Bible Passage: Ephesians 3: 1 – 13
Big Idea: The Mission of Building God’s Church – Symbiosis
Intro: Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and today we continue our study of Ephesians. Last week, Paul explained that in this church community Jews and Gentiles are EQUAL, but DIFFERENT. Today Paul goes further and says our differences as Jews and Gentiles are actually good and complementary.
When I was a youngster – I had all sorts of FISH TANKS. Eventually I set up a MARINE fish tank. Salt water is the hardest. You just about need a degree in chemistry to keep the PH, the nitrates and nitrites all in exact proportion. Anyway, in my marine tank (Slide 2) I had some anemones and clownfish.
Now ANEMONES are poisonous. But for some reason, (still not really understood by science) the anemone does not sting the clownfish. So THE ANEMONE provides a safe home for the clownfish because no predator will come near. But in return, the anemone also gets certain benefits. THE CLOWNFISH eats the anemones dead skin cells and lots of parasites which makes the anemone healthier overall. So both the clownfish and anemone benefit from this relationship. Now does anyone know what this relationship is called? (PAUSE).
That’s right – symbiosis. SYM means together AND BIOSIS means life. So symbiosis means life together. In the animal kingdom there are many examples of symbiosis. (Slide 3) For example when coyotes and badgers hunt together – scientists have worked out their overall kill rate goes up by 30%. Their different skills complement each other. (Slide 4) Similarly, (in north Africa) hyenas sometimes lead packs of wolves. The hyena has a stronger nose to follow the scent. But the wolves are far better at killing larger prey. So they work together and then share lunch. (Slide 5) The same is true of Coral Grouper and Moray Eels in the Red Sea.
These are ALL EXAMPLES of symbiosis. Now the first known use of the word SYMBIOSIScomes from 1622. The word only began to be used to describe complementary animal relationships in the late 1800’s. So prior to the 1600’s there was no real word to describe symbiosis. If you wanted to describe something like symbiosis, you’d have to group together other similar words.
So let me show you what Paul does (Slide 6). Symbiosis comes from two greek words, sun & biosis which mean together – life. Now in Ephesians 2 & 3 Paul uses SIX very similar words to explain the Jew-Gentile relationship (ENTER-ENTER-ENTER). Now all these words actually have the same sun or sum prefix – as symbiosis. The idea is that Jews and Gentiles share lifetogether in Christ. THE ONLY QUESTION is whether Paul is also implying a SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP by using these words… Today I want to suggest that God’s plan to build the church does include a type of symbiosis.
Point 1: Paul the Jewish Man exists for the sake of the Gentiles
Show: Eph.3:1 (READ)
Explain: Well the words “for this reason” in the Bible should always cause us to look back to what immediately precedes. So look back to verse 19 (READ; Eph.2:19-21). What Paul has just explained is that in the Christian church – Gentile people are no longer second-class citizens AND Jews are no longer first-class citizens. Instead, Jews and Gentiles are equal, but different. But bit by bit – God is building us together to become the church.
So we come to chapter 3 – and Paul says “for this reason” – ie because everyone is equal AND God is building His church – “I Paul – a prisoner of Christ Jesus – EXIST for the sake of you Gentiles.” Now I the word EXIST – isn’t there in the original. But it carries that sense. Paul is saying as a Jew; “I know I exist to serve you Gentiles.” (What the…). All pride is now gone. For two millenia the Jews were convinced they were team A and the Gentiles were team B. But Paul says – I now get it. Let me just break the sentence down a little bit for you (Slide 7; Eph.3:1). Paul is saying that as a Jew (in the service of Christ) he now uses his Jewishness, for the sake of the Gentiles…
Now I’ve divided todays passage into 4 M’s (Slide 7 – ENTER). First, we are looking at the MISSION. God is building Jews and Gentiles together in the church. That is God’s mission. But WHAT does that look like and HOW does that happen? Well first we have A CASE STUDY of THE MAN – Paul. The apostle Paul is a Jew – who says he exists for the sake of the Gentiles. Interesting. Then we revisit the MYSTERY. THE MYSTERY OF GOD is something that was hidden in the Old Covenant, but is now revealed in the New Covenant. We now know the mystery. God made the world because He ultimately wanted to create a church made up of Jews and Gentiles – equal, but different. Paul told us this is and always was God’s big plan. But this raises a further question. Then, WHY did God make some of us Jews and some of us Gentiles? What is the purpose of the distinction?
Well, Paul then explains his MINISTRY. He explains Jesus has called me to use my Jewishness – to serve Gentiles. He says “I am a Jew for Gentiles.” THIS STARTS TO GIVE A SHAPE to Christian ministry and church building. We are meant to use our unique differences (as Jews and Gentiles, men and women, young and old) – to serve Jesus and complement one other. You with me? This is where we are headed?
Now look again at verse 1. Paul the Jew is a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles. This is actually TRUE. Paul became a prisoner in Rome because of his ministry to Gentiles. (So put your finger in Ephesians 3 but turn back with me – to Acts 21:17ff (page 1586)). Now as you turn back to Acts 21 (page 1586) – let me tell you this passage helps us to understand some of the problems in the Jew-Gentile relationship and how Paul got arrested.
Show: Acts 21:17-29 (READ)
Apply: What we see is that RUMOURS have been spreading in Jerusalem that Rabbi Paul has been teaching Jews not to obey the laws of Moses. Now this is not true. Paul has been teaching Gentiles they don’t need to obey all the laws of Moses to be Christians. But Paul has NOT been teaching this to Jews. So to prove that he himself still observes the Jewish law he undertakes a Mosaic cleansing ceremony. But (in verse 25) we are reminded Gentile Christians are different. (READ Acts 21:5). This is the SUM TOTAL of what the apostles said Gentile Christians should do. So if you ask – what rules from the Old Testament should I obey as a Gentile Christian – this is the answer. Three laws. FIRST, avoid idolatry. SECOND, remember the Noah command that life is in the blood and THIRD avoid sexual immorality. Of course, Paul and the apostles also taught Gentile Christians to obey everything Jesus commanded in the New Covenant. But this really was the sum total of what the apostles expected Gentile Christians to follow from the Old Covenant.
But Paul himself undertakes a Jewish cleansing ceremony to prove he is still living as a Jewish Christian. However Orthodox Jews (who have NOT accepted Jesus as Messiah) are not satisfied and they stir up the crowds saying Paul is teaching everyone – to ignore Moses law. Then, they also say “Look, Paul has even brought a Greek into the temple.” Oh no. Not a Stephenson in the temple. Is there no end to Paul’s disregard of Judasim? So Paul is arrested on trumped up charges – a bit like Jesus. But Paul has not been changing Judaism. Jewish Christianity is Peter’s task. Paul’s whole purpose has been to help Gentile Christians trust and obey Jesus without forcing them to first become Jews. So when Paul says in Ephesians 3 that he is a prisoner (in Rome) for the sake of the Gentiles – he is not kidding. He ended up a prisoner in Rome because of his ministry to Gentiles. SO THE CASE STUDY finishes and we see Paul is a Jewish man who uses his Jewish connections and his knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures to help Gentile Christians – even at personal cost to himself. Now flick back to Ephesians (page 1666)…
Point 2: The Mystery: Jews & Gentiles serving one another in one Body
Show: Eph.3:2-6 (READ)
Explain: Well Paul is basically saying: you guys in Ephesus know the story of how I became apostle to the Gentiles. That’s what Paul is talking about. Paul was a Jew of the highest, most impeccable standards. In fact, Paul was so Orthodox Jew – that when Jewish people started following Jesus he saw it as a wrong (and he started to persecute Jewish Christians). Paul was a Jew for Jews. But one day – as Paul was persecuting Jewish Christians – Jesus appeared to Paul in a vision and said; “Woah boy. What on earth do you think you are doing?” Now that might be a SLIGHT PARAPHRASE. But Jesus confronted Paul – and said “Ok, it’s time for you to become a Christian yourself and by the way I’m going to get you to share Christianity with Gentile people – because they are equal but different.” Right, from the beginning Jesus told Paul – you are going to be my apostle to Gentile people.
Now this happened about 35AD. But then we have a 10 year period of silence – where no one really knows what Paul was doing. He was converted in 35AD. But he didn’t go on his first Gentile missionary trip until 46AD. So everyone wonders what Paul was doing for these 10 years. But I think I’ve got it worked out.
Illustrate: I’m pretty sure God took Paul into the desert and got him to watch 10 years worth of Aldi supermarket ads – that kept saying; Good. Different. Gentiles – Good. Different. Gentiles, Good different. And eventually I think Paul started to get it. You don’t have to shop at Coles to be Australian and you don’t have to be Jewish to be Christian. Now thankfully – the APOSTLE PETER also watched an Aldi ad in the desert saying Gentiles; good-different and he got it too. Gentiles can be Christians simply by following Jesus (and while they often smell different, look different and even eat prawns) it’s still a good-different. This got Peter and Paul thinking about the differences…
Apply: Naturally when EVERYONE IN CHURCH is Jewish – church starts to look very Jewish. There are no prawns and no pork. The Day of Atonement in September is just as big a holiday as Christmas or Easter. And everyone you meet waxes lyrical about the promised land of Israel because they are all Jews. Now this may seem strange to us. But if they have all accepted Jesus as their Messiah, Saviour and Lord – it’s still good-different. But when Gentile Christians do church – it is a DIFFERENT; good-different. When Gentiles do church together we tend to have a blend of a whole lot of different sub-cultures. Some of us areAnglo & Aboriginal, and some of us are African & Asian – and so our churches tends to take on all sorts of trappings from our different respective cultural backgrounds. Now some of that is good and some of that is just different. But this means Gentile churches usually have more cultural diversity. So the way Gentiles do church as Gentiles can also be good. It’s just a different: good – different…
Apply: But could it be even gooder – if Jews and Gentiles – were able to do church together? (PAUSE) Well HEAVEN is going to be perfect. And in heaven Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians – are going to wordship together? So theoretically Jew and Gentile Christians worshiping together should be an even GOODER-different. And that’s the mystery that Paul came to understand while watching 10 years worth of Aldi supermarket ads in the desert. (Who would have thought?)
Anyway – look at verse 6 (READ; Eph.3:6). Notice the THREE symbiotic type words in this verse; 1) heirs together, 2) members together and 3) sharers together. The idea (in each one) is that we are equal and different. But the third word “SHARERS TOGETHER” is perhaps the closest word the Apostle Paul had to SYMBIOTIC. The famous Greek philospherARISTOTLE used the same Greek word “sharers together” in a book on plants called De Plantis. And Aristotle used the word sharers together to describe complementary type relationships in the plant world. Now if Paul is using the word in a similar way he is NOT only saying Jews and Gentiles are EQUAL and DIFFERENT. He may also be saying that Jews and Gentiles have complementary tasks in the body of Christ. We are stronger together, than apart. Now if this is the case – (which I suspect it is) it is the same as the Bibles teaching about men and women being equal, different and complementary.
Point 3: The Ministry – Cross Cultural Evangelism and Churchmanship
Show: Eph.3:7-11 (READ)
Explain: Well Paul now talks about his Christian ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. Because Paul understands that Jews and Gentiles are equal, he talks in verse 8 about preaching to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ. This is relevant for Jews and Gentiles alike because we are equal. We are all equally sinners – who needed Jesus to die for us. (GOSPEL) Yes. We all had a debt with God. We all sinned and deserved to be punished by God. But Jesus took the punishment for us when he died on the cross.
So God now forgives us – and adopts us as his children when we believe in Jesus – whether we are Jews or Gentiles. So Paul treats everyone as an equal. But he doesn’t treat us all the same. Paul knows that we are all DIFFERENT. So he tries to relate to Jews as Jews AND Gentiles as Gentiles AND if he was here today Paul would relate to Aboriginals as Aboriginals and Asians as Asians. This is real cross-cultural ministry. We need to understand that we don’t all have to be the same. But it is more than cross-cultural ministry. Paul is advocating cross-cultural churchmanship is good for God’s kingdom…
In verse 9 – Paul says he MAKES PLAIN TO EVERYONE the administration of this mystery. Paul uses his role as an apostle to explain to people the concept of EQUAL AND DIFFERENT – because he knows God’s purpose is ultimately to have a church full of Jews and Gentiles. But in a few places Paul even presses Jews and Gentiles to live together in a complementary and almost symbiotic relationship. For instance in Romans 15 Paul says (Slide 8; Rom.15:27; 11:11). There may not be a lot of passages in the New Testament – supporting the idea of Jewish and Gentile Christians complementing each other – but there are still a few. What’s more, PAUL, the Jew and LUKE the Gentile – (see Col.4:11 & 14) made a great team planting churches together. Was this a complementary partnership? As a Jew Paul had a real interest in Gentiles becoming Christians because he knew we were equals, who were different and yet also had something positive to contribute to God’s worldwide church. But do we as Gentiles have the same heart for Jews as Paul showed to us. It’s THIS SORT OF TEACHING in the Bible that makes me keen to see us build bridges with groups like JEWS FOR JESUS. Of course, we might apply Bible passages like this – to all sorts of cross-cultural ministry? Do we have a heart for Aboriginals to be saved OR a heart for Chinese to be saved? Do we seem these people groups as equals who are different and may have something COMPLEMNETARY to contribute to our church? But before we jump to all kinds of cross-cultural ministry – we need to think about Jew-Gentile AND Gentile-Jew cross cultural ministry.
I think Gentiles churches need to think harder about how they are inclusive of Jews who believe in Jesus. If Paul the Jew was willing to A)push the boundaries and B) even go to jail to save a few scruffy Gentiles like most of us, what are we willing to do to see a few more people like Paul saved in the last days. Verses 10, 11 & 12 tells us that GODS MANIFOLD WISDOMnow REVEALED in and through Paul’s ministry is now meant to be REVEALED in the church. That means not just in our words about equal and different. BUT IN OUR ACTIONS. The mystery of God should be revealed in Jews and Gentiles actually coming together to do church in such a way that we treat each other as equals, who are different.
Apply: But for this to really happen we also need to understand what is gospel non-negotiable truth AND what is secondary truth? Are we actually mature and wise enough as Christiansto know what is a first order truth AND what is a second order truth and what doesn’t really matter? In our differences as Jews and Gentiles, men and women, rich and poor it is ok to have some areas – where we agree to disagree. WE ALL AGREE that JESUS is Savior and Lord (and the only way to be saved). WE ALL AGREE that the BIBLE is the word of God and should be obeyed. But Jews worshiping God on Saturday and Gentiles worshiping on Sunday is probably a second order truth. Jesus is coming back to judge the world. That’s a first order truth. But whether he comes to get us at the beginning, middle or end of the great tribulation is a second order truth. There are some areas where we must AGREE and there are some areas where it is ok for us to have differences of opinion. To really become the unified church that God envisaged before the creation of the world – we need to grasp that we are ALL EQUAL, all a little bit DIFFERENT and yet also stronger together in symbiosis. And to preserve this solidarity and unity – we need to have the Christian maturity to know where we can AGREE TO DISAGREE. We need to live the Bible – in a way that is true to God’s Word, while accepting we all may have cultural blindspots and theological hobby horses that we like to ride.
But our Redfern church here in South Sydney is a bit different. I kid you not we are unique. We’ve been trying to work out what a true biblical Church looks like when many of the white cultural and socio-economic norms go out the window. And I think we’re getting there. But we are an ALDI-CHURCH, not a Coles or Woolworths church. We are good-different. We know the richer people have something to offer those in housing commission AND those in housing commission have something to offer the richer people. Those who see and read the Bible through black eyes have something to teach those who see and read the Bible through – white eyes (and vice versa). The same is true of men and women AND Jews AND Gentiles. We are an ALDI CHURCH because under Jesus we know DIFFERENT can be good. It’s good-different (& complementary). Let me pray…