The Net Pastor’s Journal, Eng Ed, Issue 48, Summer 2023
A ministry of…
Author: Dr. Roger Pascoe, President,
Email: [email protected]
I. Strengthening Expository Preaching: Preaching the Epistles, Pt. 3
A Case Study, The Epistles To The Ephesians
This is part 3 of “Preaching the Epistles.” For the previous studies, please go to Issues 46 and 47 of this Net Pastors Journal on this website at https://bible.org/net-pastors-journal. In this issue, I want to outline some of the areas that are helpful for you in preparing to preach an epistle by way of a case study of the epistle to the Ephesians.
In John 17 Jesus prayed that all his disciples throughout the history of the church would be united together as “one” (17:21-23). The strength and testimony of the church comes from its unity: “That the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (17:23). Sadly, many church congregations are not united. Consequently, they do not have the power and testimony in their communities that they ought to have. The epistle to the Ephesians deals with the subject of unity in the church.
A. The Author And The Recipients of the Epistle.
Despite some who contest the Pauline authorship of this epistle, internal evidence in the epistle points strongly to his authorship, such as, (1) The outright claims of his authorship (1:1; 3:1); (2) His personal connections with the recipients (1:15-16; 4:1; 6:19-20); and (3) Specific ministry to the Gentiles (3:6-8).
This epistle was written from prison (4:1) to the church in Ephesus. The fact that it is a prison epistle probably dates it around the year 60 AD, toward the end of Paul’s life. Paul had ministered in Ephesus for several years. His farewell speech to the elders of that church and his evident affection for them is recorded for us in Acts 20. Later, the apostle John also wrote a letter to this same church in Revelation 2, in which he commended them for their Christian works and their doctrinal purity, but condemned them for their lack of love for Christ.
The city of Ephesus was an important city economically and religiously. Economically it was a prosperous city because of its ideal location in Asia Minor and its easy access by land and sea: (1) by land, because it was connected by highway to all the other major cities of that province; and (2) by sea, because it was on a river not far from the ocean and had an inland harbor. Religiously, Ephesus was famous for its pagan worship, particularly its great temple to the pagan goddess Diana.
The Christians in the church at Ephesus were Gentile believers (3:1). While the epistle is written to Gentiles, its teaching for Jewish believers is also very important. Some think that the letter was intended to be a circular letter for more than only the church in Ephesus because (1) he makes no reference in the letter to his labors among them, a reference which surely would have been included if it was written solely to those among whom he had labored in Ephesus; and (2) he makes no specific reference to any doctrinal or practical problems, nor controversies or questions, which he usually would if he was addressing a specific church. However, these arguments are not persuasive and, in any event, throughout history the letter has become associated with the church at Ephesus. Nonetheless, it is important to note that though Paul is addressing a local church, he embraces the universal church throughout, not just the local church.
B. Purpose Of The Epistle.
The primary thrust of this letter is to explain the new concept of the church as the body of Christ, composed of ethnically and religiously diverse people, namely, Jewish and Gentile believers together. How these two peoples could be united was something previously considered impossible, an incomprehensible mystery. This letter explains that such unity has been made possible through Christ’s work of reconciliation on the cross, reconciling them not only to God but to each other. The letter underscores the privileges of their new position as well as their new attendant responsibilities as they live out their Christian calling both in the church and in the world.
First, what they needed was greater understanding. To live in this new relationship with their Jewish brethren in the church they needed to progress in their understanding of who they were in Christ. This becomes very apparent from Paul’s two prayers in the first half of the letter, which stress (1) their need for wisdom and revelation, knowledge, understanding, and enlightenment (1:17-23), and (2) their need for the inner strength of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling of Christ so that their comprehension of spiritual realities may be strengthened (3:14-21).
Second, what they needed was to change the way they lived. They needed to live as new people in Christ, in a way that is consistent with their Christian calling and position. They needed to walk together in unity in the church, progressively moving toward “the unity of the faith” (4:1-16), and they needed to live as new people in the world, in a way that is radically different from their previous way of life as unsaved Gentiles (4:17-6:20; cf. 2:1-3). This, too, is made possible because of what Christ has done in transforming power.
Even though the letter makes no specific mention of particular doctrinal or practical problems in the church there, evidently, from his farewell speech to the elders of this church in Acts 20, Paul saw some potential dangers from false teachers and false doctrines (Acts 20:28-30). Subsequently, from Revelation 2, we discover that the leaders of the church at Ephesus protected the church from false teachers and false doctrine, but in the process they became a cold, formal church which was more concerned about programs and processes than about their relationship with Jesus Christ. No wonder, then, that Paul emphasizes not only doctrine but also love and relationships in this epistle.
C. The Theme of the Epistle.
In accordance with its purpose, the theme of the epistle is Christian unity both as a biblical principle and as a reality. Thus, I have titled this study, “United We Stand: The Mystery of the Church.”
The lack of unity today in our churches may spring from many sources such as: (1) ethnic diversity, (2) the members of the church not spending much time together, (3) poor personal relationships between various members of the church, (4) lack of a common spiritual motivation and goal, (5) arguments over how church should be done, or (6) certain persons wanting the power and control of the church. There are many reasons why disunity occurs in a church. But it should not be so.
Whatever the reason for disunity in a church, I believe that this study in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Christians addresses this fundamental problem. We are going to see that this letter addresses the issue of how and why Christians of diverse backgrounds are united through Christ and the Holy Spirit, and how they should demonstrate that unity in their practice. This is my overriding burden in bringing this study to you. I want to be able to make the teachings of this epistle to the Ephesians on the subject of unity relevant to our culture today, no matter where you live.
We live in a day when individualism is predominant not only in the world but in the Christian church. Everybody wants to do things their own way. This brings discord, perhaps not in terms of doctrinal matters but in terms of what the body of Christ ought to be as a functional, living, interrelated entity, which exists to glorify God, sustain each other, and withstand the attacks of the enemy. All of the lessons in this study tie into the title and basic thrust of the epistle, namely, “United we stand: The mystery of the church.”
D. The Theology Of The Epistle.
For the purposes of this study, I am going to outline the epistle’s teaching on the subjects of the church (ecclesiology), salvation (soteriology), God (theology), and final things (eschatology).
1. The doctrine of the church (ecclesiology). As I mentioned before, the emphasis in this epistle is on the universal church of which Christ is the head, a headship that foreshadows his ultimate cosmic headship over all things (1:22).
The “mystery” that God has brought about through Christ is that both Jews and Gentiles have been united into the church, which is the fullness of Christ (1:23). They are now fellow citizens (2:19), a new household (family) of faith (2:19), one holy temple (2:20-22), one body (4:4), the bride of Christ (5:23-27).
The church is a unique, dynamic entity, whose members are continually growing in spiritual maturity and progressing toward the unity of the faith as they utilize their gifts (4:1-16), live in a way that is consistent with their calling (4:17-6:9), and as they unitedly fight against satanic forces which attempt to break the church apart (6:10-20).
The church is presented in three pictures in Ephesians:
a) A building which is growing (2:19-22) into a holy temple in the Lord and which is united through its Chief Cornerstone.
b) A body (4:4) which is the “fullness” of Christ (1:23), formed through his reconciling work on the cross (2:16-18), into which both Jews and Gentiles have ben incorporated as equal members (3:6; 5:20), in which each member is equipped for and performs the work of the ministry (4:12), and which is uniquely joined to Christ as its head and its Savior (4:15-16; 5:23).
(3) A bride for whom Christ died, whom he has made glorious and holy, and whom he will present to himself as his own (5:23-27).
The unity of the church has been made possible because of the atoning work of Christ (1:6-8), which has not only brought about vertical reconciliation with God and horizontal relationships with each other (2:11-18), but which also makes possible the eschatological reconciliation of all things under Christ (1:10).
Just as the church is a holy temple, made so because Christ has sanctified and cleansed her “by with the washing of water with the word so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (5:26-27), so also its members are to be holy people (1:4; 4:20-5:14) in contrast to the unholy people that they once were (2:1-10; 4:17-19).
One of the church’s present duties and purposes is to make known the manifold wisdom of God to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (3:10). The picture, then, of the church in Ephesus is one of a people who are diverse in their backgrounds and gifts but united in their relationship in and activity for Christ, as they strive together toward the same goal (to reach the stature of the fullness of Christ), fulfilling their united purpose in the world. This is the church that we should strive for in our communities, churches that are made up of a diversity of people who are united in their relationship in Christ, in their way of life in the world, and in their progress in the knowledge and defense of the truth.
2. The doctrine of salvation (soteriology). Salvation is presented in Ephesians from three perspectives:
a) A past event. Salvation is a completed event, the benefits of which are presently possessed by every true believer (1:7; 2:4-5, 8-10). Through the cross Christ has reconciled Jews and Gentiles to each other by creating from two nations one new humanity, a new community of faith. And by the cross, he has reconciled all believers to God through his blood, thus establishing peace and granting access by the Spirit to the Father (2:11-18).
b) A future event. Salvation is a future event from two perspectives: First, it is future in that our sealing by the Holy Spirit is the present guarantee of the future redemption of our bodies (1:13-14). Second, it is future in that, in the ages to come, our glorification with Christ will be a permanent display of God's grace toward us in Christ (2:6-7).
c) A universal event. Salvation is viewed as universal in its scope, since one day, on the basis of Christ’s death and resurrection, all things both in heaven and in earth will be gathered together under Christ’s headship (1:10, 21-22). This has in view the restoration of Christ’s universal headship.
Salvation, then, is solely the product of God's redeeming grace in Christ and nothing which we merited for ourselves. Indeed, no human works could ever merit our salvation. Good works are a consequence of salvation not the cause. We are saved “by grace… through faith” and then we are capable of good works(2:8-10).
3. The doctrine of God (theology). This doctrine is presented from the perspective of Christology and the Trinity.
Christology. The lordship of Christ is most clearly presented. God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of highest power and praise, even at his own right hand (1:20-21). He is the supreme One. Jesus Christ is lord of all things, whether heavenly or earthly, rulers of the earth or demonic powers. His headship is presently acknowledged and manifested in the church and will be acknowledged and manifested cosmically in the coming age (1:10, 21-23; 3:10-11). It stands to reason, therefore, that the primary reason for our existence is to praise and glorify him as the supreme One (1:6, 12, 14).
The Trinity. While it might be going too far to say that Paul structured this epistle around the doctrine of the Trinity, nonetheless the doctrine of the Trinity is so obviously portrayed here that it surely underlies the basic tenets of this letter. Hence, the unity, nature, and character of the Trinity that are repeatedly presented here provides a theological and practical basis for the unity, nature, and character of God’s people. Note the following explicitly trinitarian references:
a) The Trinitarian aspect of our spiritual blessings (1:4-14). “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places (1:3) and “chose us in him” for salvation before time began (1:4-6). “In him” (the Son) we have redemption (1:7-12) and we are sealed with promised “Holy Spirit” who is the guarantee of our inheritance (1:13-14).
b) A Trinitarian prayer (1:15-23). The God of our “Lord Jesus Christ” is “the Father of glory” who gives us “the Spirit of wisdom” (1:17).
c) Trinitarian access to God (2:16-18). God is the trinitarian God to whom we have been reconciled in one body through “the cross” (of Christ), through whom we have access by “one Spirit to the Father.”
d) The Trinitarian church structure (2:19-22). We are members of “the household of God” of which “Christ Jesus” is the chief cornerstone and which is a dwelling place for “God by the Spirit.”
e) Trinitarian prayer structure (3:14-19). God “the Father” is the one to whom we direct our prayers (14), who strengthens us with power “through his Spirit” (16), so that “Christ” may dwell in our hearts through faith (17).
f) Trinitarian church unity (4:3-6). The church derives its unity from the unity of the Trinity, namely, “one Spirit...one Lord...and one God and Father of all.”
g) Trinitarian ethics and instructions (4:17-5:24). We have “learned Christ” (4:20-21), must not “grieve the Spirit“ (4:30), and must “be imitators of God” (5:1). We are to be filled with “the Spirit” (5:18) and give thanks to “God the Father” in the name of “our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:20).
4. The doctrine of final things (eschatology). Ephesians addresses the two ages – this age and the age which is to come (1:21). Paul teaches both a “realized” and future eschatology. Believers now enjoy and participate in the blessings of the age to come to some degree (1:3). Through faith in Christ we no longer live under and walk in accordance with the course of this world (2:2), but we are even now in a spiritual sense seated with Christ in heavenly places (2:6). Thus, even now we participate in the benefits of Christ’s position of power and exaltation over the powers of this world. What will be physically true in the eschaton is true spiritually now for believers.
Nonetheless, Ephesians also recognizes that the physical enactment of the eschaton is still future. The redemption of our bodies is still future, even though we are now sealed for that day (1:14; 4:30). The physical establishment of the kingdom, into which no unholy person will enter, is still future (5:5). Thus there is a certain tension in Ephesian eschatology between the present position and blessings of believers by virtue of our union with Christ, and our present struggles, even warfare (6:10-18), as those who live in the present age. Hence, the exhortation to believers to “walk worthy of (our) calling” (4:1; cf. 4:17ff.) in accordance with the “new man” and not the “old” (4:22, 24).
E. Literary Characteristics.
Ephesians and Colossians are considered to be twin epistles because of their similarities in literary style (phrasing and wording), theme, and content.
The first section of both epistles stresses typically Pauline themes, such as justification by faith, dead in sins-alive in Christ, alienation-reconciliation, and holiness. The special ministry of Paul concerning the “mystery” of the gospel is common to both epistles and both epistles stress the headship (supremacy) of Christ.
The second section of both epistles are also similar in their exhortations concerning putting off the old man and putting on the new, sexuality, anger, speech, truth, love, and household relationships.
The distinction between the two epistles lies in two areas. First, there is a difference of focus. Ephesians focuses on the body of Christ (in particular, the unity of the body), whereas Colossians focuses on the head of the body. Second, there is a difference in that Ephesians does not deal with any specific false teaching, whereas Colossians addresses the Colossian heresy (3:16-23).
In Ephesians, notice the repetition of certain words and phrases. Apart from the obvious repetition of the key word “in” - e.g. “in Christ” (1:3-14) – the following words and phrases need to be noted: Good pleasure (1:5, 9), knowledge, understanding, and wisdom (1:8, 17-18), power (1:19-21; 3:20), grace, mercy, and love (2:4-8), riches (1:7, 18; 2:7; 3:8, 16), praise and glory (1:6, 12, 14, 17, 18), chosen, predestined (1:4, 5, 11), his will and purpose (1:5, 9, 11), redemption (1:7, 14), and hope (1:12, 18). You will also notice the extensive use of superlatives: riches of his grace (1:7; 2:7), riches of his glory (1:18), exceeding greatness of his power (1:19), surpassing knowledge (3:19), and exceedingly abundantly above all (3:20).
We will continue this study in the next edition of this Pastors Journal (Fall 2023) in which we will examine the textual structure of the epistle and a few comments on preaching the epistle. I hope that these studies help you in your own preparation for preaching the epistles.
II. Strengthening Biblical Leadership:
Order In The Church, Part 2, 1 Timothy 1 :12-17
We are studying the instruction of the apostle Paul to Timothy regarding order in the church, which has to do with church leadership. I have structured these studied around Paul’s five charges to Timothy as follows:
A. A charge concerning pastoral responsibilities (1:3-20)
B. A charge concerning public worship (2:1-16)
C. A charge concerning pastoral leadership (3:1-16)
D. A charge concerning personal devotion (4:1-6:2)
E. A charge concerning pastoral motives (6:3-21)
Last time we began studying…
A. A Charge Concerning Pastoral Responsibilities (1:3-20)
This section concerning pastoral responsibilities divides itself into three points:
1. To maintain pure doctrine (1:3-11)
2. To testify to God’s saving grace (1:12-17)
3. To fulfill your mandate (1:18-20)
In the last edition of this journal, I covered section A, point 1 (1:3-11) concerning the pastor’s responsibility to maintain pure doctrine. In this edition I will cover section A, point 2 (1:12-17) concerning the pastoral responsibility…
2. To testify to God’s Saving Grace (1:12-17). Paul’s first charge to Timothy concerns his pastoral responsibilities, the first of which is to maintain pure doctrine by (1) combatting false doctrine (1:3-7) and (2) promoting correct doctrine (1:8-11), specifically correct doctrine regarding the law. In contrast to “the just” (1:9) who know the correct meaning and application of the law, there are others “who are lawless and disobedient” (1:9), as evidenced in their behavior (1:9-10). Paul sums up this first charge with an all-encompassing statement that Timothy is to withstand “whatever is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted” (1:10-11). This mention of the gospel leads Paul naturally into a wonderful personal testimony of his own call to salvation through the gospel with which he had been entrusted and for which he gives thanks (1:12-17). His testimony focuses on three areas…
a) Thanksgiving to the Lord Jesus Christ (1:12-14). This expression of thanksgiving divides into two areas. First, thanksgiving for present ministry (1:12). “I give thanks to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service” (1:12). The spiritual strength (and perhaps even physical strength) for the daunting task of gospel ministry was granted to him by Christ Jesus his Lord, and for this Paul is deeply and eternally grateful. Such strength was granted to him “because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service” (1:12b). To be “faithful” implies steadfastness and trustworthiness on the basis of which he was appointed to Christ’s service, specifically the gospel ministry. Such an appointment by such a Savior was never far from Paul’s mind, for the miracle of conversion was always a marvel of God’s grace to Paul, something that he spoke about whenever he gave his personal testimony.
Second, thanksgiving for past mercy (1:13). Paul is thankful not only for his appointment to gospel ministry, but even more so for the mercy he received. That Christ Jesus considered him “faithful, appointing me to his service” was unfathomable when he considered who he once was: “… even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man” (1:13a). Here, Paul looks back on his pre-Christian life and confesses that his was a life characterized by violence and anger against God and against Christians.
In Christian terms, blasphemy may be committed in word or behavior. Blasphemous behavior might be, for example, deliberately defying or disobeying God’s laws (Num. 15:30-31). Blasphemous words are those that speak irreverently or disrespectfully about God (Lev. 24:10-16) as in, for example, attributing the work of Spirit of God to Satan (Matt. 12:31-32). You will remember that both our Lord and Stephen were falsely condemned to death by the Jews for blasphemy (Matt. 26:65; Acts 6:11). But Paul acknowledges that before he met the risen Christ on the Damascus Road, he was a blasphemer both in word and deed. As a zealous Jew he rejected Christ’s claim to be the Messiah and he persecuted Christians for turning away from Judaism and following Christ (Acts 9:1-2, 22:4; Gal. 1:13; Phil. 3:6).
Despite, and in contrast to, such a violent background, Paul says, “But I received mercy because I had acted out of ignorance in unbelief (1:13b). For Paul, God’s grace and mercy blend together (see 1:1) for they both flow out of God’s essential nature of love. Indeed, God’s mercy is a consequence of and flows directly out of his unfathomable grace and love which He extended to Paul “through Christ Jesus,” thus replacing the anger and violence that once consumed him. The transformation of his life rested solely on the atoning work of Christ on the cross. That was the foundation to which Paul constantly came back. He freely admitted that he was wholly undeserving of God’s grace and mercy, but he received mercy, he says, “because I had acted out of unbelief.” Paul is not here trying to minimize or justify his previous sinful actions, but to explain that what he did before he came face to face with Christ was done out of a genuine zeal for God (Gal. 1:13-14), misdirected as it was. Yet, despite such an egregiously violent past, “I received mercy.”
To him, this was astounding, beyond comprehension, how God could love and forgive someone with his history. It wasn’t that God reluctantly extended his grace to Paul. It wasn’t that he got saved, but only just. No, he says, “the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1:14). God’s underserved favor “overflowed” for him. It was like a river that flooded over its banks. It was like a tidal wave that crashed ashore, pushing aside everything in its way. That was the power and effect of God’s grace in Paul’s life. The power was overwhelming such that he had to submit to it. The effect was the complete transformation and redirection of Paul’s life. And the evidence was “the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” which accompanied this experience.
In other words, true saving grace in a person’s life always results in changed belief and behavior. Paul’s newfound “faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” were evidence that the work and call of Christ had been effective in his life. No longer was his life characterized by violence and hatred against the people of God but by faith and love. Thus, immediately upon his conversion, he became like Christ in the reality and manifestation of grace and love.
b) Affirmation of the gospel (1:15-16). First, Paul broadens out his personal testimony to the general scope and purpose of God’s salvation (1:15a). The work of Christ on the cross was not limited to persons of prominence or distinction or to people whose conversion was outstanding in its character and circumstances. Christ Jesus did not come into the world to save only Paul or others like him. No, he says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1:15a).
Paul seems to be quoting a commonly known Christian confession (or “saying”) concerning the universal scope and need of salvation - “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” – a confession which Paul endorses as being “trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.” On the basis of his own experience, Paul recommends this succinct statement as being thoroughly reliable and one which ought to be fully accepted by all, for the same salvation that rescued Paul is available for everyone. As he says elsewhere, “There is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Whether a person has lived a rebellious and hate-filled life like Paul or a profligate life like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), Christ Jesus came into the world to save them. This is the general scope and purpose of God’s salvation which was accomplished in Christ’s work of atonement.
Yes, there is undoubtedly a certain marvel to the salvation of the apostle Paul and others like him because of their background and the circumstances of their conversion, but we should not idolize their experience, nor consider, for example, the salvation of those who have been raised in Christian homes and who have not rebelled against the gospel in such a flagrant way as being less important. We give thanks to God for the salvation of anyone and everyone who confesses the name of Christ. Indeed, everyone who repents of their sin and turns to Christ for salvation is a marvel of God’s grace. Paul affirms this again when he writes, “4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).
Nonetheless, though the general scope of God’s salvation is universal, the apostle Paul never lost sight of the particular scope and purpose of God’s salvation (1:15b-17), of which his own conversion is a case in point. While “God commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30), all do not do so. Those who do respond positively to God’s offer of salvation through repentance and faith (Acts 20:21) are those whom God has particularly and purposefully chosen in Christ for salvation (Eph. 1:4). Otherwise, because all human beings are thoroughly sinful, no one would be saved.
The apostle Paul constantly marveled at God’s grace in his own life in particular, never covering over or ignoring who he was before he came to faith in Christ. No, he freely confesses that of all sinners “I am the foremost” (1:15b). You see, the acknowledgement of sin is always personal and specific and one that should never be minimized. In this case, Paul describes himself as “the foremost” of sinners. The depths of sin into which he had fallen were never far from his mind, even while, at the same time, he rejoiced in God’s saving grace and mercy in his life. He never forgot what he once was and the awesome conversion that God wrought in him.
While recognizing the object of God’s grace to sinners in general through Christ, and while acknowledging his reprobate history from which God saved him in particular, Paul confesses that there was a larger purpose for his personal salvation: “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1:16). Paul recognizes that, probably because of the radical nature of his pre-Christian life, his conversion, and his subsequent prominence in the church, God’s mercy to him in particular “as the foremost” of sinners served a larger purpose in the ways of God, namely to “display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” If someone whose life prior to his conversion was as deviant and rebellious as his, then surely that is a wonderful display of God’s “perfect patience” and “an example” to those who would subsequently believe in Christ “for eternal life.”
Here, then, are two wonderful truths about God’s grace and mercy in saving sinners. First, God’s grace is longsuffering and extended to sinners in general. He does not quickly condemn sinners and execute their punishment without warning. Nor does he exclude any. Rather he waits patiently for sinners to repent and turn to Christ in faith. Second, God delights to save even the worst of sinners. This brings the gospel and the truth of salvation down to a very personal level and specific purpose in God’s saving ways and purposes.
What an example and encouragement this is. If anyone doubts God’s patience and grace, we can point them to Paul’s conversion which still stands as an example to the world that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). If God did that for Paul, then he can and will do that for anyone. In Paul’s conversion we see a powerful example of God’s mercy and grace poured out abundantly to the chief (or, foremost) of sinners.
c) Praise to God (1:17). In contemplating his own sordid history and what God had done in his life, Paul bursts into a doxology: “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1:17). This section (1:12-17) began with thanksgiving and ends in praise to God.
God is “the King of the ages” - the One who was and is and is to come, the sovereign Lord of history. He is “immortal” – timeless, eternal, imperishable, unchanging, the Lord of life and death. He is also “invisible” – he cannot be seen because he is spirit in his essential being. And he is “the only God” - there is no other God beside him (Isa. 45:5). To him, in this outburst of praise for the grace and mercy of Christ shown to him, Paul ascribes “honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” This will be our occupation throughout eternity. And to that we all say, “Amen - so let it be.”
Final Remarks. This is a brief but powerful personal testimony by the apostle Paul (see also Acts 22:3-21; 26:1-23) to the immense grace and mercy of God in the life of one who once hated the name of Christ and did whatever he could to get rid of the followers of Christ in the early church but who, through the miraculous saving grace of God and his resulting faith in Christ, had become one of the strongest and most influential leaders in the church.
What, then, does this teach us about the responsibility of pastors to testify to God’s saving grace through their own personal testimony? Personal testimonies give such credibility to church leaders because by them they acknowledge that they are no different from anyone else as to their past and they give praise to God for what he has done in radically transforming their lives. Personal testimonies remind us that God is gracious and merciful. Personal testimonies illustrate how God can change a person’s life, transforming them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God. Personal testimonies declare publicly the saving power of God, that no one is beyond his redemption. Personal testimonies show that God can and does take the worst of sinners and make them into strong leaders to accomplish his purposes. Personal testimonies encourage others, that if God can do this for someone else, he can do it for others as well. Personal testimonies are vivid, living examples of the source, scope, and object of God’s saving grace.
III. Sermon Outlines
Title: Learning from Jesus – Praising Jesus Our King (Matthew 21:1-11)
Subject: The kingship of Jesus.
Theme: The kingship of Jesus at his first coming points us to his kingship at his second coming.
Point I: Jesus’ kingship is recognized in his divine authority (21:1-13)
Point II: Jesus’ kingship is proved in fulfilled prophecy (21:4-6)
1. The prophecy of Daniel 9:25 was fulfilled
2. The prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 was fulfilled
Point III: Jesus’ kingship is demonstrated in humble majesty (21:6-11)
1. Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem was clothed in humility (21:6-7)
2. Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem was clothed in majesty (21:8-11)
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