Ephesians 3:1-13 Now Alive@5 16.7.17 https://youtu.be/30ssfhjNWhA
Critical to understanding the atmosphere of this part of Ephesians are Paul’s references at the start and finish of this passage to his imprisonment. In verse one he describes himself as “a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles” and verse 13 speaks of his “suffering for you”. These are not statements intended to elicit sympathy but are signs of the triumph of Christ in the apostle’s life over the evil rulers of this age. This passage is Paul’s answer to the query in the mind of the Ephesians as to how he could claim to be seated victorious with Christ in the heavenly places and be in chains ((Eph 1:3; 2:6; 6:20). What makes this passage very difficult for us to understand is that its logic is heavenly and not earthly. Paul’s perspective is what we call “apocalyptic”, an unveiling of previously hidden divine mysteries, a supernatural insight into things as they actually are rather than what they seem to be. This chapter is part of the answer to Paul’s prayer back in chapter one that his readers receive insight into spiritual realities (1:17-18). In this passage Paul will draw a surprising link between his weak condition as “the least of all the saints” (3:8) and the centrality of the Church to the revelation of the eternal divine mystery of God; the reason why God created the world. In a day when the Church has become an object of suspicion, mockery and marginalisation Christians desperately need the spiritual truths at the heart of this passage to astonish us.
“For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—” (v.1)
Paul’s condition in prison and what he is about to share arise out of his apostolic call to bring the blessings of Christ (chs 1-2) to the Gentiles (non-Jews). He sees himself not as Rome’s prisoner but Christ’s (cf. Eph 4:1). Whilst in a humanly helpless position he has been given a “stewardship of God’s grace” that locates him at a central point in God’s plan for the world (cf. 1:10). As he will pick up latter in this passage, grace was given “by the working of his (God’s) power.” (v.7). This is the power exerted in the resurrection, ascension and reign of Christ (1:19-23). Now he focuses on “how the mystery was made known to me by revelation” (v.3), this is “the mystery of Christ” (v.4). The mystery of God’s plan is not like in other religions a series of steps on how to get to heaven/paradise/nirvana but the revelation of the life of a Person: Jesus is the basis, means, goal and incorporating centre of the plan of God.
Paul’s statement, “When you read this you can perceive my insight into the mystery” (v.4) means when they are gathered as a church to hear his letter read publicly they will have spiritual and heavenly insight into his teaching (cf. Matt 24:15; Mark 13:14; Eph 1:17; Col 2:2). He presses on to tell them of the marvellous situation in which they, as Gentiles, are now situated.
Paul’s missionary ventures were propelled by the revelation he received on the road to Damascus; that the God ordained times of keeping the nations in ignorance are over (cf. Acts 14:16; 17:30). A new era in cosmic history has commenced, “now” the Spirit has revealed to God’s “holy” i.e. set apart, “apostles and prophets… that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (vv.5-6). Through divine revelation (e.g. Acts 10:9-48 cf. Eph 1:17) the message was now being communicated by God’s ministers that Jew and Gentile can share equally in the blessings of Jesus as Messiah-Christ through the gospel (cf. Eph 1:14; 5:5). Whilst the Old Testament did speak of God’s plan for the heathen nations outside Israel (e.g. Gen 12:1-3; Ps 2:8; Isa 2:2; 42:6; 49:6) this always revolved around joining Israel in her Law and covenant. The New Testament brings a new and unsurpassable order of revelation that “in Christ Jesus” all humanity, Jew and Gentile, share equally in God’s blessings (Gal 1:12, 16; Rev 1:1). The revelation of the “mystery” of God in Christ is revealed in the gospel (Rom 16:25-26). Because the mystery was revealed to Paul the gospel was proclaimed by Paul. Revelation inspires communication.
“Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power.” (v.7) Grace was given to Paul to sustain his apostolic ministry, it was not for the purpose of personal enrichment (Rom 1:5; 12:3; 15:15; 1 Cor 3:10; Gal 1:9 Cf. Col 1:29). Grace is one of the great power words of the New Testament (Acts 6:5, 8; 2 Corinthians 12:9; 2 Tim 2:1; 1 Pet 4:10); since grace is a share in God’s power which raised Jesus it raises Jew and Gentile from their sins into a new creation in Christ (Gal 6:15-16).
To magnify God’s grace Paul describes himself as “the very least of all the saints” (v.8). To emphatically make this point he breaks the rules of Greek grammar, in English he calls himself the “smallester/leaster” of God’s people. This is not some personal put down, but a reflection of his previous persecution of the Church (Gal 1:13, 23; 1 Cor 15:9; Phil 3:6). His sinful past in fact magnifies the greatness of his calling. Paul emphasizes his utter weakness and inability because through it the triumph of God in Christ in his life is clearly seen. Paul now lays out the inexpressible dimensions of the assignment given him by God.
He is “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”. The scope of these riches includes all the blessings expounded in this letter so far; being chosen by God, forgiven, sealed with the Spirit, raised with Christ, peace with God and others and so on. The word translated “unsearchable” here literally means “not to be tracked out”. It is used in Job (5:9; 9:10 LXX) to describe the wonders of God’s creation and providence and in Romans (11:33) of the deep mysteries of salvation. Various translations strive to express the inexpressible wealth of Christ’s endless gift of himself to his people; it is “inexplorable”, “unfathomable”, “untraceable”, “inexhaustible”, illimitable”, “inscrutable”, “incalculable”, “infinite”. Knowing Jesus makes us wealthy beyond measure. (Is this how we usually feel?)
Grace was given to Paul “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things” (v.9). God’s eternal plan for humanity centred on Jesus was a plan for the sharing of his own life so it could only be revealed in God’s time (Dan 2:22). It could never be discovered or deduced by human wisdom, religion or philosophy (Col 2:9) but made known only through divine illumination (Eph 1.18; Acts 26:17-18; 2 Cor 4:6). As the psalmist says, “in your light do we see light.” (Ps 36:9). God’s mystery is incandescent, it shines in its own light calling into being a new creation. This means that since the revelation of God’s eternal mystery is given to the Church the Church is at the centre of the new creation (Eph 2:10, 15; 4:24). Thus follows one of the most astounding statements in the Bible;
“so that through the church the manifold/rich variety wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” v.10
The expression “through the church” is found only here in New Testament; the unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ after centuries of religious division is a prophetic sign that God’s eternal plan for uniting all creation is coming to pass (Eph 1:10). This is a “now” revelation of the most intense spiritual, apocalyptic and end-time sort and we as part of Christ’s Church are in the centre of it. By its very existence the Church is a witness to the evil “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” that the plan put into effect by the death of the Son of God cannot be thwarted. Simply by being the place God lives the Church now enlightens and educates the heavenly world about the mystery of God’s infallible purposes in Christ.
The world of spirit beings understands that God’s purposes are irresistible because they now can see in the Church a “manifold wisdom” that unites everything. The word translated “manifold” means “many –coloured” and was used for flower arrangements, crowns, carpets, embroidered cloth and Joseph’s “coat of many colours” (Gen 37:3, 23, 32). “Manifold” means the riches of the inexhaustible wisdom of God displayed in the new multi-racial multicultural humanity gathered around Jesus. The one Body of Christ means all the old hostile religious divisions incited by the power of evil to separate Jew and Gentile have come to an end (Gal 4:3, 9; Eph 2:11-12; Col 2:8, 20).
Through the death and resurrection of Christ God has initiated a new creation with one new humanity, so that through the Church he now reveals his unpredicted wisdom to the angelic world. This marvellous wisdom shares in the paradox of the cross; God goes against all natural wisdom by choosing the foolish and the weak to shame the wise and the strong (1Cor 1:19-27). As Christ triumphed over the evil powers through a shameful death-and- resurrection the Church by its humiliation-and-exaltation reflects the wisdom by which the Lord is removing the old world and bringing about a new creation (Eph 2:13-16; 4:8-10; Phil2:8-11;Col 2:15). This is how the eternal is being made known now.
“This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v.11). God’s purpose has reached its summit in the Lordship of Jesus, Christ has begun his rule over all things through the Church (Acts 10:36). “in whom (Jesus) we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.” (v.12); access to God the Father through his Son is a major theme in the New Testament (Cf. Rom 5:2; Eph 2:18; Heb 3:6; 4:16; 10:19, 35; 1 John 2:28; 3:21; 4:17; 5:14). It means we no longer need a special class of mediators, saints, priests, special buildings, occasions, sacrifices or religious acts to remove uncleanness and unworthiness to get us close to God. We approach the Father freely and openly through the crucified and risen Jesus. Nearness to God free of fear and shame is the grace given to every Christian “through our faith in him”.
Here is Paul’s punch line for this section of a letter; “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.” (v.13). Paul had possibly been in chains for 3 years by the time of his writing this letter (Eph 6:20; Phil 1:7, 13, 14, 17; Col 4:18). But he does not feel the least bit defeated or discouraged because he knows that his trials are working to bring about his readers’ End time glory (cf. Phil 1:19, 28; 2 Cor 1:6). The more he suffers the closer he gets to his crucified Lord and the more intense his vision of the glory to be revealed in the Church; including through his writing (Acts 14:22; Rom 8:17-18; 2 Cor 4:17; Phil 3:10; Col 1:24; 2 Tim 2:10; 1 Pet 5:10; 2 Pet 3:12; Revelation). Paul’s life is what we might call a “mini-apocalypse”; like the book of Revelation his life is a communication from heaven to help hurting Christians to remain faithful to Christ under enormous pressures from evil powers.
Few Christians see the Church as a revelation of why God created the world. Few see themselves as part of a lighthouse in Christ at the centre of all things revealing that through his death and resurrection a new heaven and earth is being created (Eph 2:7; 3:10). Our estimation of the Church is way below God’s because we focus on how we look and behave at an earthly plane. We’ve all got bad church stories, I more than most. Like the onlookers at the crucifixion who could only see weak perishing mortal flesh we lack revelation of what is happening in God’s plan. This revelation of God’s truth now comes in only one way, through the gospel.
Our problem, not the problem of our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world, is that we do not see Jesus through our suffering. Unlike Paul, who glories in his tribulations, suffering for us seems basically a bad thing (Rom 5:3). We struggle to see that through submission to the God revealed in the death-and-resurrection of Christ pain points prophetically beyond weakness, ageing and death to a new creation. The “equation” is quite simple, the greater the suffering submitted to Christ in faith the greater the revelation through us of the coming of a new creation beyond this perishing world (Rom 8). Such an uncompromising conviction of faith reveals God’s invincible wisdom to the evil rulers in the heavenly places. The triumph of Christ is broadcast and magnified not through strength but through faithfulness in the midst of weakness. We do not need an outpouring of supernatural power to bring revival to the Church but the revelation now that the mystery of God’s great plan in Christ is already in our midst.
By its very nature we the Church are an apocalyptic people. Paul knew this and so was willing to pay any price for the vision of God to be realised through God’s people. That’s Paul, but are you living now as an apocalyptic people, by looking at our life together, by seeing our faithfulness in suffering can others receive insight that there is a new and far greater creation coming? If this is not our testimony let’s begin by asking Jesus to make it happen, whatever the cost.