Ephesians 3:9-13 “And to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 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, according to his eternal purposes which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.”
So reads the word of God, the word that comes from God, and the word that tells us about God. It is the Creator’s self-disclosure to his creation, and when we gather together on the Lord’s Day there is nothing the Christian wants to hear more about from the word of God than God himself. Who he is, his being, his nature, his great works, his glory and power, that he is triune, the Father is God, the Son is God and the Spirit is God, and yet he is one living and true God. Let me hear about him, and more and more, that he is independent, unique, infinite, eternal, omnipotent, immutable, intelligent, and personal. I am an insignificant creature, rapidly ageing and moving toward my death and to a face to face encounter with this God. Let me know him now. More about God! Tell me more about him! That cry should come from every pew, and the answer coming today from a million pulpits all the world over should be the cry, “Behold your God!” as men whom the Lord has called and gifted declare to every creature this great God.
1. GOD ALONE IS GREAT.
The apostle in the words of our text tells us why God is great:
i] God created all things (v.9). Our holy Bible does not begin with preface, an introduction, or an apology, but with the simple majestic declaration, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” and in the following thirty-four verses the word ‘God’ occurs thirty-five times almost always as the subject. In this way the Supreme Creator, who is before all things and who has made all things, is impressively introduced. This is the keynote of the Bible. Not one sentence in Scripture argues for his existence. God is assumed. He is made known to all in his creation; he speaks to all through their consciences. God is not for proof but for proclamation; not for argument but acceptance.
How glorious he is; the Maker must be greater than what he has made; “the builder of a house has greater honour than the house itself” (Hebs. 3:3). When things looked bleak to God’s prophets, and they often did, they found in God’s creative power their strength. Jehovah had made all things out of nothing in seven days and all very good. Think of it! How insignificant were the array of enemies against them when such a God was for them? They expressed their confidence like this, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jer. 32:17). And when the Lord replies to the prophet it is to agree with him, to underline what the prophet said, “I am the LORD . . . is there anything too hard for me?”
The Maker of the universe must be greater than the universe. Lift up your eyes to God’s creation, to its design, complexity or merely its dimensions. The farthest object the human eye can see is said to be ten billion light years away – the sun is a mere 93 million miles away from the earth. The distance to the nearest star is four and a third light years away. The diameter of our own galaxy is 100,000 light years, and our galaxy is just one of about ten billion similar galaxies in the universe with incomprehensible distances between them, and within each galaxy. We’re overwhelmed when we try to contemplate such vastness, but I know the one who made all that. He has spoken to me and to you. He is our Shepherd, and this is what he says, “My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand together . . . I am the Lord who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea” (Is. 48: 13, 17&18).
In other words what good are our beliefs about who the mighty Creator is if we don’t trust and obey him? What good is it to point out to an evolutionist the evident missing links is we are niggardly in offering to the Creator our wonder and praise? Looking at a flower, watching the sun set over the Irish Sea, wandering through a zoo, hiking up Plunlumon, or savouring an orange, can all become times to praise the Creator and marvel at his greatness. God has birds to sing his praise, lions to roar his praise, elephants to trumpet his praise, brooks to babble his praise, thunder to rumble his praise, but God made our tongues and voices to speak forth his praise. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever. In making us new creatures through Christ God has given us cause to praise him and the power to do so.
The idolater worships and serves the creation rather than the Creator. The fortune-teller and the astrologist assert that the galaxies, not God, govern our lives. The miser robs himself of physical and spiritual comforts to hoard for a few brief moments a trifling fraction of this world. The spendthrift never lifts his mind above getting and squandering material things. John Lennon said, “God is a concept by which we measure our pain” – whatever that means. It sounds more like golf. Let us set the Creator always at our right hand, let us keep heaven in our eye and the earth under our feet. What are men in comparison to God? Can we make worlds out of nothing? Can we manufacture rain or sunshine or fresh air? Can we control storms and produce earthquakes? We can’t even win a game of football! Yet puny men strut about, and boast of their achievements. How futile it all is. Behold God your Creator! He who made the heavens can make a heaven for you and can make you fit for heaven. He who made the earth can preserve us while we are on earth. He who made the oceans can help us cross the deep tracts of our pilgrimage. Behold your God. He is the Creator.
ii] God purposed all things. Paul tells us here of God’s “intent” (v.10), that is, God has a plan, an intention of what he is going to do, and this is not some spontaneous reaction on his part to our mess. God’s purpose is not a patchwork of expedients. Paul goes on to speak of God’s “eternal purpose” (v.11). Every single person develops a plan before he acts. A man who does things without any purpose or design is considered a fool. Before an architect begins his building he makes his drawings and forms his plans, even to the minutest details of construction. He sees it all in his mind’s eye before he even sits in front of his drawing board and sets out his plan. So it is with the soccer coach; he looks at the strengths and weaknesses of his opponents and the men he has to choose to play against them and then he calls his team together and explains his game plan, what the formation of the team is going to be, who is marking which opposing striker, and so on. We could consider every single vocation of all mankind and the conclusion we would come to is that all rational and intelligent men work according to preconceived plans. It must be so for all are made in God’s image. Animals are not, and so they cannot make plans. You take your dog for a walk and let him off his leash in the park and he sniffs at this flower, and chases a butterfly, and looks at another dog. Animals do not have a plan, but men must plan just like their Maker.
The greater the enterprise the more important it is that we have a plan otherwise the work will end in failure. Who would declare war, or build a ship or a motorway or a matchbox, or go away to college without a plan? If this is true of man how much more is it certainly true of God! Consider our universe in the vastness and complexity of its scale, from the galaxy to the atom, encompassing inanimate and animate beings, with man the crown of creation as made in the image of God, and imagine its Creator having no plan for what he had made! That he made it, and then surveyed it curiously with the ignorance of an animal looking at a wristwatch! “I wonder what is going to happen now?” It is inconceivable. You say ‘creation’ and you say ‘plan’. The two are inseparable. Men say that one planet removed from our solar system would modify more or less the balance and orbits of all the rest. The whole would be deranged by the failure of one. Everything is made and sustained by a divine plan, and so we are told often in Scripture of God’s purposes and his providential control over all things.
God’s purpose embraces trifling things, like the fall of the sparrow. It numbers the hairs upon our heads, it plots the trajectory of an arrow shot randomly, that is, it embraces so-called ‘chance happenings.’ How much can hang upon some slight event. A group of men were talking together and one of them told the others how he had come to appreciate the importance of small things. “Would you believe,” he said, “that a little thing like a pair of socks changed the entire course of my life?” The men wanted to know how that was possible and he told them that he and a group of friends had planned a canal boat holiday, but a couple of days before the time of their departure he had cut his foot chopping some logs. “It was just a small cut,” he said, “but the blue dye in the socks that I wore poisoned the wound and I had to stay at home. Then while I was convalescing and my friends enjoying themselves special meetings were held in our church and I had nothing to do. I went along and the first message I heard stirred me deeply, and as a result, I was brought to the Lord.” In the months that followed he sorted his life out, and returned to further education. He then progressed very well in his life, in fact he became an American president; his name was James A. Garfield. I say, the purpose of God embraces the whole universe of things, yet it is minute enough to concern itself with the smallest details, even the chance events, and everything that happens as a consequence furthers the plan of God. So God purposed all things.
iii] God accomplishes all the things that he has purposed. That is made very clear here, “according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v.11). The Lord Christ spoke of a man who purposed to build a tower but the building scarcely got above head level before he ran out of money. The stump of the tower was a continual mockery to his grandiose delusions. Another king was wiser; he considered going to war with another, but he first checked up on the size of that king’s army and armaments, and when he discovered how powerful they were he changed his plans. What God’s wisdom plans his power accomplishes. God is all wise in his purposes and all powerful in his performing. I know a doctor, weary of the National Health Service, who bought a farm, but he had little knowledge or experience of agriculture and he lost a great deal of money before he sadly sold the farm and moved on. God is not like that. His plans are all accomplished.
I had the pleasure of speaking to a pastor named Malcolm Evans of Middlesex a few months ago, and I reminded him of the first time I had heard him speak way back in 1957. He was at his first church in Tredegar and through his ministry there a boy in our school called Clive had been converted and he told us to invite his pastor Malcolm to address our fledgling Christian Union. We did, and there he presented to us the gospel, and I was impressed with him and with what he said. Then we had a question time and I asked him a question, as is my wont. I said to him, “Why all of this? Why did God make man so that he could be tested and fall into sin? Whey did he have to send his Son Jesus into the world to suffer and die the death of the cross to save us? Why did it have to be that way? Couldn’t he have made Adam in a way that prevented him from disobeying?” Malcolm paused for a moment, and then he said to me, “I have thought a lot about that, and I have come to believe that it was for God’s greater glory.” It was an answer that wholly satisfied me then, and it satisfies me now. The plan of God, even his eternal purpose, was accomplished, Paul says, in Christ Jesus our Lord. The accomplishments of Jesus’ life – his teaching, miracles, death and resurrection – were all God’s accomplishments. So God accomplishes all that he has purposed embracing even Adam’s fall and the murder of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Each event that occurs falls with exact precision into its proper place. Nothing, however small, however strange, however contrary to God’s nature, can occur without God’s planning. It all accomplishes his end, and he himself is glorified by it.
iv] God administers all that he has accomplished. Paul talks of the administration of this divine mystery (v.9) that henceforth Gentile Christians were to be joined to the new covenant on exactly the same basis as Jewish Christians, heirs together, members together and sharers together of one body. That truth is now made plain to everyone (v.9). Under the old covenant this plan had been kept hidden in God; it was a mystery even to the angels, but now it is a mystery no longer. Its outworking was being administered by God. In other words, the accomplishment of salvation is a divine hands-on administration of grace. There are some contemporary popular artists who employ a lot of men and women in warehouse studio complexes who make copies of works which the artists have designed. They are considered to be their works because the artist has supervised and planned every stage of their production, but in fact they haven’t put a brush on a palette or moulded a single lump of clay on a wheel. Their underlings have followed their instructions exactly. All the artist has done is to have signed the painting or the sculpture at its conclusion.
It is not like that with God and our salvation. He himself personally administers the accomplishment of our salvation. “Admin” doesn’t get a good name; it seems to stand for layers of bureaucrats and pen-pushers, but the divine administration is gloriously different. It is our loving Lord who is at work. You read the book of Acts and see the church spreading out under the leadership of the Lord, from Jerusalem, through Judea and into Samaria and then to Asia Minor and to Europe. God closed doors; the Holy Spirit by certain undisclosed means prevented Paul continuing any longer in Asia, and off sailed the apostle to Macedonia in answer to a vision of a pleading man from that place, and Paul takes the gospel there. It was all a divine administration on the grandest scale advancing the gospel across a continent, but yet on a personal and individual level it is also administered all by him.
When God saved you he did something like this, he put within your mind a curiosity and a restlessness which he continued to feed for some time. Then he used his servants. He brought some Christians into your life who invited you along to Sunday School or church; he gave you a willingness to go with them. Then he gave you interest and understanding in what was said. Then he opened your heart to receive those things; he gave you repentance for your unbelief and a saving trust in Jesus Christ. Then he enabled you to confess this; you were baptized and joined the church. Then he gave you persevering grace, strengthening you by testing you in various ways. “Do you still believe in me? When your prayers are unanswered will you still follow me, or will you follow only when good things happen?” The whole administration of your redemption was divine. For of him, and through him, and to him are all things. The administration, I say, is all intensely personal, all of the Lord, in its conception, its continuance and its consummation.
Even at this moment God is busily at work administrating your salvation. The trials that you are now passing through are all part of his administration. Do not scorn them or dismiss them. Interrogate them. “Why has God sent this into my life now?” There was a little girl who was playing in a large garden when she noticed in a corner a very pretty flower. The spot was not attractive to her, nor the soil in which the plant was growing, so she determined to dig it up by its roots and plant it in a prettier place. So she lifted it up by its roots, took it to the hose pipe and hosed off the dirt, and then planted it in a sunny spot. Within hours it started to wilt and die. The woman who had planted it discovered its new location and was sad. She explained to the girl that that plant needed that particular soil and that shade because only with that combination could it produce such beautiful flowers. The girl, with the best intentions, had killed the flower by moving it to a prettier location. So I say by that illustration that God is administering the daily details of your salvation, all the circumstances of pressure and trial and difficulties that you are passing through. There is no point in you singing a chorus like this,
“Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me;
All his wondrous compassion and purity.
O Thou Spirit divine,
All my nature refine,
Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me”
And then repining when God answers your prayers by putting your life in the shadows surrounded by dirt! He is administrating the affairs of your life
v] God makes known all his mysteries. “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” (v.10). Once God alone knew his plan but now there is no creature in heaven or earth that he does not want to know it. God desires the very host of angels in heaven to understand this. Here is something for their deepest contemplation and delight. God cares for the angels, for every single one of them as unique individual spirits, the names of some of them we know. Their Lord loves them tenderly and kindly and will help each one of them. They had not been privy to all the purposes of God; he had withheld much from them. The angels were there when God spoke to the prophets and gave them great words about the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow, but they longed to understand more of what they heard. They desired to look more deeply into these things. “Gabriel, what can the Lord be talking about?” Michael the archangel might ask. “I don’t know,” Gabriel might reply. “I wish I knew more about those prophecies.” Those angels listened intently when God summoned Isaiah into his presence and spoke to him about a time when in the latter days the mountain of the Lord would rise and Gentiles of all nations would press towards it, and the angels would look at one another in wonder; “What can that mean?” When they looked at God for understanding he smiled and shook his head. He was telling them no more yet.
The angels knew the simple wisdom of God, that he had created the world, and permitted the fall of man. The angels had gone with their flaming swords when Adam was driven out of the Garden to guard the way to the tree of life to prevent Adam and Eve returning there. They had been present when God called out Abraham and announced that through his seed all the nations of the world would be blessed. They were there on Sinai when the ten words of the law of God were given. They were there when God called Isaiah; the prophet heard them crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and seen them covering their eyes and feet. They had marvelled at the patience of God with man. When some of the angels had rebelled God has cast them out of heaven and consigned them to everlasting darkness reserved in chains for the day of judgment, but men had treated him far worse than the angels and yet God was so longsuffering towards them, not willing that any should perish. They watched as the whole paraphernalia of sacrifice and offering was instituted, but they couldn’t comprehend all that God intended to do. Jehovah could say to their queries, “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.”
Then, what of their bewilderment as one day their King and Master, the Son of God, bade them all farewell and left heaven for earth, becoming incarnate, taking to himself frail flesh and blood. Their Lord was born in a stable, and they all came to Bethlehem and sang his praises, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will towards men.” Then they watched the life of Jesus, step by step filled with wonder and shock and the highest worship. Some of them ministered to him after his temptations. They heard God say to him on the Mount of Transfiguration, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” One of them went to him at the command of the Father and strengthened him in the Garden of Gethsemane. They watched in mute horror as he was crucified, and when the mob tempted him to cry for deliverance, to see if a legion of angels would come to deliver him there they were on the ramparts of heaven looking to God for the word of command. They would have delivered him without a second word. They watched him in grief as he died and was buried. They rejoiced with awe at his resurrection. One of them tossed the stone to one side to show to the world the emptiness of the tomb. Some of them were there at the sepulchre in the garden to ask the women why they were seeking for the living amongst the dead. When he ascended to heaven they flung open the everlasting doors to welcome home their God and King.
Then they watched as at Pentecost the Spirit came from heaven upon the church. They saw broken lives healed and the guilty forgiven and the gospel preached in nations that were once in darkness. They saw the kingdom spread and multitudes born again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Through the work of the church’s apostles and preachers and missionaries and evangelists and all its ordinary members telling the gospel to the Gentiles they saw thousands all over Greece and Italy and Asia coming to Christ and joining the church, not second class Christians, but co-heirs, co-members and co-sharers with Jewish Christians in the promise in Christ. The church in its evangelism was preaching to the angels the manifold wisdom of God, and there was joy in the presence of the hosts of heaven as there has been ever since. Heaven is a world of joy because in its midst is the blessed Lord.
So this is the God we believe in. An objective reality, out there, but here too. So who or what did John Lennon believe in, if he dismissed God as a concept by which we measure our pain? This is what he said, “I just believed in me . . . Yoko and me.” See the uncertainty of that reply, the monstrous Ego at which even Lennon balked, hesitating about saying plainly, “I believe in me” – though that is what he did believe in. Even an ego the size of Lennon’s couldn’t get himself to say that, and so he added his wife, Yoko, as the object of his faith. “I also believe in Yoko Ono.” Lennon believed in himself and Yoko. Well, that’s another option for you, ego. “I believe in me.” There you are with your file, your record, your past; not the ego which you let others see, but the real ego, so naked and exposed and sad. Is that it? Is that all you have? Is that what you are going to believe in?
Then there is this glorious universe and its Creator, and there is the Son of God preaching the Sermon on the Mount, and raising the dead. There is this infinite-personal God who created all things, and purposed all things, and accomplished all things, and administers all things, and makes known all things to the hosts of heaven and the multitudes of earth, so that in heaven and on earth the song is sung, “How great Thou art!” Choose! Choose! You have to choose! John Lennon’s belief in himself, or faith in the mighty Creator of Genesis 1:1, also known to us in his Son Jesus Christ. Choose! You must choose, and the one you choose, him you will serve. Is it going to be ego or the Lord? “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15).
2. WE ARE TO APPROACH THIS GOD.
This twelfth verse of Ephesians chapter three contains one of the most beautiful succinct definitions of prayer to be found in the entire Bible. Here it is: Prayer is such that “In [Christ Jesus our Lord] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (v.12). Sinners may approach this God, this holy Creator, this consuming fire, the God who is light in whom is no darkness at all with freedom and confidence in Christ and through faith in Christ. You may approach him.
You argue, “But he is omnipresent. God is everywhere. What do you mean, approach him?” I say that it is thinking like that which has destroyed worship in so many churches. Men are saying that we get together on Sundays for teaching, and that all the days of the week we worship God, by the kitchen sink, in the office, at our classes. So Sunday services are for teaching , they say. That attitude can turn the sermon into a lecture and services become over-cerebral – “Bring on the Powerpoint and the overhead projector!” There has to be relief from that by introducing through the band and loadsachoruses. Singing and teaching – that is men’s idea of Sunday, these men who tell us that when the teaching on Sundays is over they go forth into the world and there they worship God, after the service has ended, because all of life is worship.
Men and women I want us to glorify God in everything we do. I want us to do it with all our might as unto the Lord. But this is an inadequate view of worship. Paul here speaks of occasions when we approach this mighty God, coming near to him. The Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount tells us when we pray, “Go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father” (Matt. 6:6). You go to a place to worship, and the Father sees you in this enterprise, and he doesn’t say, “What is this dualism? What is this pietism? Don’t you know that every activity in all of life is worship?” No. Jesus says, “Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matt. 6:7). How I long for that reward!
In other words, there are special Christian activities, individually done, or done with all the family of faith as we gather together, and at those times we pray. We approach God. We worship. We adore. We confess our sins. We thank him for his multitude of mercies. We intercede for ourselves and others. That is worship, and if that is absent from your life I cannot see how it is possible for all the rest of your life to be worship. All the rest of your life is ego if you do not regularly approach God. A pastor named John Gosden was speaking to a group of ministers eight months ago on the subject of depression, not the depression which is a mental problem, but spiritual blues, spiritual discouragement, and in this phrase he referred to it, ‘following God afar off.’ He quoted these simple verses of William Williams to help us understand what Paul is talking of here, approaching God with freedom and confidence:
“In Thy presence I am happy;
In Thy presence I’m secure;
In Thy presence all afflictions
I can easily endure.
In Thy presence I can conquer,
I can suffer, I can die;
Far from Thee I faint and languish;
O Thou Saviour; keep me nigh.”
That is what we mean by approaching God, it is entering God’s presence in a secret place alone, or with all our brothers and sisters on the Lord’s Day and worshipping him together. Where two or three gather together in Jesus’ name there is the Lord himself coming to hear and bless, in our midst. We gather at the foot of his throne, in his presence, in the name of Jesus, and we worship him. How important is that? It is all important. I was struck by some words of Francis Schaeffer; “God’s richest blessings are not necessarily reserved for the most correct in practice or the most orthodox in doctrine, but for those who desire him with the greatest ardency.”
Those who desire God will approach him. How? “In Christ” Paul says in our text. Because of our union with Jesus Christ, because we are joined to him by saving faith, like a branch is in a vine. This is the height of redemptive privilege, that we are joined to Christ, and God always sees us in him. God put all the church in Christ before the foundation of the world. We were in him when he became incarnate; in his righteous life, and in his atoning death.
“One in the tomb; one when He rose;
One when He triumphed o’er His foes;
One when in Heaven He took His seat,
While angels sang of hell’s defeat.
With Him their Head, they stand or fall,
Their life, their Surety, and their all.”
We approach God in Christ, and also through faith in him. I trust what the Holy One has said, that no man comes to the Father except by his Son. I have entrusted myself to Jesus, my past, present and my future, my sins and my good works, I have handed them all over to him. I belong to Jesus. I am his because I have come to him and he has received me. So, by the beloved Jesus Christ I am accepted by God. That is why Paul can speak of our “freedom and confidence” (v.12) when we come together in the presence of God.
i] Freedom! No need of a man dressed up in the costume of a priest to tell us God hears us. We meet with a couple of other Christians in a quiet corner of the school yard, by the bicycle shed, and we humbly pray as we stand there without others seeing us. We may freely approach God through faith in Christ. We are no longer chained to a cult leader, to a big personality who was once a blessing to us but later became a tyrant. Freedom to worship God without any men as intermediaries, but coming in the name of Jesus Christ.
ii] And “confidence” too Paul says (v.12).
“Because my sinless Saviour died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.”
I can come so confidently to this mighty Lord, this infinite-personal God who created the whole universe, the heavens and the earth, the God who purposed all things, and accomplished all things, and administers all things, and makes known all things to the hosts of heaven. I can look into his lovely face and say to him, “Abba, Father” and I know that he will listen with expectation and pleasure to what I say. That is the privilege of approaching God with freedom and confidence which every Christian has.
3. WE SHOULD NEVER BE DISCOURAGED.
“I ask you, therefore, not be to discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory” (v.13). “Therefore,” in the light of this mighty living God, and the fact that we may approach him, how can we be discouraged? Paul was in prison, chained to different guards, facing an uncertain future, not able to visit the churches and teach them. The church in distant Ephesus was wilting at this bad news. “Doesn’t God take care of his servants? Why is our wonderful apostle not freed – as God freed Peter? Doesn’t the Lord know that we need Paul to preach to us?” There are organisations today who teach Chinese pastors how to escape imprisonment by safely jumping out of second storey windows. Paul does not seem to have learned how to do such stunts. He was in prison, and resigned to that fact, to God’s refusal to release him. There are no records in his epistles of any prayers to God to open the prison for him to be freed. Why should God cause his servant this suffering?
Paul gives the Ephesians this extraordinary reason, that his sufferings were for them, his sufferings were their glory. We know that Paul had learned to glory in the thorn in his flesh. He gloried in his own infirmities and tribulations and sufferings. They drove him closer to God. He knew that they weren’t prescribed without a purpose. God used them to deliver Paul from being puffed up, to make him more usable, and so Paul could glory in his sufferings. So he says to the Ephesians, “These sufferings are for my good, and so they are for your good too. My chain, my cell, my guards, my prison are all for you, for your sake. They are therefore something for which you should give glory to God. My ministry to you through this prison letter, as you read and learn and take it into your life, will assist your elevation to the glories of heaven. My prison sufferings are for your exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
Paul was fearful of a spirit of murmuring developing in the congregation, a complaint against God focused on his not being delivered from prison. It is natural to complain when we are deprived of those things on which we have set our hearts – a beloved pastor preaching to us whom we wanted to go on preaching for ever! We feel we know how the church of Christ is to be built better than the Builder himself. When we have worked with prudence and diligence we think we are entitled to success, and that we deserve success. When we are surrounded by a happy family how dare any power on earth or in heaven remove one of them from us, and if anything like that happens we easily murmur against God.
Paul has shown them the mighty power of God. His total sovereignty in creation, providence and administration. Has he not the perfect right to do with us as he wills? If he chooses to silence our best man will we not say, Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? Think of Job in his sufferings and hear his sublime words, “The Lord gave, and the Lord took away.” He bowed to the sovereign will of Jehovah. Then he added, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
Consider the Son of God and his sufferings. Did not these come from the will of his Father? Did not God give him the cup to drink? Would he not say these same words of Paul to us, “Do not be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory”? Was he not absolutely resigned to his Father’s will? Should we not display the same resignation at our own sufferings and at those who suffer at the behest of God? God is infinitely wise and so he cannot make mistakes. God is infinitely righteous and so he will never wrong us. He only will what is good, and so we will not be discouraged.
11th July 2004 GEOFF THOMAS