Monday, 21 March 2011

Ephesians 6:19-20

Someone has said that Christianity in Britain is in retreat. I think they have a point, when someone asks us what we believe we’re often tentative, or apologetic, or afraid of their reaction, or we simply stay silent on certain moral issues. Why is that? The presenting cause is the society we live in – we don’t want to offend people, or insist on certain sexuality, or be labelled a fundamentalist. Perhaps it’s partly because we live in the age of aggressive atheism. But though they may be the presenting cause push deeper and it is because we don’t really know biblically who we are or where and when we live, we aren’t secure in those things.

Do you know who you are? Because knowing who you are affects how you will live.

Do you know where and when you live? I don’t mean Doncaster and 2011 but in terms of God’s plan of salvation history.

As we focus on Ephesians 6:19-20 we read Paul ask for prayer for fearlessness and clarity in sharing the gospel. Prayer and evangelism – I wonder how those two words made you feel, in most of us they trigger feelings of guilt – I don’t pray enough, and inadequacy – I’m such a chicken, or I try but it feels like I vomit the gospel over people rather than explain it clearly.

The bible is very honest about the hardships of being a disciple; rejection, persecution, spiritual warfare, but it never warns us that prayer will be a struggle. We have made something a struggle which should be a relational joy, prayer is natural – we need to get over the guilt and the hang ups we have, think less about praying and more about God.

By contrast evangelism is a struggle. Even Paul asks for prayer to be fearless. That must mean he felt tempted to be fearful. In Colossians 4 he echoes this prayer for clarity because messing it up was a real possibility.

But before we really look at prayer we need to understand that both prayer and sharing the gospel are not chores to undertake but flow naturally out of a right understanding of who we are in Christ and when and where we live.

1. God’s Ambassadors
How does Paul describe himself? “an ambassador”. Is that how you think of yourself?
One of Paul’s aims in Ephesians is to help them understand who they are in Christ.
Turn to ch1; Paul begins by reminding them of the wonder of who they are in Christ. (4)They are chosen to be holy and blameless, (5)they are loved and predestined for adoption as sons, (7)they are redeemed and forgiven, (8)they have grace lavished on them and the (9)mystery of the gospel revealed to them, (13)they are sealed with the Holy Spirit and they have a secure inheritance(14).

Ch2; they were (1-5)dead in their trespasses and sins but are now made alive in Christ, and (6)more than that are victors in Christ and are seated with him now in the heavenly realm. And it isn’t just an individual identity they are part of God’s new community in Christ declaring God’s wisdom to the world and beyond.

And how is that great identity possible? It is in Christ and through Christ by faith.
Do you know who you are in Christ? If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ look at who he makes you, look at your new identity. We ought to write that above our bathroom mirror so that in the morning we start each new day knowing who we are, and so that we end each day knowing we are made right with God by grace.

We are not identified by our job, or nationality, we are not identified by our success or failure, by our ministry, or role. You are not just a mum or a dad or a grandparent, or an employee or a church member, or whatever the world seeks to reduce you to. God in Christ has given you a new identity and it is wonderful.

That identity has implications Paul unpacks them in ch4-6. Paul knows who he is in Christ he is God’s ambassador and it isn’t just Paul 2 Corinthians 5:20 “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

Knowing who we are transforms us.

2. God’s ambassadors in a hostile world
But we need also to understand where and when we live. Paul is not just an ambassador, but “an ambassador in chains”. Being an ambassador was a privilege, being a prisoner a punishment, but Paul knows that even whilst in prison he represents his king. Representing Jesus and proclaiming the gospel is not safe and comfortable and neither is it meant to be, because it is part of a spiritual battle that rages all around us.

Children tend to think all there is in the world is what we know what and can see, feel and touch. But then comes that moment when you see pictures of the stars and the planets and the vast scope and scale of the universe. I was in Romania doing some summer camps last year and our camp base was at a higher altitude that Ben Nevis. At night when we walked even higher up the mountain where there was no light pollution it was like someone had taken the blinkers off to see the vastness of the night sky, the thousands of stars.

Throughout Ephesians Paul has been expanding the believer’s horizons, taking the blinkers off their eyes so they understand when and where they live. (12)”For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

God’s people are engaged in the midst of a spiritual battle, the world around us is not neutral to Christianity, it is not apathetic to Christianity it is hostile to the gospel and our battle is against more than just the world around us. Opposition to the gospel is the norm not the exception.
Do we recognise where and when we live? We live in between Christ’s comings the kingdom is now but not yet. We live in the midst of a broken world at war with its creator, Christ has won the victory but we have to stand for him in the midst of that brokenness waiting for his return.
It matters that we recognise where and when we live because look at (13)it is recognising the battle we are in that will lead us to put on the full armour of God(14-18). If we don’t see the reality of where we live then we will not recognise the need for this armour. The armour is designed so that we can stand, so that we don’t fall back or retreat.

Do you know who you are? Do you recognise where and when we live?

If we don’t then we will not expect hostility and we’ll be unprepared for it, when we share the gospel with someone and they reject it we’ll be crushed, when we stand up for biblical values on moral issues and are met with anger we won’t do so again, when we see Christian values met with injustice we will be fearful and crushed, bitter and cynical and we’ll go into retreat rather than standing. Unless we are rooted in a biblical understanding of who we are and where we live – that we are engaged in battle – we will fall, we’ll go into retreat.

Know when and where you live. The victory is won, that is an absolute certainty, we are called to stand and fight as we wait for the victor’s arrival.

3. God’s dependent ambassadors secure in a hostile world.
Maybe what I’ve said has alarmed you this morning, maybe it’s discomforted you. Can we really view the world like this, if we do where is our security?

There is a danger that focusing too much on the world we live in will rob us of our joy and of our security, but Paul calls them to recognise where they live but to know who they are in Christ, and depend on God their Father. That’s why (18)he calls them to pray on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers, for all the Lord’s people. God’s people depend on their loving heavenly Father – he is their security not their circumstances.

(19-20)Paul asks for prayer. I wonder what you expect Paul to ask for prayer for? My hunch is that we wouldn’t have said for fearlessness and clarity in proclaiming the gospel. Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles, he has preached all over, he’s been beaten, imprisoned, ship wrecked, has planted numerous churches. Yet he asks them to pray that he would not be fearful in making known the mystery of the gospel and that he would speak clearly in whatever situation he finds opportunity.

Isn’t that a tremendous encouragement, Paul feels just like we do when it comes to proclaiming the gospel, he experiences the ‘gulp!’ moment – you know that moment when you swallow hard and put a friendship on the line to explain who Jesus is and why it matters so much. But it doesn’t stop him because it is not down to him, he is dependent on God.

We at SDCC have a mission coming up in the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, you have one in May. What should we be praying for? Pray for the team you have coming – pray that they would be fearless and clear in proclaiming the gospel.

But pray for yourselves too. Pray that you would understand who you are and that it would affect your living so that your friends see God making his appeal through you, so that your lives provoke interest in the gospel, because that is what will get them coming along to hear explained what you believe.

But I wonder how you have heard that this morning? Is it I must be an ambassador for Christ? I must know who I am and where and when I live? Ephesians is really a letter about the church, the greatest advert for the gospel is the church – a community of people who know who they are in Christ and are striving to stand for him dependent on God.

But you say my friends won’t come to church, fine take church to them. It’s interesting how we divide up our world don’t we; we have work colleagues, we have friends we play sport with, or neighbours, then there is our church family, and each little bubble is separate. In fact often it’s only at weddings, big birthdays or funerals that all those different people collide and then we feel a little nervous about how they get on.

It’s seen in the way we do meals isn’t it. Who do you have round for Sunday lunch – people from church? Who do you have round on a Friday or Saturday evening – colleagues or friends? Why not mix and match – we’ve been encouraging our folks to do something called a 50:50 meal. So that friends and family are seeing the gospel community living and breathing in front of them.

Get your friends meeting God’s ambassadors, and get praying. Don’t just pray for the team, pray for yourselves, pray because fearfulness is natural and fearlessness if God given. Pray because no matter how many gospel outlines you learn or how many times you practice your testimony only God through his spirit can make the gospel clear in such a way that it brings transformation and faith.

Know who you are in Christ, recognise where and when you live, and pray to your Father who loves you.

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