Paul reminded the Ephesians that they are saved by grace alone, but he also reminded them—and us—that God puts us here for a purpose.
James R. Huebner
If someone walks up to you on the street and asks, “What’s your purpose in life?” you might be hard pressed to come up with an answer on the spot. But a little review of Ephe-sians chapter 3 will help. In this chapter, Paul zeroes in on three purposes for our life on earth.
GROW CLOSER TO HIM
The apostle experienced the warm and welcoming power of God’s undeserved mercy, his grace. The Lord God had forgiven Paul fully and freely for his bad past and for his future failures. That happened in only one way. Jesus had paid for his failures and covered him with full and complete forgiveness.
God has done that for sinners like us too. He does not count our past or future sins against us. Because Jesus is our substitute we are free from the burden of the consequences of our sin. “In [Christ Jesus] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12). God desires us to draw close to him. That only happens as we use the Holy Spirit’s power tool, the words and promises of Holy Scripture. As we study the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit strengthens us and comforts us. Our faith grows!
The synod’s 2014 Statistical Report indicates that 15 percent of WELS communicants participated in Bible class. Can we do better? Of course. It’s obvious that pastors and congregational leaders will always be striving to encourage more members to participate in some form of Bible study. On this we agree: One purpose for our life on earth is to grow in faith, and that happens only when the Spirit is using his means of grace on our hearts.
If someone walks up to you on the street and asks, “What’s your purpose in life?” one part of your response will be, “God wants me to grow closer to him, and that happens when I dig into and ponder his Holy Word.” That purpose in life is true for all of us.
SHARE THE LOVE OF JESUS
If you are lost in the woods but finally see a path with a few fresh footprints, you will be thinking, Whew! At least there’s someone nearby who can help me. If you follow those tracks and come across all kinds of footprints that go in every direction, you will jump out of your skin with excitement because now you are near civilization and all kinds of people. You are safe!
God’s love for us works like that. There’s so much to chew on, to celebrate, to revel in. When we ponder one aspect of his love, it connects us to another and another, and we can hardly contain ourselves.
That’s what Paul means with the words “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8 ESV). He had been given God’s love in Christ and was bursting with joy at the depth, width, height, and length of Christ’s love. That love filled him with a powerful desire to give it to others. Good thing God put him to work in ministry. Paul might have exploded if he didn’t have an outlet to share God’s love with others.
The joy of Christ’s love fills all of us with a desire to share it with others. You don’t have to leave your career, sell your worldly goods, and set out on a trek through the barrios of Barcelona or the alleys of Atlanta or the jungles near Jakarta. God has placed us where we are, and there we can share his love. What we do individually as witnesses for Christ is multiplied exponentially when we pool our resources and work together with fellow Christians. Our mission efforts depend on us working together. Christians working together serve as a beacon to cut through the fog of spiritual uncertainty and to guide many more who are headed toward shipwrecking their lives on the reef of unbelief to the safe haven and harbor of God’s own heart. Reports from WELS World Missions always open our eyes to the global opportunities for proclaiming Jesus to the millions who don’t know him and don’t believe in him.
There are other opportunities closer to home. The 2014 Statistical Report indicates that 531 of our 1,269 WELS congregations had zero adult confirmands and another 173 had only one. That’s 55.5 percent of our congregations. Can we get better at our personal witnessing and congregation evangelism efforts? Of course. While it’s obvious that some congregations are located in small towns or rural areas with a population density far less than a city, I believe that in every WELS congregation someone has to know someone (a spouse, a relative, a neighbor, a friend) who needs to hear about Jesus. So, we flee to the cross for forgiveness for our lack of good-news-proclaiming zeal and for encouragement and strength to share the love of Jesus.
If someone walks up to you on the street and asks, “What’s your purpose in life?” one part of your response will be, “God wants me to share his love with you so you can be with him now and forever.” That purpose in life is true for all of us.
WORSHIP AND HONOR OUR SAVIOR
We know that there is no biblical prescription as to when Christians are to gather for worship and what they are to do when they gather. However, over time and many centuries, Christians have developed patterns and language in which God comes to us in Word and sacrament and we go to him with praise, prayers, and gifts. What I find instructive about those patterns is that even the “God comes to us” parts reflect the praise, hymns, and prayers of Scripture. They are not merely acclamations of God’s greatness, majesty, and power but also proclamations of what God did for us. Even those psalms that are considered “praise psalms” (e.g. Psalms 145–150) include language that proclaims why we praise God. Whatever the form or pattern, one thing is clear: Worship is not optional.
The day and time of day are not what makes worship God-pleasing. The style of music and instruments enhances the message but is not what makes worship God-pleasing. Worship is not primarily about what we do. Instead, it is a review and retelling of what God has done for us.
If someone walks up to you on the street and asks, “What’s your purpose in life?” one part of your response will be, “God wants me to worship and honor him every moment of every day and especially when I gather with fellow Christians.” That purpose in life is true for all of us.
No matter how old or young you are, no matter how tall or short you are, no matter the amounts and distribution of melanin pigment in your skin, no matter where you live, we are one in purpose as we grow in faith, proclaim the good news of Jesus’ love, and privately and publicly worship him. No disagreements or dividers here. That’s what it means to be one in Christ.
James Huebner, pastor at Grace, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is the first vice president of WELS.
This is the third article in a four-part series based on the 2015 synod convention essay entitled “One in Christ.”
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Author: James R. Huebner
Volume 103, Number 4
Issue: April 2016
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