Monday, May 23, 2016

By the will of God - Ephesians 1:1-2

Ephesus was a city within what is now modern day Turkey. In its day it was an important city of commerce as it stood on the junction of busy trading routs from many different parts of the world. It was also where Paul spent three years of his life endeavoring in his evangelistic and apostolic work. Later, during his two year imprisonment in Rome, he writes to them to remind them of the richness of the blessings that are theirs in Christ. He begins his letter by greating them in a manor common to many of his letters,
"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 1:1-2)
Paul never refers to himself by a title, such as, the Apostle Paul, but always by his function: Paul, an apostle. What was important to Paul was not his position within the Church but rather the service he was call to perform on her behalf. To Paul, it was not about the praise, the accolades, or even the deference to be shown him due to his elevated status as an apostle. No, to him, it was all about the work. God had called him to serve the church through an apostolic work, and it was to this work that he committed his life and labored by the grace of God. "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me." (1 Corinthians 15:10)

We live in a culture that is very particular about titles. We prefer the the acknowledgement of our position when addressed by others, such as "Pastor Bob," rather than simply "Bob." I have been to conferences where some were quite particular that the title that precedes their name on their name tags. Sometimes we even refer to such people simply by their title, such as, "Didn't pastor have a great sermon today!" or "When will pastor be back from vacation?" In both cases, we place an elevated view of titles over and against the person the title represents. Jesus warned us explicitly about titles when He said, "But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven." (Matthew 23:8-9) There is nothing wrong with being a teacher, Rabbi, leader, or spiritual father to others. The problem is when we begin to identify more with the position than the work. I know someone who once confessed that they liked being a writer more than actually writing. The same can happen with titles within the church. We can become so focused on the position, and the deference and honor we expect from the position, that we neglect the actual work we were called to. I think it is time, as believers, that we dispense with all titles within the church and learn to be, as Jesus taught us, "all brothers."

Paul says he was made an apostle by the will of God. This particular Greek word demotes and active choosing rather than a passive acquiescence. It's not like, one day, God thought, "I would be nice if Paul was an apostle," rather, with determined will, thought, and activity, God both willed, purposed, and orchestrated events that, in the proper course of time, Paul would accept his calling to the work of an apostle. God has a plan for each of our lives and it is a plan that He is actively involved in. God's interest in us is not passive but it is active and working tirelessly, often unnoticed, to bring about the will of God in our lives. God purposes, plans, and brings about what His own mind conceives and, for Paul, this meant an apostolic ministry.

Paul did not come into his apostleship by regular means. He was not part of Jesus' original disciples, he was not with the disciples in the upper room when the Holy Spirit was released, he was not part of the established churches whom he was hell-bent on destroying, and he had not received any sanction, ordination, or commission from any church, bishop, presbytery, or apostle. Paul's calling was quite extraordinary and quite different from any that resided within the church at that time.

One of the interesting lessons of history is that we are a people who like order and, while many times our present order was the result of irregular actions, such as revolution, revelation, or reformation, we often forget our turbulent past in our love of our present peace and order. That is why, even today, when God brings forth people in an irregular order, yet still according to His will, we don't often know what to do with them or how to make them "fit in" to the regular order of things. For example, if God were to suddenly raise up a Paul within our midst, what would we do with him? We already have a pastor, we already have elders, we already have people who teach Sunday school; all who have come in the regular way. So what do we do with one who is so irregular? Often times our only resort it to push them out to find their own ministry where they can exercise their gifts without compromising our present peace and order. However, in doing so, we often rob ourselves of what God Himself has placed within our midst. In all our order, we need to make room for the irregular order of God. We need to become like Ananias who reached out to Paul and welcomed him into fellowship. We need to be like Barnabas who sacrificed his own ministry to partner with Paul, taking on an inferior role to Paul, to both nurture, strengthen, and help Paul in his ministry. And we need to be like the churches he ministered to who saw in Paul a gift and a blessing from God. God's will and purpose are not always executed according to our own will and purpose, but if we learn to recognize it and embrace it, we will often find and extraordinary blessing that is not often found in the ordinary and regular.

David Robison

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