We Are Privileged!
We Are Privileged!
Ephesians 3: 2-13
Booker T. Washington, a great educator who came up from slavery, was a man of great ingenuity.
With little more than brains, courage, and his bare hands, he founded Tuskegee Institute in Alabama
and lived to see it evolve from an abandoned stable and hen -- house to a million dollar,
world renowned educational center.
Through speaking tours and personal interviews he raised most of the money needed to build, equip,
and staff this first American teacher's college for black people.
In his autobiography he makes some interesting observations.
He says that he never had to assume the posture of begging because the really generous people
never begrudged their philanthropy.
He said that they enjoyed giving away their money and felt privileged to be in a position
to support a worthwhile enterprise.
The response of one benefactor was typical, who said,
"Don't thank me, Mr. Washington, I am grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to help a good cause.
It's a privilege to have a share in it."
The keyword is privilege, and it unlocks the door to happiness.
Parents would be happier if, instead of complaining about all that they have to sacrifice for their children,
they realized how privileged they are to have children and to be entrusted with their upbringing for a few years.
More young people would enjoy school if they stopped regarding education as their obligation,
and saw it as a privilege that doesn't come to everybody in today's world.
We can extend the list to include the privileges of freedom, democracy, and affluence.
Here is a prescription for happiness!
Take life for gratitude, not for granted.
Thank God for the privilege of being alive.
You rarely hear the word, privilege, around a church.
You hear of the words like beauty, responsibility, obligation, sacrifice, sometimes spoken
in a virtuous and even martyred tone of voice, but rarely the word, privilege.
In a nominal Christian society it is no particular privilege to belong to the church of our Lord.
More likely, it imposes on the Christian burdens that he would sometimes rather do without.
Perhaps, that explains why so many nominal Christians find no happiness in their religion.
Perhaps, it explains the alienation of youth, the demoralization of the middle-aged,
and the fatigue of the older generation which sap the church of its strength today.
The church is strong in proportion to the commitment of Christians;
and Christians become committed when they stop taking their religion for granted
and recover a sense of privilege in being Christians.
The word, privilege, is the clue to a rather long, but inspired parentheses,
at the beginning of the third chapter of Ephesians.
Paul is reminding the Ephesians that he and they and all Christians are a very privileged people.
Paul presents three ways in which the Christian is privileged.
The Christian is privileged in what he knows.
It is always a privilege to know something that other people don't know.
This should not cause the Christian to feel superior.
It should cause the Christian to be grateful.
That's not to say that young people are wiser than their parents or that they know the secret
- We envy the economist who knows when to invest in the stock market.
- We envy the physician who knows the symptoms of a serious disease.
- We envy the plumber who knows how to repair a broken drain.
- We envy young people, who have been educated within the past 10 or 15 years, and who know
far more factual information than we knew at their age.
of living successfully and happily.
If they possess that knowledge, they wouldn't still be looking for it in the wrong places.
They wouldn't be taking drugs or freaking out in wild rebellion.
The person is truly privileged who knows the answer to some of the ultimate questions of life.
Is life worth living?
Does God care?
How is it all going to turn out?
Whoever can answer those questions has solved the riddle of life.
He is most privileged because he knows what other people do not know.
Paul is such a person.
Without any sense of superiority,
Paul tells the Ephesians that he is a man who knows the secret.
He says, "You may perceive that I understand the secret of Christ."
That's what the Ephesian Letter is all about.
In the opening chapter Paul says that God has a secret plan (a mystery) for His whole creation,
which He has been working out right from the beginning.
Nobody knew the plan or even that it existed until God unveiled a blueprint in the person,
the ministry, the death and the resurrection of Jesus.
Paul has seen the blueprint.
He knows that Christ is more than a historical figure;
Christ is the great principle of unity toward which all history is moving.
Paul knows that God's ultimate goal for His whole creation is that
"the universe, in heaven and on earth, might be brought into a unity in Christ."
That's how everything is going to turn out.
Therefore, God does care.
Therefore, life is worth living.
The Christian, who is privileged to know the mysteries of God, might be proud and pompous in his privilege
if he had acquired such knowledge on his own; but he did not acquire it himself, God gave it to him.
The Christian is also privileged and what he has experienced.
It is always a privilege to experience what others have not experienced -- a journey to the moon,
a journey around the world, participation in some great event, even a catastrophe like a war.
The Christian has experienced the gospel.
He not only knows the gospel, he has experienced it as a saving event in his life.
That was certainly true for Paul.
Everything he writes in his new Testament Letters takes its starting point
from his Damascus Road experience that changed him inside out
-- that changed the whole course of his life.
He calls himself, "the least of God's people,"
and that's exactly what he was, for, as he wrote elsewhere:
"I had persecuted the church of God and am therefore inferior to all other apostles
-- indeed not fit to be called an apostle."
(1 Corinthians 15: 9)
It is a matter of history that before his conversion,
Paul was Christianity's public enemy number one.
For his bloody rage against the first followers of Christ, Paul deserved to be struck dead
by a bolt of lightning from heaven.
He did not deserve to be forgiven; but God forgave him.
God did strike this fanatical Pharisee with light from heaven, but it didn't kill him; it brought him to life;
it raised him from spiritual death and made him a new creature in Christ.
That was Paul's experience of the gospel.
"Such is the gospel of which I was made a minister, by God's gift,
bestowed unmerited on me in the working of his power."
To Paul, the marvelous miracle of God's grace was not only what happened to him on the Damascus Road,
but what happened to him after the Damascus Road.
To be not only forgiven, but accepted and used and empowered by God -- that was Paul's experience
- After fighting against God, he was allowed to fight for God.
- After opposing the gospel, he was made a minister of the gospel.
- After persecuting the church, he was permitted and equipped to serve the church.
of the gospel, and he felt supremely privileged in it.
He did not deserve that privilege, and there was no way that he could earn it.
He simply received it as a gift of God's grace.
And that experience is ours.
Every Christian has been privileged to experience the grace of God in his life.
To kneel before the cross of Christ and know yourself forgiven, accepted, and empowered by God
is to participate in the event of the world's salvation and thus to have an experience of the gospel
that makes you privileged to be a Christian.
The Christian is privileged in what he is called to do.
There is no higher privilege in life than that of being gifted and equipped and skilled
and given the opportunity to serve people in a special way.
There have been many gifted surgeons who have said to God,
"Take my hands and let them move, at the impulse of thy love."
There have been many gifted singers who has regarded his or her voice as an instrument of God
to be used for bringing comfort and cheer and hope to the hearts of others.
Paul felt privileged in that sense.
To the Ephesians he wrote,
"... You have heard how God assigned the gift of his grace to me for your benefit."
He believed that God had given him a knowledge and experience of the gospel,
not only for his own sake, but for the benefit of other people.
He saw himself as a steward, an executor, an administrator of the gospel,
and in that role he felt uniquely privileged.
As Paul sees it in his own experience, the Christian has a twofold vocational privilege:
"To me, who am less than the least of all God's people, he has granted of his grace
the privilege of proclaiming to the Gentiles the good news of the unfathomable riches of Christ,
and of bringing to light how this hidden purpose was to be put into effect."
The Christian proclaims, and God enlightens.
He proclaims to all non-Christians that in Jesus Christ they can be spiritually rich
beyond their wildest dreams; he enlightens other Christians how to make the gospel relevant,
practical, contemporary, and effective.
The keyword is privilege.
All Christians have the dual privilege of proclamation and enlightenment.
There have been times in history when Christians have shifted it to the professionals
or when the professionals tried to monopolize it.
But that usually caused a big shakeup like the Protestant Reformation,
which recovered the New Testament idea of the "priesthood of all believers."
Behind it, was the awareness that the church's vocation to advance the gospel
is just too big to be left to professionals, who after all, suffer a certain disadvantage in the fact
that they are professionals.
Proclamation must not be restricted to preaching, but must be liberated to express itself
through the culture and through the personal witness of Christians in all their relationships.
We don't deserve this privilege, but thank God, it is ours.
- Sometimes it's not easy to proclaim and enlighten.
- Sometimes it's not easy to tell people about Jesus.
- Sometimes it's not easy to tell Christians to practice His teachings, but that is our privilege.
Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White
Email Dr. White at firstname.lastname@example.org