Saint Paul shows his great concern for the saints that they should remain steadfast in the Gospel despite any trouble.
In the case of the Ephesians, the temptation was to see the suffering that Paul endured, and to take offense at it. At this time, Paul was imprisoned at Rome by order of the Emperor. Surely some people said that if Paul were a true apostle, then Christ would not allow these calamities to fall on him, to be delivered into the hands of wicked men and at peril for his life.
How easy it is to fall into this kind of thinking! Yet this thinking is not the teaching of Scripture, but the thoughts of the sinful flesh. We should know better. After all, the very best man of all, the pure and gentle Lamb of God, was delivered to torture and death more vile than any other. God does not work the way our flesh wants. He does not always outwardly and openly punish the wicked and reward the righteous. The opposite often appears to be true. The righteous suffer, and the wicked prosper. This seems wrong to us, but it is the pattern of Christ, and the pattern of the Cross.
It is especially tempting when a pastor suffers to lay the blame on him. "If he was a good man, this would not happen to him," they may say. In this way, many people take offense.
But Paul says, "Do not faint with weakness over my sufferings. Do not be tempted to reject my teachings on account of what befalls me. Whatever happens, whether good or evil, hold tightly to the Word of the Gospel."
This warning is necessary because satan and the wicked world desire to attack your faith. They will do all they can to make the true religion look as shameful and undesirable as possible. If you trust your eyes and your feelings, you will surely be driven away from Christ by the great terrors that are inflicted upon the Church.
May the Holy Spirit give you courage to withstand every such attack, and faithfulness to hold to His Word, whatever else may come.
If you put your confidence in God, not in men, then it will not be as difficult. You are not here to follow me. I am poor, weak, and frail. But the Word is the voice of God that you must follow no matter what happens to me. The Word will not fail, but must always stand strong and true.
But if you cannot distinguish between the person of the preacher and the Word that he preaches, then you will surely find offense. Temptation and trouble will find a way to snatch away your faith.
Meanwhile, God is content to rule in this world, not in a visible way, with human wisdom or power, but through weakness. At times, He seems to allow His Church to be utterly overthrown. But you must confess the hidden reality, that He who established the Church will surely preserve it, whatever your eyes may tell you.
So heed my warning, which is really Paul's warning to the Ephesians. Be encouraged by the promises of the Gospel, and hold fast to them, no matter what.
When I suffer in this Gospel ministry, it should not drive you away, but it is actually for your advantage and glory. For God sees when you hold steadfastly to His Gospel, even in tribulation. By His Spirit, these troubles work for the strengthening of your faith. If your faith stumbled and fell at the least offense, then it would be no faith at all. But God desires to forge and reinforce you, as Paul describes, in knowledge and love and power and faith. Therefore, hold fast and do not flee from this Gospel.
More than that, in these treacherous and wicked last days, we are receiving a crown of glory in exchange for the tribulations that our faith must endure. Shall we cast away the glory that is to come because our eyes are offended? Shall we wander from God's truth simply because our heart does not like how His Gospel is treated? What sense is there in that?
When pews are empty and offerings are small, do not be discouraged. Instead, remember that God has, wonder of wonders, kept us in the true faith in spite of our sinful flesh that wrestles against faith all the day long. Do not despair, but give thanks to God. Count the sufferings of this life as an honor, since we are carrying our crosses in the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But let us pray all the more fervently that the Lord would strengthen and defend our faith in trying times. We are weak, but He is strong to sustain us. Let us never cease praying for one another. As I pray often for you, pray as well for me.
God our Father, after all, is generous and loving to give us many blessings. Every earthly father is only a pale shadow compared to the divine, gracious Fatherhood of God. So we must not falter in prayer, but continue to believe that He listens and delights to give what we need, whatever our eyes tell us.
Chiefly, He delights to pour out the blessings of His Son and Spirit. Paul calls these blessings "the riches of His glory". For the Cross and Blood of Christ have purchased for you a greater honor and glory than any other. He has given you His own majesty, wrapping you and covering you as with a cloak of holiness and beauty without limit. He has made you kings over the earth because you are the true sons of God. You are throned with Christ in splendor, waiting only for the consummation of all things when your glory shall be revealed.
He has given you all this through the power and knowledge of His Word. The knowledge and wisdom of God has been revealed in His Son, crucified for sinful men. This knowledge is not empty, useless information. Instead, it is full of power to give you the benefits of what it says. The Word has poured out upon you the strength of God to raise you out of the death of sin and give you the sure and certain promise of resurrection of the body to everlasting glory.
But this power of God is not in our actions. You are still weak and sinful. You stumble often. When you look upon these things in ourselves and others, you may be tempted to take offense. Indeed, many will take offense, and there is no stopping it. Yet the power of God is still with you in His Gospel. As He keeps you steadfast in this Word by His Spirit, you will be filled with the power of God for salvation and life.
Yet, sinful as you still are, you will also abound in love as the Spirit works in you. There will be acts of love - for neighbor and brother and stranger alike. You may not even notice the works of love that you or another Christian do. Sometimes you must accept with faith alone that such fruits exist. If you notice such fruits in others, give thanks to God. If you notice them in yourself, say, "I am only an unworthy slave," and confess your sins all the more. For you have glory enough in Christ without seeking glory for your deeds. Let Him glorify you in His time.
This glory of Christ for you is a great and wondrous thing. It is higher and wider and deeper than any of us can ever measure. It passes all human knowledge and understanding.
If you remain steadfast in this Word, He will open your eyes more and more by His Spirit. He will show you the riches of His grace and strengthen you to persevere in times of trouble, so that you are not offended by what your eyes see.
The Lord do this great work in you, keeping you in the one true faith to eternal life. Amen.
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