Yesterday, we looked at the word dispensation, which can be translated steward or stewardship, and speaks of our responsibility to complete the task God has given us to do. We also focused our prayers on Ephesians 3:2, which deals specifically with the dispensation of God’s grace given to Paul for the sake of the Gentiles.
But today, we will look at the next phrase, Ephesians 3:3-4, which reads:
How that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ).
In these two verses, we find the word revelation used once and mystery used twice. But this is not the first time Paul used these words in his letter to the Ephesians. In Ephesians 1:17, Paul speaks of praying the Lord would give the “spirit of wisdom and revelation” in the knowledge of Christ. And in Ephesians 1:9, we find God “having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to the good pleasure which He purposed in Himself.”
As we previously discovered, the word mystery is not something forever unknown. Instead, it denotes “something hidden or not yet fully manifest.” It’s knowable truth, but just not to everyone. This mystery is a truth God has reserved to reveal at a particular time, to a specific group of people, or person, for His unique purpose.
This wondrous mystery, unknown in the Old Testament, was finally revealed to Paul by the revelation of the Holy Spirit. And this mystery is the Kingdom of God includes, not just Jews, but also Gentiles. That God truly is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35), and the Kingdom of God is far greater than our prejudices, our racial discord, or our cultural preferences.
The Revelation of the Mystery
So what does the word revelation mean? Revelation (apokálupsis) means “an uncovering, unveiling, or the disclosing of something previously not known.” We don’t know how Paul received this revelation, whether an angel dictated it to him, or the Holy Spirit confirmed it in his spirit, or he received it through a dream or vision. We’re not sure how it happened. But we do know it happened. It’s almost like in Acts when the elders of the church were praying and fasting, and the Holy Spirit spoke to them collectively, saying, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). It appears the entire group understood what the Holy Spirit said. How did that happen? Was it an audible voice? Maybe a confirming spirit in them? Or was it something else? We don’t know. The Scriptures don’t tell us. But what we do know is everyone received the Holy Spirit’s message about Paul and Barnabas, so they all agreed in unity and sent them on their way (Acts 12:3). Something similar might have happened here. It was a revelation of God’s truth revealed to His intended audience.
Do you realize, one trait of being a believer in Christ is hearing from our Father? We are in tune with God and His Spirit in a way the rest of the world isn’t, and can’t quite comprehend. We have an understanding, an enlightenment, that comes from the Holy Spirit living in us that takes random circumstances in this chaotic world and reveals to us His order and purpose through them. We can look at the Book of Revelation, for example, and clearly delineate the signs and symbols and literal interpretation of future events soon to come to pass. After all, that’s the way God intended. He promised to bless those who read and those who hear the words of the prophecy (Rev. 1:3). A promise not given to any other part of God’s Word.
And this gift is not only for Paul, but also for you and me. Remember, the “message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). Why? Because God reveals His truth to us through His Word. To understand His Word is one of the greatest gifts you and I have received from Him.
This New Year, as you make resolutions and vows about Bible study and prayer and other things regarding your relationship with the Lord, remember you have been given a special gift. You can have the truth of God revealed to you by the Holy Spirit in such a way it will forever change your life. In the Scriptures, you will find the answer to every question asked by man, ever! There is nothing in life God has not revealed to us in His Word. The Scriptures reveal wisdom, the keys to a happy marriage, instructions on how to raise children, how to discover meaning and purpose in life, how to love your spouse— everything knowable is in His Word.
Time to Pray
When you begin your day with the Lord, ask Him to show you how overwhelmingly beautiful and inspiring and brilliant is His Word. Plead with Him to give you a hunger for His Word, unlike anything you have ever experienced before. And when you read His Word, either Old or New Testament, beg Him to reveal Himself to you and to give you the revelation of the mystery of His love for you, a love undeserved, unmatched, and eternal.
Only in His Word can you find the source of the “abundant life” Jesus promised (John 10:10). It’s ours for the asking. Join with me in making this quest for the “abundant life” in Him our passion for 2020.
Today is the first day of a New Year. Congratulations. Whew, we made it. And better than that, it’s the first day of a brand-new decade. On January 1st, many of us tend to make resolutions we never actually keep. Planet Fitness, for example, will be packed tomorrow with people who made a commitment today to get in shape only to find most of them gone by February 1st. Trust me, it happens.
But that shouldn’t be the case for those of us who follow Christ. When we make a resolution, a commitment, or a vow according to Scripture, we should rely on the Holy Spirit to help us finish what we promise to start and not try to grit it out in the flesh. Again, I know personally how futile that can be.
The passage we are focusing our prayers on this first day of the New Year is Ephesians 3:1-2. It reads:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you.
We’ve previously looked at a number of words in this passage, but today we’re going to examine the most convicting of them all, the word dispensation. It’s a strange word seldom used today, especially in Christian circles. In fact, the only time we hear dispensation is usually in a heated discussion between two so-called Bible scholars who have differing views of the end times. But that discussion is for another time and place and is not how the word is used in this verse. The word dispensation (oikonomía) means “to be a manager of a household, or the position, work, responsibility or arrangement of an administration, as of a house or of property, either one’s own or another’s.” In other words, dispensation can be translated steward or stewardship and refers to the management of a house or business on behalf of someone else. A steward, therefore, was responsible for taking care of something not his own, that which belonged to someone else.
When Paul is referring to “the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you” (Eph. 3:2) he was speaking about the stewardship given to him by God for proclaiming the grace revealed to Paul for the benefit of the Gentiles. Paul had a calling and a mission, a divine mandate, a fiduciary responsibility as a steward of God, to fulfill the task God had given him to do. And for Paul that task, according to Ephesians 3:2, was to present to the Gentiles the grace of God given and revealed to Paul for them.
Our Duty to God
Do you realize you and I have the same responsibilities as stewards of God to the ministry He has given to us? God has placed us to live at this particular time in history, and in the very family He chose, married to the spouse He ordained, with the children He allowed us to have, born in the nation in which we live, for a reason known only to Him. It was all by His design. Everything.
Many years ago Bill Gothard talked about the Ten Unchangeable Traits each of us has. These are divine attributes God placed on each of us that we had no control over and can do little, if anything, about. And our calling, our mandate from Him, and our stewardship in the dispensation God has given us is to be able to glorify Him within the attributes we cannot change.
The Ten Unchangeable Traits are:
1. Our Parents (we had no control or voice over who our parents would be)
2. Physical Features (no matter how hard I try, I will never dunk a basketball)
3. Gender (contrary to PC thought, you cannot change your gender and it was given to you by God)
4. Brothers and Sisters (see #1)
5. Birth Order (see #1)
6. Ethnicity (that was determined by #1 and we can nothing about it)
7. Place of Origin (remember Joseph was from Nazareth yet Jesus was born in Bethlehem)
8. Time in History (you and I were born in the year God choose, for a reason)
9. Mental Capacity (this is why I have such a hard time reading phonetically)
10. Aging and Time of Death (see Psalm 139:16)
“What does this mean for us on this New Year’s Day?” you ask. It means God has given us something to do and we can’t hide behind our excuses any longer. He has given each one of us grace “according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph. 4:7). He created us how He wanted to, He gave us the family He desired, and He placed us in this town and in this nation in 2020 for a reason. He knows our limitations and yet still has a role for us to play in His divine pageantry.
Now relax, this doesn’t necessarily mean we’re to be a missionary in a foreign land, or hold massive city-wide revival crusades, or stand on the street corner wearing a billboard that says, “The End is Near!” It simply means we have a position in His Kingdom that only we can fill. To use a football analogy, some of us may play tight end, some an offensive lineman, and others may play cornerback or safety. It doesn’t matter what position we play as long as we faithfully fulfill the stewardship of trust our Head Coach has placed in us when He drafted us on His team.
Therefore the first thing we must determine is who is in our sphere of influence? Who has God sovereignly placed in our light? Look around you. You have your family, your friends, your co-workers, the people you know on Facebook, the very ones you would call in a tight spot— all of these are in your sphere of influence. God placed you in their midst for a reason. And that reason is to be light in their darkness.
So once you determine your sphere of influence, the next thing is to pray and ask the Lord how you can shine His light into their darkness. And that usually involves opening your mouth and saying something. I’ve never known a lost person to become a Believer by silent osmosis. Have you? It doesn’t happen that way. Yesterday we spoke about the importance of verbally communicating God’s message. If you’re afraid, confess that to Him. It’s not like He doesn’t already know. Then ask the Holy Spirit to empower you to be all Christ has commanded you to be. And know this, He will.
Time to Pray
So on this January 1st, 2020, let me encourage you to spend some time this morning committing your life to Him. All of it. Everything. Ask Him to turn you into someone He can trust, at all times, to remain faithful, connected, abiding, in Him. Ask Him to help you become the kind of “true worshipers who will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” Why? Because Jesus said, “For the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:23). That person can be you. You! Can you imagine what it must be like to be the kind of Believer the Father looks to for true worship? Can you think of anything greater?
Commit your life to Him right now. Ask Him, in faith, to empower you, to draw you closer to Him, and to teach you how to love Him more than you ever have in the past. And then, let’s embrace the future as if our Lord could come at any moment. Because who knows, He can and He might and He someday will.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Today is the last day of 2019 and, amazingly, the last day of the decade. Tomorrow we will be celebrating the beginning of a New Year and the birth of 2020. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have a hard time believing that it’s actually 2020. Much has happened over the last 10 years. And, as every aging boomer bemoans, “Where has all the time gone?”
The verse we are using to help focus our prayers today is Ephesians 3:1-2, which reads:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you.
Tomorrow we will be looking at the word dispensation and all the truths we can discover from Paul’s use of it. (Spoiler: They are quite challenging and convicting). But for today, I’d like to focus on the phrase “the grace of God which was given to me for you.” And specifically, the words grace and given.
Time For Looking Back
Gratitude is a dying character trait in our current culture. Unfortunately, it has been replaced by entitlement and narcissism. But this should never be the case when it comes to the grace we have received from our Lord. Grace is a gift, freely given and without merit. And all we are entitled to as sinful, unredeemed humanity is eternal separation from our God. As people of God, it would do us well to always remember that distinction.
It is customary, on New Year’s Eve, to pause and reflect back on the things that have happened to us, both good and bad, during the last year or so and the many lessons we have learned. If we do this in secular life, how much more the need in our spiritual lives. Our Scripture speaks about “the grace of God which was given” to each of us. Grace (cháris) is defined as “unearned and unmerited favor” and means “to rejoice, particularly in that which causes joy, pleasure, gratification, favor, acceptance, for a kindness granted or desired, a benefit, thanks, gratitude.” It also means a “favor done without expectation of return; the absolutely free expression of the loving-kindness of God to men finding its only motive in the goodness and benevolence of the Giver (God).” Now read that again slowly. Outloud. This is what has been freely given to us from God.
There is a great difference between mercy and grace. Mercy is not receiving something we deserve, like condemnation and eternal judgment from a righteous God. And Grace is exactly the opposite, the receiving of the wonderful blessings of God we truly don’t deserve.
Ask yourself these questions:
What have you received from the Lord this last year, or maybe this last decade, that you didn’t deserve?
How has He blessed you?
What prayers has He answered for you that you had long since thought would never be answered?
Has He proven Himself faithful?
Has He always been true and honest with you?
Has His Word ever returned to you void? (Isaiah 55:11).
Or has His Word always proved to be steadfast, unmovable, inerrant, and true?
As we remember the events of this past year, both good and bad, let’s take a few minutes and praise Him for His faithfulness to us regardless of our sporadic faithfulness to Him. Let’s thank Him for not giving us what we deserve, but giving us “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). So take a deep breath, rest for a second, relax, and let your mind wander back to the events of 2019 that caused you the most worry and sleepless nights. Do you remember them? How about the dark times you had in 2018? Or maybe 2017? Or even earlier than that?
Remember five years ago the major concern and fear and doubt in your mind you thought would never get resolved? Can you even remember what it was? Or has God mercifully blotted that memory out of your mind by the wonderful things He did to take care of His child— which is you! Have you thanked Him for all He has done for you recently?
Time to Pray
Today, as you get ready to focus your prayers on His Word, allow the phrase “the grace of God which was given for you” resonate deep in your soul. Spend some time in His presence, quiet, reflective, just thinking about all the wonderful things He has done for you this last year for no other reason than His love for you.
Then quietly, turn those thoughts into prayers of gratitude, thanksgiving, and praise. Speak your prayer verbally so the angels can rejoice with you in praising the Father. Praise Him for all He has done. Praise Him for never changing and for always being the same, “yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Let your lips bring forth glorious words of adulation to the very God who has sustained you and has given your life value and worth.
Spend as much time as needed fellowshipping with Him today. Don’t be in a hurry to leave. Nothing you have to do is more important or pressing than this. End this year on a high note with the Lord. Finish well today so you can begin strong tomorrow.
And I’ll see you next year.
This past Sunday we talked about what it means to be a follower of Christ by slowly unpacking Matthew 16:24-25 which reads:
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
In this passage we focused on words like “desires” and “deny himself” and “take up his cross” in order to try to know exactly what following Jesus actually meant for His disciples then, and what it means for us today. We then spent some time in Matthew 10 going over the costs of following Jesus and the one specific aspect of discipleship He emphasized. And that, unfortunately for many in the church today, is evangelism.
I don’t know about you, but one of my biggest regrets as a Christian is the fact my prayer life is not what I know it could be. Statements like “pray without ceasing” (1 Tim. 5:17) have often led to guilt and self-condemnation because of my lack of doing just that. But my biggest blind spot as a Believer is probably my lack of witnessing or evangelism. In fact, almost everyone that I talk to wishes they had led more people to Christ. Do you feel the same?
The Scary World of Evangelism
Then we are faced with what Jesus said in Matthew 10:27 and the verses that follow. He said, “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.” Ouch. This is a clear command from our Lord to tell others about Him or to practice evangelism. Even though we may claim, “Hey, that’s not my gift!” — Paul told Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5) even though Timothy may not have been called to be an evangelist. Timothy’s calling may have been to be a pastor or a teacher (Eph. 4:11), but Paul said in spite of his innate limitations, he was to perform the function of an evangelist to fulfill his ministry to the Lord. After all, God gave each of us the Holy Spirit in order to change us from who we think we are into what He knows we can be. And that also applies to our fear of telling others about Him.
The verse we are using to focus our prayer today is Ephesians 3:1-2, which reads:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you – Ephesians 3:1-2.
And the word we want to focus on is, heard. Think about that for a moment.
To hear something is to be on the receiving end of a “giving and receiving” transaction. Someone must proclaim a message in order for someone else to hear that message. There’s both a pitching and a catching, to use a baseball analogy. In this passage, Paul is speaking to the Gentiles who “have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to Paul for them” which means, by definition, someone must have spoken that truth in order for them to have “heard” the same truth. Someone must have gone out of their way, taken an interest in their lives, possibly suffered, as a Jew, some sort of societal sanction for talking to an unclean Gentile in order to tell them about the grace of God.
We see in the book of Romans, right after it says “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13), there is a clear sequence in evangelism that demands a verbal proclamation of His truth. It follows, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). Did you catch the second sentence in this verse and the pointed question it asks of each follower of Christ? How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And who is to tell them about Jesus? Not just the hired holy man. Not just the paid professional. Not just the pastor, preacher or priest. No, the command is to each of us to “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops” (Matt. 10:27).
For me, since we are just a few days away from the end of a decade and the beginning of a new year, and since this is the customary accepted time for making resolutions, I can’t think of a better time to commit to the Lord that we can be counted among the ones who proudly proclaim His message so others can be blessed to hear. Which means, as uncomfortable as it may seem, we will commit to Him to open our mouths and actually be bold and overt when it comes to telling others about the love we have in Christ. This is not designed to bring guilt, but to help us fulfill the Great Commission and become faithful followers of Him.
The problem with much of the church today, and maybe even with you and me, is our love for Christ is not to the point where it naturally bubbles to the surface and we are irresistibly compelled to talk about Jesus. Maybe that’s because our relationship with Him is at arm’s length, more stoic than passionate. Or maybe it’s more like a work associate than an intimate family relationship with someone we love. And if so, that needs to change.
The truth is, what we love, what’s in our heart, what is the center of our being, what brings us passion and love and joy, whatever that may be, we will naturally speak about. We can’t help it. It just bubbles to the top of every conversation. Evangelism should be the same way. It’s not to be something based on duty, it should be something that springs forth from love.
Time to Pray
As we begin praying today, ask yourself how many people have heard about the love of Christ from your lips. If that number is embarrassing or shameful, or something you’re not satisfied with, now is the time to ask the Holy Spirit to create in you a hunger to tell people about Him. Jesus prayed for you regarding that very desire. He said, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38). You and I can pray the same. Right now. Today. We can ask Him to help us become His laborers to bring in those He has chosen for harvest. And in doing so, we can bring glory to His name and do what a true follower of Jesus is called to do.
Pray this along with me and let’s see what amazing things our Lord can do in our lives and in the lives of others in the days to come.
We have looked at what it takes to become a Faith Prepper over the last few weeks. We did this by learning to pray at all times by letting the Holy Spirit, through God’s Word, direct your prayers. And we also spent some time learning how to trust at all times by allowing your faith to grow by having it exercised in often unpleasant situations. But even with all of this, we still are plagued with a few questions.
How do we go from talking about faith to living by faith?
How do we learn to trust the Lord in all things?
How do we know and understand His will?
What are the practical steps we need to take to surrender our all to Him?
And how can we go about doing just that?
The answer, according to Scripture, is found in the single word, surrender. It means “to yield, give up or over, submit, abandon, relinquish, cede, waive, or capitulate. From the Christian perspective, it means to relinquish ownership of what we consider ours: our property, rights, time, decisions, future, independence, basically our life.
Surrender, like most things, is a choice.
The classic passage on total surrender is found in Galatians 2:20. It reads: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
But there is so much more.
Everybody Serves Somebody
In order to surrender our life to the Lord, we must first recognize we are created as a triune being. We consist of three parts: mind, body, and will. Total surrender comes when we purposely and with intention surrender all parts of ourselves to Him.
First, we must surrender our mind.
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every (what) thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ – 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.
Next, we must surrender our body to the Lord. And then finally, we must surrender our will to the Lord.
Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” – Luke 9:23-24. Note both “desire” and “deny himself, and take up his cross daily”. This speaks of both the surrender of the will and the body or flesh.
Remember, you are not filled with the Holy Spirit because you desire to be filled nor because you confess your sins or present your body a living sacrifice— you are filled by faith. So it is with a surrender to the Lord. If we are willing but find your flesh weak, God is strong and will complete what you are unable to do. What God is initially looking for is your willingness to be all His. It all begins with desire.
One final note, if you believe God is good and He is sovereign, can you give me one reason not to fully submit and surrender yourself to Him?
Me neither. Other than pride. And that’s not a good thing.
So where are you in your journey to surrender your life to the Lord? Have you surrendered yourself and left your life in His hands? Or have you, like many today, surrendered one moment and then snatched it out of His hands the next? Are you tired of the endless struggle and sense of failure? If so, then keep listening.
The following is a study on How to Surrender Your Life to the Lord.
To download the slides to this message, click – HERE
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