For the corresponding sermon to this scripture passage, listen here: http://crossview.info/sermons/2014_05_11.mp3
Today’s Scripture Focus: Ephesians 3:14-21
Ephesians 3 opens with the phrase “For this reason I, Paul, prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—”. We then have an eleven verse aside in which Paul’s testimony is shared before picking this opening sentence back up in verse 14. What is the “this” reason referred to? The previous chapter ends with the following statement: “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” The author’s foremost desire is that the churches reading his letter grasp who they were before Christ, who they are in Christ, and who they are together in Christ. “For this reason” everything follows in chapter 3.
Why is Paul identified as a “prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles”? A partial explanation is given in the aside that follows. Paul’s testimony is shared, in which the readers are reminded how Paul was chosen and God’s mystery was made known to him. A “mystery” is a secret that requires divine explanation. Elsewhere, scripture records that while Paul was busy persecuting Jesus’ followers, Jesus appeared and called him to preach to Gentiles, the very ones whom Paul’s religion had taught him were off limits. This was the mystery revealed to Paul—God loved Gentiles, too.
But what about the “prisoner of Christ Jesus” part? The book of Acts, which records Paul’s story, ends abruptly with Paul under house arrest in Rome. To find out what eventually became of Paul, we rely on hints from letters like Ephesians and church tradition. Paul was eventually released, but sometime later was arrested, imprisoned, and beheaded. This prison sentence was much harsher than the first one, and it would have sent shock waves through an already discouraged church. Those who had heard Paul preach of freedom available in Christ would have been wondering how Paul could have ended up in such depressing circumstances.
And yet, Paul didn’t even consider himself a prisoner of the Empire. He was only serving a sentence in service of Christ. Our scripture focus today is a beautiful prayer that shows the author’s concern was never for himself—it was only for his beloved church. We have a word picture of Paul, in chains in a dank prison cell, on his knees praying not to be set free, not for comfort, not for vindication, but that the churches for whom he has given his life would just love God more and love each other more. Paul wants them to get to the level of love that makes human chains invisible, and sees only those that bind us to Christ and to one another. May this prayer be said for us today.
- Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
- Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
- Ask these three questions. Let as many answer each one as they would like.
Think of someone you really love a lot—maybe a spouse, parent, child, or friend. Has your love for that person changed any across the years? How is your love different now than it was when you first knew them?
Is there anything in today’s scripture that especially speaks to you?
What questions would you like to ask about today’s scripture?