We’re continuing our study of Ephesians, this week focusing on chapter 3. This letter really is amazing. Paul wrote it while he was in prison (because of his decision to follow Jesus.) Some things to remember as you read is that these people in Ephesus were real people with real lives, family, friends, strengths, weaknesses. They were normal people. Ephesus was definitely a community that didn’t know the first thing about Jesus before Paul taught them. Paul writes this letter after having been gone from Ephesus for awhile. He writes it as a call to return to the basics of following Jesus.
The six chapters of Ephesians shows this amazing line of thought. Summed up, Paul tells the Ephesians, “Jesus is absolutely into you! God’s grace is for you who were once outsiders. It’s actually for everyone. God gives you his grace so that you can understand what a life set apart unto Him looks like. Here’s some practical things to remember. Don’t forget you’re His now.”
As we go through life we often measure our successes and failures. All of us have some metrics we go by. The Ephesians likely had their own. That’s something really good to process as you read Ephesians 3 - What are my measures of personal success or failure?
Take a moment and think about how Paul changed throughout scripture. As you read through the book of Acts, you see how he changes. Paul was a zealous follower of Jewish law, persecuting followers of Jesus. He encounters Jesus and it radically changes him. He becomes a follower of Jesus, and we see his own learning curve throughout the new testament. In some of his earlier writings like his first letter written to the Corinthian followers of Jesus, Paul is very sure of himself, even defensive and self-righteous. His next letter to the church at Corinth, after some time had passed, shows more humility. We see in these letters to the churches at Ephesus and Phillipi that paul seems to be less sure of himself, and more sure of Christ. His language changes. He goes from trying to prove himself to people to realizing the great gap Jesus crossed by his grace to save Paul.
Paul’s growing perspective throughout his life was that if Jesus’ grace can be for me, it can be for anyone. I, Paul, the worst of sinners, experienced the grace of God and have found that everything I ever worked for before was nothing compared to knowing Jesus.
Take a moment and think about this.
What has to change in someone to go from being defensive or insecure about shortcomings, to celebrating God’s grace in personal shortcomings?
The more we grow to know God, the more we will see how involved He is with us, even right in the midst of our shortcomings. We learn to see that our shortcomings are not obstacles for God. They’re opportunities for Him to pour out His grace, and that grace empowers us to grow and to know Him even more.
One of the most incredible aspects of God’s grace is that it’s not just for us to experience for ourselves but to extend to others. We’ve talked a lot at Corner Church in the last couple years about connecting with those who are different from us.
Paul couldn’t have been more different from the Ephesians. In regards to Jewish law, these gentiles from Ephesus had too many shortcomings to count. They were outsiders. And yet, God’s plan all along was that through Jesus, these “outsiders” would become heirs together with Israel. Members of one body. Sharers together in the promises of Jesus.
Paul's first encounter with the Ephesians may have been pretty intense. He would have recognized all of their differences. Maybe he even compared himself to this people group. They may have compared themselves to him as they got to know him. Comparison can come pretty naturally.
Do you often see yourself as being better than others or not as good as others? Why?
Paul’s experience of grace led him to extend this amazing grace to the Ephesians. Paul realized he was the outsider to eternal life, and Jesus welcomed him in fully. His prayer for the Ephesian people was that they would understand that they were really in Jesus. They were insiders now. Part of God’s plan all along. I love how The Message version paints this picture.
The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I’ve been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God.
Paul talks about being the least qualified person to do the work of sharing the gospel with these people. Not because he’s putting himself down, but because he’s so well versed and steeped in Jewish tradition that ministering to these people in Ephesus was completely foreign to him. God chose the most Jewish of Jewish people to minister to the most gentile people of gentiles, in order to bring them together as one.
Think about that. Paul and the average Ephesian couldn’t have been more different. God’s plan all along was that they would be unified as one. That’s amazing. Think about the people who are most different from you. God’s heart and plan is that you would be unified together in Him with those most different from you.
What hinders you from connecting with people that you may view as outsiders? Why?
We’re excited to dive into chapter 4 next week as Paul goes from explaining grace to starting to talk about the practicals of what life in Jesus actually looks like in community. It’s clear through all his writing that Paul had something specific that he felt was very important to share with his friends in Ephesus. Reading through chapter 3, you see language like my revelation and insight that God has given me. It’s amazing that Paul connected with these people, as it was a totally abnormal relationship. Paul ignored cultural differences and invited these people at Ephesus to see the reality of Jesus.
The old testament is full of stories that show God as the God of the Jews. And He’s very much not the God of some other nations. Chapter 3 shows that all along, God’s plan was to invite all people to join in unity in Him, and that no one would be excluded from this amazing grace He is offering.
As we’re still in the midst of social isolation in our world, reflect on the fact that Paul wrote this letter as he sat in jail. He knew isolation well, yet that did not stop him from investing in his friends or from doing the things God called him to do. His imprisonment did not change his mentality and understanding that God was for him and with him.
You might find yourself feeling like nothing really matters anymore. Maybe you had a lot of plans for this season of life that have now been put on hold. Maybe you thought this would be the best year of your life so far, only to have an unexpected pause. Maybe all of your plans are gone, your ideas feel impossible, your trips are cancelled, and it seems like nothing really matters.
Be encouraged. Hear Paul’s excitement as he writes from his prison cell:
"So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud! My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God."
In the middle of pain, loss, isolation or fear, we pray that you’ll be able to understand the extravagance of God’s love. We encourage you to reach out to Him and experience it. Don’t just settle for hearing someone else talk about it. Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! And yes, even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
How are you going to “take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love”?
What is your response to the challenge to be a participant in God’s love?
Take It Deeper Questions:
When are you at your best? (Situation, season, scenario)
When are you at your worst? (Situation, season, scenario)
Read Ephesians 3
If grace is for all, who is most difficult for you to include in that all? Yourself or others? Why?
How is God’s grace being played out in your life currently?
How is God’s grace impacting you internally? Externally?
If Paul’s prayer is answered in you, what happens?
Bible Reading Plan:
Places to be reading as we study Ephesians:
1 Corinthians 9:1-2
1 Corinthians 9:22-23
1 Corinthians 11:1
1 Corinthians 15:9-11
2 Corinthians 12:11-13
1 Timothy 1:15-17
2 Timothy 4:6-8