March 10, 2024

God's Hope for a Divided World (Ephesians 3:8-12)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2023-2024) Topic: One Body: You Shall Be My People Scripture: Ephesians 3:8–12

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Children's Lesson (click here) 

I. Disastrous Divisions

Though the fruit of globalization is a more 'connected' planet, it's abundantly clear that we still live in a very divided world. Think about just one example of this, and its repercussions. Divisions between Israelis and Palestinians are nothing new. But as we all know, after the October 7 (2023) terrorist attacks by Hamas, those divisions have been exacerbated to painfully disastrous levels. And those divisions have exacerbated other divisions in the region. But the repercussions don't stop there. Across the world in our own country, we've seen how those Middle Eastern divisions have created or exacerbated divisions here, in a whole host of contexts: in educational settings, in the entertainment world, in the corporate world, on social media, and not surprisingly, in the political arena. And people here have suffered as well, some have even died, as result of these divisions.

Of course, that example is simply one of many, many ideas and issues, of many people and causes, many differences and grievances over which people choose to divide; divisions which, as we just talked about, often have very destructive consequences. So what hope is there for a divided world like ours? I'm glad you asked. Look with me at Ephesians chapter 3, verses 8-12.

 II. The Passage: “Through the Church” (3:8-12)

Let me set this passage up by quickly summarizing verses 1-8 of this chapter. Paul has just written in chapter 2 about how his Gentile (i.e., non-Jewish) readers “who once were far off have been brought near [to God] by the blood of Christ.” (2:13) So... now both Jewish and non-Jewish believers (2:18) “both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” So addressing these Gentile readers in 3:1, he goes on to demonstrate that this unification between Jews and Gentiles continues to be his main focus. Having emphasized in verse 2 and verse 7 of chapter 3 that his service, his ministry, his apostleship to the Gentiles was a gift of God's grace, listen to how he stresses that again at the beginning of our main text. Picking up in verse 8...

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles [i.e. or “the nations”] the unsearchable riches of Christ, [9] and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, [10] so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. [11] This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, [12] in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

So here's our goal: our goal is to make sure we understand what Paul is saying in these verses by talking about three main ideas drawn from the text, and informed by the context of chapter and letter as a whole. Here are those three ideas: first, God has now revealed a glorious mystery, second, God has now unified a restored humanity, and third, God has now disarmed a divisive enemy. Let's go through each of these points, and see how they are derived from and explain our main passage for this morning, verses 8-12 of Ephesians chapter 3.

So first, Paul is crystal clear in Ephesians that God has now revealed a glorious mystery. What does he mean when he uses the term “mystery”? He means that it was (v. 9) “hidden for ages in God”. Hidden from whom? Hidden from God's servants under the old covenant. But it has now been disclosed through (v. 5) Christ's “holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit”. Or as Paul puts it in verse 3, it “was made known to me by revelation”. What was this mystery? Well, building on what he's already written in chapter 2, Paul puts in plainly in 3:6. Look back...

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs [i.e., with Jewish believers... fellow heirs], members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

So many of the promises to God's people through the Old Testament prophets seemed to describe a future of blessing primarily for an exalted Israel. Sure, the nations who were sub-jugated to them might enjoy some of the overflow of that blessing, but it was a Hebrew future under a Hebrew Messiah. But by God's grace, Paul was able to see, not only the Old Testament clues that pointed to something much bigger, but also how Jesus was the One who did make possible a future of blessing for an exalted people, but one composed of both Jews and Gentiles.

Therefore we can say, second, God has now unified a restored humanity. Where has this unification taken place? Where is it on display? Verse 10 provides the answer: “through the church”. Wait. Did he mean the readers' church there in Ephesus? Yes! But was that true of the other churches in the First Century? Yes! But does that include churches today, even our church? Yes! When Paul talks about the “church” here, he's talking about the universal, Spirit-connected community of every true believer in Jesus, no matter their 'where' or 'when', expressed through local communities of his disciples. True churches reveal the true Church.

And through those churches God wants to reveal his amazing artistry, or what Paul calls in verse 10, his “manifold wisdom”. That word translated “manifold” literally means 'many various' or 'multi-diverse'. That original Greek word only appears here in the New Testament, but outside the Bible, it could refer to a cloth woven with many different-colored threads or a painting that included a great variety of colors. I think an even better illustration for this word is something like a diamond. Did you know the standard cut of diamond has 58 facets? With that many surfaces, given the transparent or translucent nature of the material, a diamond can sparkle in the light in a way few others things can. That's what Paul is talking about here: the stunning jewel, the absolute brilliance of God's wisdom. But God's wisdom in doing what? God's wisdom in bridging a divide as deep and as wide as the canyon between Jews and Gentiles. Not only bridging that divide (or removing what 2:14 calls, “the dividing wall of hostility”), but actually forming a renewed human family from these once-divided, once-hostile groups. What a stunning reality! And God's multi-faceted wisdom, his brilliant wisdom, is further unpacked when we consider...

Third, God has now disarmed a divisive enemy. Notice the strange, but specific, audience mentioned in verse 10: “...through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to [who?] the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places [or we might say, 'in the spiritual realms'].” Okay. Who is Paul talking about here? Ephesians 6:12 can help us answer that question, since it also mentions these “rulers” and “authorities”. Paul writes there,

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

These rulers and authorities are “cosmic powers”; they're “spiritual forces of evil”. These are the same powers that Paul talked about in Colossians 2 in reference to Christ's victory on the cross:

[God] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [Christ].” So if this is the audience Paul has in mind in verse 10, why would these spiritual beings care about God's manifold wisdom on display through the Church? Because, as servants of the one Jesus called “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), these powers of darkness delight in destructive human divisions. Through such divisions they aim to keep those in the darkness in a state of ignorance, away from the light... and to keep those in the light in a state of arrogance, looking down on those in the darkness.

These spiritual forces of evil must have been boasting in the fact that across this great, big world, the living God only had one small tribe of servants (and even they were a mixed bag). But now, in the Church of Jesus, people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9) were coming out of the darkness and into the light. According to God's wisdom, people groups and cultures were now coming together, not around some bankrupt, worldly construct or leader, but around “the unsearchable riches of Christ”. If even the demons (according to James 2:19) believe God is one “and shudder”, then surely these “rulers” and “authorities” shuddered when they saw God had done and was doing through the church.

III. “Eager to Maintain the Unity”

Brothers and sisters, the Church of Jesus is God's hope for a divided world; not because we can fix every human division or every divisive human, but because we can offer a unity that comes from outside this world; because we can offer a Savior who forgives and changes divisive hearts; because there is supernatural power that binds us, what Paul calls “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3); because you can now be “renewed in the spirit of your minds” (4:23) to now see the things that once divided us with very different eyes; to see everything, in fact, through the lens of God's “plan” (3:9); through lens of God's “eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (3:11). The Church of Jesus is God's hope for a divided world.

What does this mean practically? Well, Paul goes on to explain that at the beginning of the next chapter. Look at 4:1-3. In light of this eternal purpose, Paul challenges them to “walk [i.e., live your life] in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” We don't have to deny the fact that there are many differences among us. That means there could be many things we divide over. And that's always been the case. This is why Paul calls them, and God calls us, to eagerness in Christ; an eagerness “to maintain (to preserve; to safeguard... in Christ) the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.

And that's the key, “in Christ”. This can't be stressed enough: What truly brings us together is the One who brings us to God. the only reason the Church can be a beacon of hope is that God “gave [Jesus] as head over all things to the church” and we are “his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (1:22-23) He is the wisdom on display in us. We are simply previewing what will one day be true everywhere, that “according to [God's] purpose, which he set forth in Christ [there is] a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (1:9-10) And remember, this is all (3:6) “through the gospel”. We aren't simply united behind a generic Jesus as some popular figurehead. We are united under Jesus as the one who “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Romans 4:25)

How is this eagerness evident among us? How should it be? To be clear, unity in Jesus does not mean uniformity in everything else. But it should mean we have a uniform commitment to glorify Jesus in everything else. Brothers/sisters, may God “now be made known” to this community as we his people rally around Jesus. As we do, let's pray for that gospel-inspired eagerness.