too weak to tell others about your it? If you do, in his book (Un)Qualified: How God Uses Broken People to Do Big Things Steven Furtick has this to say to you, “We can be weak and strong at the same time. And I’ll go even further than that. Our weaknesses can actually become our strengths.
“Who we are right now— with our weaknesses and strengths, our failures and successes— is not the problem. Who we are is the solution. Somehow, incredibly, those things that drive us crazy about ourselves might be central to the fulfillment of our potential.
“Our weaknesses don’t disqualify us. They actually qualify us even more, because they are the portals through which God’s power permeates our lives.
That doesn’t mean you never need to change, of course. Actually, you never stop changing. But it means the current version of you is the right version of you for this moment. It means you can stop stressing and straining to be a different you, because the real you is perfect and priceless. It’s not only what God has to work with. It’s what God wants to work with.”
God’s grace qualifies each one of us to be an evangelist. That is good news to many of you. But to some of you, it is not. The reason is: Because God has blessed you with what you need; you have no excuses for not telling others about your faith.
In order to get people to listen to us, we need to make sure we treat them well. If we do not, then they will not listens to us. With that in mind, we need to consider the way we treat persons who are not like us, who believe differently, who speak different languages. About people who speak different languages, we may not be able to talk with them, but we can share our faith through how we treat them. That goes along with a saying attributed to Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary."
“In his book What Good Is God?, Philip Yancey writes about being invited to speak at a conference on ministry to women in prostitution. After some discussion with his wife, Yancey agreed to accept the invitation as long as he could have the opportunity to question the women and hear their stories.
“At the end of the conference Yancey had the following conversation with the women:
“I had time for one more question. ‘Did you know that Jesus referred to your profession? Let me read you what he said: I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.' He was speaking to the religious authorities of his day. What do you think Jesus meant? Why did he single out prostitutes?
“After several minutes of silence a young woman from Eastern Europe spoke up in her broken English. Everyone, she has someone to look down on. Not us. We are at the low. Our families, they feel shame for us. No mother nowhere looks at her little girl and says, Honey, when you grow up I want you be good prostitute. Most places, we are breaking the law. Believe me, we know how people feel about us. People call us names: whore, slut, hooker, harlot. We feel it too. We are the bottom. And sometimes when you are at the low, you cry for help. So when Jesus comes, we respond. Maybe Jesus meant that.”
I believe that we can never get too bad for God to reach us. God “keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves through our violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance, and our addictions. And God keeps loving us back to life over and over.”
“When God looks at us he sees people who are both valuable and wicked. We are magnificent beings, so precious to God that he pursues us endlessly. We are also tainted by the Fall, influenced by the broken world in which we live, and susceptible to the lies of the enemy of our souls. There is something good in us, something God loves, but there is also something bad in us, something that only divine love can purge. We have enough depravity in us that we will never be able to save ourselves.”
A most compelling image of Jesus is Jesus standing with his arms outstretched to welcome anyone and everyone. It calls us to reach out to anyone and everyone and reveal to them the boundless riches of Christ. But, of course, we cannot reveal what we have not received. For example, the boundless riches of Christ include grace, which forgives us for our sins. If we do not think we are forgiven, we cannot reveal grace to others. And for example, the boundless riches of Christ include knowing we are loved, regardless of who or what we are. If we do not feel loved by God, we cannot reveal how great it is to be loved by God. So to reveal the boundless riches of Christ, we need to experience them ourselves and, of course, be willing to share them with others.
In sharing with others, it is important to pay attention to what we are sharing. Some people share the way to salvation. Some people share how to live better. While it is good to do both, I think we ought to put more emphasis on sharing how to live better. What I mean is, Jesus came to offer more than just salvation from hell. He shows us how to give generously without thinking what is in it for us. He shows us how to give up our grudges and learn to diffuse hatred with love. He shows us how to stop judging other people and to help the poor and downtrodden. He shows us how to get away from believing that stuff can make us happy. He shows us how to give up our urges to gossip and manipulate. He shows us how to worry less about what other people think. He shows us how to forgive and not retaliate against those who wrong us. In essence, Jesus shows us how to live in a way that liberates us from bitterness, worry, self-righteousness, prejudice, selfishness, materialism, and misplaced loyalties. without being bitter, without worrying, my misplaced loyalties. But of course, before we can show others what Jesus offers, we have to experience it for ourselves.
The need is critical. According to Todd Pickett, who is the dean of Spiritual Development and professor of spiritual formation at Biola University “only two in 10 people under 30 years of age believe church attendance is important. More than one-third of Millennial young adults (35 percent) take an anti-church stance.” Young people are the future, not just of this church, but of every church. So the question is, how are we going to expand our outreach to reach persons who have not heard about those riches? Again, each one of us is qualified to do that.
 Furtick, Steven (2016-03-01). (Un)Qualified: How God Uses Broken People to Do Big Things (pp. 88-89). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 From What Good Is God?, by Philip Yancey, p. 75, http://www.preachingtoday.com/search/?searcharea=illustrations&startDate=January%2030,%202011&endDate=February%205,%202011
 Bolz-Weber, Nadia (2013-09-10). Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint (p. 174). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.
 Smith, James B. (2010-09-14). Embracing the Love of God: The Path and Promise of Christian Life (Kindle Locations 444-448). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
 Based on Evans, Rachel Held (2010-05-19). Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions (pp. 174-176). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.