CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK....
We now come to the last post for this particular sermon. One of the overarching themes for the passage is God's kindness to His chosen people. Paul is telling the Ephesians over and over that God loves and cares for them. The Father, Who has adopted His children, has kind intentions for us.
Even in the throws of trials, troubles, or challenges we must remember that selection for salvation is God's decision. This is God's kindness to us. Even hardships show God's power and kindness. He has declared us holy and righteous. This salvation is true and lasting. We need to become more like Christ - this means that God will discipline us as needed to conform us to Jesus' image.Paul questions the Roman Christians understanding of God's discipline when he asks, "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4). Even in the depths of rebellion or spiritual struggle, He chastens us for our good.
God's care and intention toward us is for our good and even when it does not feel like it, God is showing kindness. We must remember this when we face a test, a trials, an ordeal, or a struggle. It is easy for us to neglect what God is doing while in the midst of our struggle. It can be difficult to consider ultimate realities before we blame God for what is happening.
Grace is lavished on us. All that God has is ours in Christ. God gives to overflowing, His grace, kindness, and love exceed anything we can imagine. Sometimes these truths are lost in the hectic grind of life or the confusion of mourning and loss. However, these truths are still relevant and true. Christians must take the initiative to remind themselves of the truth of who they are in Christ, before trials come. Rehearsal or training brings about muscle memory. If one prepares before the struggle, then one will act and think rightly in the struggle.
God's grace can also bring struggle. James writes, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance" (James 1:2-3 ). Producing endurance or perseverance is high on God's list of things He wants to develop in His people. Struggles have purpose. The struggle moves us closer to being ready for eternity. Each trial helps to change us into what He created us to be. Trials are a part of His blessings to us. Trials are part of the "work of service" Paul will describe later in this letter. So Paul and James say with confidence that trials are helpful for the Christian.
When we face trials, we must remind ourselves that we are in God's kind care. This reminding will help change the way we view our trials and struggles. Learning to consider events as blessings or moves of God will redirect our efforts as we grow. One of my mentors, Bob Johnson, our worship leader, when he was diagnosed with cancer said: "I have spent my life teaching people how to live for Christ, now He is giving me the opportunity to show how to die with Christ." He saw the trial as a blessing from God to be used in His service.
Bob knew these truths: God is in control and He has tender care for us. God wants to build us, not make us comfortable. We are not alone in this life, God shows us kindness each moment of life, and sometimes God uses us to build others (and that means we must suffer).
I am reminded of what Jerry Bridges wrote in Is God Really in Control?, "I have spent a good portion of my adult life encouraging people to pursue holiness, to obey God. Yet, I acknowledge that it often seems more difficult to trust God than to obey Him" (Jerry Bridges, Is God Really in Control?, 18). Understanding that God's purposes toward us come from grace and kindness helps us to redirect our understanding of hardship. In the midst of this understanding we must learn trust God. Who He is and what He has done is worthy of our trust.
The future in Ephesians shows us that Jesus will be in control of all things. All things will be "summed up in Christ" (Ephesians 1: 10). There is a flow to history, everything pushes or pulls toward one goal; the summing up of all things in Christ. In Ephesians we see a big picture of the mystery; all things are redeemed under Christ (9), the Gentiles are equal with Jews in redemption (3,4). Both of these things are mysteries that are being unpacked by the early church as God reveals them.
This summing up of all things under Christis the consummation of all things under His Headship. It is the reversing of the curse on creation and bringing it back to its rightful place willfully under Christ. These things are revealed to Christians according to God's wisdom and insight (9).
Nothing will stop God from bringing creation to the feet of Christ! We are part of this march toward the consummation of His plan. We are part of what will bring about His glorious plan. His plan for our individual lives connect with His plan for the universe as our trials are for His purposes. So our trials are part of bringing about His ultimate purposes.
Why is the future described in Ephesians important to us? It shows that we have a future in Christ. We are part of the "summing up of all things in Christ." In the future our Hope exists. Hope is a concept of the future. We anticipate a fulfilling future in which we enjoy our full salvation with Christ. Our hope comes from a future that culminates under Christ! Even the hope for tomorrow resides in this more distant future. It also gives us the understanding that there is a shortness to suffering when compared to eternity. Paul writes, "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison..." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). He is not sovereign for our comfort, He is sovereign for His glory and our being made holy, now and in the future.
I love jazz. The beauty of jazz is that a piece of music finds new life as each artist plays it their own way. I find enjoyment in hearing a riff played by different people. While a particular Christian doctrine does not change, the application to your life may vary, like a jazz riff. Sovereignty is a heavy thing to grasp, but when we surrender what we are to what He is, we experience freedom. Our struggles are for God's purposes. How we live in light of this truth may vary from Christian to Christian. However, the fact of God's sovereign care and plan does not vary.
I don't understand miscarriages. I don't understand death. I don't understand work struggles. I don't understand difficulty. I don't understand war. I have faced things I do not understand or want to face, but God has used the situation for His glory and to move me toward eternity and His purposes!
As a reminder, God is sovereign of our PAST, PRESENT, and FUTURE. Our prayers are directed to the One who is kind toward us, our Father. Things that happen to us or in our lives that come from God Who is working out His purposes to bring the universe under Christ. Knowing God and His kind intentions, should change the way we perceive trials. We must learn to trust God with our life, family, and future. We are called to His service, sometimes that means we need to suffer as part of God's larger plan that builds someone else up.
Bridges wrote, "If you stop and think about it, you will realize that most godly character traits can only be developed through adversity. God in His infinite wisdom knows exactly what adversity we need to grow more and more into the likeness of His Son" (Bridges, 86). As Christians we should join God in His work in our lives. We should not blame Him for trials or struggles, but instead embrace these things in order to grow.