I was talking with Shiqiu on the phone this week. She mentioned that at the first Mandarin Fellowship meeting, people introduced themselves and made various comments about Christianity. One person, not yet a Christian, noted he had researched possible causes for why certain nations remained poor while other nations became wealthy. One of his findings included the influence of Jesus Christ on the wealth of a nation. In countries where people believed in Jesus, wealth increased.
Now, before you lump me with those who teach that you are guaranteed health and wealth if you trust in Jesus Christ, you need to know I’m not saying that. I’m also not saying that true Christians need to be poor. The Bible does not equate material wealth or poverty with trust in Jesus Christ.
Yet the Bible does teach that Christians are extremely wealthy. This morning, we will look at what kind of wealth Christians have and how we got that wealth. We begin the study of a new book in the New Testament, the book of Ephesians. Let me read the text for this morning, Ephesians 1:1-3; we won’t have time to cover verses 4- 6.
Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary on Ephesians, tells about Hetty Green, who left an estate valued over $100 million dollars. That’s not unusual, except she died in 1916, and she lived like a pauper. She ate cold oatmeal in order to save on heating cost. She would not take her son to get medical help until she found a free clinic. And when she finally found a free clinic, it was too late to save her son’s leg, so his leg was amputated.
Was Hetty Green wealthy? You can argue both ways, but she certainly didn’t live as if she were.
Paul, writing to the Christians in Ephesus, reminded them of their wealth, less they live and die as paupers. We will only have time to look at four of the many riches belonging to believers in Jesus Christ. We’ll look at others on June 30th. This morning we see that God gives two worlds and two gifts to Christians. Let’s look together.
First, God gives believers in Jesus Christ two worlds. We see this in verses 1 and 3.
Some copies of this letter from Paul did not have the word "Ephesus," indicating that this may be a letter written by Paul to Christians in general. Most, however, believe that Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Ephesus, giving us the title, "Ephesians."
Paul wrote this letter and the letters of Colossians, Philippians and Philemon from a Roman prison cell. You need to know that Paul was not in jail for a civil or criminal violation, but for his faith in Jesus Christ. I’ll introduce Paul more next time.
After identifying himself, Paul identifies the recipients of this letter as "saints" and "faithful" or believers in Christ Jesus. If we look closely, we will see that Paul doesn’t waste any time, but he lets the readers know they are recipients of two worlds. Let me define the word, "saints" and then show you how Christians are recipients of two worlds.
Contrary to popular understanding, saints are not dead people. Paul is not writing to the dead but to the living. Saints are not perfect people. Perfect people don’t need to be instructed or reminded by Paul. And saints are not Catholics. This letter, written about 60 AD, predates Catholicism.
The word, "saints," simply means "those who are set apart." In the context of this letter, "saints" are those who are set apart for Jesus Christ. Saints belong to Jesus Christ but still live in this earthly world. Saints are also described as the faithful or the believers in Christ Jesus. Today, we call them Christians.
Therefore, Paul is reminding Christians that they have riches from two worlds, this earthly world and the heavenly world where Jesus Christ is. Later in this letter, Ephesians 2:6, we are told, "And God raised us [Christians] up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus."
What does this mean? This means that as Christians, we have resources from two worlds, that of earth and that of heaven. Let’s first unveil our wealth on earth.
Genesis 1:28 tells us, "God blessed them [Adam and Eve] and said to them, ’Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’"
Let me ask you: "For whom were the riches of the earth made?" According to the Bible, they were made for mankind. True, some people and governments have laid claims on certain parts, but God intended mankind, sometimes in the form of institutions, to manage His creation, not to misuse His creation.
Let me unveil our earthly wealth in simple examples. Let’s say you can’t afford to buy books you want to read. You can enjoy this world’s wealth by going to the public library. Or you live in a cramped apartment without a yard. You can enjoy this world’s wealth by going to the community or state parks. Maybe you don’t have in your budget to take your wife to a nice restaurant. You can enjoy this world’s wealth by taking her to a beach for a picnic.
When we drove down to Palm Springs two weeks ago, we took Highway 5. I saw the wide-open fields, and I concluded that the concern for overpopulation comes not from insufficient space or resources on God’s earth.
We have great abundance from God, no one should be poor. People are poor if they believe wealth consists only of what you can buy with money, or if they are oppressed by godless people or godless institutions.
It is sinful people, not shortage of resources that leads to poverty of many. People and nations that operate according to biblical beliefs experience wealth. The God of creation is a generous God.
Christians not only possess the wealth of earth, but they also possess the wealth of heaven, where Jesus Christ is. More than fourteen times in the letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds Christians that we are "in Christ."
But what does it mean to be "in Christ"? It means to belong to Christ, to be a follower of Christ, to be identified with Christ and to benefit from being with Christ.
If I put an apple seed in a pot of soil, that seed enjoys the protection and the nutrients of that pot of soil. To be "in Christ" is to have the blessings of Christ. Paul writes in verse 3, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ."
Philippians 3:20 tells us, "But [the Christians’] citizenship is in heaven." As much as many of us value American citizenship, and the privileges and protection that come with being an American citizen, Christians have greater benefits from our citizenship in Heaven. We have all the privileges and protection that come with being in Christ.
Let’s check out our wealth in Christ.
How much would you pay to have a 30-hour day instead of 24-hour day? In Christ, we don’t have a shortage of time. In Christ, we have eternal life. And in eternal life, we have a right relationship with God. Romans 6:23 tells us, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
What would you pay to have the unconditional love of God? In Christ, God’s love for us is free, unchanging and eternal. Romans 8:39 tells us, "... neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
What would you pay to rid your guilty past? In Christ, God no longer sees us as guilty. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"
These riches from Heaven cannot be bought with wealth from earth. You are truly wealthy when your life is not limited to 80 or 90 years but is eternal. You are truly wealthy when you have unconditional love from God and peace with God. Such spiritual wealth belongs only to those who have put their trust in Jesus Christ.
Quoting from John Haggai’s book, The Seven Secrets of Effective Business Relationships:
"When Forbes Magazine interviewed the Chinese industrialist, Robert Kuok, they made the following observation:
’Kuok may not be the biggest player in Asia. We estimate his family’s net worth to be at least $7 billion. But for sheer versatility, imagination and ability to get things done, [Kuok] has no peer.
’What would take us [Americans] 18 to 24 months [in China], Kuok’s Kerry Group could do in 2 months,’ says John Farrell, president of Coca-Cola China Ltd. ’His whole life has been built around building networks with overseas Chinese and in China. [Kuok’s] Kerry Group’s ability to do things fast is incredible.’"
Haggai continues by noting, "Relatedness is a feature of Chinese culture - a network across the Pacific Rim know as the ’guanxi.’" To be "in Christ" is to have the spiritual guanxi with God that opens the vault of Heaven.
First, God gives believers in Jesus Christ two worlds. Second, God gives believers in Jesus Christ two gifts. We see this in verse 2.
Now the phrase, "Grace and peace to you" is a New Testament conventional greeting that combines the Hebrew greeting, "Peace to you" and the Greek greeting, "Grace to you." But Paul does not fill his letters with conventional clichés. He is reminding Christians that grace and peace come from God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we learned last week, grace means God’s favor, His provisions or His promises to us that we cannot earn and do not deserve. In the context of this letter, the grace of God that Paul is referring to is the gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross to pay for our sins.
We read this in verse 6, which we will study in detail several Sundays from now, "... to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One [who is Jesus Christ] he loves." The first gift from God is the gift of grace. We cannot earn and we do not deserve to have God’s Son die in our place for the forgiveness of our sins.
Romans 8:32 tells us, "[God] who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" If you ever doubt that you are getting God’s best, just look at the cross.
When God says, "Thou shall not steal," He is not withholding from us a business strategy that brings us success. When God says, "Thou shall not commit adultery," He is not withholding from us pleasure for personal fulfillment. We can be sure that we are wealthy beneficiaries of God’s best because of His grace in Jesus Christ.
The second gift is the gift of peace with God. Christians are not perfect; we are forgiven and our relationship with God is restored. The gift of peace with God points not to our goodness but to God’s goodness. Anyone can have this peace with God by trusting in Jesus Christ.
Religions around the world have changed the peace with God from a gift from God to a reward for good or religious works. Islam requires people to keep the five pillars. Jehovah’s Witness requires people to work for their salvation. Hinduism requires people to unite with Brahma, through devotion, meditation, good works and self-control. Roman Catholicism requires good works and the seven sacraments of the Church.
But the Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9 that peace with God is a gift, not a reward, "For it is by grace (undeserved and unearned) you have been saved, through trust--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast." We need not be wealthy to have peace with God, but when we have peace with God, we are made wealthy.
Someone has said, "We cannot put a price tag on friendship." If human friendship is priceless, then peace and friendship with God is infinitely more priceless. Therefore, possessing peace with God as a gift from God makes us infinitely wealthy.
Let me close with a quote from Max Anders’ book, The Good Life, "God wants us to have wealth. We must be careful not to settle for money."
If money or what you can buy with money is your only understanding of wealth, then your understanding is keeping you in poverty. And God forbid that Christians live in poverty when God has given us two worlds and two gifts.