Ephesians 3:1 RSV For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; 6 that is, how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in[by] God who created all things; 10 that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.
Stewardship: Utilizing and managing all resources God provides for
the glory of God and the betterment of His creation.a
Stewardship is easily defined. The mystery lies in the phrase that follows that word in this passage, “of God’s grace.” This great evangelist, held in such esteem by people of faith all these generations later, is reminding us grace is the mystery purposefully designed to encourage the diligence of people of faith to “see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in[by] God who created all things.” Don’t miss the footnote “in[by].“ Prepositions show relationship. “In” is about position and “by” is about closeness. Paul [and the translators] have used those two letter words to emphasize this truth; the closest we will come to solving the mystery “of God’s grace” and our stewardship of it in this life is to recognize our position in God and stay close to Him through “the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Ephesians 3:17-19 MSG “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.” MSG 3:17-19
aHolman Bible Dictionary
Galatians 3:23 Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed. 24 Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. 25 And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. 26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. NLT
“Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law…until the way of faith was revealed.” Protective custody comes with a handy list of rules that are both restraint and relief. Sometimes it’s a relief to have that list to check your spiritual position and at other times those rules only feel like a prison sentence.
The way of faith has been revealed. Restraint served it’s purpose and obeying rules did provide some relief and comfort, but… We’ve been released! Released from that protective custody for a greater purpose: to be “united with Christ,” and each other!
Christ alone is our promise of blessing and redemption from a life sentence “under guard” to this sentence of life: “I have been crucified with Christ.a”
2 Corinthians 3:Are we beginning to praise ourselves again? Are we like others, who need to bring you letters of recommendation, or who ask you to write such letters on their behalf? Surely not! 2 The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our[your] hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. 3 Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts. NLT
Stone is so enduringly permanent it’s surprising the truth of those letters carved on tablets of stone is lost. But is it?
The recent pandemic has tragically highlighted just how vulnerable life can be. That makes it equally surprising that God has now chosen to write the permanence of His truth in human hearts. The letters of eternity and permanence no longer lie in impenetrable stone. God has rewritten His own truth in our/your heart. That truth rewrites the story of a stubborn, stony hearta being replaced with a tender, responsive one able to feel, think, grow and replicate God’s own heart one to another. “Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God.”
aAnd I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. [Ezekiel 36:26]
I Corinthians 3:7 It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. 9 For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building….21 So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you— 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. NLT
This image of how seeds sprout is a visual object lesson of the truth of this passage. Growth begins with a small kernel of life locked within a hard outer shell. You could be forgiven if you looked at that unsprouted seed and thought it was just a small pebble. That would be a sensible conclusion because there are some things only life can confirm. Without planting and water that is all that seed could ever be.
Paul describes the growth of life: “It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.” Growth reveals what was hidden in that hard shell is the power of life only God can release. That broken shell will ultimately fall away as the “spout” grows but will always be the primary evidence that confirms God can produce new life from hard cases.
“And you are God’s field. You are God’s building…So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you— whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Paul is purposefully using a type of word play in much of this chapter that I didn’t include above. His words are meant to shift the focus of familiar concepts and challenge thought processes about how we interact with God. There were two things I read in preparing for this post that were helpful to me. One was a line from The Message version of Romans 3; “Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.” The second was from one of John Piper’s writings about this chapter where he referred to the Law as a track, not a ladder.
Ladder-thinking regarding God, sin, obedience to the Law, faith and justification seems to be part of human nature. I know my own tendency is to want a list to check items off so I can move on to the next rung. Instead God has provided reality. Life is filled with either/or’s, if/then’s and hide & seek’s. It’s like a track where the same laps must be repeated over and over in order to achieve the desired goal. That is exactly why Paul’s challenge from Romans is so important today.
• Sin hides us from God.
• The Law of self-preservation hides us from grace.
• Self-preservation hides us from obedience of the heart.
• Christ reveals the truth of the Law and obedience of the heart
• Obedience of the heart reveals faith
• Faith reveals grace
* Grace reveals justification
• Justification reveals God’s righteousness.
These realities are a vital part of our relationship with the Sovereign God of the universe through Jesus Christ. There is not a ladder, only a track. Repeat laps as needed.
Acts 3:18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. ESV
These Third Chapters have each provided a golden thread to be woven into the fabric of daily life. Long before there was a New Testament there was a golden thread woven into garments for ministering in the Holy Place. “They hammered out thin sheets of gold and cut strands to be worked into the blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen—the work of skilled hands.a“ Today’s golden thread is the Good News of repentance: “that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus.”
“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?b” You are now that Holy Place! Who could imagine the tarnish of sin could not only be blotted out through contact with Jesus, but that repentance might become the golden thread that turns daily life into your garment of ministry?
a Exodus 39:3 NIV.
b I Cor 6:19 NLT
John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”…16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. ESV
Nicodemus is our mirror for today. He’s aware of Jesus. He’s heard the stories. He’s an inner-circle part of a well-established religious organization that desires to assure people of their position with God. But Nicodemus realizes desire isn’t the same as reality. He wants to make personal contact with Jesus because he sees Jesus is able to reveal the power of God in the lives of people that makes assurance more than just a possibility. He’s curious about that. Can you see yourself in Nicodemus’s story? I can.
Curiosity and contact with Jesus are the essence of the assurance of being “born of the Spirit.” God still uses them both to convert desire into possibility and then finally into reality…For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Luke 3:10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” 15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. ESV
This is the question of the day: “What then shall we do?”
That question is an admirable testament to the remnant of a holy nature within us that wants answers to guide us. There’s another part of our nature that is frustrated by living in an upside-down world and continually having to ask “what then shall we do?” Luke gives clear answers for practical people. “Doing” is important but God is calling us to seek our true answer “in expectation.” He is going to accomplish His plans by something much bigger than “doing” alone can accomplish. He is going to teach us to “be.” What we do can change the world around us because of this truth: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn…So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.”
Here is the BEST good news ever for those who choose to live “in expectation.” You are the wheat He has gathered! “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”a What turns the wheat into bread? It is pounded and ground ’til it’s fine, then it’s mixed and it’s shaped to the baker’s design…you’ll be my bread in this world. Love, Jesus and Shirle
a Matthew 26:26
3:13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot,[b] 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. NLT
Jesus “started a little society of his own–and a very queer society it was. There were some fishermen; there was a reformed tax-collector; there was a fanatical nationalist. They were not the kind of people whom any ambitious man would particularly want to know. They certainly were not the kind of people who would be any good to a man who was set on a career. No sensible man, they must have been thinking, would pick a crowd of friends like that. They were definitely not the kind of people a prudent man would want to get mixed up with.a“
Edification [the improvement of a person morally or intellectually].
Today’s lesson for you:
[Jesus] “called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.”
aWilliam Barclay on Mark 3