The Unsearchable Riches of Christ
November 16, 2008 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Ephesians
Passage: Ephesians 3:1–13
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ
For our guests we are in a series from the book of Ephesians entitled Life. Powered by grace. As we begin chapter 3, we still find Paul not telling us what to do. He's telling us what to believe. What we do flows from what we believe. It's about who we are in Christ. He will devote the last three chapters to what we are to do, but before we can know what to do, we need to know who we are. What we do needs to flow from who we are as the church - what God has made us and what God has purposed for us to do.
Paul is addressing the Gentile believers in Ephesus specifically, and it would seem he is about to pray for them when he says, for this reason, I Paul, but he then interrupts his prayer to tell them about God's grace on his life to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.
The Mystery of Christ - the Church
Notice the word mystery throughout this passage. When the New Testament speaks of mystery it means something that once was unknown - hidden - but has now been made known.
What is the mystery of Christ that Paul is referring to? It is found in verse 6: Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. The gospel says this: all men, Jew and Gentile, can and must come to God the same way (and only one way): through the cross of Jesus Christ. No longer are the Jews the exclusive people of God, and no longer are the Gentiles without hope and without God. Through Christ, there is one people, the church, comprised of all peoples, nations, tongues and tribes.
This was incredibly radical and incredibly offensive to Jews of that day - and Paul was in prison as he writes these words for preaching the gospel to the Gentiles.
In verses 7-9 Paul is telling his own personal story of how the grace of God has made him a minister of the gospel. And then in verse 10 he makes this incredible (almost unbelievable) statement about the church that he is laboring to build by the grace of God. I want us to begin there, in verse 10, because it calls our view of God's purposes in the church higher (As I said earlier - we need to know who we are before we can know what to do) and from there work backward to the grace of God on Paul's life and the lessons for us in his example.
So what is this incredible statement? What is this big picture?
I. The Big Picture: The Church is Teaching Angelic Beings About God (vs. 10-11)
Let's be honest. This seems like a strange thing to say, that is some way the church is teaching angels about the Person of God. As we consider the church as we know it, it's pretty hard to believe!
A school teacher once gave her class of young students this assignment: to go into their backyard at night and to count as many stars as they possibly can. The next day they would report how many stars they were able to count.
The next day she had the students stand up and share how many stars they had counted - numbers varied, 142, 312, 278 and so on. One young boy stood up and announced he counted ten. Just ten. The teacher was surprised at such a low number and said, "the other students were able to count so many more stars than you were, why do you think your number is so low?" The boy answered, "It must be because I have a small backyard."
When it comes to our view of the church, we can have pretty small backyards. We fail to see the vast purpose God has for the church: that through the church the manifold wisdom of God is to be made known to "rulers and authorities in the heavenly places". This is a reference to angels - probably primarily the angels who did not fall. They are watching and learning.
Now, when think of angelic beings, don't think of fat little babies with rosy cheeks and wings, the way the art in the Middle Ages pictures angels. My dad used to say: if that's what they look like, why did people when they saw an angel fall down in fear as if dead?
Angels are created beings like we are, but they are glorious and powerful beyond our imagination. They are servants of the most high God and obey Him perfectly and completely. They see His glory and majesty firsthand. So what can they possibly learn from us about the God whom they see face-to-face?
Yet angels are watching and learning. They are very interested in unfolding of redemption's story - they don't know all that God has planned. 1 Peter says that angels have longed to look into the things of God's redemptive plans. They are watching God lavish the unsearchable riches of Christ upon undeserving sinners and they are amazed.
The church displays something about which they cannot know firsthand: grace. There is a saying that in heaven the redeemed will sing God's praises along with the holy angels, but when we begin to sing Amazing Grace, the angels will have to fold their wings and listen in silence.
In a way that they can never experience, we, the church display God's grace and kindness. We will display His mercy and His justice. Holiness and love. All wrapped up in airtight wisdom. There are no open loops, no miscalculations, no contradictions between God's justice and holiness and His mercy and love to lost sinners. Amazing grace.
That's the big picture of God's purposes for the church. As we come back to our own backyard it helps us see what our part can be - for our part isn't to look big and glorious and impressive. It's to magnify grace. To magnify Christ. Throughout history some churches have represented that better than others. Some have distorted the picture. Question: How do we walk out our part? We can't do better than to follow Paul's example.
II. Walking Out The Big Picture In Our Backyard: Following Paul's Example
We see in Paul's humble testimony of his own ministry the best possible instruction as to how we can magnify Christ and grace in our own local church. Two points:
1. See grace as big and ourselves as small (vs 7-8a)
The Apostle Paul stands in a unique position in history. Other than Jesus, no one stands taller than Paul does in redemptive history. Johannes Munck says, "Paul, as the apostle to the Gentiles, becomes the central figure in the story of salvation." Paul was the instrument God used to break the gospel into foreign lands that were far from God and had never heard the gospel. The Gentile world was reached, and the entire fabric of history turned upside down, in large part because of the apostle Paul.
Yet Paul calls himself the very least of all the saints (Christians). This is not false humility, he really saw himself as little - even his new name, Paul, is latin for "little". But he saw the grace of God at work within him as mighty. He would tell the Corinthians that he was the least of the apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle, yet by the grace of God I am what I am. In verse 7 he speaks of the gift of grace and the power of God's working in him. Paul had a small view of himself and a large view of what the grace of God could accomplish through him.
It's a dangerous thing when famous or visibly successful Christians think God can use them because of how big they've become. It's a tragic thing when Christians think that God can't use them because of how small they are. God doesn't use big people, only dependent people. Like the Apostle Paul.
Each of us is a steward of God's grace. God has given Grace Community Church a stewardship of grace - we don't need to look at the church down the street to compare - we need to be faithful to the grace God has accorded to us. That is true of each of us individually as well.
I'm walking a fine line here - the last thing I want to do is puff us up with delusions of grandeur or feed sinful pride. But I think that there can also be a tragic lack of ambition for Christ - Christians that have no passion to see the gospel furthered or the kingdom advanced or the name of Christ magnified. Or maybe we want those things but don't think we have any ability to accomplish those things.
We need to imitate the Apostle Paul: have a small view of yourself, but a big view of God's grace in you! You're never too small for God to use (although you can be too big).
¨ How many people have come to Christ because of the humble testimony of a sincere, but unimpressive Christian witness?
We need to see grace as big, and ourselves as small.
2. Preach the unsearchable riches of Christ (vs 9)
Lately the economy has been front and center in the news every day. In the first major stock market crash several weeks ago, it was said that a trillion dollars of wealth was lost in one day. One journalist asked, "What happened to that money? Where'd it go?" The answer is that that money never really existed. Wealth represented the perceived value of the stocks at their peak. In a moment much of their value was lost.
The Bible tells us that holds true for more than money. The earthly treasures we cling to as precious all abandon us in the end. The pursuits we give our lives to thinking they promise a pot of gold at the end, lead us to a dead end. Jesus put it well when said that moths, rust and thieves eat away at earthly treasures. Here's the problem: our hearts are attached to our treasures.
"where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"
The message of the gospel isn't "don't love treasure" - it's seek treasure whose value and dividends will increase forever. You find it in the unsearchable riches of Christ.
a. The church is to find its great riches in Christ
The riches of Christ are unsearchable - far beyond our imagination - but just as we cannot search all the depths of the ocean, but can enjoy the beauty and majesty of what we can see, so every Christian knows some degree of the riches of Christ. We have experienced hope, love, forgiveness, mercy, and the sense of purpose comes from following Christ. And as awesome as these gifts are, the greatest treasure isn't what He gives - it is Christ Himself. He is the friend who sticks closer than a brother. He is the Good Shepherd who leads us through life, and is with us even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Walking through life with Christ is the Christian's greatest treasure.
I feel like need to confess my heart doesn't treasure Christ as I ought. It is a battle not to give my heart to pursuing other treasures, and often my love for Christ is pitifully small. I suspect many can relate. While we don't want to stay in this place, or make excuses (and no Christian wants to be comfortable in that place) it brings us to the storehouse for yet another precious treasure of Christ: he is faithful to us when we are not faithful to him. He doesn't deny us when we, like Peter, deny with our actions that we know him. Loves us perfectly when we don't love Him perfectly. Jesus is my great treasure. I am rich in Christ.
The real measure of our wealth is how much we'd be worth if we lost all our money. ~ J.H. Jowett
To go even further - what is our treasure when we lose everything on earth? Even life itself? Each of us will come to the day when we breath our last - nothing in this world that we can hold onto as we leave this life behind. Death has a way of loosening our grip on all earthly treasures. But the man or woman who holds the hand of Christ through life will find Christ holds their hand especially firmly in the moment of death, and their riches do not lose their currency at that moment, but take on a whole new value.
That is the quiet grace being walked out in the backyards of ordinary Christians and churches. And the angels watch and they learn. They learn about their King in a different light. In the church, and in His grace, the glory of Christ shines. Lost sinners receive mercy. And angels learn.
b. the church is to hold out the riches of Christ to an impoverished world
Paul is fervent about preaching those riches to a world that is impoverished. Love of Christ compelled him. May it compel us, too.
The other day I was playing pool at the Y when a young man asked me if I wanted to play a game. We ended up playing two games - and I really enjoyed getting a chance to know him. He was dressed in Goth - all black with some demonic looking character on his t-shirt. His head was shaved (except for some kind of Mohawk) and his fingernails painted black.
He openly shared some of the struggles he has had in his life, and I asked him if he believed in God. He said he did, but he had tried Catholicism, Buddism, and some other spiritual pursuits. I shared my own testimony briefly with him and invited him to come to church here. We tied at one game each so we said we need to play again and break the tie.
I find myself thinking and praying for this young man. In many ways we aren't alike. I never wore black fingernail polish or shaved my head. Never got into the trouble he got into. But I saw myself in him - for our hearts are just the same, and just as I needed a Savior, so does he. And I think he'd admit that.
Church, God forbid we get all bent out of shape about fingernails and t-shirts, when our message is the riches of Christ to the spiritually poor. Paul's message wasn't "do this, don't do that, wear this, don't wear that." It was Christ. And Jesus Christ wasn't some kind of heavenly cod liver oil - good for you but tastes horrible. It's the unsearchable riches of Christ.
This is what motivated Paul - he preached the gospel in dark places because he passionately wanted to see the light of Christ shine in those dark places. He wanted to see those who were without hope and without God find hope and find God. May that be our passion as well. Let's pray.
More in Ephesians
June 14, 2009Be Strong In the Lord (Part 3)
June 7, 2009Be Strong In the Lord (Part 2)
May 31, 2009Be Strong In the Lord (Part 1)