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Paul: Prisoner and Steward

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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July 12, 2023 4:00 am

Paul: Prisoner and Steward

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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July 12, 2023 4:00 am

On Truth For Life, Alistair Begg is beginning a study in Ephesians, the letter the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus while he was imprisoned in Rome. Find out what was foremost in Paul’s heart and mind as he considered his miserable circumstances.


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The Verdict
John Munro
The Verdict
John Munro
Rob West and Steve Moore

Welcome to Truth for Life, where today we begin a study in the book of Ephesians.

We're starting in chapter 3. This is a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus while he was imprisoned in Rome. Today, Alistair Begg shares with us what was foremost on the apostle Paul's heart and mind in the midst of his own challenging circumstances. Let's begin at the very beginning just for a moment and remind ourselves that Paul is writing in this letter to the saints—this is chapter 1 and verse 1—"to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus." So we reminded ourselves as we began our study that the true believer lives in two places—that they were in Ephesus and they were in Christ. If you are a Christian here today, you have a residency that is in Cleveland or the environs, and you are also in Christ—that your real citizenship is to be found in the heavenly places, whatever your ethnicity or your passport may say.

And Paul, in writing to these Ephesian believers, is using the terminology which was his favorite terminology. He does not make mention of people as being Christians when he writes. In fact, I think he would have found it rather strange to have people ask him if he was a Christian.

I don't think he would have asked us that either. He would have said to us, Are you in Christ? And I commend to you the little rehearsal of that phraseology. If you just start at the beginning of chapter 1 and work your way through, you will find that it comes again and again. And Paul is affirming the fact that for us to be placed in Christ as individuals—and in chapter 1 he says, you know, and you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and you believed. He's describing, if you like, a moment in time or a period in time where that which God had planned from all of eternity became the reality of these individuals.

They were to later look back and see that this was grounded in the eternal will and counsel of God and that their security was in this. But at the same time, for them to be placed in Christ was to be placed into a community that was a multinational and multiracial community called the church, so that if you are in Christ this morning, then I want you to know that although you may be an only child, you have brothers and sisters throughout the entire world. In fact, you have people with whom you are related that span the centuries that, one day, when we are all brought together in a new heaven and in a new earth, we will have occasion to say to one another, Hello, brother.

Hello, sister. And for the present time, as you look around on a routine Sunday, we have a little indication of it here. This is the wonder of the church. And at the end of chapter 2, Paul says, it's important for you, Ephesians, to realize that you are sharing citizenship, that you are members of one family, and that you are stones—or bricks, as it were—being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

If you and I are tempted—and some of us, I think, are tempted, let's just be honest—to view the gospel in terms of what it means to me as an individual, if I see it solely in those terms, then I will be tempted to regard, quote, church stuff as excess baggage, as just something else that's a sort of optional extra. You see, that's why when I say to you, It really matters that you're here. I'm not on about job security. I got job security whether you're here or not.

No! It's because of what it means to you and to me and to the watching world. What an irony that we would go out and try and invite the community in when the community that is in doesn't even like being with the community it's already in. The blood of Jesus Christ, Paul has already said, has broken down the wall of hostility. Now, let's get to chapter 3. For this reason, I, Paul, a prisoner for Jesus Christ, on behalf of you. Now, you'll notice that Paul characteristically interrupts himself. You see this phrase, For this reason, in verse 1. Look down to verse 14, and he comes back to it.

For this reason. So it would appear that when he starts it the first time, he's about to say what he goes on to say as he prays for them on the second occasion. Therefore, verses 2 to verse 13 are essentially parenthetical. Paul does this all the time. He has these huge run-on sentences that all the English teachers complain about. Sometimes he breaks off into a doxology, essentially just starts singing, breaks into his thought, and then he comes back to it. But what he's doing here is, it seems to me that he can't get beyond saying, I, Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, on your behalf, without stopping and saying, How amazing is this?

How amazing is this? And as he goes on down through there, you know, he gets to it in verse 8, to me, though I am the very least of all the saints. Now, the interruption is understandable, and it is purposeful. And I found it helpful this week, as I thought about this, to remind myself that he's not writing a theological treatise here. He's writing a letter. And as he writes, under the direction of the Spirit of God, and as he thinks about things, that which is in his heart pours out from his heart. And while the substance of Ephesians is wonderfully theological, the concern of Ephesians, as with his other letters, is pastoral.

I mean, Paul is both evangelist and pastor. And if you look at how he ends the parenthetical section in verse 13—I think it comes across—he says, So, so, I ask you not to lose heart over what I'm suffering for you, which is your glory. In other words, he says, I've got a whole bunch of material that I'm going to get to, but I wanted to mention this and this and this and this, and I want to make sure, because I'm concerned for you and for your well-being, that you won't lose heart on account of me. Let's say, for example, that I was put in the jail. They took me and put me in jail in Cuyahoga somewhere, and I had to write you a letter. Now, it would be one thing if I was put in the jail for something that was a legitimate violation of the law. But let's say I'm put in the jail as a result of telling people that there is only one Savior, who is Jesus Christ, and there's no way that you can come to know God except through one mediator.

The day could come. But let's say that's it. So then, when I write to you, and I write to you, and I say, Hey, I want you to know that I'm in here because of Jesus, and I don't want you to be unduly concerned about me or worried about me at all, because this is directly related to the unfolding purpose of God. That would all make sense. That's exactly what he's doing.

That's what he's doing. So he says, For this reason I, Paul, and then he goes, I'm a prisoner for Christ Jesus. Well, humanly speaking, he was a prisoner of Rome. He was there, if you like, at the behest of Nero. But he doesn't describe himself in those terms. He says, I'm a prisoner for Jesus Christ. In other words, he views his circumstances under the overruling providence of God. If you read church history, you realize how many have followed in his wake, those who today, in places around our world, who might equally write to their congregations and describe themselves as prisoners for Christ Jesus. Because the reason they are where they are is because their unequivocal commitment to the gospel. So I made a note of just three words to try and help me with this. I said, I noticed that there is no indication of agitation on Paul's part here.

It's a straightforward statement. I'm a prisoner for Christ Jesus. He doesn't say, I'm here just trying to figure out why this has occurred. I'm here, I'm disappointed by things, I've been a faithful servant, and look at where I am now.

I'm here. This is not what I expected. I mean, this is what it means to be an apostle. There's none of that. No. No agitation.

I'm a prisoner for Christ Jesus. There's no resignation—that's my second word—no resignation. There's no stoicism.

He's not writing to them and saying, you know, what are you gonna do? Stuff happens, you know, you gotta take the good with the bad, I've had good days, this is not such a good… No. No. No resignation. I'm a prisoner for Christ Jesus. I think what you have here is exaltation. Exaltation. I think it comes… I think he should have put two exclamation marks at it and used an emoji at the end of it with a big smiling face. Just a big one.

Or maybe the dancing lady as well at the end of it. So it's not, I'm a prisoner for Christ Jesus. It's, I'm a prisoner for Jesus Christ. I can't believe this.

I'm in here. Does the same thing with the Philippians, doesn't he? I want you to know that what has happened to me has served to advance the gospel. Everybody in the whole place is finding out about Jesus.

This is fantastic! In other words, he views circumstances which from the outside would appear to be wretched, miserable, and beyond human control as the very place of the appointing of God. This is the place he has set me, and I am his prisoner.

What an amazing encouragement! It must have been to the readers. They immediately would have said, Well, we should pray for Paul, but we don't need to worry about him unduly. I'm sure he's evangelizing like crazy.

Which is what he was doing. And what about you this morning? What about me? You've come out of a week? I don't know your circumstances, you do.

Aren't you tempted to go at it in terms of agitation? I can't believe this. I didn't think it was gonna be like this. Why's this happened to me? Why are they getting sick?

Why did I get this diagnosis? Or resignation? Well, so what? You know? You meet Christians, they're not like Christians.

They're like non-Christians. Stoical. Well, you just gotta take it, you know. Suck it up. You'll be okay. That's not Christianity.

I don't know what that is. No, Christianity is I'm brokenhearted, but Jesus is my safety. Christianity is I did lose my loved one, and this is the hardest period in my entire life. But I've learned with Andrew Murray that he really got onto something when he wrote about his circumstances—and I found this in 2007, and I've never forgot it since—in relationship to circumstances that unfolded in my own life. And I wrote down in my journal Murray's words—they go like this, I am here by God's appointment, in his keeping, under his training, for his time.

Here, by God's appointment, in his keeping, under his training, for his time. Makes all the difference in the world. Doesn't actually change the circumstance. It is what it is. Through the storm.

You are. It's not out of the storm. Through the storm. And Paul writes out of the storm-tossed experience of his prison, and he says, I am a prisoner for Christ Jesus. Now, he goes on to say—and I'll tell you why—I'm not only a prisoner, but I'm a prisoner on behalf of you Gentiles.

It's because of what I have been preaching that I am a prisoner. I have been going around telling people that the wall of hostility between the Jew and the Gentile has actually been broken down in Jesus. He had been telling people that Jesus was creating a new people. He was creating a new people, and he was creating a new temple. And that was really disturbing to them, particularly to the Jewish people, who said, No, we are the people. It's hard for us this morning to understand the depth of the gap or the breadth of the chasm between Jew and Gentile at this point in history. The Jew regarded a Gentile as a dog.

The Gentile was not allowed in the home of an Orthodox Jew. That would immediately make them unclean. That was what Paul believed. Paul was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. That's where he was brought up.

That was his background entirely. The mystery of it was that of all the people God might make as the apostle to the Gentiles, he would take him—this fellow, who was an insolent blasphemer, who was opposed to all this stuff, and he was so radically changed by it and unashamed of it that he was telling the whole world, New people, new temple. Having just been in Jerusalem, again, I have to disavow people. I don't mean to dishearten them or spoil their trip. But it really freaks me out when I have them moving around, going, I just have to touch this. Ooh! I'm like, Why are you touching it? Well, you know. I said, No.

Well, nothing. I don't know why you're touching it. Well, this is where Jesus is.

Well, it might be. But I'll tell you, he's in Cleveland, I know that for sure. Because I was there. He's also in Illinois. He's in Beijing. He's in the entire world. He's no more in Jerusalem than he is in Kettering, Ohio.

Well, people don't like that. Well, the temple. What temple?

There is no temple. It came crashing down. Jesus said, This thing will go down and will be rebuilt in three days. And they said, How could that be?

He said, Because I'm talking about me. The temple was the place where God met with his people. The temple was the place where sacrifice for sin was provided. The temple pointed to the fulfillment in Jesus. And once fulfilled in Jesus, it's fulfilled. So there is a new temple, and you're in it if you're in Christ. And there is a new people. And it is made up of all who are in Christ. Jewish people who have all the benefits of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the law and the prophets and all of that background material are placed in Christ by the self, same work of grace, as are Gentiles who had no knowledge of any of that Old Testament. And that's the point he's making.

And that's the reason he's in the jail. Because they cannot tolerate the notion. It's dramatic.

It's fantastic. The Jews couldn't stand the fact that the gospel was a gospel for the Gentile as well as for them. The Gentiles were becoming children of Abraham by faith in exactly the same way. If you read this for yourself, just read through Acts again, and you'll find that this is true. For example, in Acts chapter 21, Luke records there how the… It just goes crazy. After Paul has been purifying himself in the temple, ironically, the Jews set upon him, and because he has Trophimus with him, they assume that Trophimus has been taken into the court of the Jews, and therefore Paul has violated all of that stuff. And so it's a great hullabaloo. Eventually, they get it calmed down enough for Paul, and Paul says, Could I just explain here what's going on?

So the tribune says, Yes, that's okay, go ahead. So he silences the people. You can read this in Acts 22. And he begins, and he gives them his testimony.

And he says, This is my background. I am one of you. I am a Jew.

I don't violate these things. I'm committed to this. And as he works his way through, he tells how he's got an entirely new view of God's grace and mercy and God's people and so on. And it's going along quite nicely. There's no interruptions until you get to verse 21, as it's recorded. And he says that God said to him, I will send you far away to the Gentiles. And then Luke records, at that point, the thing went nuts, because they said, No, may this fellow be cast out from us that he would take this story to the Gentiles. You see, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a radical gospel. The story of Jesus is not some milquetoast, mamby-pamby invention in time.

It is grounded in the fact that God from all of eternity has purposed in the fullness of time to unite all things in Christ, both in heaven and on earth. Now, just think about that for a moment. Think about it as you deal with contemporary politics. Think about it as you see thousands of people rescued in the Mediterranean and picked up on ships. Think about it in those terms. Think about the attempt of our world, politically and economically and socially, to try and create that union.

And it's faltering, and it's failing, despite its best attempts. Will it ever be done? Can it ever be achieved? Where may a Jew and a Gentile eat together and rejoice in one another's company? Where can the rich and the poor be united?

Where can you take an intelligent man from the university at Case and a dummy like me and have us sing the same songs together? Where does this happen? It happens in the church. And you, if you're in Christ, this is you. This is your identity.

You are it. You are the building. We are the temple. This is how the world is supposed to get a picture of how it will finally be when in a new heaven and in a new earth, in Revelation 21, and I saw a new Jerusalem coming out of heaven from God. We're not going up to it. It's coming down to us. It's a wonder. You can tell I'm a little excited about it, but I must confess I am. Galatians 3, there's neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor slave, but Barcidian or free, barbarian, Scythian, whatever it is.

No. You see, this is why I think contemporary America has got such a low view of the church. Such a low view of the church, myself included. We don't realize what an amazing thing this is that God is doing. That the church—even though, you know, in the hymn, the church is one foundation through Jesus Christ our Lord, she is his new creation by water and the Word.

From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride, and with his own bloody border and for her life he died. And then it goes on, and he says, you know, though it's riven asunder, though people see these things, they realize that not everybody's getting on with everybody and so on, and the writer says, that's part and parcel of the growing pains, because what we have in the church is partial, it is unfulfilled, until finally it will be there in perfection. But for the time being, our union with Christ, that I have been placed in Christ, is about the fact that I have not been placed in there to live alone but that I have been placed in there to rejoice in your company too.

And Paul says, That's why I'm in the jail. And he says, And that's why I want everybody to know I am a steward of God's grace. Well, we don't have time to get to steward of God's grace, at least not now. You're listening to Truth for Life, that is, Alistair Begg, showing us that the Apostle Paul both understood and embraced God's providence. He trusted that God knows what he's doing.

The question for us is, do we trust God's providence? When we embrace the providence of God, as Paul did, it changes the way we view everything, including our own suffering, our successes, our priorities, even our goals and ambitions. In fact, that idea is at the heart of a book we want to recommend to you today. It's called Dream Small, the Secret Power of the Ordinary Christian Life. Now, I know that sounds like strange advice in a time when dream big seems to be the popular theme. But as you read this book, you'll see that the Bible teaches us to dream better, not bigger. You'll also learn how God measures greatness in a different way, why every interaction we have has significance, not just those connections we make with seemingly influential people. Request your copy of the book Dream Small when you give a gift to support the Ministry of Truth for Life at slash donate or call 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapine. Why is it that some people can read the Bible or hear it preached and yet they never believe the gospel? Tomorrow we'll find out what's missing. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-12 05:15:46 / 2023-07-12 05:24:32 / 9

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