SSL 5 - Eph. 3:1-13
LAST WEEK: In Eph. 2:11-22, Paul explained How Christ had made "peace" between Jew and Gentile to unify both in the church. Prior to the coming of Jesus, the Jewish people typically considered Gentiles to be unclean and inferior. Paul counters this bias with an explanation of how the gospel extends hope, promise, and a relationship with God to Jews and Gentiles alike. The three major points of application were: (1) Although our pre-Christian past is something we might like to forget, Paul tells us to remember when we were separate from Christ. We were like the Ephesian Gentiles-people without hope, without God, alone and adrift in the word, and worshiping something or someone other than our Creator, the Living God, and the Loving Father. If we "remember," we will not only be humbled and amazed (I am) but reminded afresh of the great wonder of God's saving grace. Why did He choose ME or YOU? (2) The purpose of the Law, which contained many commandments that separated Israel from other nations, has been completed. The Law no longer separates Jews and Gentiles from one another, and instead, shifts the believer's focus to a common salvation in Jesus, which makes us one family and one body. (3) With the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, the church was born. With His resurrection and ascension, Christ forms the new Temple-one not made with hands like the old Temple-and no physical Temple is required. Paul expressed it as a "whole building, being fitted together" (v. 21), which is a metaphor for the dynamic growth of the church and all of its individual members.
THIS WEEK: In Eph. 3:1-13, Paul explains his calling and ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. This was to assure his Gentile readers that their share in the inheritance is authentic because of its divine origin. In vv. 1-7, Paul elaborates on his call to apostleship and how he was sent by God as a gift of grace to the Gentiles. In vv. 8-13, Paul explains how God's wisdom is revealed in Christ, but before being revealed, it was a "mystery."
Read Eph. 3:1-4 - PAUL'S STEWARDSHIP
1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles- 2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; 3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,
v. 1: "For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles-" - With the preface, "For this reason," Paul ties-in everything he said in 2:11-22 about how Christ has unified Jew and Gentile into one church. Calling himself "the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles," Paul is saying, in effect, that because God brought Gentiles into the kingdom, that he had become a "prisoner" on their behalf. This requires some explanation. After Paul's encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, Christ appointed Paul as His "chosen instrument...to bear [His] name before the Gentiles" (Acts 9:16); in other words, God assigned Paul to be the apostle to the Gentiles, and that became the mission that consumed the rest of his life. Moreover, at the time this letter was written, Paul is believed to have been under house arrest in Rome, and thus imprison-ed likewise in the physical sense because of Roman opposition to his ministry.
v. 2: "if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you" - The Greek word for "Stewardship" (oikonomia) primarily denoted a person who managed a house-hold or an estate but in this context, refers to one who's been given responsibility for conveying "God's grace" to the Gentiles. Most of the Ephesians would be familiar with Paul's ministry because of his long stay there; however, because this writing was intended to be a circular letter to other churches which did not know him as well, he uses this opportunity to unfold God's administrative (i.e., stewardship) plan for the church and indeed, the entire universe (as we will see), and explains that he's been given significant responsibility for the execution of this plan.
v. 3: "that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief" - The word "revelation" (Gk. apokálypsis) lit. an unveiling or uncovering of something with the ability to understand what is seen and "mystery" (Gk. mystērion) lit. a hidden thing not obvious to under-standing. So Paul is talking about a mystery that can only be known by revelation, something we can't discover by reason or intuition. We can only understand if and when God chooses to open the door of our comprehension by revelation. The mystery revealed to Paul was that God had given the Gentiles equal access to His kingdom.
v. 4: "By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ" - Paul, "by referring to this" probably means the public reading of his letter in the church. Back then, letters had to be hand-copied, a slow and laborious process, and in any event, most of the members couldn't read. The "insight into the mystery of Christ" he refers to didn't come to Paul on his own initiative, but he explained it in an earlier letter: "I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1:12).
TRUTH 1: A "mystery," in the Biblical context, is something that can only be known by revelation. We are incapable of unraveling a Biblical mystery by reason or intuition and can only achieve understanding if and when God chooses to open the door of our comprehension by revelation. The mystery revealed to Paul was that God had given the Gentiles equal access to the kingdom (v. 3).
Read Eph. 3:5-6 - FELLOW HEIRS AND FELLOW MEMBERS
5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,
v. 5: "which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit" - While Moses and the prophets had written about Christ and His salvation (Jn. 5:46; 1 Pet. 1:10-12), and God had even promised Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him (Gen. 12:3), the full reality of who Christ was and the extent of the salvation to the Gentiles was not clear until the giving of the Spirit to the apostles and prophets. And the apostles and prophets to whom the Spirit revealed this mystery, have, in turn, made known to the church what the Spirit has revealed to them.
v. 6: "to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" - An "heir" is a person who has a right to an inheritance and a "fellow heir" (Gk. sugklēronomos) is someone who receives his/her rights of inheritance jointly and equally with others. We lawyers use the term "share and share alike" when we draw up wills and trusts. What this means in practical terms is that the Gentiles are joint and equal heirs with the Jews. Paul isn't saying that the Gentiles have displaced the Jews but, instead, have been invited to sit at God's table and to share it on an equal basis. Gentiles are not only fellow heirs but "fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." The "body," in this context refers to the church, and Christ is the head of this body. Paul explained it this way In Rom. 5:12: "we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." When Paul describes them as "fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel," the image that comes to mind is that of people sitting together at a table with the food being served family style in large bowls and each partaker taking what he or she needs. The "promise," of course, is spending eternity with Christ in God's kingdom, so that the Gentiles, who has been ineligible to receive this promise, had, by the grace of Christ, become eligible.
TRUTH 2: When Paul declared the Gentiles are "fellow heirs," he isn't saying that Gentiles have displaced the Jews in God's kingdom. Instead, Gentiles have been invited to sit at God's table and share it with the Jews on an equal basis. Gentiles, who had formerly been ineligible to receive the promise-spending eternity with Christ in God's kingdom-were now eligible.
TRUTH 3: The full reality of who Christ was and the extent of salvation offered to the Gentiles was not clear until the giving of the Spirit to the apostles and prophets. The apostles and prophets to whom this mystery was revealed, have, in turn, made known to the church what the Spirit has revealed to them (v. 5). What was revealed is that the Gentiles are (1) fellow heirs, (2) fellow members, and (3) fellow partakers of the promise of Jesus Christ through the Gospel (v. 6)
Read Eph. 3:7-9 - GRACE TO PREACH TO THE GENTILES
7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things;
v. 7: "of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power" - The word used here for "minister" (Gk. diakonos) is the same one used for deacon and is often translated as "servant." Paul frequently uses it as a term of humility to show he's merely a servant of Christ. This shows that Paul views his work as service, rather than a position of status. With the phrase, "according to the gift of God's grace, which was given to me according tot the working of His power," Paul is saying that his ability to lead others is based upon God-given talents. This tells you and me that the sign of a true Christian leader is a person who recognizes that leadership is a gift from God that's been given for the purpose of serving and benefiting others. Paul's point is that his call (and anyone else's) is God's initiative.
v. 8: "To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ" - Paul's reference to himself as "the very least of all saints" wasn't false modesty. As a former persecutor of Christ and His church, he never ceased to be amazed that he was chosen for so high a task as apostle to the Gentiles. Paul could have easily proclaimed himself as the most important apostle, e.g., that he dominates the Book of Acts after chapter 12, that he both suffered and accomplished more than anyone else in his service to Christ, and that he wrote nearly half of the NT. Yet, instead of claiming superiority, he describes himself as "very least" (Gk. elachistoteros), meaning literally less than least, and not among apostles but among the "saints," by which he means all believers. When Paul speaks about the "unfathomable riches of Christ," he means they are far beyond anything we can imagine but not beyond our appreciation.
v. 9: "and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things" - Paul has not only been tasked to preach (directed to the ears) but also "to bring to light" (directed to the eyes). Paul is using a word picture, metaphorically, to visualize something-that is, to show that "the mystery which for ages has been hidden," is no longer a mystery (i.e., God has given the Gentiles equal access to His kingdom) because Christ has made God's will known.
TRUTH 4: The call to ministry received by Paul, and indeed, by any one of us in this age, is God's initiative. Paul made it clear that his ability to lead other was based upon God-given talents (v. 7). To us today it means that the sign of a true Christian leader is a person who recognizes that leadership is a true gift of God that's been given for the purpose of serving and benefiting others.
Read Eph. 3:10-13 - ACCORDING TO THE ETERNAL PURPOSE
10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. 13 Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.
v. 10: "so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places" - The "manifold" (Gk. polupoikilos) lit. much varied, ultra diverse "wisdom of God" is mind-boggling in the extreme. I mean, He knows every particle, atom, and everything else in a universe that's seemingly infinite, and as our creator, He knows every one of us, our strengths and weaknesses, our ups and downs. And continuing, Paul declares that this wisdom was to "be made known through the church"-that's us by the way, the collective body of Christ. Furthermore, this specific revelation is to be made known "to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places." Who are these rulers and authorities? Since the mention of "heavenly places" implies the spiritual realm (see, Eph. 6:12), it could include only God-Father, Son, and Spirit-, holy angels, Satan, and demons. However, because the focus is on revelation, and because God already knows all things, Paul appears to be speaking of the angelic host, both good and bad. Angels are part of the created order, not the creator (Col. 1:16) and are subject to judgment for wrongdoing (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 1:6).
v. 11: "This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord" - Very simply, what God planned from the time before time existed-His eternal purpose-has been realized through Jesus Christ-His cross, resurrection, and ascension to God's right hand.
v. 12: "in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him" - Paul has already informed us that, through Jesus, we have access to the Father (see, Eph. 2:18) but now adds that we can go to the Father with "boldness" (Gk. parrésia) lit. freedom to speak and "confidence" (Gk. pepoithésis) lit. trust that God will hear us out. This is a complete contrast to the OT, when a priest only had access to God via the Holy of Holies once a year. But when Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the Temple torn from top to bottom (Mk. 15:38), and the barrier between God and humans was removed. Now, as Paul informs us, we can access God with confidence that He will treat us as beloved children and even forgive us when we are guilty of doing wrong.
v. 13: "Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory" - Using the expression "not to lose heart," Paul tells Christians in Ephesus that they shouldn't allow themselves to be discouraged over "my tribulations," specifically, that he was sitting in jail in Rome because of his missionary efforts and his future was uncertain. He declares that his tribulations are "for...your glory," that is, for the glory of the Ephesian church to continue the work he started.
TRUTH 5: Like Paul, when God calls you (or anyone else) into ministry, accomplishing His purposes may well involve tribulation. Although Paul was sitting in jail, he wasn't defeated, not by a long shot. Paul expressed his personal perspective best when he said: "Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:10).