For those of you that have studied the Bible, have you ever noticed that whatever you’re studying tends to be what you’re experiencing? Like, your life and your studies totally intersect. That’s why some of you have never studied suffering, you knew what might happen. But what I find is whatever it is I’m studying, that tends to be what I’m experiencing, and God in his providence takes the Scriptures, and he knows what’s coming in my life, and then they coordinate together, and all of sudden God’s Word is incredibly timely.
And in light of today’s sermon, “I Am Appreciated” in Ephesians 1:15–23, that was the kind of week that I had. It was a really busy week, I’m sick, not feeling the best, but I’m feeling really encouraged.
I remember that Grace and I would have literally upwards of a few thousand people in our home every year for small groups, the offices were there, the small groups were there, the premarital was there, the membership, everything was there. And literally, I don’t remember hardly anybody ever even saying thank you.
I remember over, and over, and over, the spring and the summer was particularly brutal because we’d have these weddings. Everybody was getting married, which meant usually some sort of chicken dinner on Friday night with a rehearsal, and then Saturday do the wedding, and then Sunday preach, and so that meant usually spring and summer, there wouldn’t be a day off for four months or so because it would be church during the week and then weddings on weekends in addition to church. I’ll never forget, like all these couples that we had into our home, and we invested in for months, and did the premarital for, and then I’d go officiate their wedding, and nobody would even say thank you.
There were couples, more than one, but one in particular, we invested in them, we helped them, we did their premarital for months in our home, flew out of state to go do their wedding, didn’t even say thank you, flew back to preach on Sunday, and they never showed up at church again. And I called them up and I said, “Well, we miss you guys. You know, you haven’t been at church since you got married.” And he said, “Well, her dad said he wouldn’t pay for the wedding unless it was in a church, so now that we’ve had the wedding, we don’t have to go to church anymore.” It’s like, wow.
And for me, in that season, I dealt with it in a sinful way. And how many you, your experience is like mine? When you’re in a season when you’re really encouraged and you feel love like I do today, it’s pretty easy. Just like, “Oh yeah, the Lord is good and I love you,” and it just sort of flows a little easier. Then there’s those other seasons, you’re like, “I don’t know if the Lord is good and I’m pretty sure I don’t love you.” You know? And how many of you are in one of those seasons where, with your family, with your friends, with your work, there’s a culture of entitlement, or ingratitude, or expectation, or criticism?
And in those years when I was in sin and I responded sinfully, I started getting bitter against people, I started getting angry, self-righteous, judgmental, grumbling. My attitude was not very good. Sometimes I would serve, but do so out of an impure motive, and sometimes I just wouldn’t serve. Like, “Well, they don’t even care. Why even try?” I tell you this because the church has changed, but for those of you that are in those seasons, how’s it going for you and what do you do?
And that brings us to the text of Scripture today, and it speaks in a very timely way about appreciation. And I think this is a timely word because I believe our world is more rude, critical, and demanding than ever. Okay, for all of you who work in the service industry, I just apologize in general for almost everyone, okay? What a horrible job it is to serve people with certain attitudes.
And this culture of entitlement is so deep that, you know, it would be laughable if an elected official stood up today and said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” We’d say, “That guy’s hilarious. Look at those funny jokes that he tells, talking about our responsibilities instead of our rights.” The whole world is filled with a lack of appreciation, thankfulness, and gratitude.
That being said, as we come to Paul’s words today, I don’t know if you’re in a season like I am where you feel really appreciated and encouraged or you feel really unappreciated and discouraged. The question is, what do you with it?
YOU ARE APPRECIATED BY JESUS
Well, he starts by telling us this: “You are appreciated by Jesus.” To be a Christian is to be one who appreciates Jesus. He just told us this in Ephesians 1:3–14. He says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and then he talks about all the things that he appreciates that God does for us.
And here, he then transitions saying that not only is the Christian one who really appreciates Jesus—and you may have never even thought of this if you’re a Christian—but that the Christian is one whom Jesus appreciates as well. Here’s how he says it. Ephesians 1:15–16, “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give,” what? “Thanks for you.”
Okay, I want you to receive this, not just as a letter from Paul to the Ephesians, but from God to you. We believe in something called verbal plenary inspiration. Big words, I know, but what it means is that God wrote the Bible through people, and so though it’s Paul’s voice, it’s God’s words. Though it’s Paul’s voice, it’s God’s words. And here, God is not just speaking to the people in Ephesus. He’s speaking to all of his people, including us two thousand years later and some miles removed.
How many of you, it would really change the course of your whole day or your whole life if you simply knew that God paid attention to your life, and he was thankful for your obedience, and generosity, and service, and sacrifice, and that the Lord Jesus himself generally appreciated you? Would that make a difference? It does.
See, the sinful trap that I fell into—and it affected my attitude, and my joy, and my service for years; it was my sin—was I wanted to be appreciated and I looked to people, and I didn’t find them to be appreciative, and then I became bitter, and angry, and frustrated. Well here, Paul is telling us that God is thankful for us, that God appreciates the obedience, and the generosity, and the faithfulness of his people. And so it’s not that you shouldn’t have appreciation, but it’s best if that appreciation comes from the Lord Jesus.
And some of you may know that God is omniscient. That means that he’s all-knowing. And let me just say that I don’t think I’ve taught that doctrine as well as I could or should have, and most of the time, in my sixteen-year history of teaching the Bible here, when I’ve said that God sees and knows all, it’s to talk about how evil you are and how he knows what you’re doing, right? And so omniscience seems like kind of a bad thing. It’s like a surveillance camera in your life, you know? Like, he’s always got one eye.
God does see and know all, and he does see and know all of our sin, but he also sees and knows all of our obedience, and all of our service, and all of our generosity. If God sees and knows all, he doesn’t just see the day you give into temptation, he sees the day that you say no to temptation; not just the day that you’re greedy, but the day that you’re generous; not just the day that you’re lazy, but the day that you’re serving by the grace of God. And even though others may not appreciate, God sees, knows, and appreciates all. Jesus talks about things that are done, quote, “in secret.” What that means is the Lord’s the only one that really knows what’s going on.
Now, imagine that you and I got this letter and we are receiving it today from the Apostle Paul. I mean, it’s hard to think of anyone outside of Jesus that we could esteem as highly as Paul. And what he says is this: “I want to thank you for two things: your love for Jesus and your love for God’s people, the church.” Okay, if you’re here and you love Jesus and you love the church, this is a word from God for you, and if you don’t love Jesus and/or you don’t love the church, you need to repent so that this can be God’s word for you.
I really, really, really want you to know that the two most important things are to love Jesus and love the church, and that’s exactly what he says, “Your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and your love toward all the saints.” And the love here means that you’re praying for people, you’re giving, you’re serving, you’re caring, you inconvenience yourself by getting into Community Group, you give time and energy to serve through Redemption Group, you’re working with the kids. Whatever your thing is, there’s a life that is flowing toward the well-being of the whole church.
Now how many of you, if I walked up to you and I looked in you in the eye, and I was very serious and very genuine, as I believe the Apostle Paul is here, and I said, “I just want to say thank you. I thank God for you all the time,” what would you say? It makes us feel awkward, right, because some of us have been trained through religion to say things like, “Well, don’t praise me. All glory be to God.” It’s like, “Yeah, but the Lord sent you to serve me and you did, so I do give glory to God, but I give thanks to you,” or, you know, “The Lord did give to me, but he gave through you, so I give glory to God and I give thanks for you.”
How many of you have tried to appreciate someone and they bristle at it, get all religious, turn it into a theological argument that doesn’t even make sense? It doesn’t even make sense. “Well, you know, God is sovereign and it’s all by his grace, and I’m just—” It’s just like, “That’s a lot of words. You’re supposed to say thank you.” It’s supposed to be pretty simple.
And sometimes what can happen is in our desire to give all glory to God, we don’t allow others to appreciate us or we don’t appreciate others. Yeah, the glory does go to God, but the appreciation can go to his servants. You can do both. If God sends someone and God uses them, you can glorify him and thank them. And I think sometimes what happens is we don’t appreciate and thank people as we should because we think, “Well, I just need to tell God thank you.”
I was recently at an event where, you know, lots of people were serving and lots of things were happening, and someone said, “Well, you know, praise be to God. He really pulled it off.” I said, “Yeah, he did, through all these faithful people, so we need to thank them for being God’s faithful people.” Yeah, glory be to God that the Holy Spirit pulled it all together, but glory be to God that he’s working through his people and his people are faithful. And sometimes I think we can give all glory to God and not give appreciation and thankfulness to people, and as a result, we could be actually discouraging people when we should be encouraging them.
I love the fact that Paul starts off talking about how much he appreciates God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and then he transitions to talk about how much he appreciates God’s faithful people who love the Lord Jesus and love the church. You and I, quite frankly, need a little bit of encouragement, and if you’re looking for it from people, it may never come, but if you’re looking for that from the Lord Jesus, he appreciates you. It means a lot.
Second thing that he says, and he starts to talk about the implications of knowing you’re appreciated by Jesus, and the big theme is identity in Christ through the book of Ephesians, and knowing, “Man, Jesus appreciates me. He sees and knows everything I do, and I say, and I give, and he appreciates that. And through the Apostle Paul, he says thank you.” What happens, then, is it changes your life and your reaction to circumstances.
APPRECIATED PEOPLE EXCHANGE GRUMBLING FOR PRAYING
So, number one, appreciated people exchange grumbling for praying. How many of you, when you feel unappreciated or underappreciated, you’re prone toward grumbling? Is it just me or has this caught on with others? Have you noticed that?
I tend to grumble. Sometimes it leaks. You know, you’re like, “Yeah, these people, they don’t appreciate it and I did this for them and they don’t even say thanks. Oh, good luck if I’m ever gonna do that for you again. You didn’t even say thanks,” or you know, whatever. Or, “You know, I’ve always served you, you’ve never served me.”
You know, it all kicks into that where all of a sudden you don’t grumble to them, you grumble about them. “You know, my boss, they’re really unappreciative. My kids, they never say thanks. My parents, you know, I’ve looked after them in their old age and they don’t even appreciate it.”
All of a sudden, that grumbling starts to cause you to be very negative and very critical. You say, “Well, what’s the answer?” Praying. Praying. See, grumbling is when you talk about people to other people, praying is when you talk to Jesus about people. Some of you say, “They’re driving me crazy.” Well, you need to talk to someone. His name is Jesus.
We call that prayer, and prayer is always better than grumbling, and that’s exactly what Paul does here. He says this, “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my,” what? “Prayers.” Paul is praying for people.
Now, he could be grumbling. His life is very hard at this point. He has a lot to grumble about. Where is he? Do you know where he is? He’s in prison. He’s in prison. Now, you could grumble off that for a while, right? Why is he in prison? DUI, capped a guy? Why is he in prison? Tax evasion, knocked over a liquor store? Why is he in prison? For preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’d be very easy for Paul to grumble. “Man, I love Jesus and I go to jail. What kind of deal is that?”
He’s not grumbling, he’s praying. He knows that Jesus appreciates his hard work by the grace of God, and his generosity, and his service, and his sacrifice, so rather than grumbling about how hard his life is—does he have a wife? No. Could he grumble about that? Single people, could he grumble about that? Single people, could he grumble about that? Yes. You even said it in a grumbling tone. You know, “I don’t have a wife. I’m poor. I don’t make a lot of money. My life is hard. I walk twenty miles a day. I’ve been beaten, shipwrecked, homeless, left for dead, adrift on the open sea, and now I’m in jail for preaching the gospel.” No, he knows that Jesus appreciates his life, and his service, and his sacrifice, as he appreciates the life, and the service, and the sacrifice of Jesus. And as a result, he’s not grumbling, he’s praying. He’s praying.
And he’s praying for others. He’s not even self-absorbed, because that appreciation is met by the Lord Jesus. That allows him to simply have affection for other people.
And for those of you who are maybe new to Christianity, prayer is when we talk to God. Scripture is how God talks to us, but prayer is how we talk to God. This can be audibly talking to God, alone, in a group. God also knows our thoughts, so even, let’s say you’re at work or in a situation where praying out loud would not be best, you could pray silently and the Lord knows your thoughts.
For some of you, this is journaling, and journaling is a form of praying. It’s where you sort of think it through with the Lord. It can include singing, where you’re singing to the Lord, and it’s your way of communicating to him in prayer. That’s why the book of Psalms is a book of worship and it’s also a book of prayer, because singing to the Lord is just another way of praying to the Lord.
And what’s interesting here is Paul’s life is very hard. He’s hated, he’s criticized, he’s opposed, he’s physically beaten, he’s separated from his church, he’s sitting in jail, and what he’s not doing is grumbling. And might I submit to you that whatever you’re going through and I’m going through, his was harder, more difficult, right? Alright, no wife. I mean, I have a wife who last night, you know, kissed me, prayed over me, got up this morning and made me breakfast, hugged me, kissed me, prayed over me, sent me out the door. He didn’t have that.
I’ve got five beautiful kids that I love with all my heart and are a great source of encouragement and joy to me. You know, last night, Gideon sat on my lap for an hour. Paul didn’t have that. I get to be with you today. Paul couldn’t be with his people. Financially, you guys are generous to me. He had seasons of deep poverty. His life was very hard. People say bad things, but that’s different than getting physically assaulted and shipwrecked, and he’s not grumbling.
Here’s what I don’t want to do. I don’t want to look at you in a religious way and say, “Stop your grumbling.” You would say, “Stop your yelling. We both have things to work on here, Pastor Mark,” right? The key to overcoming your grumbling is to know that the Lord Jesus suffered for you, that the Lord Jesus loves you, that the Lord Jesus is generous toward you, and in any way that you are obedient to him, he sees, he knows, he appreciates, and he’s thankful for you. That allows you to stop grumbling because you know that you’re loved, and cared for, and appreciated, and it allows you to start praying for the well-being of others, amen?
APPRECIATED PEOPLE EXCHANGE COMPETING FOR CELEBRATING
Another thing that happens to those who realize that they are appreciated by God: appreciated people exchange competing for celebrating. Now, here’s what happens. If you don’t feel appreciated, all of a sudden you become competitive with others. Is that true? All of sudden you’re like, “Well, I’m gonna outperform them,” or “They got an award. I’m going to beat them so that I can get the award.”
They got the promotion, they got the raise, they got called deacon or elder, or they got the 4.0, or they got the scholarship, or they got the trophy, or they got the “‘Atta boy,” or they got the Employee of the Month. Whatever it is, somebody said thank you. Whatever it is, you’re like, “Oh, they got, I want it, I’m going to outperform them so that I can be appreciated.”
The result is unhealthy competition sets in. There’s healthy competition in the Bible where it says, like, “Let us spur one another on to love and good deeds.” That’s kind of good. This is unhealthy competition. This is where I’m feeling unappreciated and I’m competing with you because I want to be appreciated in the way that you are.
This is where you get things like sibling rivalries. This is where even spouses can become jealous of one another. This is where coworkers can turn on one another. Even in a ministry like ours, this is where people can be jockeying for power, and politics sets in and it becomes very unholy, becomes very unhealthy, becomes very, very, very unhappy. All of sudden, you’re speaking ill of other people to take them down a notch. If they succeed, you’re angry, and frustrated, and critical. If they fail, you’re kind of happy. “Oh, I knew they’d come down.”
And the answer is, again, to know that we are appreciated by the Lord Jesus. Here’s how Paul says it. Ephesians 1:17–20, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,” that’s God the Father, “the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit.” And I just want you to see, there’s the whole Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, and the Holy Spirit. “—of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.”
He continues by saying, “What are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”
Okay, first he starts by saying, “Here’s why we should really appreciate Jesus: that God the Father sent God the Son into human history to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live among us as one of us, and he lived without sin, and he died, and he went in the ground, but he didn’t stay there; that our Jesus rose from death, and he conquered Satan, sin, death, hell, and the wrath of God; and that he ascended into heaven and today he’s ruling and reigning from this authoritative position.”
So, the first thing he starts with is, “Dear Christian, always appreciate who Jesus is and what he’s done.” And secondly then, he prays for them two things. One, that they would learn more about Jesus. He says, “So I’m praying for you that you would—” And here’s how he says it, actually. He says, “That he would give you the Spirit of wisdom, revelation, knowledge of him.” He’s saying, “I want you to learn more about Jesus, and I’m praying that you would learn more about Jesus.”
And let me say this: it doesn’t matter how long you’re a Christian, there’s always something new to learn about Jesus. Absolutely true. I first picked up my first Bible—my father-in-law and my wife, as a gift, gave it to me when I was in high school. I picked it up in college and I started learning about Jesus, and I’ve been reading the Scriptures now for a couple of decades and studying them intensely, and I can assure you of this: every week, I learn new things.
Let me submit to you, if you’re a person who’s still just quoting the same verses you’ve been quoting for years, going back to the same books you’ve been going back to for years, if you’re still just echoing the things that you’ve known for a long time, that’s not bad, but that’s not enough. That’s not enough. The goal is not just to have your questions answered and have your systematic theology completed, but to have your relationship with Jesus always growing.
And so he prays for these people that they would learn more about Jesus. I pray that for you all the time. And these are people who had good teaching. I mean, you think of the pastors who resided in their city of Ephesus for at least a season: Paul, John, Luke. That’s a pretty good team, right? All of a sudden, guys show up and they’re like, “Hey, turn to the book in the Bible that I wrote.” You’re like, “Wow, this is gonna be a pretty good sermon. I think that guy’s interpretation is probably gonna be accurate, that guy right there. This is the book that he wrote.” So Paul, Timothy, John, and Luke all lived in Ephesus, they all taught in Ephesus, they wrote some from Ephesus.
And what he says is, “And there’s so much more to learn about Jesus.” There’s always something more to learn about Jesus.. I’m grateful that I have such great freedom to go through books of the Bible. We want you to study the Scriptures for yourself. That’s why we put together Community Group resources. This is why we want you to be in Community Group, or Women’s Study, or Redemption Group. We always want you to be learning more about Jesus.
And the second thing he prays for is not only that they would have more knowledge about Jesus, but they’d have a deeper experience of Jesus. He says it this way: “What is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” He’s praying that not only would we know more about Jesus, but we’d experience more of Jesus, that his power would be something that we experience in our life.
And this is what the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to us, to take the life of Jesus, to place it in us, and to give us power to live a new life, increasingly more, and more, and more, and more like Jesus. And I would say that there’s always something new to learn about Jesus and there’s always something new to experience regarding Jesus. And the Holy Spirit has always got things he wants to teach you, he calls it revelation here, and there are experiences that he wants to send the Holy Spirit to give you power to learn from and to walk through.
And let me say, for some of you I worry because your thought is almost that Jesus ascended back into heaven and now you’re on your own. He said, “I won’t leave you as orphans. I’ll send you the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit’s gonna lead you, and guide you, and convict you, and instruct you.” And that’s what Paul is echoing here, the words of Jesus, saying, “I’m praying that you would learn more about Jesus and that you’d experience more of his power through the Holy Spirit so that your life would continually change to be more like his.”
I pray for this all the time for us and for you, as do the other leaders, that you would always learn something new about Jesus and you’d experience his power in a new way in your life. And I can tell you, having walked with the Lord Jesus now since I was nineteen years of age, there’s always something to learn, and there are always ways to change, and his power is always available to help us become who God wants us to be.
I’m very, very, very encouraged, and as I’ve seen the Holy Spirit work in people’s lives for years, I see them growing, I see them learning, I see them changing by the power of God. And again, what we should do then is we should give the glory to God but the appreciation to them. Say, “God is so good to you, and I’m so grateful that you have availed yourself to his instruction, that you have submitted yourself to the Holy Spirit.” A lot happens when you know how much there is to appreciate in the Lord Jesus and how much he appreciates you.
I just feel like asking this: how many of you even coming in here today, you even wondered if God cared or paid attention to your life? I just want this to be an encouraging word for you. You know, if you have been obedient, if you have been generous, if you have been serving, if you have been faithful—and some of you say, “Oh, I’ve got sin.” Look, we all do, as did they. But I want you to hear this as a word from the Lord himself. You know, “I never cease giving thanks for you.” I want you to just capture that as your own and take that with you. God says he never ceases to give thanks for me. I don’t have to grumble, I can pray. I don’t have to compete, I can celebrate. I don’t have to become jealous of what other people are doing, I can rejoice at God’s grace in their life and rejoice at God’s grace in my life.
APPRECIATED PEOPLE EXCHANGE BITTERNESS FOR THANKFULNESS
He goes on to say that appreciated people exchange bitterness for thankfulness. Now, if you feel unappreciated, you’ll end up becoming bitter. “I don’t have this, they didn’t do that, they didn’t say that.” Bitterness is, for me, a deep rut in my soul. I can get bitter quick. You ever had a car that was out of alignment that just drifted that direction? My soul is like that. I can go to bitterness easily if I feel hurt, if I feel taken advantage of, if I feel unappreciated.
And what’s the answer? Again, the answer is not, “Well, don’t get bitter.” Okay, that’s kind of like, “Don’t be short.” Like, there are just certain things that seem—you’re like, “Any other advice to maybe help this process?” And here’s what he says. Ephesians 1:21–23, he talks about Jesus being “far above all rule and authority and power.” He’s over all spirits, angels, demons, everybody, and everything, “and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but the age to come.” We’ll be saying the name of Jesus for eternity. “And he put all things under his feet,” so Jesus rules over all, “and gave him as head,” the supreme and the preeminent, “over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
What happens when you feel unappreciated is you become bitter. You think, “You know, how come they’re healthy and I’m sick?” and “How come they’re married and I’m single?” and “How come they got a promotion and I got a termination?” or “How come they didn’t even do anything and people really love them, and I do everything I can and nobody even cares?”
And what he says is Jesus has given us himself as a gift, and Jesus, right now, he says, is ruling and reigning over Satan, and demons, and all nations, and all peoples, and all times, and all places, and that everything is under his feet. And the names of people are gonna come and go. Alright, the people that we’re praising today are not the people that’ll be being praised tomorrow, that everybody’s name eventually comes to an end, but it’s the name of Jesus that continues on forever. Paul says it this way in Philippians 2, that “At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow and every tongue confess, both on the earth and under the earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
What he’s saying here is when you think it’s about your name, you get bitter, but when you realize it’s about Jesus’ name, you get thankful. And some of you say, “Man, my name has not gotten the honor, the recognition, the gratitude, the appreciation that it should,” and Paul is saying, “Well, we live for the name of Jesus.” We live for the name of Jesus.
Paul here is thankful for two things: he’s thankful for Jesus and the church. Those are the two things that he mentions. He says, “Here’s Jesus, ruling and reigning right now, and he’s in glory, and he’s enthroned, and he’s in charge, and he loves us, and he appreciates us, and he sees everything we say, and everything we do, and every dollar we give, and every effort we make, and he looks at us and he says, ‘I thank God for you all the time continually in my prayers.’” Wow, thank you Lord Jesus. That’s enough to keep me going for the rest of this life.
And he talks about, then, the church. And I want you to hear this. He talks about the church, “as head over the church.” If you and I would be concerned primarily about the name of Jesus and the well-being of the church, it would safeguard our hearts from bitterness. Are people honoring Jesus and how is our church? It takes our eyes off of me. “What do they say about me? How much do they appreciate me? Do they thank me? Do they acknowledge me? Do they honor me? Do they compensate me? Do they reward me?” Nope. “How can I magnify the name of Jesus, and while I’m at it, how’s our church? How’s the church doing?”
Now, what’s amazing is, can you imagine how this letter would be different if Paul was bitter? Right? Is Paul’s name, at this point, is it a glorious name or is it a shameful name? Well, in the world, he’s a man who’s got a shameful name. He’s opposed by the government, he’s hated by many, religious people want to kill him as they did the Lord Jesus, and he’s in jail. I mean, do you know what—my name isn’t great to start with, but imagine if I was in jail, what people would say.
Paul’s gone from freedom to imprisonment. He has gone from a position in the culture where he had dual citizenship, and he was able to speak multiple languages, and highly educated under the leading rabbi, Gamaliel, he was highly honored, possibly a member of the Sanhedrin. I mean, this is a very successful man. Now he’s broke, single, hated, and in prison.
How many of you are shocked his heart didn’t go toward bitterness? It didn’t, and here’s why: because it was just another opportunity to make much of Jesus and help the church. So he didn’t even look at his circumstances in a negative light. He looked at them as an opportunity to make much of Jesus and to help the well-being of his church.
We really want you to love Jesus and love the church, and it’s not just so that we can use you to grow a bigger church. It’s in part so that we can guard your heart against bitterness, that you would give your life to what Jesus gave his life to, the well-being of his people, and that you’d stop thinking it’s all about your name and your fame and it would be about his name and his fame.
That’s not God just taking from you a treasured possession, it’s giving to you a brand-new life, a better life, one that’s free of bitterness. He says, “You know what, I appreciate Jesus, he appreciates me, I love our church, I want everybody to know about him, and I want to make sure that our church family’s okay.” And it frees you from this bitterness trap.
I know that for those of you who are like me and that’s just sort of the default of your soul, bitterness is a horrible place to live. It just clouds and darkens all of life, and it causes you to mistrust or distrust people, and it gets you into a position where you’re not really loving people, you’re using them to make your name greater. Appreciated people exchange bitterness for thankfulness.
The last two I want to share with you are not explicitly from the text, but I believe they are illustrated in the life of Paul. And as much as his words, I’m really amazed at his actions. And let me say this, that one of the keys to Christian leadership is prayer. About half of the letter to the Ephesians is prayer. It’s prayer requests, prayer reports, and full prayers, so this is actually a prayer. And there are other occasions where you’ll find a prayer in Ephesians, and we’ll get to them later, but I want you to see that Paul’s teaching was intersected with prayer. I want you see that Paul’s serving was intersected with prayer, that Paul’s suffering was intersected with prayer, that all of his communication was intersected with prayer.
And sometimes what can happen is when we come to the prayers of the Bible, we just treat it like a systematic theology. It’s not. It’s a guy, on his knees, with a broken body, in a jail cell, opening his heart, and by the power of the Holy Spirit talking to the Lord, and we get to eavesdrop in on it. We get to hear this relationship between Paul and the resurrected, ascended Jesus. And one of the keys, then, to Christian leadership is prayer, and soaking everything in prayer, and intersecting everything with prayer.
And so what this means, practically, for you, that part of your ministry is praying. You don’t know how to reach your unbelieving friends, and maybe they’re resistant or hostile to the gospel, ask them how you can be praying for them. I’ve seen lots of people say, “Don’t hammer me with the gospel.” “Anything I can pray about?” “Actually, yes.” I’ve seen atheists give me prayer requests, like, “I don’t believe in God, but if there is one, tell him this is what I’d like.” “Glad to do it.” “Okay.” Let’s at least get the conversation going, alright? Let’s at least get it opened up here.
How many of you have people, circumstances, you don’t know what to say, you don’t know what to do, you can’t fix it? You know what you do? Pray. Paul doesn’t know if he’s going to get out of prison, he doesn’t know if he’s going to come back to the church, he doesn’t know what’s going to happen. He doesn’t know, but he could pray for them.
Let me say this: the shortest distance between two people is prayer. You want to make a stranger a friend? Pray. You want to make an enemy a friend? Pray. Sometimes prayer moves the hand of God, but usually it changes us and it brings us into alignment with God’s will. See, a lot of times, we’ll come to the Lord, we’re like, “Lord, I’m going to pray and I want you to move.” The Lord’s like, “Well, I told you to pray because I’m trying to get you to move. It’s interesting here. I want you to move your thoughts, and your actions, and your feelings into alignment with mine.” Prayer is oftentimes us lining up with God’s will and God’s heart. That’s what’s happening here, and Paul lets us eavesdrop in on that.
Some of you may not be great teachers, but you can pray. You may not be bold leaders, but you can pray. One of the most influential people in my whole life was a mom. I’ll never forget, it was a little league tournament, I got hurt playing ball, and a Christian mother came over to the dugout and just said, “Mark, are you okay?” I said, “No, I got hurt.” She said, “Can I pray for you?”
And she prayed for me, and all of a sudden it revealed like, “Oh, maybe there is a God, and maybe he’s kind, and maybe he loves us, and maybe he listens to us, and maybe he would help us.” And it piqued my curiosity about this God. I didn’t get saved until years later, but it piqued my curiosity about this God that she seemed to know that I apparently didn’t know, even though I was a religious boy.
Feel free to pray for people. And don’t just say things like, “I’ll pray for you.” Pray. Pray for them. Put a hand on them, pray for them, call them up, send them an e-mail, send them a text, drive to their house, when they’re at Community Group say, “Okay, we’re going to take a second, we’re going to pray.” Paul does that here. And some of you would say, “You know what? We have a lot to do and a lot to study.” Look, nobody has more to do or more to teach than Paul, and he’s the one who prays a lot. Again, half of the book of Ephesians is prayer. It’s prayer.
And let me say this: I think when you know—first of all, when you appreciate Jesus and you know that he appreciates you, it becomes very easy to talk to him about everything. Is that not true? Is there anyone you have a relationship with that you really appreciate them, and they really appreciate you, and they really encourage you, do you find that you tend to talk to those people a lot?
I’ll tell you who I talk to a lot: anybody with a gift of encouragement. The prophets, I try to avoid them. The gift of encouragement, those are nice people to talk to. Here we see that if you know that you’re appreciated by God, that he loves you, and he’s thankful for you, and he encourages you, it opens your heart to talk to him all the time because he loves you. And the last two are observations from the life of Paul.
APPRECIATED PEOPLE EXCHANGE PERFORMING FOR SERVING
Appreciated people exchange performing for serving. Two people can go do something, and one is doing it with an attitude of performing, and the other is doing it for the attitude of serving, and the motives are entirely different. What we see here is Paul is not—he’s not performing. He doesn’t talk about, “Oh, and enjoy this book of the Bible that I’ve written for you. And by the way, I am in prison for the Lord. That makes me varsity. And all of you who got saved, you’re welcome. Please come visit, it is lonely. Bring a sandwich. Make it a ham sandwich, now the New Covenant. Please visit me with a ham sandwich.” You know, he’s not performing. He’s not telling us all the things that he’s done.
People who don’t know that they’re appreciated, they have to brag about what they’ve done, they have to exaggerate what they’ve done. They need to tell everybody what they have done. You say, “Pastor Mark, how do you know that?” Because that’s what I’ve done, alright? This is my sin.
And I read Paul, and I’m like, “Man, if I did some of the stuff Paul did, I’d definitely put that on my wall.” You know? Like, “Dear Universe, today I converted a city.” You know? Like, I mean, “And here’s the photos of the riot. You’re welcome.” You know? I mean—but he doesn’t do that. He’s not performing, he’s serving.
Two people can be very ambitious and very fruitful, and their attitudes can be very different. I’ll say it this way: knowing God appreciates us allows us to exchange our performance for service. Here’s the difference: performance is done for the sight and approval of others; service is done knowing that God is watching and approving, whether or not anyone else is.
Performance causes us to be enslaved to others’ opinions, unable to say no, and prone to being overworked; service frees us to do what God wants, thereby saying no is needed. Performance presses us towards perfectionism, where we seek to do everything just right so that others will praise us; service allows us to do our best knowing that God’s appreciation of us is secure, regardless of our performance.
Performance causes us to focus on the, quote unquote, “big things” and only do what is highly visible or significant; service allows us to do simple, humble, menial tasks, the quote unquote “little things,” knowing that the peasant Jewish carpenter we worship equally appreciates them both.
See, performing is where people are an audience and you want their praise; serving is where God is the audience. It doesn’t matter if people see it, it doesn’t matter if people know. Some of you moms really struggle with this, don’t you? “I had my career, now I became a mom, and now so much of what I’m doing is very simple, and no one’s watching, and we don’t get awards for this. I got up at 2:30 with the screaming kid again and no one was there with a trophy, you know, and a hat, and a congratulations.” Jesus is. He appreciates it.
And if it’s performing, it’s not enough because the audience isn’t big enough. If it’s serving, it’s enough because the audience is one. You see the difference? It changes things. What it means is, friends, we could stop using people for our praise and we could start loving people for his praise.
I’m just personally, deeply convicted by Paul’s own life example, that he is just serving, he’s always serving. He’s in prison, serving his church. How many of you, if you went to prison, you’d feel like you should get a day off? Like, “You know what, I used to really pray for the church, but I’m in prison now.” Not Paul. Paul says it elsewhere, I think it’s to the Corinthians—he says his resume is this, you know, beaten, shipwrecked, homeless, left for dead, adrift on the open sea, thirty-nine lashes, left for dead.
Then he has this little line, and only if you love the church does it really make any sense. He says, “In addition to that, my constant concern for all the churches.” He loved the church, and he was worried about the church, and he was concerned about the church, and he says, “Here’s the hardest stuff in my life, but what keeps me awake at night is the well-being of our church.” And that’s what you see here. He’s serving. He’s serving. He’s not performing. There’s no audience, he’s in jail. This isn’t a stadium, this is a jail cell.
How about you? Would you say that your life is marked primarily by performing or serving? Jesus says that he is a servant; he’s come not to be served but to serve. That’s different than performing. Paul opens most of his New Testament letters by saying, “Paul.” Here he called it an apostle, but elsewhere he calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ. You can see two people doing the same thing, and God sees the heart and sees that there are very different motives between serving and performing.
APPRECIATED PEOPLE EXCHANGE BOASTING FOR ENCOURAGING
Lastly, the Apostle Paul demonstrates for us that appreciated people exchange boasting for encouraging. What happens when we feel unappreciated—how about this, we. How about I say “me,” okay? I wrote down three things that I have done when I feel unappreciated.
Number one, I obsess about making known everything that I do. I like to just, “Okay, I did this, I did this, I did this, I did this.” I need to collect it all, I need to keep a list, I need to make sure I got it. “This is all the stuff.” And then I need to tell people. “How are you doing?” “I’m exhausted. Do you know how much I got done this week?” “How was your week?” “It was very full. I’m very busy, I’m very important. Here’s all the things I did.” So, obsess about making sure that everybody knows everything that I did.
Number two, exaggerate. Have you ever done things, and people didn’t praise you, so you told them you did a little more, hoping that they would then kick in with the praise? Just me? Okay. Well, you’re like, “Yeah, I led four people to Christ. Actually, it was six, or ten.” Like, we’re gonna keep up until you say, “That’s amazing.” “There we go, okay, whatever. I didn’t lead anyone to Christ, and I lied, but you’re welcome.” You know? And what happens is all of a sudden, we start exaggerating. Exaggerating is what people do when they feel unappreciated.
And number three, lie. You just lie. You lie about things that you’ve done to get praise that you don’t deserve. You didn’t really do that. How many of you at work—let’s flip it. You did something, somebody else took credit for it so that they could get praise for it. That’s a form of lying. Okay, now that you’re emotionally with me. You’re like, “Yeah, those are terrible people.” How many of you are the terrible person who has taken credit for what someone else has done so that you could get praised? Oh yeah.
What I really appreciate about the example of the Apostle Paul, again, he’s not boasting, he’s encouraging. He’s not talking about all the things that he’s done, he talks about all the things that they’ve done. He doesn’t start off with, “I’m your Pastor Paul, and I’ve had a very hard week, and here’s all the things I’ve done for the Lord.” He says, “I praise God for you continually in my prayers. I love you, I’m thinking about you, I’m praying for you. I’m really proud of you.”
And the result is that Paul has a ministry of encouragement that has now lasted more than two thousand years. That’s how powerful that gift of encouragement is. That’s how powerful that act of appreciation is. It can actually extend itself for a few thousand years. I want you to be very encouraged, I want you to appreciate who Jesus is and what he’s done, and I want you to know that the Lord Jesus appreciates you. If you have served, Jesus says thank you. If you have given, Jesus says thank you. If you have prayed, Jesus says thank you. If you are growing, Jesus says thank you. And he wants to free you from the performance trap and let you enjoy the serving like he did. No one got more done than Jesus, but it was not performance, it was service.
WHO DO YOU NEED TO THANK?
I want to close with this: I want to tell you that when we criticize one another, we make withdrawals; when we appreciate one another, we make deposits. With your friends, with your roommate, with your spouse, with your Community Group, with your leaders in church, with your coworkers on the job, would you covenant with me to follow in the example of Paul and make lots of deposits through appreciation? Say, “Thank you. Thank you. I really appreciate that.” And then, as we need to correct or criticize, we realize we’re making withdrawals, but let us seek, by the grace of God, like the Apostle Paul, to be people who have far more deposits than we do withdrawals.
Secondly, who do you need to thank? Who do you need to thank? When Paul wrote this letter, these were not to people that he didn’t know. Unlike some cities where he was only out for hours, or days, or weeks, he was in the city of Ephesus ministering for a couple of years. He was there for a long time. This church loved him so much that you can read his farewell address in Acts 20, and as he’s getting on a boat and God’s calling him away, it basically says that the church kind of had an emotional nervous breakdown. Like, everybody is weeping, and bawling, and sobbing because Paul is leaving. It probably took him hours to just get through the crying hug line.
Why did they love him so much? Because he taught them the Word of God and he appreciated everything they gave and did. Let me say, I don’t think I’ve been strong at that, and I ask your forgiveness. I deeply, genuinely, sincerely appreciate the faithful people in this church, those who’ve prayed, and given, and served, and continue to do so.
And then Paul left, but he knew those people well. They were friends of his. They were people that he had relationship with. And how much do you think it meant to them to receive a letter from Paul? How much would it mean for you to do something similar? Who, this week, do you need to thank? Call them up, meet with them, look them in the eye, write them a letter. He wrote a letter because he was in prison. Maybe distance prohibits a face-to-face for you right now.
What does it look like for you to sit down and even following his example, say, “Man, there is a person or there are some people that I am so thankful for and I praise God continually for them.” Then quote Paul’s words and say, “You know, I was studying Ephesians and there were some people that were dear to Paul’s heart, and he says that he never stopped praying for them, and he thanked God for them continually. And when I heard that, the Holy Spirit brought you to mind. And I want to say thank you, and I want to encourage you because I appreciate you.”
And let me say, for my sin in my past, I did not do that well when I felt unappreciated. Instead, I was waiting for others to do that for me, which was completely selfish. And once we realize that the Lord Jesus appreciates us, our heart is full and able to encourage others, amen?
Father God, I pray against the enemy, his servants, their works, and effects. Father, I just feel this is a very pastoral, very practical word. God, we live in a day when a lot of people feel discouraged, depressed, used, abused, underappreciated, unappreciated. And Lord God, we’re talking about the health and well-being of our soul, of our families, of our church, of our workplace, of the spheres in which we find ourselves. God, we don’t want to divert just to self-help talk, and “Be positive,” and “Look on the bright side.” We want a gospel-centered, Jesus-focused way of being encouraged and encouraging people. And we thank you for the words and the example of the Apostle Paul, that Lord Jesus, he sure appreciated you and he appreciated your people, and through him you give us encouragement. And so, Holy Spirit, we invite you to allow us to be something like Paul, someone who knows that they are appreciated and as a result is free to appreciate others, someone who knows they are loved so they’re free to love others, someone who is encouraged and so they know that they are free to encourage others. I ask for the culture and well-being of our church that, Lord Jesus, we would grow in this grace by the power of the Holy Spirit for your glory, amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.