Summary: The understanding that the Apostle Paul had for God's calling on his life is instructive for the calling of every church.
This morning I would like to start on a fairly major project. We are going to start a sermon series from the New Testament book of Ephesians. Its only 6 chapters long, but there is so much in it that it could easily take us 6 months to complete. I love the Bible, and to see the Bible's fullness it is helpful to study each passage in the context of the other passages around it. When you do that, themes start to come into focus that you miss if you jump around. So that's what we are going to do. We are going to work through the book of Ephesians.
It might be the most methodical thing to do to start at the beginning, but we aren't going to do that. We'll need to adjust for special days, so that we have an appropriate topic for Easter and Pentecost and such. And actually today we'll start near the middle. This is the first Sunday after Epiphany, a time when the church especially remembers its responsibilities to bring the gospel to all nations. And in Ephesians 3, Paul gives us a personal look at how he got into the missionary enterprise.
Let me read it for you now. If you want to have it open in front of you, you can find it on page 193 of the New Testament section of your pew Bible.
"This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles for surely you have already heard of the commission of God's grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
There are all sorts of interesting things in there, but let me pick out some of the main ones. How did Paul see his missionary work? In verse 2, he tells us that he saw it as a commission from God. It was a job a job from God. He knew that someday God would be asking him whether he had completed that job or not, and he was determined to be ready.
It was Paul's job to take this good news about Jesus Christ, and bring it to the people of Greece and Rome. The gospel had started out among the Jews. Jesus was Jewish. All of his first 12 disciples were Jewish. Generally the Jews looked down on everyone else, they called them Gentiles. The Jews had all sorts of particular ways they did things, and the Gentiles all seemed pretty slack to the Jews because they didn't follow the rules. The Jews were sure that God loved them, but they weren't sure that God loved those Gentiles. For the most part they were very content to just take all God's blessings they could get and keep them for themselves.
But God called Paul to take the gospel of Jesus Christ, a very, very Jewish religion, and work out what it would look like lived in Greek culture or Roman culture, to explain it to the Greeks and the Romans, to demonstrate it in his life, and to convince them of its truth. That was a hard job. It took a great mind and a lot of work and a willingness to sacrifice a great deal. That was Paul's commission from God.
And I want to remind us that this commission is not just for a few people. A few minutes ago we heard our liturgist read the last words of Jesus before he ascended to his father in heaven. We call it the Great Commission. Jesus told the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. That commission is for all of us. We can't all go. Maybe none of us have the unique qualifications that Paul had, but we can all support the fulfillment of that commission, through prayer, through studying, through financial support. It’s our job from God, too.