Manifold Wisdom – Be with Jesus
“Be With Jesus” – Sermon by Caleb Campbell
More than 20 years ago, I stepped into this building for the first time. It was my first time here at Desert Springs, and I don’t quite remember what I was wearing. But I do remember my wardrobe at the time — again, 20 plus years ago. My wardrobe was primarily comprised of black T-shirts, blue jeans, and sneakers. And I’ve grown a lot since then. Well, as I’ve reflected over these last couple of decades, I’ve come to realize my wardrobe hasn’t substantially changed all that much. But I have.
I was thinking about the different ways that this church family has invested in me. You have shown me kindness, graciousness and hospitality. — how many of you have been used of God to impact my life, to shape me, to shape how I think, to shape how I engage in the world. I met Jesus in this church. I was baptized in this building, right over there. I got married right here! I’ve baptized two of my kids here. This church means a great deal to me. But more than just the memories, what the lasting impact it’s had on me is that God has used you to transform my life. I’m a different person than I was 20 odd years ago, and I wonder about you. How have you grown?
I know that we’re all at a different stage in our process and journey with Jesus. For some of us, we’re still trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus. Still others of us, we’ve been following Jesus for a few years, still others many years. And I just wondered for you, not only how have you grown ,but also right now, how are you growing? How are you growing? How are you growing in your mind and having your mind renewed? How are you growing in your heart or in your soul? How are you?
An even bigger question for those of you that are part of Desert Springs, how are we growing together? How is God using this group of misfits with very little in common — in fact, we have almost nothing in common apart from Jesus. How is Jesus using us to grow and to shape one another?
I’d like to invite you to consider that question today as we conclude our study called Manifold Wisdom. This idea, manifold wisdom, comes from Ephesians, chapters three and four. Let me just put it up here. It comes from Ephesians chapter three and four, and it’s this idea of the manifold wisdom of God being made known through the church.
So check this out. This is an image of a prism, of a ray of light hitting a prism. When you take a prism that’s multifaceted or manifold, and you hit that prism with a beam of light, what comes out on the other side? All the different colors, right? And in the same way, through a diverse local church, the gospel light hits us, but then it puts it gets put on display in a diverse a multifaceted, diverse form. So when the gospel light hits the church, so to speak, we’re putting it on display in diverse ways. We see this take form in many different ways. But as we’re growing more and more into the image and likeness of Jesus, we also live like Jesus. We serve like Jesus. Jesus wants to grow us in the context of being the manifold wisdom of God.
So we’re going to continue on in this study, actually going to conclude the study today, Ephesians chapter three and four. We’re going to look specifically at how this growth happens and what it produces within.
You should have the text available in your handout today, and for those of y’all joining us online, I will be again in Ephesians three and four. If you have a print Bible, I encourage you to use it. If you don’t have a Bible available, that’s totally fine. Just go to Bible.com. Again, Ephesians three and four, and we’re using the Christian Standard Bible today.
Now, I did want to say that one of the things that we’ll do and have been doing during this series and will continue to do is this: After we gather for worship, at about 10:40 to 10:45, we’ll break and we’ll have some coffee and snacks available out on the patio. And then at 11:00 o’clock, we’ve got a bunch of different groups going on all around campus. In fact, I know that many of y’all are going to be starting the Rooted study today, and just know that we’ve been praying for that program and for you — that as you engage in that study, it would truly deepen your relationship with Jesus and your understanding of who you are and who we are as a church. So I’m excited to see how God uses that.
Still others will be gathered in different Bible studies around campus, whether that’s with our students or some of the adult studies. And then in here at 11:00 o’clock, I’ll be hosting a sermon question and response. During this whole sermon, you can text in questions, and I will respond to them at the 11:00 o’clock session. You can go grab some coffee and snacks if you want to, then meet me back in here. I’ll do my best to respond to the questions, concerns, complaints, or insults that you send in. You can find the number for that in your handout, I think it’s like right in the middle page. Also, your questions really do help me understand how this is all working and how it’s hitting you and how you’re receiving it. So I would love to have that from you today.
“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you ethnon – if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.” (Ephesians 3:1-3)
OK. Let’s take a look at Ephesians chapter three and four. This is the apostle Paul writing this church in a place called Ephesus, and he says this, that grace was given to him to preach to the ethnon. I’ve intentionally transliterated the original Greek, not just to be nerdy — which I know that we all love to be — but also to show you that there’s a word that often gets translated as Gentiles. But does anyone use the word in normal life? No, it’s kind of a weird word. It’s actually one of the Latin translations for this word, ethnicity. One of the things that I wanted to show by transliterating this is that there is a very English word that’s very similar to this, and it’s ethnicity. The word comes from this Greek word, which has a variety of different forms in the text. But it gets to this idea of identifiable people-groups, right? And so when the Bible says all of the nations or all of the Gentiles, it’s specifically talking about all of the ethnos or ethnicities of the world.
The gospel was given to Paul. This good news of God’s grace was given to Paul to preach to all the peoples of the world. What’s the language here? The unfathomable riches of Christ. So he’s saying that he wants to proclaim he’s been given this gift — the good news of Jesus –to proclaim the unfathomable riches of Christ so that the manifold wisdom of God might — this is mind blowing — might be made known through the church. The local church, a diverse bunch of misfits gathered around Jesus — one of the things that we do together is we put on display what? The manifold wisdom of God.
Have you guys ever wondered why Jesus didn’t wait until the Internet? Wouldn’t it been like, “Follow me now? “ Wouldn’t it have been way easy, even if it was dial-up? Even if it was like AOL, right? Wouldn’t it been easier to get the message of the good news of the gospel out if Jesus would have just waited till the Internet? Or maybe made Al Gore show up sooner. Because I think he invented the Internet is from what I remember, right? Why didn’t Jesus just wait? Why didn’t he just wait until there was mass media when it was easier to get the good news message out now?
Watch this now.
“To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the ethesin the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things, so that the manifold wisdom of God might be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8-10)
Because the simple, disembodied proclamation of the good news of Jesus does not actually communicate the good news of Jesus. It requires a community of Jesus followers living the Kingdom way to put on display the good news of the gospel. Jesus wants to spread his message through his body, which is the church. Through a community of misfit Jesus followers who are unified … so check this out. The message of the gospel is on vivid display when a bunch of different misfits are bound together in unity and practice things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.
Now let me ask you a question. In the normal world, where we get a bunch of different people together — let’s just say politically different, or economically different, the rich and the poor, Democrats and Republicans — and you put them all together and you just say, “Unite. Practice with one another love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Go.” And what invariably will happen? Will they be able to do it? Are you seeing any of that happening in our particular cultural moment? What we’re seeing happening is what’s been happening since the beginning of time, that when sin enters into our hearts, it causes disintegration of relationships, and we begin to throw each other under the bus. This is the first impact of sin that you see in Genesis 3, where there not only is there a disconnection between God and human, but between man and woman. Then it spirals out of control between communities and communities, this disintegration of relationships. It has a direct impact of you. So when a bunch of misfits are bound together and unified, you know what? You know what a world that’s apart from their creator looks in and says? “Those people don’t look like they belong together. But they’re united. What is going on in there?”
What is causing this bunch of misfits to bind together? It’s the diverse, manifold wisdom of God made known through the diverse local church. You guys ever heard of the Lord’s Prayer? Some of us are old fashioned. We say it, “Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed or holy, is your name.” Do you guys know the next? “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.”
The prayer is that we as a people who are bound together by Jesus might right now live the Kingdom. Now we’re going to live as if the Kingdom of God is present with us, because, spoiler alert, it is. We’re going to live as if Jesus rose from the grave, conquering over Satan, sin, and death. Because again, spoiler alert, he did. And so we’re going to live right now on Earth as it is in heaven.
Let me ask you this: Is there socio, economic, political and ethnic division in heaven? No, right. And so we’re going to live like that right now. Now, here’s the deal. I’ve met some of y’all. And y’all have met me. And it’s very clear that Jesus has not done working on us yet. We’re going to not do it perfectly, but we’re going to posture ourselves towards deferring to one another, showing compassion to one another. Longsuffering, bearing one another’s burdens. Fulfilling the law of Jesus, right. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control. And as we do that, we’ll get a glimpse of heaven.
Now this, this putting on display a manifold wisdom of God has direct application to how we spend our time and how we invest our resources. So follow me here. There’s this historian named Rodney Stark, and he noticed that one of the things that was so striking about the Jesus followers of the earliest church was not their power. Not their government might or influence, nor their political power or their military power. What was striking about the church is that it was growing not through fighting, but through serving. The Roman Empire grew by what? The Egyptian empire? The Babylonian empire? The Persian Empire? All grew through warfare, right? But the church, the Kingdom of Jesus, doesn’t grow like (gesture of aggression). It grows like this (gesture of arms outstretched in front, palms up). It grows as people are served.
Another thing Rodney Stark said was that as the Roman Empire — mightiest empire of the time — as it was subject to plagues where not even Caesar could fix the problem, people were fleeing the cities like crazy. If you had any means, you would get out of town. “Because you know the plague’s around, and we’re out of here. Because I don’t want to get the plague.” By and large, the marginalized and the poor were stuck. The plague would come in, and inevitably, people would start dying. Many times the plagues would so physically debilitate a person, they would simply die of starvation because they could not feed themselves. And one of the things that Rodney Stark teases out that he’s noticed over his historical survey and study is that there were pockets where people did live and were nursed back to health. It was the Christians who stayed. It was the Christians who said,” I have means, but instead of leaving, I’m going to stay and I’m going to serve.” One Bishop at the time was writing a letter and actually said that many of the people under his care decided to stay. He said that the Christians would take on the disease from the dying they were serving, taking on their death in order to give life.
How did the church grow? Like this? (aggressive gesture) Or like this? (arms stretching out in front, palms up.) See, the church does not grow when it becomes the church militant. The church only grows when it serves. I’d like to show you in the text. Watch this.
“… so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know that love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)
That’s why I love the study that we encourage everyone to go through called Rooted, because we want to be a people who are rooted in the love of God. But I want you to notice this,: That we would not only know the love of Christ, but also know the love that surpasses all knowledge. That means that we can never totally exhaust the love of Jesus. By the way, this is why we sing. One of the reasons why we sing every Sunday is because all of our thinking about God, all of our dwelling on the love of Jesus at some point in time, it just terminates into this mysterious cloud that we just can’t quite get our hands on. And so our heart’s response is to start thinking cognitively about it and simply to start singing. That’s why worship is such an important rhythm in our lives. Because when we are experiencing the love and the grace of God, thinking about it is only part of it. Sometimes we have this experience, and we just need to sing.
I want to invite you. On September 30th, we’re going to be hosting a night of worship, an extended time for us as a church family to gather together and sing, to just reflect on God’s love for us, and to respond in song. You can find out more information in your bulletin on that night of worship coming up again on this the 30th of September.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and forever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20)
How many of you have ever seen a need in this community that made your heart ache? And how many of us — you don’t have to raise your hand — but how many of us feel incapable of needing that need? Unqualified to be someone, even maybe even to say something about it, much less do something about it. When we hear of things like Phoenix Rescue Mission or the many needs in our community, our hearts ache. But then we wonder, “How will I have the strength to even know what to do, to even participate?” I want to encourage you to zoom in on this text in verse 20. Whose power works in us? Our own Christ. Please come with me now. When Jesus calls us to follow him and he calls us to serve, he also promises to never leave us or forsake us. He also promises that he’s never done with us. He also promises that our service will be done not by our own mind, not by own power, but by the spirit of the living God.
In my experience here, here’s why that is a frustrating. Because when I’m operating on the power of the spirit of the living God, rarely do I feel confident on the front end. You guys know what? I’m talking about I see the thing, and I feel like God calling me to step into it. So I’m right there in that moment and I’m feeling like, “God, it seems like you’re calling me into this space, into this active service, and I’m going to take a step forward.” But I what am I feeling when that happens? Do you think I’m feeling overconfident and powerful? Now, usually, I think for you and for me, when we step into those spaces, we’re feeling fear and anxiety and uncertainty. And it’s not until we look back and we say, “Oh my goodness, I think God empowered me for that act of service or for that ministry.” What do you think goes on in the heart of someone who stays during a plague — “I’ve totally got this?”
Now we say, “Lord, I’m going to step into this space of service. I’m going to step into that because my tendency is this. But I’m going to step into a space of service, and Lord, I need you. Every day I need you — hour by hour, moment by moment, in order to live a life of service and generosity. Lord, I need you.” And here’s what Paul says. Do you know whose power is working within us? The resurrected Christ.
So, friends, I want to encourage you. Wherever God is calling you to step in to minister and to serve, the power of Christ is operating within you, and Jesus will never leave you or forsake you. I want to pause for a moment and ask you to consider this question. Actually, we’re not going to do anything weird, but I want to ask you to close your eyes. Just close your eyes and calm your heart for a moment. Maybe even take a big deep breath in. Let it out. What does it mean to you that the resurrected Christ is present here with you now in this moment? What does it mean to you that the resurrected Christ is present with you right now in this moment.? That he is with you? That he is for you? That he knows you more deeply than you know your own self? That he delights in you? That he empowers you? That he loves you? That he promises to never leave you or forsake you? What does it mean now? The resurrected Christ is present with you even in this moment. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all we could ask or think. According to the power that works within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.”
Alright, come back to me now. I’ve been thinking about the last 20 years. And today as we think about the terrorist attacks on 9/11, I know for many of us, we would remember where we were that day. My wife and I had an opportunity to visit the 9/11 Museum and Memorial in New York earlier this year. And one of the things as I was going through one of the things, if you go through the museum …There are all these pictures and personal effects of many of the folks who died that day. And there’s also sections of those who had run towards the buildings — firefighters, police officers, other neighbors who wanted to help. And one of the things that struck me — just follow me here — one of the things that struck me was just how ordinary these people were. Now hear me on this. I’m not, I’m not showing disrespect. I know we use the language like hero, and even I was kind of walking in using language like, you know, heroes. Heroic. But as I saw like their typewriter, their CD player, their stationary set, pictures of their families, it was so striking to me was how ordinary these people were. Just normal men and women like you and me, who, in that moment, did something extraordinary.
Do you know what type of people God empowers through his spirit to live lives of service that put on the manifold wisdom of God on display? Do you know what type of people he uses? Ordinary people. Just like you and me. And I hate to break it to you, right? Part of the reason of that is because all the glory goes to him. Right. Sometimes when I see God working through people, I know it’s got to be God. Because there’s no way that they would have been able to do what they did. It’s just through ordinary people. God promises that when we step out in service, he will empower us moment by moment. This is how he gets the glory forever and ever. And then it goes on in verse 11. I love this.
“And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers for the equipping of all saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:11-13)
There’s this really bizarre stuff I wrestle with all the time. There’s this bizarre thing in Christian traditions all around the world where we’ve kind of hierarchical-ized. We’ve created power positions within the church, and I totally get sometimes the need for that or how that kind of works. But, you know, there’s this idea that being a pastor is like being the CEO of the church, and it’s just not, it’s just not how it works in the scripture. And we’re trying to not have it work that way here either. What we usually call leadership in the church is simply people who are equipping people to do this. (gesture, arms out at waist, palms up) My job Is to simply equip people to best my ability for works of ministry. And by the way, in your Bible, the word ministry is just the word service. So a minister is just a servant, right? So it’s not like this crazy cool title. By the way, in certain countries they will call people the Minister or Prime Minister, and the idea is public service. So we have that here, too.
Here Paul is meditating on the fact that Jesus has given his grace, that he’s given his good gifts of love, grace, and mercy. But here he also says that Jesus gave — and I think he’s riffing on this concept of gifts — that some were gifted as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors. And some as teachers. So you’ve got this fivefold ministry. Are some of these words weird? Yeah, they are weird, and some people have really abused these words. So let me just kind of let me try my best to “de-weird” it.
An apostle is one once who’s sent, right? By the way, all these words were totally normal words in the Greco-Roman Empire. These weren’t spiritual words. OK, so an apostle is one who’s sent. OK, so Jesus sends people out, and that would be an apostolic ministry.
Some are prophets. A prophet is just someone who speaks God’s truth to people, just a person who speaks God truth to people. Most of the time the prophets were calling out the defiant wealthy and powerful for their injustice and their evil.
An evangelist is someone who just evangels, which just means telling good news, or evangola. An evangelist would be someone who would go into a town and say, “Hey, everybody, of Caesar’s won the war!”
And then some as pastors. By the way, this is the only time in Scripture that in my reading that pastor is set up like it’s a position. In fact, I don’t think these are actually positions. I think these are giftings and postures. This is not a hierarchical CEO at the top-level infrastructure for your organization. These are gifts and giftings that God gives to the church. Probably a better translation for pastor is actually — and in fact, this Greek word is translated this way, every other time — it’s the word shepherd. Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd. And a good shepherd just says, “Come on. Hey, there’s goodness over here. There’s danger over there. There’s goodness over here. Come on.”
And so the scripture says that Jesus gives apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. For what purpose? Come on, say it to me quickly. I got my John Madden game going on here. (Referring to his marking the text with red.) OK, equipping the saints for what? For works of service. Towards what end? OK. How does the church grow? Remember I asked you that question, how are you growing? Right. And then I pivoted to say, how are we growing? How does the church grow?
Now, in consumeristic, capitalistic, individualistic America, here’s what we oftentimes think when we say the word church growth — more attendance. More butts in seats. So, butts and budgets. People come to me frequently saying,” Caleb, what’s your church growth strategy?” And I fell into that trap to begin with. Butts and budgets. We need them. If we could just grow that, everything will be healthy. But you know what I realized? It’s easy to attract a crowd. You just say things people want you to say.
You see, what the apostle Paul is talking about here is not numerical growth, although that can be the case. He’s talking about the type of growth that means that people are equipped. For what? Equipped to serve. So here’s my question for you. We are all ministers. We are all servants to one another in this community, and we have all been uniquely gifted by Jesus to serve. How is Jesus calling you to serve in this season?
All of this stems from not guilt, shame, expectation, or obligation, but the fact that the living Christ is ever present with us, that he loves us more than we could ever imagine, and then calls us to put on his manifold wisdom, to put his manifold wisdom on display by living together as a group of people, a bunch of misfits unified in Jesus by living not like this, (clenched fists) but like this (arms extended out, palms up). What does this look like for you now in this season?
Now, for many of us, we might be feeling like, “I don’t have any gifts to give. I’m retired, I’m too young, I’m not educated enough. I’m too busy.” OK, so I want to just zoom in here. I don’t know what this looks like for you. There are thousands of opportunities. Let me just help us tease this out just for a brief moment. For some of us, it may be serving in a ministry, like in and through a local church like Desert Springs. So maybe working with kids or working with students or working in the tech booth. Working with the Worship and Arts team, working with the Host team. Whatever it might be, for some of us, that may be the case, and we’d love to help organize that.
For many others, it’s serving through organizations like Phoenix Rescue Mission or organizations like Habitat for Humanity or organizations like Hustle Phoenix or whatever. For some of us, that may be what God is calling us to now. Still, for others of us, it may just be a daily posture in prayer. “Lord, show me how you want me to live today.” Perhaps in a way that we couldn’t even imagine to program or schedule. I was talking with someone who’s very dear to me. I was talking to his wife, and she was saying, “You know, I really, I just feel so guilty that that I’m not able to do ministry. I’ve got, you know, three of my kids have this chronic disease that requires my constant attention. And both my mom and my in-laws, they’re both dying, and so I’m helping to serve them through Hospice care at the house. I just wish I could find a way to minister.”
And I remember that that broke my heart. Because she was ministering. Right in her gifting. Right in her calling, day by day, living like this. But my heart was broken, because she couldn’t see it. So I don’t know what it looks like, but I know that a lot of times it feels scary. And we feel incompetent, we feel under-resourced, we feel like we don’t know how to do it. And so again, I want to invite you to reflect on the presence of Christ with you now. ###