“Just the Way You Are”

Ephesians 3:1-13

A quick review, we are reading through the book of Ephesians. A letter Paul wrote while in prison to a group of early Christian churches around Ephesus, which currently is western Turkey, along the coast. Paul had spent a lot of time and invested a lot of energy developing relationships with the Gentiles in this area. His purpose of writing is to remind them of the gospel message but also to emphasize the many Gentiles that are part of the congregations should be welcomed into the family of God. 

In order to truly understand what Paul is saying in this passage we need to read this contextually. 

Paul’s focus in this chapter is significant however I dare say it is not a focus that any of us woke up this morning wondering about. 

Even though we do have individuals from Jewish descent in our congregation the rest of us probably weren’t conscious this morning that we were not Jewish. And the thought of not being welcomed to come here and worship the Jewish Messiah, openly and without conflict, never crossed our mind. But how a Gentile could be a part of God’s chosen family was a burning question for those in the early church. The challenge for us today is to hear what Paul is saying with contextual ears and hear how God’s Word has something profound for us in the 21st Century to hear. 

Contrary to popular belief, Christianity is not a “Western” religion. The Christian movement started with a Jewish boy who lived with his poor family in the small podunk town of Nazareth, located in the lower Galilee region of northern Israel? 


over 2000 years later, is looked to by billions of 

human beings from a myriad of different cultural backgrounds, in order to find meaning, hope, salvation and a restored relationship with God. 

How do you explain something like this? 

How did that happen? It’s remarkable. 

Christianity is not about worship as we know it. Worship is happening around the world, today, in a variety of languages and formats. In fact, Christianity is the most diverse religious movement in the whole entire human race. 

However it happened, it did, and with this fact, each one of us should be humbled. 

Because the form of Christianity we know, the form we are familiar with, that we experience, is just one tiny sliver of the expression of the Jesus movement, at one place, at one time. Think about it. There are so many other ways people from other cultures  are expressing their faith and worship, that we have no clue about, as they follow Jesus. 

That is what Paul is getting at here, 

in Ephesians chapter 3. 

Paul, once an exemplary Jewish leader, had changed his passion from exterminating the Christians to making sure that the world understood that Jesus, 

the Jewish Messiah, 

is the Savior for all people, in all places, at all times. 

Jesus was definitely the Jewish Messiah but He came to be the Savior for all nations. 

That doesn’t come up as a significant issue for most of us, but it is the core issue of Paul’s message. At the time of Paul writing this letter, being a Gentile and accepting a Jewish Messiah was a burning issue. 

Now we may think, oh that issue has been dealt with, everyone knows that and the Jewish/Gentile division has been resolved. Paul would argue differently. So with this in mind, let’s look at what Paul had to say. 

Start with verse 1 of chapter 3, 

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

“For this reason” Paul is referring to what we read and discussed, in chapters 1-2, then, for the first time Paul reveals where he was, “the prisoner,”  in prison. 

And he calls himself the prisoner “of Christ Jesus” which is ironic, because he’s actually sitting in a Roman prison. Yet in Paul’s mind, the Roman government had little control of his life, Paul believed he was a prisoner of Christ, for “the sake of you Gentiles.”

It may sound like Paul is being a bit sarcastic. But this is a statement from his heart. You need to know the background story to understand. It’s found in the book of Acts, chapter 21. We are going to turn there now because here’s the story of how Paul, a Jew, ends up in a Roman prison, because of the Gentiles in Ephesus. The story begins in verse 17. 

Paul has been out and about sharing the gospel for about a decade. He was moving in and out of cities, getting work as a tentmaker. He would set up business and then he would get to know people. 

Jewish people, non-Jewish people, whomever and he would start talking to them about Jesus. People would start to put their faith in Jesus, he would start up a little church community and then move on to the next town. He had been at this for about a decade and he decided he would like to return to Jerusalem and visit with his friends. 

“When we arrived at Jerusalem, (this is Luke speaking) the brothers and sisters received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present.”

James was the brother of Jesus. He had become a prominent leader in the church in Jerusalem. Paul is going back to the home base, the church where the whole Jesus movement started, verse 19,

“Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.”

The elders of the church respond with intense enthusiasm. Wow! All these non-Jewish people have decided to follow the Jewish Messiah. This is awesome!

However, verse 20, 

“Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law.”

Paul has been away from Jerusalem for ten years and he wouldn’t have a pulse on what is happening at the home church in Jerusalem. The elders of the church hear Paul’s news and think it’s great. 

But they warn Paul that if he were to go around sharing this great news to those in the Christian church in Jerusalem he would not receive a warm welcome, because the Jewish Christians at the home temple are zealous for the law. The law in this case would have been The Torah. The first five books of the Old Testament. Specifically, the commands given to Moses on Mount Sinai. 

The leaders go on, verse 21 & 22, the Jewish Christians, 

“have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come,”  

So the leaders tell Paul, here’s what we think. While you are in Jerusalem, we think you should act and behave as Jewish as you possibly can. 

Now for us to completely comprehend what’s happening in this backstory we need to go back even further to a back, backstory. We need to go back to the Old Testament where Moses brings God’s people out of Egypt. He leads them to Mount Sinai where He binds Himself to Israel in a covenant relationship and He gives them 613 commands. 

The commands were given for a variety of purposes. They were to urge Israel to become

  • a nation of extreme generosity and love for each other and love for others. 
  • a nation of justice, and a light to the nations around them
  • God also called Israel to become culturally different from their neighbors

A lot of the laws in the Torah are symbolic and cultural and they became identity markers for the Jewish people, such as: 

  • Observing the Sabbath
  • Male circumcision
  • Dietary restrictions, like not eating pork or not having milk and meat together in a meal

What happened was, because the Israel nation failed like all of us, they were unable to keep all of these laws. But what they were able to do was take some of these Jewish laws and use them to mark themselves as special and identify themselves against non-Jewish people. These laws became matters of cultural pride. So rather than being a nation of love and generosity they became proud and separated themselves off from non-Jewish people. 

With this in mind, let’s go back to Paul visiting Jerusalem. Paul had been going around to non-Jewish villages, like Damariscotta, and claiming, “Hey, the Jewish Messiah died for your sins and was raised from the dead for you. You need to put your faith in Him. He is present here with us, He wants to transform and heal you and forgive you. We would be like, “Yes, that’s Good News.” 

Then Paul would warn them, by the way, there will be some Jewish believers who will come to visit and they are going to tell you, hey, all the guys in the room, you need to be circumcised. Ugh! Then Paul would say, “But you don’t need to go there.” 

This was a tension in the early church. Did you have to become Jewish to follow the Jewish Messiah?

There were a lot of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who would have said, “Emphatically, YES!”  And that guy Paul who goes around saying otherwise is way off base and is leading everybody astray. Because of this, the Jewish leaders were urging Paul to act as Jewish as he could. 

Paul says, no problem, I’ve got this, I will eat kosher this week, whatever.

Let’s go back to see what happens, Acts 21, verse 27, 

When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” 

(They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)

The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. 

There you have it. From this point on, Paul was in prison. It began while Paul was in Jerusalem and he was seen hanging out with an Ephesian named Trophimus. 

Back to Ephesians, this is why Paul writes to them and says he was in prison on account of his connection to them. 

Paul is in prison because of this passionate conviction he had that God is the God of all nations and wants to draw them altogether to create a multi-ethnic family. Paul went to prison for this conviction. 

I am going to stop here and we will continue next week with finding out about the mystery Paul had in mind when he was writing this explanation to the Gentile believers in Ephesus.

This week take some time to ask yourself if you are more like the Jewish leaders or like Paul from this passage? 

The Jewish leaders thought they were protecting God’s plan by making sure people did the do’s and didn’t do the do nots. 

Paul had the conviction that everyone had the ability to be a member of God’s new chosen family and not only that, they didn’t have to do something like someone else to become a member. Once a member of God’s family they may become convicted to change some “actions” but, they didn’t have to become “like someone else” to be accepted. Amen.

Let’s pray.