Summary: One of my questions for us today is whether or not we see our Christianity as an affliction, and can we relate to the identity of being afflicted because of the mystery of Christ that we have been exposed to?
“I Am Afflicted”
Sometimes we can read too much into passages of the bible to make them personal, that they relate to us specifically when they’re not meant to. As we read about Paul today and his afflictions, you might say, “well that was for Paul, how do you see us in that today?” I hope to make the case that while specific trials probably will not touch us today anyway, the general affliction Paul went through is not and should not be that unusual for a Christian of any fame or any time in history.
Let’s read what it says in Ephesians 3:1-13…
We need to give a very brief history here to understand what Paul is saying. He bookends this passage telling the people about his suffering in prison for the sake of the Gentiles, and in the middle he refers to God giving him this mission to preach or proclaim the mystery of Christ to the Gentiles. In verse 7 he lets us know that he was given this ministry by the grace of God through the working of His power. Now when we hear Gentile in the Bible we can translate that into our time as people outside of the church, people who do not have a relationship with Jesus.
Well, we remember how Paul was given this ministry. We see it in Acts 8 and 9. Paul, then Saul was ravaging the church, bringing huge persecution to believers. While he was off to arrest some more of them Jesus knocked him off his high horse and blinded him. For three days he couldn’t see and he didn’t eat or drink. This was his conversion and how God gave him this ministry. Doesn’t sound real pleasant or graceful does it? Yet Paul calls the whole process a gift of grace.
He then spends the rest of his waking life taking this message around the known world having his life threatened, being beaten and imprisoned on many occasions. Paul had no problem discerning when it was time to leave a church or community, he didn’t worry about getting fired or asked to resign, his life was usually in danger if he didn’t leave. It was not a pleasant ministry for Him, yet it seemed to bring him much joy.
One of my questions for us today is whether or not we see our Christianity as an affliction, and can we relate to the identity of being afflicted because of the mystery of Christ that we have been exposed to? Affliction is really suffering for a cause in this sense. Have we suffered simply because we are Christians?
Now there are many kinds of affliction, and some may see simply obedience to Jesus as a sort of affliction. Maybe we can’t do some things we would like to do because God forbids them. Maybe we are not accepted in certain social situations. Perhaps we are at times ridiculed for our faith. These are minor afflictions. This does not include ordinary human suffering that would be experienced by everyone, but suffering specifically because we are Christians.
The first point I want to make is about Paul’s first statement. “A prisoner of Christ Jesus on your behalf”. Now prisoner has a double meaning here because he is actually in prison, but it also means that he is a prisoner for or of Jesus. Even when he’s free from prison he’s a prisoner for Jesus. I’m going to say this very bluntly, you cannot choose how to live a Christian life. Paul would never have chosen this ministry on his own. Grace is a gift that saves but also gives us power to live as God’s workmanship, doing the good works he prepared for us. The Bible tell us how to be Christians and the Church, we don’t decide.
Paul says in 2 Cor 12 that Jesus told him, my grace is sufficient for you and my power is made perfect in weakness, so Paul says, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.
Perhaps Paul’s most pertinent passage about this grace is found in Titus 2:11, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age.”
So we might ask, have I just been saved from Hell by God’s grace, or have I become a new creation and prisoner to Jesus through God’s grace? We need to look at this because the next chapter of Ephesians goes into detail about this. Chapter 4 verse 7 for instance referring specifically to all believers, “Now grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says (in reference to Psalm 68:18) when he ascended on high, he took people into captivity and gave them gifts.”