WE MUST ALWAYS DEFEND THE GOSPEL
These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone's midweek Bible study on September 23, 2020.
Part 13 of Ephesians
The Background of the Letter to the Ephesians
Let's begin this evening with an orientation to Ephesians. First, let's look at the background to the letter.
Ephesus was an ancient Greco-Roman city in modern day Turkey. Its population was approximately 200,000 and it was the largest trading center in western Asia Minor.
In terms of spirituality, the city was the guardian of the temple of Artemis, the Roman goddess Diana (Acts 19:35). Her temple was also used as a bank.
According to Acts 19, Paul preached and taught in Ephesus for three years and many of his hearers converted to Christ. Scholars think he wrote the letter around 60-61 AD while he was under house arrested awaiting trial in Rome. This is referred to in Acts 18:
(Acts 28:16) When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.
(Acts 28:30-31) For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!
An Overview of the Letter to the Ephesians
It might be helpful to have a basic overview of Ephesians is a letter consisting of two parts. Chapters 1-3 focus on the church's position in Christ. Chapters 4-6 focus on the church's practice or lifestyle in Christ. The first half is propositions and the second half is applications. First, Paul gives us principles and then he tells us how to live by those principles.
By the way, that is how the Christian life is supposed to be lived. It should never be theory with no application; Christian truth is supposed to be lived out. At the same time, however, Christianity is not really a system of morality or ethics, or a mere set of behaviors. No, our new lifestyle is supernatural and flows out of the renewing energies of God's grace and truth in Christ.
Summarizing Chapters 1-2
Let me give you a basic outline of chapters 1-2. I want you to notice two things that are really important:
First, everything is written in the plural. Yes, it all applies to individuals, but it is focused on all of us together as the church.
Secondly, while the focus seems to be on the church, Paul also lets us know about the awesome supremacy of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt that he is the source and center of our new life, and the church, and the Christian faith. Here's the outline:
The church's blessings in Christ - 1:1-14.
The church's resources in Christ - 1:15-23.
The church's new life in Christ - 2:1-10.
The church's unity in Christ - 2:11-22.
READING: EPHESIANS 3:1-14
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. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
INTRODUCTION TO EPHESIANS 3:1
This evening, we begin a study of Ephesians, chapter 3 and I need to tell you that we will only get to verse 1. There's a good reason for this.
In verse 1, Paul starts a thought and then suddenly stops and starts over with a new thought that continues through verse 13. In verse 14, he picks up where he left off. We could just skip over verse 1, but it contains a very important insight into Paul's thinking that I believe is worth spending some time on.
Imagine Paul sitting on a cushion at a low table chained to a Roman soldier. Paul is dictating to a secretary who is using a wooden stylus that he dips in ink then writes on a piece of papyrus.
So, there's Paul with a mind full of ideas he wants to tell the Ephesians and he's dictating verse 1. Suddenly, he realizes that he's not done explaining the inclusion of Gentiles in the Gospel promises. Chapter 2 wasn't enough, so he stops his sentence and starts over.
Curiously, the secretary did not strike out the original sentence and I'm glad he didn't because there is a little nugget of information in there that helps us understand why the Gospel is worth defending at all costs.
PAUL THE PRISONER
Paul was in prison and it is very important to know why. It is equally important to know what Paul thought about his imprisonment.
Why Paul Was a Prisoner
He was jailed for preaching about the inclusion of the Gentiles in the one new people of God. His teachings on the unity of Jew and Gentile in Messiah Jesus are what got him arrested.
When he dictated "for this reason," he was referring back to his teaching on Jew/Gentile inclusion and unity in chapter 2. That's why he writes he's a prisoner "for the sake of you Gentiles."
Paul's friend Luke was with Paul when he was arrested and he wrote all about it in Acts 21-28. It's a long story, but it's worth noting some of the details:
The first Christians were all Jews who had been raised under the Law of Moses and were committed to it. Most Jewish background believers were Judaizers; that is, they insisted that a Gentile had to become a Jew in order to become a Christian. They wanted the Gentile Christians to practice male circumcision and to follow the Mosaic covenant rituals, sacrifices, and so on.
(Acts 21:20-21) Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.
To build a bridge to the Judaizers, Paul followed the advice of James and the elders of the Jerusalem church:
(Acts 21:22-24) What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.
While he was in the temple precincts, some Jews spotted Paul, seized him, and began shouting:
(Acts 21:28) Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.”
This started a riot and the mob would have killed Paul except that the Roman commander intervened and arrested Paul and took him to the barracks to be interrogated.
Long story short, Paul was eventually put on trial before the Roman Governor of Judea, Felix and then his successor, Festus, in Caesarea Maritime. After testifying, Paul appealed to Caesar, which was the right of every Roman citizen.
Before being sent under guard to Rome, Paul appeared before King Herod Agrippa the younger, the puppet of Rome. He concluded his defense with the Gospel in a nutshell:
(Acts 26:22-23) I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”
And that is why Paul was a prisoner in Rome: for preaching that Jesus died and rose again to bring Jews and Gentiles together to God. That's the Gospel - there is one new people of God in Christ, the church. Paul thought that Gospel was worth giving up his freedom and life to defend.
What Paul Thought About His Imprisonment
Technically, Paul was a prisoner of Rome. He was chained to a Roman soldier and he was waiting for his trial before the emperor of Rome - Nero. However, Paul chose to describe himself as a "prisoner of Christ Jesus." Paul believed he was imprisoned because of his commitment to Jesus and his Gospel.
CONCLUSION: WHY DEFEND THE GOSPEL?
Phew. That was a ton of information. Before we finish up this evening, we need to discuss what to do with it. This is why I wanted to focus entirely on verse 1. Why did Paul have such an unshakeable, uncompromising commitment to the Gospel of Jew/Gentile inclusion in Jesus Christ and his church? When we find the answer to that, we'll also find the answer to why we should defend the Gospel without compromise.
Paul doesn't explicitly tells us in Ephesians, but he does in Galatians. That church was under the influence of the Judaizers and they had added the need to practice Judaism to the simple Gospel. Paul reacted vigorously and gave five reasons to defend the Gospel.
Five Reasons to Defend the Gospel
We have no authority to change the Gospel message:
(Galatians 1:1) Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead ...
(Galatians 1:11-12) I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
A compromised gospel is not the Gospel :
(Galatians 1:6-7) I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all.
Those who change the Gospel are God's enemies:
(Galatians 1:7-9) Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God's curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God's curse!
There is only one Gospel for the whole world:
(Galatians 1:15-16) But when God, who set me apart from my mother's womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles ...
(Galatians 2:4-5) This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
Galatians 2:6-8 (NIV-WS) As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. 7 On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. 8 For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles.
(Galatians 2:15-16) 15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
The one true Gospel is the only source of church unity:
Galatians 3:26-29 (NIV-WS) So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
We Must Defend the Gospel
Why does any of this matter to us? Because there are people who want to divide the church. They want to change the Gospel, both the part about being justified by faith in Jesus and the part about being one in Christ.
This evening, I want us to focus on the latter problem:
In the past, some churches made the mistake of saying there cannot be unity in the church because black Christians should meet and worship separately from white Christians. That suggestion compromised the Gospel message and distorted God's vision for humanity - to make all believers one in Christ. Hopefully, we have moved past all that, but no doubt there are some misguided folks who still believe it.
Today, some pastors and academics are telling us that there cannot be unity in the church until there is justice in the church. For example, we're told that the impact of slavery and racism must be dealt with before there can be unity in the church.
Now, I do not for one moment deny the evils of slavery and racism and we should never turn a blind eye or be in denial about it. But, justice, equity, and equality are not the basis for unity in the church and it is a mistake to make them that. Paul makes it so clear that the Gospel is the ONLY basis for unity in the church. Only Jesus unites us. Nothing else can. We need to state that clearly and without compromise even while we listen to those who have been the targets of racism or injustice.
You and I must stand with Paul in uncompromising defense of the Gospel. The future of the church and the world depends on it.