We are facing tough times as a nation. It seems like each and every day we hear more news about how our nation is struggling in a myriad of ways. There are folks looking for jobs that can’t find work. There are other folks who have jobs and yet they don’t make enough money to make ends meet. I heard a statistic this past week that alarmed me. One out of three kids in our nation will not graduate from high school. Unlike some other nations, all kids in our nation are given an opportunity to gain an education and yet 33% of our kids are falling through the cracks. Our educational system is in desperate need. Our healthcare system is the best in the world and yet there are massive problems that we just can’t seem to get a handle on. Our families are struggling. Families are supposed to be home base—a source of encouragement, hope, training, safety, and love for those in the family. Yet, we hear stories every day of families being shattered and lives being crushed by the very ones who have been called to love and protect. There is corruption in the Church, corruption in government, corruption in business, and corruption in every aspect of life as we know it.
What is the answer to all of these problems? How do you even begin to fix the monstrous problems that we are facing as a nation? Well, the answer to that question depends on who you are asking. We are ramping up for another election season and from the little I’ve heard the past few weeks it seems pretty obvious to me that those who desire to gain a public office have all of the answers. Sociologists, economists, educators, and preachers will all offer you different answers. What is the answer? Well, I’m not running for office, but I believe the answer to the problems that plague us is found in the Word of God.
You won’t find answers in God’s Word on how to fix the economy, but you will find answers on how to fix the person. You won’t find answers in God’s Word on how to overhaul our educational system, but you will find answers on how to fix the person. You won’t find answers in God’s Word on how to eradicate corruption in business, the Church, or government, but you will find answers on how to fix the people who are corrupt in each of these arenas. The problems we are dealing with are problems originating in people. They are problems that are being multiplied and expanded by people. Our problem is not that our educational system is a mess, or the family is a mess, or our government is a mess—people are a mess. If we can fix the mess that we are as people then these problems that we are facing will change. Dr. Tony Evans says it best:
If you have a messed up man, you’ll have a messed up family. If you have a messed up family, you’ll have a messed up church. If you have a messed up church, you’ll have a messed up neighborhood. If you have a messed up neighborhood, you’ll have messed up schools. If you have messed up schools, you’ll have a messed up city. But, if you have a transformed man, you’ll have a transformed family. If you have a transformed family, you’ll have a transformed church. If you have a transformed church, you’ll have a transformed neighborhood. If you have a transformed neighborhood, you’ll have transformed schools. If you have transformed schools, you’ll have a transformed city! (Dr. Tony Evans, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship)
As Paul begins his letter to the Church in Ephesus he doesn’t address any of the problems that are confronting the brothers and sisters in Ephesus. He extols, elaborates upon, praises, and magnifies the glory of God for who He is and what He has done on our behalf. What God has done and is doing for our benefit is both the beginning and the end of what we need to know in order to experience the transformation that God desires for each of our lives. Let’s read Ephesians 1:1-14 together.
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. 11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:1-14 NIV)
I want to forewarn you that we are not going to be able to work our way through this entire section of God’s Word today. I want us to take our time. I want us to really meditate upon and learn these great truths so that they might have a lasting effect on our lives. What you and I will have the opportunity to learn in the next few weeks, as we study these 14 verses of God’s Word, can radically change your life and my life if we will slow down, sit still, and drink deeply of God’s Truth. Let’s get started.
In the first verse of Paul’s letter he identifies himself and the recipients of his letter. Read along with me. 1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: (Ephesians 1:1 NIV)
I want you to notice something about this passage that it is very important. Paul identifies himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” He is writing to the “saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.” Paul lets us know from the beginning that who he is and what he is doing is solely explained by the will of God.
Paul was a smart man, a devoted man, a passionate man. He had been trained by the best and brightest rabbi, a man named Gamaliel. He had a promising future laid out before him. He was passionate about his Jewish faith and God’s people. Paul also was adamantly opposed to any teaching or religion that threatened Judaism. That is why he was all for the stoning death of Stephen, one of the followers of Jesus. That is also why he had gotten permission to travel to Damascus and take the followers of Jesus as his prisoners. I hope with what I have just shared with you that you can now see more clearly the passion of Paul’s life. We could even say that Paul, who was called Saul at this point in his life, had found his mission, his purpose in life. Yet, in Acts 9:1-7 we read,
1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. (Acts 9:1-7 NIV)
Saul was stopped dead in his tracks. He did what the Lord had told him. He went on into the city. In the meantime, the Lord went ahead of Saul and told one of His followers, a man named Ananias, to go and lay hands on Saul so that he might regain his sight. Ananias was a follower of Jesus, but he wasn’t easily convinced that bringing Saul onto the team was a good idea. When Ananias shared his concerns with the Lord he was told,
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16 NIV)
The rest is history. Saul becomes Paul of Tarsus who in turn becomes the greatest missionary the world has ever known. He wrote more books in our New Testament than any other author. He used his sharp mind to teach the great truths of the Christian faith rather than following the passion he had before he met Jesus. Now, can you see why Paul says that he was “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” It wasn’t Paul’s “will” or Paul’s “passion” or Paul’s “plan,” but it was God’s will that he was living out.
Now, let’s turn to those Paul was writing. We read that this letter was to the “saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.” Paul calls the brothers and sisters in Ephesus, “saints.” The Greek word that he uses is the word, “?????” (hagios) and the word means, “most holy thing, set-apart, or saints.” “Saints” are not those who have achieved some special status among the other members of the Body of Christ because of their church attendance, the amount of time they’ve spent in Bible study, the gifts they’ve given to help the poor, or the number of Christian bumper stickers they have on their car. The title “saints” is used of all of those whom God has made holy. That includes each and every person who is a follower of Jesus.
To be “holy” means to be “set apart.” We have been set apart and made holy through the righteousness, the perfect holiness, of Jesus. If we are “in Him” then His righteousness, His perfect holiness, becomes our righteousness, our holiness. The background for God’s setting apart people for His purposes is found in the Hebrew Bible. In Leviticus 20:26 we read,
26 You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own. (Leviticus 20:26 NIV)
Why did God choose Israel? Was it because the Israelites were smarter than all of the other people groups of the world? Was it because they were more moral, more ethical, than the pagan nations that surrounded them? Was it because God thought they had more to offer Him, that He could do more with the Jews than with any other nation He had to work with? None of these reasons were the reason God set apart the Israelites as His Chosen people. In Deuteronomy 7:6-7 we read.
6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. (Deuteronomy 7:6-7 NIV)
You can see that God chose the Israelites not because of any merit or accomplishment of their own, but He chose them for His purposes. In the New Testament we find the same motivation for God choosing us. Turn to 1 Corinthians 1:27-31 and read along with me.
27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-31 NIV)
“It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus.” Did you notice that those who were called “saints” in Ephesus are also those who are “in Christ Jesus.” Those who are called “saints” today are those who are “in Christ Jesus” as well. If you are a follower of Jesus, if you have confessed your sin, received Him as Lord and Savior, then you are a “saint” my friend. This is God’s work on your behalf. God has set you apart. You are person of purpose. God has a plan for you and me to live out each and every day of our lives.
Look at what we’ve learned just from taking a look at the opening verse of Ephesians 1. What have we learned? We’ve learned that we find our purpose, our meaning, our mission in the will of God for our lives. Paul was an apostle, an ambassador, by the will of God. The people were saints because of God’s will, His action on their part. I share this with you because so many people today are struggling to find their purpose, their passion, their reason for being in this life. I’m not just talking about people in general—I’m talking about many, many of the followers of Jesus. You can find all kinds of people who are more than willing to help you find your purpose in life. I would encourage you to study the Scriptures to find your purpose rather than seeking out some of these folks. I browsed through some web pages this past week to see what I could learn about how to find meaning and purpose in life. Let me share just two with you. There is a man named Steve Pavlina who has a web page called, Personal Development for Smart People. After reading the title I thought to myself, “Well, that’s not for me.” I went ahead and read it anyway. Steve has written an article called, “How to Discover Your Life Purpose in About 20 Minutes.” Here is how you do it according to Steve.
1. Take out a blank sheet of paper or open up a word processor where you can type (I prefer the latter because it’s faster).
2. Write at the top, “What is my true purpose in life?”
3. Write an answer (any answer) that pops into your head. It doesn’t have to be a complete sentence. A short phrase is fine.
4. Repeat step 3 until you write the answer that makes you cry. This is your purpose.
Simple as that. You want to know your life’s purpose? Just follow Steve’s advice. I wonder, if Paul would have followed Steve’s advice, would he have ever written down, “Being an ambassador of Jesus Christ and sharing the Gospel with Gentiles while being persecuted for the rest of my life.” I’m not being harsh or mean. Those who are not followers of Jesus do the best they can with what they’ve got to work with in life. For those who are followers of Jesus, Steve simple three step plan isn’t an option.
I read one more interesting article by Dr. Susan Biali in Psychology Today called, “Can’t Find Your Life’s Purpose?” She writes,
In my life I started out determined to become a Solid Gold Dancer, but later abandoned that dream and followed a largely unplanned and very windy path: I became a (rather inept) gymnast and gymnastics coach, studied physics, studied kinesiology/human mechanics, modeled (rather unsuccessfully) for a while, got a degree in Dietetics, became a medical doctor, got into an Emergency Medicine residency, quit that residency and became a GP, became a salsa dancer, became a flamenco dancer, started a photography business, almost completed my first novel, became a travel writer, became a health writer, became an inspirational writer, planned to move to Italy, moved to Mexico, began working as a life coach, became a professional speaker, became a non-fiction self-help book author…and that’s just a brief summary, missing lots of details and other equally improbable tangents. When you look at everything I’ve sampled in life, you can imagine why I often thought I was hopelessly lost. Yet when I look back now, it’s all perfect. Each sudden change in direction made an important contribution to the person I am today, by providing me with a unique skill, knowledge or experience that I now use today to help myself and others. The twists and turns in my life set the stage for the contribution that I’m now making to the world, a contribution and a role that I now appreciate as being uniquely mine. (Dr. Susan Biali, Pschology Today website.)
Dr. Biali has lived a very interesting and diverse life. Sounds like it’s been a lot of fun, but she really doesn’t give us much help on finding our purpose in life other than to say that each of our experiences make us the person that we are.
The problem with all of the approaches to finding your purpose in life that the world has to offer is that they revolve around us and not on God’s will for us. They lead us to ask questions like, “What do I want to do? What will make me happy? What do I do best?” Those are questions that many people ask, but they are the wrong questions for the followers of Jesus who are trying to find meaning and purpose in life.
The story is told that one day, a man who was a master martial artist asked Bruce Lee to teach him everything he knew about martial arts. Bruce held up two cups, both filled with liquid. “The first cup,” said Bruce, “represents all of your knowledge about martial arts. The second cup represents all of my knowledge about martial arts. If you want to fill your cup with my knowledge, you must first empty your cup of your knowledge.”
Whether you are young or old you have learned some things about life. Kids in the nursery think they know what will make them happy. That is why they throw a fit, fall down in the floor kicking and screaming if they don’t get what they want. The truth is that little ones don’t know what is best for them and that is why God has given them a mom and dad to help them out. Hopefully, as we get older, we stop falling in the floor and kicking and screaming if we don’t get our way, but we still think we know what is best. We are no different than the little ones in the nursery; we need help to truly know what is best for us. Our best thinking will oftentimes lead us astray.
I had an opportunity a couple of weeks ago to talk to a young friend of mine who is at a crossroads in his life. He had just gotten out of jail when I was talking to him on the phone. He said, “I had a lot of time to think while I was in jail. I thought about all of the ways I’ve hurt my mom and dad. I thought about all of the horrible things I’ve said to them. When I thought about all of the things that I’ve done and said it just made me so ashamed.” Then he said, “That wasn’t me. I don’t know what happened, but that wasn’t me.” I said, “Hold on just a minute. You need to understand something. There is a great lesson for you to learn here and I hope you won’t ever forget it.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “All of those things that you’ve just told me that made you so ashamed were fully you—completely you. You shut out every single person who truly loves you. You refused to listen to your mom, your dad, and you wouldn’t listen to the Lord. You said, ‘This is my life and I know what is best for me.’ And look where your wisdom got you. You have to listen to those who love you, those who have your best interest in mind or you will find yourself right back where you were.”
My young friend is a great example for all of us. Your best thinking may not land you in jail, but it may very well make you miserable. How many people do you know who have set out to achieve what they thought would make them happy in life only to find out later that it left them completely empty?
If we want to truly find meaning, lasting meaning in life and if we want to find purpose, enduring purpose in life, then we must, like the martial arts master, empty ourselves of our wants, wishes, desires, and plans and seek the Lord with all of our hearts. He knows and He has the power to do what none of us can do with our lives. All we have to do is remember what we have learned so far in the first verse of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul didn’t make himself an ambassador of Jesus Christ—God did. The brothers and sisters in Ephesus didn’t “achieve” sainthood—God set them apart, He made the holy. God can do in you and me what we can never do in and of ourselves. The place to start is right here this morning. Will you confess your absolute ignorance about how to make life work and your absolute yearning to know Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life? Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
September 18, 2011