Ephesians 3

6 And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children.
God lets Paul in on this secret. God has been planning all along for all people in the world to have the opportunity to be one with him. As mentioned, there are hints of this in the Old Testament, pointing to God’s plan to bless all people, but the Jewish people still think of themselves as those who are to remain holy, follow God’s law, and remain separated from the Gentiles as much as they can.

But, God has now revealed that the separation isn’t even in his plans. The Gentiles might not realize it, but they are also to inherit the things of God because he intended to be their God all along.

Imagine what it would be like for you if your next door neighbor inherited a huge sum of money and then you find out you are related, and you receive the same inheritance.

That’s what it is like for the Gentile Christians. Their eyes have been opened to the wonders of God that have been passed down through the Jewish people. Now they realize, they get the same inheritance.

ME

Where is one place in the Old Testament that anticipates God’s blessings being for all people?

Ephesians 3

3 As I briefly wrote earlier, God himself revealed his mysterious plan to me. 4 As you read what I have written, you will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ. 5 God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets.

Life isn’t easy. Rich, poor, married, single, young, old, no matter what race or religion- everyone has a tough life. We are broken people living with broken people. This was true in our past and it is true now. So, are things going to get any better? You don’t have to ask that question when you are a follower of Jesus and when you act like your best true self. When you find yourself doing what God wants done things will fall into place. Then life always gets better.

If you want to make a change in your life, it doesn’t really matter where you live or what you do, you will be bringing the same circumstances along with you. Your perception is a powerful influence on what is right or wrong in your world.  If you want a change, if you want your life to be richer, then it starts with being open to being transformed by God to start seeing things through his eyes.

No matter where you live or what you do, people will still be broken, you will still be broken, but you will begin to see beyond the brokenness. Like Jesus, you will be able to act like your best, true self, no matter what is happening around you.

ME

What is one thing in your current way of thinking that is getting in the way of your joy?

Ephesians 3

1 I think of all this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the benefit of you Gentiles . . . 2 assuming, by the way, that you know God gave me the special responsibility of extending his grace to you Gentiles.

Paul is succeeding in spreading the Gospel because God is taking advantage of this time in world history. In the first century, the Roman authorities require people of all faiths to pay homage to Rome by offering sacrifice to the Emperor. This religious act is to show allegiance to Rome. Jewish people wouldn’t be able to do this because this would directly violate God’s ways. But for various reasons, Jews are given a special exemption and are not required to sacrifice to the Emperor.

Since the earliest Christians are still considered Jews by the Romans, they can travel and teach without trouble. Therefore the earliest Church blossoms. Then there is trouble.

The Christians are not accepted by the Jewish establishment. The Christians are persecuted by the Jewish authorities to the point that the Romans realize there is a split. If the Christians aren’t Jewish, then there will be no exemption from Emperor worship. The Christian faith is outlawed and leaders, like Paul, are imprisoned. Yet, Paul doesn’t get thrown into prison right away. Because, he is also a Roman citizen, he has rights others do not have. And even in prison he is able to write letters and receive news, unlike other prisoners who aren’t citizens of Rome. This isn’t his first time writing.

ME

What is an advantage you have in how God has wired you or the circumstances you find yourself in that make it more likely for you to be a good influence on others?

Acts 19

28 At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, who were Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia. 30 Paul wanted to go in, too, but the believers wouldn’t let him. 31 Some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, also sent a message to him, begging him not to risk his life by entering the amphitheater.

Ephesus is known as a place of power. It is the capital of Roman Asia. Ephesus is also an important religious center. It is the sight of the Temple of Artemis- one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. Artemis is the mother goddess of the ancient world. She is goddess of fertility, healing, and miracles. As a result, Ephesus is a city of sorcery and magic.

Paul spends three years in Ephesus. He works as a tentmaker for the Roman army during the day, with a break at midday to teach. The missionaries who reach all of the area of Turkey and the middle East are taught by Paul in this time. Paul is also known by the Ephesians. His teaching becomes so influential that he is hurting the tourist trade. Acts 19 tells the whole story.

It seems Paul is teaching about Jesus without denigrating the Ephesian pagan religion. Some of the city officials warn him he is in danger. Paul is friends with people who are choosing not to be Christians. In fact another official, the mayor of the city, probably saves Paul’s life, and some of his companions, by defending them to the riotous crowd.

ME

What does Paul’s model say about harshly criticizing other religions as an evangelism tool?

 

(Spend 5 minutes before you read thinking about one or two things you appreciate in your life. These appreciation memories will enhance everything that follows)

Monday June 27

Ephesians 1

From Paul, one of King Jesus’ apostles through God’s purpose, to the holy ones in Ephesus who are also loyal believers in King Jesus: may God our father and the Lord Jesus, the king, give you grace and peace! Let us bless God, the father of our Lord Jesus, the king! He has blessed us in the king with every spirit-inspired blessing in the heavenly realm.

Ephesus was a center of the Christian Faith in the earliest days of Christianity. St. Paul worked here as a tentmaker, probably supplying the Roman army. He would take a break at midday and rent a lecture hall to train up people to go out and plant mission outposts. We hear about some of these outposts as they are written to by Paul. The church at Collosae is one such place, where we get a letter Paul wrote to them, the letter to the Colossians.

It is likely the Letter to the Ephesians is a circular letter which is meant for many different groups to read.  Like a group email.  It might be more accurate to call it the letter from Ephesus, as this could be a letter in their possession they send out when Paul was imprisoned.

Let us bless God, the father of our Lord Jesus, the king!

Ephesians begins with worship. This is appropriate. Whenever we think of God the Father, we remember he comes to us directly. He is not hidden or obscure. He sends Jesus to bring all people together in him.

Then a very powerful thought comes through right away. Because Jesus is in God, we receive the same blessings he does as we are in the King.

He has blessed us in the king with every spirit-inspired blessing in the heavenly realm.

The things of heaven are available to us as we are in Christ. Do you know how strong that makes us? Whatever is happening around us, we are his and we know we are secure. We can stake our lives on that.

ME

Consider the ways you are living your life this week as an act of worship to God.

Tuesday June 28

Ephesians 1

He chose us in him before the world was made, so as to be holy and irreproachable before him in love. He foreordained us for himself, to be adopted through Jesus the king. That’s how he wanted it, and that’s what gave him delight, so that the glory of his grace, the grace he poured on us in his beloved one, might receive its due praise.

We are chosen by God through Jesus before we were born. Actually, before the universe is born. We are his and he will never turn us away, but instead we have his pure love. We are connected to God through Jesus.

But notice we are not chosen for the sake of ourselves. We are chosen because of what God wants to do through us in his plans. That “the grace he poured on us in his beloved one, might receive its due praise.”

To be chosen is to go beyond salvation. Salvation is only part of the process. Salvation is the beginning and God moves beyond our salvation and works through us to fulfill his plan. Bringing in his Kingdom. Your actual life is the way God is bringing his Kingdom into the lives of people you influence.

And it’s the same for a community of Christians. A church community is not chosen for itself only, but that it is expanded out into the surrounding world so God can work through it.

And because God is most present where his work is being done, you are most vibrant when you are doing that work. Your church is most vibrant when it is doing God’s work in the world. Slowly American churches are discovering this.

It isn’t the size of your church that is a measure of God’s influence, it is the vibrancy of your people and how they are responding to work for God in the community.

ME

Americans are caught up in a celebrity culture. How does this affect the Christian Church?

Wednesday June 29

Ephesians 1

In the king, and through his blood, we have deliverance –that is, our sins have been forgiven –through the wealth of his grace which he lavished on us.

Here Paul is showing how God is at work all along to rescue and restore all of creation. There is a shadow that runs through what he says that points back to the Exodus of God’s people out of slavery in Egypt. Led by Moses, the Hebrews escape death by putting the blood of the lamb on their door frame.

When Jesus comes along this happens again, only on a much greater scale, indeed a cosmic scale because all of creation is being restored. All people, not just the Hebrews, are delivered. Only this time, instead of escaping from Pharaoh, all people are rescued from slavery to the worst taskmaster of all- sin. That which enslaves us and keeps us from God. This great deliverance from sin is, of course, forgiveness, and it comes to us because of the blood of Jesus, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Do you see how God is telling his story all along? Jesus is the greater and more expanding exodus who is for all people.

ME

Knowing your sins are forgiven is meant to be freeing. When have you been forgiven by someone that brought this sense of freedom?

Thursday June 30

Ephesians 1

Yes, with all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the secret of his purpose, just as he wanted it to be and set it forward in him as a blueprint for when the time was ripe.

There have always been secret societies. Groups of people who identify with each other through elaborate secretive rituals. These may seem relatively harmless like the sororities and the fraternities you may have been part of. Other secret societies you may have heard of are groups like the Masons.

Human beings begin to develop their group identity around middle school. Who are my people and how is it my people act? are questions that are answered as we grow. We bond together when we share a common identity, but when it is secretive, it excludes. Not so with the Christian faith. Notice how God has revealed everything out in public.

But with God it takes time. God didn’t reveal himself all at once because people wound’t understand. The revealing of God’s plan is a slow process that built on the story of his people from the beginning. It is only in the time of Jesus that the world is ready to hear. When Jesus breaks into our time and space 2000 years ago, he brings God’s plan into clear focus. And one of the keys to being in the family of God is there is no exclusion.

This is why you find Christianity in all parts of the world. Not so with Islam or any other religious system. All worldviews outside of Christianity remain somewhat exclusive. They seem to work only in certain areas of the world or certain cultures.

But God the Father has a blueprint available for all. At its most basic it looks like this. Through trusting Jesus you love God, love your neighbor, and you become a blessing to those around you. There is no secret code or secret handshake, or secret writing or anything else that you have to know to know that you are his.

ME

How have you included people in your life who are different than you?

Friday July 1

Ephesians 1

His plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king –yes, everything in heaven and on earth, in him.

It is in King Jesus that God connects everything. Jesus is distinctly different than all the other deities that were worshipped in his day; than all the other philosophies that were followed. Here is how N.T. Wright puts it concerning what Paul is saying about God.

He isn’t just a divine force, a vague influence or energy loosely known as ‘the sacred’. He is the God who made the world, and who has now made himself known in and through Jesus. As far as Paul is concerned, any picture of God which doesn’t now have Jesus in the middle of it is a distortion or a downright fabrication.

Christians have much in common with people of other views of the world and how we live out our faith. Most faith systems have a god. Most people pray. But we are different than other views, as well. No faith system out there is so willing to put everything out there for all to test. No other faith system is so open to questioning the very foundations of belief. The God of the Bible welcomes examining the faith. He welcomes questions. Not so with other faiths. Questioning aspects of their faith is discouraged or may even be severely punished.

But the biggest difference between other religions and philosophies out there is Jesus. We can’t think of a God without Jesus. We look at God through the eyes of Jesus. Jesus is there right in the middle.

At the end of the day, I am not the same as my Jewish friends. Not the same as my Muslim friends, not like my Sikh friends, my atheist friends, there is a distinct difference. I am a Christian and I can’t view the world any other way than through Jesus. Through his model and teachings.

I can understand where others are coming from. I can appreciate aspects of their worldviews. But, one thing I can’t do is overlook Jesus as if he is a peripheral part of my faith, my life. Jesus is at the very center and it is Jesus I worship and obey, it is Jesus whom I owe my whole life.

ME

“We all worship the same God.” You have heard this. In what ways is this true? In what ways is this not true?