From Pit to Praise

Bible Book: Ephesians  3
Subject: Victory; Praise; Joy; Strength; Christian Living

From Pit to Praise

Dr. J. Mike Minnix, Editor, www.pastorlife.comI
Introduction

Paul begins chapter 3 of Ephesians in the pit of a prison, but he writes from a pinnacle of praise. Paul often wrote from prison, but he was always writing with a joyful heart - so something wonderful must have been going on inside him very different from that which the average Christian experiences today when facing hardship. In fact, we have most of his letters in the New Testament because of his prison experiences. It was when he was in prison and was forced to cease his travels and preaching that he had time to write to the churches, It is interesting, don't you think, that Paul's prison problem resulted in his prolific penmanship? That is the way God works. Often, the problems in the life of a Christian are actually being used for God's glory and our good - we just can't see it at the time.

Now let's look at that which can give a Christian in a dungeon the dynamic unspeakable joy - like that which Paul experienced? And don't think that this was a one-time experience for Paul. The fact is this had happened to Paul many times in his Christian life and service.

i. Paul's first visit to Philippi resulted in imprisonment and a beating at the hands of the guards. What did Paul do? He praised God so faithfully that a guard, and the guard’s entire family, was converted to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

ii. As Paul stood before Agrippa he stated that he wished for Agrippa to be in His condition, with the exception of the chains that he wore. Agrippa was arrayed in splendor, had great wealth and wielded mighty power. However, Agrippa was unsaved, lost and fixed on a fragile foundation of earthly things. Paul, though in chains, poor in terms of earthly things and powerless in human terms, was saved and standing on the eternal promises of Jesus! Paul was not intimidated by the power of the earthly throne of Agrippa because Paul had bowed down before the Sovereign King of earthly kings - the Risen Savior who is Lord of all earthly lords.

iii. When Paul was in a Roman prison he wrote to Philippi saying, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice." (Philippians 4:4)

Paul knew a joy, an inner gladness and happiness, which the whole world was searching for then and is looking for now. So, we note that Paul on numerous occasions found joy and peace in a time of trouble.

There is a humorous story about a politician travelling on a plane. The politician said, “I think I will throw some twenty dollar bills out the window and make some people happy.” One of his opponents in the election was sitting nearby and replied, “Why don’t you just jump out the window and make us all happy!”

Where is true happiness found? You can be sure that it is not found in money, power, pleasure or any of the things most people search for in today's world. Paul’s life verifies this truth. Paul had peace and purpose in the midst of terrible and threatening circumstances. His joy came from knowing the Lord and seeking to bring glory to Him! So few believers understand this principle. Many Christians miss the deeper joy of the Christian life because they seek a peace which the world cannot give. Our greatest gladness will come when our major purpose is to bring glory to the One who has given eternal life to us.

Paul delivers a doxology at the end of this chapter which is among the grandest praise Paul ever offered to God in His writings. Yet he did this from a prison cell. It was not a forced religious expression. This came from deep within Paul - an overflowing, bubbling, effervescent, hilarious explosion of praise and joy. It was a volcano of victory from a man who appears to be a victim – he is in chains at the time of this doxology. The purpose of this message today is to get us from our prison of earthly pits to the pinnacle of eternal praise - real praise and real peace!

I. The Suffering in the Pit

Note that Paul knew that the Lord was able to do more than pne can conceive as possible. Suffering wasn’t happening to Paul because God was weak, father Paul was able to believe and accept the fact that God was at work, even in his suffering. In fact, Paul clearly states that the power of God was at work in him at all times.

Some people will complain by saying, “You just don’t know how much I suffer. I have been treated so badly. Life has not been fair to me. I live with pain in my body and or my soul all the time.”

First, know that Suffering is common to all people. Paul had his share of suffering and pain, and I dare say none of us here ever suffered for Jesus in the numerous ways that Paul did. He was ridiculed, beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, hounded, heckled, and eventually put to death for his faith. Would you like to line up your hardships alongside his? I didn’t think so.

I have my suffering and you have yours. The songwriter penned, "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen.” In some ways that is true. Each of us must walk the path of hardship individually. Everyone can sing that song and be honest about it. However, in another sense, we are facing hardships common to mankind. Being a Christian does not keep us from suffering, and in fact being an obedient believer may introduce us to more of it. That was certainly true for Paul.

Listen to what Jesus said, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:18-20) KJV

Paul knew that he was not alone in this matter of suffering because of his faith and walk with Christ. Note 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” NKJV

In essence, joy is not a matter of the absence of hardship but it is a matter of the presence of Jesus in the life of a faithful believer. He honors us when we honor Him! We will suffer as long as we are in this world. We are not home yet. When we arrive at home with the Lord, all suffering will end. Until that time comes, we are to acknowledge the Lord in every circumstance – even when we feel that we are in the pit of our own personal prison of problems and pain.

II. The Stewardship of the Pit

It is important to understand that part of our suffering is due to stewardship. Back in Ephesians 3:3, Paul called it “administration,” or “dispensation,” but it is the same thing as “stewardship.” The only way to never have a car break down and cause you distress is to never own a car. But then you can never enjoy the pleasure of driving, the freedom of mobility and the pride of ownership. So possession involves responsibility. "To whom much is given, much is required." (Luke 48b) Because we belong to Christ, we are called to honor Him and that leads to its own set of issues. As stewards of the gift of God (salvation) we are to do what is necessary to honor the gift and the Giver regardless of the circumstances.

Certainly some of our suffering is due simply to living in a fallen world. Beyond normal earthly hardships, how we react as believers is essentially a matter of stewardship. We are to honor God in our hardships and show the world that we belong to Him and that He is with us.

In the spiritual and ecclesiastical realms this has special significance. No one ever got involved in God's work and continued in faithful service without being hurt, put under pressure or blamed for something that went wrong. But here is a principle that must be learned: All suffering incurred due to godly living, if endured properly, leads to maturity in the believer. Also, such suffering becomes an example to other Christians and the church. Above all, to endure hardship as a Christian brings glory to the Lord. After all, He is the One who endured the greatest suffering of all – He endured the cross for us.

But, is the Christian life meant to be a miserable life? Certainly not! Then how are we to deal with the suffering? Paul is getting to that next.

Let me say a word to all of you who serve in any capacity of leadership or service in this church. If you expect to serve God and not have your feelings hurt, you might as well quit now. If you think you can serve the Lord and not be misunderstood at times, misquoted at times, and mistreated at times, you have an inappropriate view of divine service. You accept service to the Lord with the understanding that it comes with the risk of causing offense and being offended. Someone has well said that the servant of the Lord must have the hide of an alligator and the heart of a dove.

Stewardship means that we have been given a special privilege of serving the Master. We are to carry on in His work regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves. I believe that is exactly what Paul was doing. Whether he had much or little, he was content. How did he manage that? He was simply a steward of the gospel of the Lord and he meant to be faithful to that stewardship. In other words, serving the Lord was not about Paul; serving the Lord was about honoring the Lord faithfully. That is what it means to be a steward in the midst of suffering.

I have known too many Christians who quit the work of the Lord because things didn’t go their way. What a shame! Life isn’t supposed to go our way – it is to go God’s way. He is in charge. When we serve Him in that attitude, circumstances will not deplete our energy, discourage our hearts or diminish our efforts.

I think here of our service men and women in the military. They go forth into the most dangerous places in the world, leaving behind loved ones and friends, and do so at great risk to life and limb. While they are there, they are faithful. Here at home we go through our normal days without much thought of those who are giving so much for our freedom. Likewise, when you are a servant of God, you are to give your best while others enjoy the fruit of your labor and think little of it. You are a soldier for Christ. You are to put on the whole armor of God and live faithfully for Him, and you are to do that even when your are misunderstood or merely forgotten. We are to be faithful to Jesus - He was faithful to us at Calvary! We are to serve Him as stewards of salvation and the honor of a heavenly calling.

III. The Strength for the Pit

The strength we need to endure the pit is not found in our own capacity, but is experienced throud the power and strength of the Lord. Paul understood that his own strength was not sufficient for the task at hand. He said that he would rather rejoice in his infirmities so that the power of God might be exhibited in his life (2 Corinthians 12:9).

A. A Prayer for Power

In verse 16 of Ephesians 3, Paul prays for the Ephesians to be strengthened in their inner person with the might of the Lord. Paul did not presume that Christians have this power. He knew that we have to pray in order to maintain the strength we need in service for the Lord. If you expect to bring glory to the Lord, you have to spend some time talking to the Lord!

We pray for a lot of things, especially for the healing and comfort of other Christians. How often do we ever pray for Christian brothers and sisters to simply have the power and might of the Lord so that they can endure hardship for the Lord and bring Him glory in the midst of it?

A couple of years ago my mother went home to be with the Lord. She was 87 years old and was a dedicated, dynamic Christian. She learned that she had extensive cancer when some abdominal pain required a PET scan. Up until that time she had been going anywhere she wished and doing whatever she wanted to do. Four weeks later, she was gone! During that four weeks, she never complained. Her only statement of concern was one indicating that she wished she had done more for the Lord. I assured her that her testimony in word and deeds had left behind a wonderful example of the Christian life. She rested in His strength as the cancer worked rapidly to end her life on earth. My prayer for her was that she might have strength to endure the passage into the presence of the Lord with peace. She did just that - with dignity and faith. As I watched her go through the journey from this life to be with God, I prayed that I might have that same peaceful strength - to do so without complaining.

It is easy to complain, but God desires that we honor Him in the midst of our trials. Like Paul, as he expressed in 2 Timothy 4, we must be ready to serve Him in this world or to leave to be with Him outside this world, and that we must do in His strength and not our own.

B. A Prayer for Perception

In verse 18 of Ephesians 3, Paul prays for the Ephesian Christians to have a greater comprehension of the love of Christ. Paul went on to say that this love is beyond human knowledge.

Understanding the love of God is not about your I.Q. or your education level; it has to do with your “comprehension” of His love. Comprehension means “the act of grasping.” In other words, to comprehend the love of God would be to grasp, to know and understand all that the love of Christ includes. Wow! Even the thought of grasping or comprehending all that the Love of Christ means staggers the imagination. Yet, that is what Paul prayed for the Ephesians to experience.

My strength is in the Love of Christ for me. How do I keep going when I am misunderstood, ridiculed or generally ostracized? Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if one died for all, then all died…” (NKJV) We are compelled by Christ’s love for us. It is His love that stimulates, encourages, persuades, compels, provokes, and produces faithfulness in those who serve through thick and thin!

C. A Prayer for Presence

In Ephesians 3:19 Paul prays for the Ephesians to be filled the presence of God. Paul knew this was so important. Now certainly every Christian has the presence of the Lord at all times. He lives in us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we pray, or hear others pray, "Lord, be with us in this service." Or, we might pray, "Lord be with us this week as we leave this worship service." Do we really have to pray for that? Well, no we don't; however, praying for God's presence to be known to us and manifest in us in a different matter. We can live without understanding the presence of God in our lives and that leads to defeat. It is appropriate to pray that we be FILLED with presence of the Lord - which is a bit like praying for infilling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. So, instead of praying for God to be with us we ought to be praying for the awareness that God is with us!

I was visiting my doctor some time ago for a follow up to a previous examination. After we went over my physical issues, he began to talk about the Lord. He is a wonderful Christian and we can spend more time discussing Scripture than my physical needs. He talked about his study of the Tabernacle and how he came to understand that the Brazen Altar was so much larger than anything other piece of furniture in the Tabernacle. He spoke of how much greater the forgiveness and grace of God is than our sin. This, he said, is how we get into the presence of the Holy of Holies – we enter through forgiveness and grace. My doctor was correct. We are not just serving God – we are asking God to work through us to carry out a proper service for Him!

Without The Lord we can do nothing of spiritual significance. When we see ourselves struggling to do God a favor, we are heading for a self-inflicted defeat. We are to understand that God is with us, and He will empower us as we yield to Him. Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t mean that we put forth no effort. On the contrary, we must do our best with the understanding that He will then do what we cannot do! Our greatest task it getting into the awareness and fullness of His presence, so that His super, dynamic power can infuse us with abilities we do not possess in ourselves.

Barney Fife, of the old but very popular Andy Griffith television series, was always getting into embarrassing situations. More than once he locked himself in one of the two Mayberry jail cells. There he stood, all full of self-pity and defeat. Just outside the cell door, within an arms-reach, on a wooden peg, the keys to his escape were hanging within easy reach.

Every person has a prison - a measure of suffering - a kind of prison - in which he or she is thrust. But the key to escape is within our grasp. We must ask the Lord for the power we do not possess in ourselves, for our eyes to be opened to perceive His love, and to be filled with and aware of His awesome presence. That is what Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians.

Conclusion

Imagine that you are on a dark street and it is late at night, when suddenly you get the feeling that someone is following you. You turn and there behind you are five street-wise hoodlums, one of whom has a chain, one has a knife, and another a glass bottle with the end broken off of it. Now imagine that they start toward you and your heart begins to pound violently.

Then, suddenly they stop. Then, they turn and run. You look around and there behind you is a 6' 7" policeman with a shiny 45 caliber pistol in his hand. He says, "Come on, I will walk with you." Would you feel a lot better? You would not be out of the alley, but you would be filled with peace and jubilation as the office accompanied you out of that dark spot. We have such a friend in the midst of our trouble. Let us draw nigh to Him today - let us with heart-felt praise lift Him up! To Him be glory in the church and through our lives!

Think again of Ephesians 3:20-21: “Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen.”

Are you allowing the power of God to "work" in you? Many of us are working for Him, but we are not allowing Him to work through us. We need to recommit our lives to the Lord. We need to bow in this worship service and ask Him to fill us with His power, to reveal to us the full measure of His love and to make us strong in our weaknesses. Come now, and learn again the significance of humble, honorable, heartfelt service. Give Him praise from your pit - that is what Paul did and I believe that is one reason God so greatly used Him.

Perhaps there is someone here today who has never trusted Jesus as Savior and Lord. He loves you. He died for your sins. He rose for your justification. He calls you to take the gift of eternal life that He offers. Come to Him now.