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Discouraging situations are a fact of life. I've heard of a university student who needed a final module to graduate then at the last minute they were told the course was no longer being offered by the university so if they wanted to graduate had to go to another university at the last minute. How about people who work hard every day only to find that every month there is more month than money. That can be a discouragement.
I want to talk about being discouraged, or more importantly how to avoid becoming discouraged in life. As you know I meet regularly with other ministers and I've encountered many pastors who often feel discouraged. The most common factor it seems to me they nearly all say they feel criticized by sections of their congregation because the church isn’t growing. So, how should we handle discouragement? Well, what I can tell you is how the Apostle Paul handled discouragement when he faced it. Unusually I want to begin by looking at the last verse that was read to us. (Eph 3: 13)
It’s clear from his closing verse that this passage has been talking about discouragement. Therefore, what has he had said between verse 1-12 that enabled him to say in verse 13, therefore don't be discouraged? Now you have already heard me say in this series that when Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians, he was a prisoner in Rome (Eph 3:1) He brings up the fact that he's in prison as evidence of how one might assume, he would be discouraged. I don't think it takes much imagination to realize this might be a very discouraging situation. This must also have been a discouraging situation for the people who knew Paul. He was one of the main leaders of Christianity at this point, maybe along with Peter. So, it is reasonable to assume the early church might have been discouraged to know that one of its main leaders was out of Commission. What he says in verses 2 to 12 addresses this issue.
Looking at these verses he says two things.
Firstly, he says that God had given him a revelation: (Eph 3: 2-6) The “mystery” God that has disclosed to him is the revelation of the church. This mystery he's talking about, he says was hidden in plain sight in the Old Testament. This new revelation he has received is that Jews and gentiles have been brought together into one body called the church.
It was always there in the Old Testament, but it went unnoticed by most.
But now in Christ it has been revealed. Paul is saying, the prophets and apostles received this revelation, but now by grace he has now been given that revelation also. We are now; heirs together with Israel, members of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
The second thing he says is that God not only revealed something to him, but God has made him a minister of that revelation. In other words, he gave him this something so that he could tell other about it. (Eph 3: 7-8) He says God gave not only gifted him his ministry, but he also gave him the grace to carry it out. God took him, the least of men, and has made me a minister (a servant) of the gospel.
Picking up at the next verse (Eph 3: 9) Paul suggests part of our ministry is to help people understand their their role within the church. He says it's my ministry to help people understand what God is doing in the local Christian community and to enable you to participate in it also. The next verses says; (Eph 3: 10-11) that through this participation, the wisdom of God will be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. This is amazing, because Paul tells us that we are being watched in the heavenlies as we deliver the gospel and as we fellowship with one another. As we reveal the mystery of what God is doing on earth through his people. The wisdom of God and his complete plan for mankind is being not only outworked on earth but witnessed and made known to the heavenly powers.
Verse 12 (Eph 3: 12) This may be one of the most powerful things in this passage. When you trust in Christ you have direct access to approach God in freedom and confidence. You don’t need a Pastor. You don't need a Priest, because you can go directly to the throne of grace. The writer of the book of Hebrews also tells us this, when he said, :“let us come boldly to the throne of grace that we might find mercy and grace to help in time of need.(Heb 4:16) We can go directly to the father in a time of help, direct access to the grace and power of God. That’s the secret, that the mystery God mentioned here. Normally we think we should keep secrets to ourselves, usually if you reveal a mystery or tell a secret you betray someone. The opposite applies here, because when we share this mystery, we bless other and we bless those watching in the heavenly realms.
Finally, he says “I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory”. (Eph 3: 13) He finishes by saying, hey, don’t feel sorry for me. Don't get discouraged because it is a privilege to face these trails for the benefit of the gospel.
So how does that all apply? How does all this help us when we are feeling discouraged? Let me make a couple of suggestions.
Number one, when you are tempted to be discouraged you need to accept reality. Remember verse one “I Paul a prisoner,” He never denied he was a prisoner. Nothing he says in versus 2 to 12 changes that he is still a prisoner at the end of the passage. So, firstly accept the reality of that.
That's just the way it is, it’s part of being a believer in a fallen world. Don’t be surprised, because if you are a believer participating in building God’s kingdom then expect opposition and discouragement. Nehemiah was granted permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall around it and when he got there the first thing, he found was opposition from outside. But much harder to deal with was the conflict from within. Conflict from within, that is what always discourages people most. If you are doing God will because there will always be opposition. In fact, it’s evidence that you have a real relevant Christian ministry.
The 2nd thing to do is to look at life from a spiritual point. Paul said I write this as a prisoner of Caesar, but it is Christ that has allowed me to be prisoner to Caesar. I’m here because of Christ, not because of Caesar. Paul knew in spite of appearances; the Lord was working in his life. He still remained a prisoner but that did not mean the Lord wasn’t still working in his life. So even when our circumstances are not be to our liking we need not be discouraged. During his time in prison Paul won some of the prison guards to Christ. The book of Philippians tells us that. They had to stand guard over him, and change soldiers every 4 hours and he thought what a great opportunity. I get to sit here and give the gospel to soldiers, two at a time, every 4 hours. Despite his circumstances God allowed him to preach.
God also allowing him to teach. Paul, wrote four books of our bible whilst in prison? Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, ll written whilst he was in jail, in Rome. We tend to look back in these texts with the fore knowledge that Paul was great man of God but look at it on a human level whilst in the midst of persecution one man sat down in prison pondered on the sacrifice and death of Jesus and was able to use that time to not only receive a special revelation from God but to communicate it to others. Millions of Christians worldwide still turn to his thoughts for enlightenment and encouragement. He didn’t just sit about saying woe is me. He wasn't dwelling on his circumstances He was thinking about what God had revealed it to him and shared it with other people. You and I might face trials and tribulations sometimes in the service of the Lord, but we should not become discouraged. I will not be discouraged, and I don't want you to be discouraged either. We should acknowledge what God is doing amongst us and not be discouraged. Look at things spiritually and understand what God is doing around you.
Sometimes I can get discouraged when I hear people say we aren’t doing enough, or we aren’t doing things well enough, or doing them right. But I say that is not the case, in fact I would go so far as to say that is a strategy of the enemy to discourage us. If we can see what God is doing in our own lives and the life of this church, then we should really be encouraged.
It all of His grace and too his glory anyway.