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A Shared Ministry

May 14th, 2014

Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you. I have sent him to you … that he may comfort your hearts.

Ephesians 6:22

After the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, they had a serious dispute about whether they should take John Mark along with them again. The young man had quit half way through the first journey, disappointing both of the older missionaries. Should they give him a second chance? Barnabas said, “Yes!” Paul said, “No!” And this dynamic duo of missionary fervor split up, never to be re-united. It was not to be the last time in the history of the expansion of the Church around the world that devout missionaries disagreed with one another about who should be on the team.

We never read of a statement from Paul that he had changed his attitude, but it appears in his story that he had. His letters are filled with references to his fellow workers and servants. He softened over the years and learned to trust in others and to share his ministry with them. In fact, about the same time that he wrote this letter to the Ephesians, he also wrote his second letter to Timothy and asked him to pick up and bring Mark to him for “he is useful to me in service” (2 Tim. 4:11).

Certainly character and commitment stand for something in who we can trust, work with, and send on important assignments. 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 should establish Paul’s thinking, and where the Holy Spirit stands, on that matter. But feelings of self-importance, of one’s so-called “irreplaceable-ness,” as well as desire for control and dominance, not to mention petty Saul-like jealousies over the fear that others may become more popular, these feelings and fears cause us to put off sharing our ministry.

None of us is irreplaceable, for we will all be gone from the scene of history one day for sure, and on the very next day after we are gone, unless we are removed by Christ’s return, the world will pick up and move on without us. It seems to be the mark of people who remain in small places, that they want to do everything themselves, to be the authority or the expert, as though no one else but them could possibly do all of the things that they do.

We should use our opportunities to encourage others, to lift them up, to set them free for service. Paul voiced confidence in what Tychicus was able to do. He sent him to comfort hearts. This is a great example of Spirit-inspired Christian leadership, that takes committed people and helps them develop by mentoring, teaching, and giving opportunities and responsibilities in service - while holding them accountable. The only thing that is worth missing in any of us when we are gone, is the love that lifted up and encouraged and breathed confidence into others who will carry on after us.

Who is around us today that we can encourage? Who can you bring greater confidence and strength to? Some ones around each of us are in need of that clear and good word that lifts them up and helps them gain confidence in God and in how God will use them.

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Remember Who Wrote this Letter

May 13th, 2014

For which I am an ambassador in chains…
Ephesians 6:20

At the end of this marvelous letter to the Christians in Ephesus, and to all of us who have believed since then, the Apostle stops to remind us of his circumstances in writing this. He was a prisoner.

We can imagine what false imprisonment would do to our own mental states, to be arrested, held over for years on end waiting for a trial, to be deprived of our freedom, to be impoverished, and to be removed from our ministry and our friends. Most of us, were we honest, would be hard pressed to be able to concentrate. Depression would seize our hearts with a vise grip. We would become morose, self-centered, bitter about our circumstances, seething with inner anger toward those who put us in that situation.

But yet in this situation Paul writes a beautiful letter, filled with love and hope. In fact, he seemed to gain more excitement as he went along. The Apostle had the grace to begin his thinking in the glory and heart and mind of God, and then bring these realities down to His own circumstances. This fact alone tells us something about enduring hardship. Whatever you are enduring now, use this inspired logic and see your situation through God’s eyes. Trace it back into eternity and see the hand of God who has called you for great things, but who also, in omniscience and power, has permitted your current circumstances.

Paul started this letter with this long explanation about our predestination in Christ, of our new experience of grace and life in the Spirit, of the new community we have of fellow believers around the world, regardless of their ethnicity. We can see in these doctrines the hope of God that sets free the heart that is burdened by injustice and cruelty, or any other difficult burden to bear in life.

First, he brings to our attention in this letter the sovereignty of God and His choice of us in Christ. This truth is of great comfort to us in trouble. Everything that comes into our lives comes by the permissive will of the Father. No burden have we ever had to bear alone, no circumstances have ever fallen on us without God’s knowledge. And in spite of the hardships, we have the assurance that God’s ultimate will for us, His ultimate intent is to bestow upon us every spiritual blessing in Christ. He permits the sufferings we experience, and He elects them to have a purifying potential in our lives, but He chooses and plans for us to be filled with grace and love.

Second, he teaches us of the miracle of the new birth, that we who were once dead in transgressions and sins have been elevated by the grace of God, and are now sealed with His Spirit, enlightened in our hearts, and show-cases of His surpassing riches of his grace. Injustice and hardship tend to make us feel passed over, forgotten, insignificant. The Spirit though enlightened Paul’s mind that he would see believers as they truly are. In hardship we are humbled, and sometimes even humiliated - especially if we feel in any way somewhat responsible for our problem, or think we are. But none of that matters. Look to Christ. Look to His promise. Look to our redemption in Him. We are not forgotten, no matter what the world may say.

Third, he points out to us of the great family of grace Christ has founded, that stretches across the cultures of the world and the generations of history. We have a family of fellow believers, and though we may feel alone sometimes, the truth is that we have more than God on our side. We have His people. God told Elijah, when he was be moaning his alone-ness, that He still reserved 7,000 in Israel who were faithful.

These are truths that comfort hearts that are burdened. God has a program of redemption that does not depend on you and me, that is from eternity past and will last into eternity future. He chooses us in Christ and He redeems us from sin and gives us a family. Even if we do not feel Him at work in our lives today, He certainly still is. These truths cheered the heart of Paul as he was imprisoned, and they can cheer our hearts as well.

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