A Prisoner of Christ Jesus On Behalf of You
January 27, 2019
This part of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is special. It is special because it is actually a gigantic and glorious tangent.
In verse 1, Paul begins to share his prayer for the church and his word of blessing for God’s people. This was his intention in verse 1. But he doesn’t actually get to it until verse 14. Instead, Paul says, “For this reason, I….” And then he gives his name, “I, Paul….” And then he states his calling in life, “I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles….” And then there is a long dash in our English Bibles, followed by a gigantic and glorious tangent.
Tangents are usually not a good thing. But this is a really special moment in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Something got to him. Something got him to lose his train of thought just as he was about to pray for the church. Something got him a little choked up. And that something was everything that God was doing in his life.
Paul was amazed that God had made known to him the mystery of Christ. God revealed to Paul all the gospel of Jesus, all the good news about his salvation, all the theology and meaning about his death and resurrection, all of it. None of it came from Paul’s own mind. It was not his invention. It was Jesus’ revelation. And so Paul could not take any credit or receive any glory for knowing what he knew about Jesus. Paul’s insight into the mystery of Christ came from the Holy Spirit who revealed everything to him. This was so humbling to Paul.
Brothers and sisters, when we read God’s Word, let us have a renewed sense of wonder. It is easy to read about Jesus’ salvation and think that it’s all quite obvious. But none of Jesus’ salvation is obvious. We know the gospel because God gave it to us through his written word. No human sinner could ever come up with the solution of the incarnation and the cross and our resurrection and our union with Christ. So let us be amazed when we read our Bibles at home. Let us be amazed when we listen to the reading of God’s Word on Sundays.
Paul was also amazed that God had shown him grace. Paul once persecuted the church in his old life. He put Christians into prison. He hated Jesus. But God was merciful to Paul. God showed grace to Paul. He sent his Son Jesus Christ to die for Paul and rise again for Paul. He loved Paul and saved Paul. And then he made Paul a minister of the gospel of Christ for the Gentiles. Paul did so much wrong against God in his old life. But in his new life, Paul was given the honor of preaching to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. This was so heartwarming to Paul.
Brothers and sisters, when we think about our relationship with God, let us remember God’s grace toward us. God has blessed you will so many blessings that you do not deserve. You have repentance and faith. You have forgiveness of sin. You have the righteousness of Christ. You have eternal life. You have a new heart and a new mind and a new name. You have reconciliation and peace. You have election and adoption and inheritance. You have God’s word and you get to talk to him in praise and prayer. You have the Holy Spirit who dwells in you. You have the church. You have God’s Fatherly patience and wisdom and discipline. You have Jesus’ loving intercession. You have future exaltation and glory. You have the new heavens and the new earth. You have a place prepared for you and a seat at a banqueting table waiting for you. You have true joy. You have love. You have the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We do not deserve any of this. And that is why we say that God is gracious toward us. Praise the Lord!
Paul was also amazed about the big picture. Paul had a grand purpose. And that purpose is stated in verse 10. Paul was made a minister of the gospel of Christ so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. The manifold wisdom of God is referring to all the glorious truths about our salvation in Christ. And while we don’t know for sure what the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places are referring to, Paul is most likely talking about the angels in the heavenly realm. Paul understood his ultimate place and his ultimate audience. He knew that he was a servant for the church. And he knew that even angels long to look into the things of the good news of Christ (1 Peter 1:12). This was so eye-opening to Paul.
Brothers and sisters, let us be in awe of the fact that the manifold wisdom of God is made known through the church. We are to proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ. We are to praise God for his love and grace. We are to declare the righteousness of the King. We are to confess the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. What a blessed gift and privilege and honor that we have received in Christ! We have a purpose and a mission. We can get bogged down by the details of life. But let us remember the big picture.
So this is what got Paul on his tangent. God was doing amazing things in his life. But why did Paul take the time to talk about this stuff? Was his tangent a waste of time? No. Paul shared what God was doing in his life because he wanted to encourage the church. The church was worried about Paul. They knew about his sufferings. They knew that he was in prison. But Paul says in verse 13 these words: “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.”
Paul loved the church. Even though he was in prison, his concern was not for himself. His concern was for the church. This is why he began with the words: “I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles….” In one sense, he was a prisoner of Rome. But his love for Jesus and his church was so great that he didn’t think of it that way. He called himself a prisoner of Christ. And he was a prisoner on behalf of the Gentiles. He was okay with suffering. Because he knew that it was for the sake of others. Paul suffered for the sake of the gospel, and he didn’t resent it. He didn’t complain or show bitterness. He knew it was all worth it. For he was given a gift of unsearchable riches. And the church might have questioned God’s wisdom of having his servant Paul locked up in prison instead of out in the world free to declare the gospel. But this is a part of the manifold wisdom of God. Paul’s imprisonment brings God maximum glory. Paul knew this. And he didn’t lose heart. And he asked the church not to lose heart either.
Brothers and sisters, Christian life is full of suffering and persecution and sadness and death. But let us rejoice in the Lord and be thankful in all circumstances. And let us not lose heart when we hear about other Christians throughout the world who are being persecuted for their faith in Christ - some literally in prison. But they are prisoners of Christ Jesus.
Paul is a wonderful example for us to follow. We are actually commanded in Scripture to follow his example and life. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” This is the payoff of this gigantic and glorious tangent.
When we enter the kingdom of the new heavens and the new earth, we will see our Lord Jesus Christ face to face. And we will see all the saints of the eternal and triumphant church. When you see Paul face to face, promise me that you’ll thank him from the bottom of your heart. He was sent to prison for us Gentiles. He was a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you. He is the very least of all the saints. But he suffered the most for the sake of the church, and for the same of the name of Christ. Take the time to talk to him and listen to him. He will have many stories to tell, I’m sure. And since our kingdom will be an eternal one, you can let Paul go off on a tangent or two. A tangent or two for the praise of God’s glorious grace.