Description: Endure hardships as prisoners of Christ for your customers.
Prisoners of Christ
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
One of the great reliefs that we have in studying Ephesians from time-to-time is that once in a while you come upon a ‘simple’ sentence. And that’s what we’re dealing with today. So it’s Ephesians 3:1, and it’s just one of those simple sentences that I think God can use to bring home to us just a few little things that he wants us to know about. “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles.” That’s it. “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles.” “For this reason” is “touto charin”, just two Greek words. And it just means that, “for this reason.” What reason? Well the reason that he’s been discussing in all of Chapter 2, the fact that the gospel applied to the Gentiles and not just the Jews. So that’s it.
That was really the reason also for a lot of his suffering. And that’s why we read that New Testament passage where it was obvious that it was the Jews themselves that handed him over to the Roman authorities, because suddenly he was saying that the Messiah was for everybody. Or we would put it that Jesus’ death was for everybody. And the benefits of his death applied to everybody. And so that’s what Paul was fighting for. And that’s really finally what brought him to Rome, and brought him eventually to his final imprisonment. It was the Jews who said, “You’re saying that this Messiah is for everybody, and that salvation is for everybody.”
And it really gets back to what we’ve been talking about ourselves. There is a real difference between looking at our customers as people who need to be brought up to our level of salvation, and talking to them as people who were created in Jesus as we were, and who were crucified with Jesus as were, and were raised with Jesus as we have been, and made to sit at God’s right hand, as people whose lives have been disentangled by God’s miraculous work in Christ, before the foundation of the world. There is a real difference.
And I do think that we still have to be very clear in our own minds about the viewpoint from which we look at our customers. And part of it is simply because of the fact that most of us were brought up in either mainline churches, Catholic, or Protestant, or in the whole Evangelical tradition, which has a tendency to be exclusive rather than inclusive. And so it is an opportunity for us to say, “Well, is our attitude the narrow attitude that the Jews had, or is it this broad attitude that Paul had, where he obviously said, ‘If Christ has died for all, then all have died.’?” And it does affect, it seems to me, the way we look at our customers, the way we pray for them, the way we think of them.
And I would submit to you that many of us take the verse, “By grace you have been saved through faith,” and we are so emphasizing the faith side of it that we tend to forget, “But wait a minute, by ‘grace’ you have been saved.” By grace God has extended to you all the he did in Jesus. And you, little one, that run the little gift shop at the end of the street in Yorkshire, God has made you in Jesus; you’re part of the Son of God. And God looks upon you like that, and he thinks of you that way, and many of the benefits that you’re receiving are because he thinks of you as his own. Whatever ‘you’ think, God still thinks of you that way. Why do you think you get so many good things happening to you? It’s because your Father who made you inside his Son thinks of you as the apple of his eye. And all the difficulties that you’re going to face this day, he has already seen
in his Son, because all your life has been lived in his Son, because your God is able to see the end from the beginning. And he has seen your whole life stretched before him. And he has solved all the problems you’re going to have in the store today. And he will determine whether he manifests that solution today or manifests it tomorrow, or maybe only gives you the grace to continue to face it week by week. But it is not chance that runs your life it is your loving Father.
Rather than, if you have faith these things are true. No, those things are true whether they have faith or not. Faith doesn’t make them true. Faith is what enables them to experience the joy, and relief, and peace of them. But actually you could say that many of them even receive some of the benefits of them without faith, “He rains his rain on the just and the unjust.” And many of them have experienced what we would call natural things like, remission of cancer, or unusual deliverances. And many of them will say that. Many of them will say, “Oh I do not know what saved me from that accident or that crash,” and it’s because God and his goodness is giving them all kinds of signs that he is alive.
Now it’s true that the ‘peace’ of that, and the ‘rest’ of it, and the ‘joy’ of it, and the ‘delight’ of it only comes to them if they can see all that, because faith is what recognizes reality. Nevertheless all those things are happening to them, out of God’s love. So it is important, what way we think of them. I frankly think myself, that it makes a big difference inside our own hearts, because it determines whether we think of them as equally equal to us and as good friends, and as people who can perhaps not understand everything we would say, but can grasp some of the commonsensical things that we’re able to share from our experience of God as our Father and it makes a difference.
It makes a difference whether you think or them as ‘out there’ or as ‘in here’. And that’s why Paul was what he said he was, because if you look, it’s in the next phrase you see it, “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus.” And it’s actually, “desmios” is ‘prisoner’; “tou Christou Iesou”, is actually a prisoner ‘of’ Christ Jesus: “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus.” His life is wild. I mean, I have here four pages which just go on: Preaches in Damascus; then is persecuted by the Jews; preaches, then visits Antioch, his message is received by the Gentiles; persecuted and expelled by the Jews. He goes off to Iconium, does those four missionary journeys — I think you’ve all looked at them at different times, but all over the then known world. The first and second journey, the third and fourth journey — over a period of 16 years he travels all round. Up from Antioch into Galatia first of all, in the first missionary journey, and then he goes on the second missionary journey right up to Greece and Athens, and right back again. And then the next four years he does the Grecian journey again, but comes back by Ephesus, and then the fourth journey he goes from Jerusalem to Rome. And it’s true for a period of 16 years, he’s journeying back and forward, back and forward, back and forward.
Then he’s imprisoned all the time, again and again; persecuted, beaten, and cast into prison with Silas. Sings songs of praise in the prison; an earthquake shakes the prison; he preaches to the alarmed jailor who believes, and is immersed [baptized] along with his household. He visits Amphipolis, then is persecuted; escapes to Berea by night; then persecuted by the Jews who come from Thessalonica. He’s escorted by some of the brethren to Athens.
So that’s the story again and again: visits Corinth; lives with Aquila and his wife Priscilla, joins in their trade; reasons in the Synagogue every Sabbath; is rejected by the Jews. All the time the Jews on his back; all the time, ending up an imprisonment. Sends Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia; spread of the gospel through his preaching; interferes with the makers of Idols, and he’s
persecuted because of that. Sends for the elders the congregation of Ephesus, relates to them how he had preached in Asia and his temptations and afflictions, urging repentance before God; declares he was going bound in spirit to Jerusalem. I mean, “bound to Jerusalem.” “Desmios” is prisoner. And you will find him again, and again, not only bound in the spirit as here, but bound physically.
So the whole story goes on like that right up until he is confined, you remember, in Rome and finally is imprisoned really — certainly as a house prisoner, but right to the end of his life. “In prison, in prison, in prison.” And he says, “I, Paul, a prisoner…” Interesting: a prisoner, not of the Romans, not of the Jews, but a prisoner of Christ Jesus. And of course he puts “Christos”, “Christos” is the Messiah, the anointed one, and so he’s bringing out of here, “I’m sharing that the Messiah is available to everybody, and I’m the prisoner of this Messiah,” because he sees that it is Jesus himself who allows all these imprisonments to come.
What came home to me was, don’t you think that that is the apostolic succession that all of us have been called into, and that it is perfectly reasonable if he lived this kind of life of 16 years of journeying, and traveling, of storms, and wrecks, of being imprisoned and beaten, isn’t it reasonable to believe that we should endure a little? In other words, that really, in a sense, anyone who commits themselves to what God has done in Jesus will find himself, to some extent, bound. To some extent you’ll find your liberties’ restricted. To some extent you’ll find yourself constrained in different ways. And I just thought it’s useful to remember that, because it is easy when we believe we’ve been called to live an ordinary life as sales reps, and as business people, an ordinary life like others, and not a strange life like clergy or like members of a religious order, when we’ve been called to live as ordinary a life as possible, it’s very easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking, “Yes and we shouldn’t have to bear anything, because of Jesus. We shouldn’t have to face any disadvantages, or face any restrictions on our life.” And it’s important to remember, “No, we have agreed to be the love slaves of our master Jesus, and it is perfectly reasonable to face the fact that we will in some way be prisoners, that there will be some restrictions.”
We, I think, are aware that we have many benefits here together as a family of God living together. We have tremendous benefits, and we talk about them often, but there are certainly some limitations. And I was just thinking, it is important for us to remember that that’s reasonable. It’s reasonable that Jesus asks us to endure a little hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, and to face some limitations. And there are some things that we cannot do. We would probably all say, “I haven’t found them; they’re wonderful. What I find is perfect liberty, because God has worked in my heart a desire for all the things that he gives me to experience.” But still, there will be moments, it seems to me, when we can’t do things that other people can do. And really it’s nothing compared with the imprisonments that Paul and others have borne and endured.
So I was thinking, it is good to remember, that if you face some things that you find a little constricting or a little limiting, it’s good to see, “This is Jesus. I’m not a prisoner of my circumstances. I’m not a prisoner of my shortage of money. I’m not a prisoner of my inability to do this or to do that. I’m a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ. And what he prevents me doing, or makes it difficult for me to do, is perfect liberty. And it’s something that I rejoice in.” And it certainly seems to be the way that Paul tackled it. And in some sense you could say – he says in the next verse or the next part of the verse, “A prisoner of Christ Jesus.” And it’s “huper humon ton ethnon”, on behalf of you Gentiles. And of course it was very clear, from the early part of the verse and from our reading of his history, that of course, it was because of them that he was being imprisoned in a way, because it was because of his attitude to them, and his preaching of the gospel
to them, and his telling them where they could experience the same salvation as the Jews. It was because of that that the Jews put him in prison, and so it was on behalf of you Gentiles. And it’s not bad to realize that in a sense, on behalf of our customers that is so, that we do undertake some limitations in our lives, and we do commit ourselves to some disciplines for the sake of our customers, and for the sake of them beginning to glimpse the reality of God.
So it’s worth remembering that probably when you have to get very early in the morning, or when you’re sitting in one of those tailbacks [traffic jam on the freeway], or you’re walking down the street with the heavy cases [jewelry cases], it isn’t a bad thing to remember these are little things compared with the chains and shackles that Paul and other brothers and sisters of ours have borne and endured. But still, those things are for the sake of those to whom we can reveal Jesus, and to whom we can make him real.
And I think it will be the same with the websites. I certainly often felt in the two or three o’clock in the morning when I was struggling with the old computer program, I certainly felt, “This is good, because this is something that God has for me to do, and he is going to use this to make himself real to someone.” And so I don’t think that it’s romanticizing things, or being unreal, or being imaginative. I think it’s just a fact that in some sense, those who walk after Jesus are prisoners and endure some little limitations for the sake of those to whom God has sent them to witness. And so I think it is with our customers, that in some sense we’ll always find ourselves doing things that we wouldn’t chose to do if we – if it was up to ourselves. And we – there are certain limitations, and certain disciplines, and certain things that we do at odd times that we would not normally do if it weren’t for their sakes.
But I think it would be true for us, as it was for Paul, that God brought rewards by the work that he was able to do in people’s hearts. So in some sense, it is good to be able to say for this cause “I, Paul,” or “I, Marty,” or “I, Trish, am a prisoner for you Gentiles.” That is true.
Let us pray.
Dear Lord, you have given us such a path of flowers to walk, such an easy and happy road that we hesitate to ever compare ourselves at all with our older brother. But we do thank you Lord, that if there are moments when we are aware of any inhibiting of our own personal freedom, any moments when we might become aware of some discomfort, or of experiencing some things that other people do not have to face, that we can see that it is part of your calling. And indeed that part of the salvation that you work in our own inner spirits is possible because the outward man is all the time disappearing and the inward man is being strengthened. And increasingly, our outward circumstances may deteriorate, but our inward relationship with you will become stronger and richer.
So Lord, we thank you for the life you’ve called us to. And we thank you for our elder brother, and thank you for the persecutions that he endured, and the long journeys. And as we sit in the planes ourselves, or sit in the cars, we thank you Lord, that this is something that you are able to use. And so we would offer it up to you. We would offer to you Lord Jesus, the long hours that we spend driving, or talking, or working. And thank you that we can do it for your glory.
And now the grace of our Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with each one of us now and evermore. Amen.