This is a mysterious truth about God choosing to advance His Gospel through the least likely of circumstances. What evidence do we have that supports Paul’s truth that what had happened to him had “really served to advance the gospel?” We have his many writings including four epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon written while imprisoned! God had given Paul a unique history that preceded him to Rome. He’d appeared and defended Jesus before so many powerful Roman leaders that he’d gained some notoriety. “The whole imperial guard and all the rest” clearly knew his “imprisonment is for Christ.” Paul had become a celebrity “criminal.” He was allowed to have visitors and two-way communication about his many ministries. It’s likely he was chained to his guards and they became his very personal in-prison ministry. People who would never have heard the truth of Christ in any other way became the captive audience of an “ambassador in chains” given one of the most mysterious opportunities for the Word to create new believers and inspire “brothers” to be “more bold to speak [the Gospel] without fear.”
Poetry: Literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style, structure and rhythm.a
When Cephas came to Antioch,
he used to eat with the Gentiles.
Certain men came from James.
When they arrived,
he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles.
He was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.
I opposed him to his face,
he stood condemned.
The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy,
even Barnabas was led astray.
They were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.
I said to Cephas in front of them all,
“you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs
yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew.”
We Jews find ourselves also among the sinners,
doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin?
A person is not justified by the works of the law.
Through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.
If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker
because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles,
we too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus
that we may be justified by faith in Christ.
Do not set aside the grace of God!
Christ died for nothing
if righteousness could be gained through the law.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
a Structure taken from the NIV Bible
Poetry: Literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style, structure and rhythm.
After fourteen years
I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas.
I took Titus along also
meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders
in response to a revelation.
I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles.
I wanted to be sure I was not running,
and had not been running, my race in vain.
Some false believers had infiltrated our ranks
to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus
to make us slaves.
Yet not even Titus, who was with me,
was compelled to be circumcised
We did not give in to them for a moment,
so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved.
God does not show favoritism
for those who were held in high esteem.
I had been entrusted with preaching the gospel
to the uncircumcised
just as Peter had been to the circumcised.
at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised,
was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles.
Those esteemed as pillars,
James, Cephas and John,
gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship
when they recognized the grace given to me.
We should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised.
The very thing I had been eager to do all along
was that we should continue to remember the poor.a
a NIV scripture used
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
We have plenty of evidence of moral and physical decay around us now. That seems very contemporary but actually it began much further back. God has spent generations patiently waiting for His creation to understand “the end of all things is at hand” began as the natural consequence sin set in motion way back in that First Garden. The blame game began there with the corruption of everything perfect God created. It’s too late now for questioning “why didn’t God…?” God did! Jesus is our beginning that overcomes “the end of all things” and validates our life and prayers through His Spirit in us. BC[before Christ] you were already “dead.”
I Peter 4:6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. 7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Today I’m experimenting with the idea that AND is like a blinking light to pay attention to when I read Scripture. I might be tempted to skip right over that one little word until I remember AND links the words or phrases either side of it to emphasize they go together. So here goes…
Colossians 1-13: Segments direct from the NIV.
4 …we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus AND of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith AND love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven AND about which you have already heard…6 …the gospel is bearing fruit AND growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it AND truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 AND who also told us of your love in the Spirit. 9 … We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom AND understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord AND please him in every way… 11 …so that you may have great endurance AND patience. 12 AND giving joyful thanks to the Father…13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness AND brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves…
Your faith in Christ AND love for all God’s people happened because of a hope stored up for you in heaven. That hope allowed you to hear the true message of the Gospel AND see it bearing fruit AND growing. You learned about God’s grace AND your love in the Spirit came to life in visible ways.
The Spirit gives you wisdom AND understanding so you really can live a life worthy of the Lord AND please him with your joyful thanks. You’ve been rescued from darkness AND brought into the kingdom of the son he loves in whom we have redemption AND the forgiveness of sins.