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Friends in Christ Weekly Message
January 3, 2004
This is why I, Paul, am in jail for Christ, having taken up the cause of you outsiders, so-called. I take it that you're familiar with the part I was given in God's plan for including everybody. I got the inside story on this from God himself, as I just wrote you in brief.
As you read over what I have written to you, you'll be able to see for yourselves into the mystery of Christ. None of our ancestors understood this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God's Spirit through his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I've been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.
This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God's way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.
And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ.
Ephesians 3:1-8 (Message*)
I think the power of this passage is highlighted by Eugene Peterson's translation into modern colloquial English. It's hard for us to get the impact when other translations speak of Jews and Gentiles - the latter a word we never use except in Bible discussions. From the standpoint of "the chosen people" out of which Paul and most of the other Biblical writers came, it really was about insiders and outsiders. Outsiders is a good translation for Gentiles.
When I was a small child in the early 1950's, in response to a leading, my parents moved us South and we bought a small farm outside Plains, Georgia. We put up a sign identifying it as Brotherhood Acres. This became controversial when the people realized, as one said, "You mean everybody." Yes, we did, and we got this conviction from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It doesn't matter whether it is Jews and Gentiles, whites and blacks, Tutsis and Hutus, rich and poor, or whatever the most visible division is in your area, Christ's message is "welcoming to everyone, across the board." Although people try to water it down and distort it, the true Gospel message is empowering to the oppressed and often seen as threatening by the powerful. This has a lot to do with why Jesus and most of the early apostles were executed - and why many Christians today are still being executed.
Another message in this passage is that what we are called to do may not be what we seem well suited for. Paul emphasizes that he was an unlikely person for the work to which he was called. But he points out that "God saw to it that I was equipped." For me, what this means is that I can not dismiss a leading from Christ because I don't seem to have the skills and experience for the task. I must follow the leading, trusting God to equip me for it.
Do we work for "God's plan for including everybody," and refuse to make the invidious distinctions between insiders and outsiders that the world does? Do we accept our calling from God, recognizing that God equips us for it no matter who unsuitable we may seem for it?
* The Message version ©2002 by Eugene H. Peterson.
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Document last modified on Friday, 09-Jan-2004 21:13:50 EST