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God’s Wisdom on Display through the Church

Bible Study of Ephesians
The Reconciliation and Consummation of All Things through Christ

Week Five: God’s Wisdom on Display through the Church (Ephesians 3:1-13)

After providing key details about the union of Jews and Gentiles into one body (2:11-22), Paul appears to transition into an intercessory prayer (compare verses 3:1 and 3:14, “For this reason…”). However, the apostle interrupts himself mid-thought and instead launches into an explanatory message about God’s plan for the Church and this current age (i.e. “the dispensation of God’s grace” - Eph. 3:2).

The divinely-inspired detour in 3:1-13 reveals Paul’s particular, God-given responsibility to proclaim the aforementioned “gospel of peace” (Eph. 2:17; cf. 6:15, 19) to all people and make known “the mystery” [Grk. mysterion] of Christ and His body to the Gentiles, specifically.

We discover from 3:13 that the original recipients of the letter were discouraged by Paul’s arrest and imprisonment. They were confused and struggling to reconcile God’s power available for believers (Eph. 1:19-23; 3:7, 20) and the seemingly powerless apostle who was being held captive under the authority of the most powerful government on earth.

Therefore, Paul includes the message of 3:1-13 in order to encourage the Ephesians by pulling back the curtain and providing a glimpse of what God is doing behind the scenes. The apostle had sacrificed his own freedom in order to share the riches of God’s grace and proclaim the good news to those who were far off and without hope. Consequently, there is a temporary price to be paid for being obedient to God’s will, but in the end, Paul’s faithfulness to the assignment given to him serves as an example for every disciple of Christ and will result in eternal glory for every Gentile believer (Eph. 3:13; cf. Col. 1:27).

Here is a preview of the flow of thought in 3:1-13:

1. Paul is in prison because he has been obedient to dispense and make known God’s once-hidden plan [“the mystery”] to the Gentiles (3:1-5)
2. Paul, who identifies himself as the least deserving of all the saints, explains the mystery of Christ and magnifies God’s grace and power in his life (3:6-9)
3. Paul reveals the purpose for the creation of Christ’s body, the Church—to display God’s multifaceted wisdom to the angels in the unseen realm (3:10-13)

3:1-5:

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles—if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets.”

For the apostle Paul, it’s all about perspective. Some might view a man being held in prison as an abject failure with no present or future purpose in this life.* And some might think that a man who claims to be appointed by the God of all creation should be able to avoid captivity; after all, the apostle did say God’s power is at work for all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:19).

*Notice that Paul calls himself "the prisoner of Christ Jesus," not the prisoner of Caesar. The definite article "the prisoner" emphasizes the apostle's special assignment from the Lord Jesus himself (Acts 9:15-16). At the time of writing to the Ephesians, Paul is under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:17-31).

However, as we will see in this section, there is more going on than what we can comprehend by mere human reasoning or observation. After hearing about the suffering that Paul had endured during the course of his ministry (see 2 Cor. 11:22-27), many people might think that he is a cursed man with a continual case of bad luck. On the contrary, the apostle gives his readers insight concerning the heavenly perspective: his ministry of suffering for the sake of the Gentiles is not evidence of misfortune or bad luck—his ministry is a gift of God’s grace!

After the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2), Christ began to build His church as promised (Matt. 16:18), and the once-hidden secret, “the mystery of Christ” (a.k.a. “the one new man” of Eph. 2:15), was then progressively revealed “by the Spirit” to Christ’s “holy apostles and prophets.” To be sure, when all of the New Testament books were canonized and finally bound together, the apostle Paul had a lion’s share of revelation about the mystery of Christ and His body. However, the Church did not begin with Paul, and nor was he the only apostle to gain insight into this mystery.*

*Prior to Paul's conversion, the apostle Peter gained insight into the mystery of Christ's body after the Holy Spirit came down on the Gentiles who believed the message of the gospel (Acts 10:44-48). Afterwards, Peter confirmed that these early Gentile converts received "the same gift" [i.e. the baptism of the Spirit into Christ's body; cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-13] as the apostles who were present on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 11:15-18; note also that "repentance" (v. 18) is used interchangeably with "faith" in Jesus (v. 17).

In Ephesians 3:2 we find the phrase “the dispensation of the grace of God,” which is an apt description of this present age—a time when a multitude of Gentiles are being added to God’s family from the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost all the way up to the resurrection and rapture of the Church once the full number of Gentiles has been reached (Romans 11:25).

Paul says in 3:3-4 that he has already recorded, in brief, his insight about God’s mystery now made known and revealed to him. The apostle is referring to the preceding section, 2:11-22, where he had briefly discussed the union of Jews and Gentiles into one body—the body of Christ (cf. 1:22-23).* The mystery of Christ and His body was kept hidden during past ages [lit. “generations], and no prophet of the LORD during the Old Testament era knew about a plan for “the dispensation of the grace of God” (a.k.a. the Church Age).**

*The Greek word mysterion, "mystery," is defined as "a divine secret, something above human intelligence" (Liddell-Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, 523). In ancient Greco-Roman documents, this term was typically used in the plural. Thus, even today, there are various religious groups, cults, and secret societies that teach "mysteries" exclusively to their initiates. These dark teachings are Satanic counterfeits to the "mysteries" that Jesus reveals to His disciples (Matt. 13:11; cf. 1 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 2:24).

**Peter confirms this point, when he says, "...the prophets who prophesied about the grace that would come to you searched and carefully investigated...[it] was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you concerning the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you..." (1 Pet. 1:10-12, HCSB). 




3:6-9:

...[it has now been revealed] that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power. To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the [dispensation] of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things…”

In Eph. 3:6 Paul reiterates and summarizes the content of “the mystery” made known and covered briefly in 2:11-22. Along with a remnant of ethnic Israelites, Gentiles are now:

1) fellow heirs*
2) [members] of the same body**
3) partakers of God’s promise in Christ through the gospel

*The same Greek word often translated "co-heir" is found in Rom. 8:17; Heb. 11:9; and 1 Pet. 3:7.

**The Greek word syssomos, "of the same body" (or, literally "co-bodied") might have been Paul's own creative wordsmithing, because this is the only place in the NT where the word is found (it is not recorded in any known ancient Greek writings, either). This is entirely fitting, of course, because the wonder of God's new creation—the body of Christ—tests the limits of human language!

How did Paul become God’s man for this momentous role in proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles? Consistent with what the apostle stated in 2:8-10, he became a “minister/servant” of the gospel “according to the gift of God’s grace,” and his daunting assignment was accomplished by “the effective working of [God’s] power” (3:7). Paul, who was once a fierce enemy of Christ and His body (Acts 8:1-3; Gal. 1:13), is now the primary vessel to proclaim to the Gentiles “the unsearchable riches of Christ”* and make known God’s plan for this current age, “the dispensation of the mystery,”—the Church Age (3:8-9).**

*While we can know a significant amount about the mystery and the riches of Christ (cf. Eph. 1:18), Paul also says that it is "unsearchable." The Greek word, anexichniaston, literally means "not able to trace out the footprints" and is found in only one other place in the NT, Rom. 11:33 (Hoehner, 630).

**To clarify, the "mystery" now made known is not that the Gentiles would be saved, because that truth is abundantly clear in the OT, beginning with the Abrahamic covenant in Gen. 12:1-3. Also, God's plan for the salvation of Gentiles, "to the ends of the earth," is explicitly stated in Isa. 49:6. Rather, the astounding mystery now brought to light is that Jews and Gentiles would be merged together and incorporated into one body.

To further exalt the grace of God and thereby encourage his fellow-heirs in Christ, Paul calls himself, “less than the least of all the saints” (3:8). In his other letters, he refers to himself as the “least of the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9) and, prior to his conversion, he had been the “worst of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). We might think Paul is being too hard on himself, or that this is some kind of pity-party, but there is actually a selfless reason and purpose for why he adopts these titles:

“...it is through Paul’s ‘leastness’ (3:8) that God’s work is manifest. It is precisely because of Paul’s weaknesses and incapacities, and because of his imprisonment and his sufferings, that divine power in his life and ministry is more vividly recognized...it is implied that as with Paul, ‘less than the least of all the saints,’ so also with the people of God, all other saints: they, too, are engraced and empowered for great things, for it is ‘through the church’—i.e., the unity of this body—that God’s wisdom is manifested” (Kuruvilla, "Ephesians," 92).

In the concluding verses of this week’s section, Paul will echo what he said in Eph. 2:7 and reveal God’s awe-inspiring purpose for the body of Christ.

The mystery revealed: one new man, one body, Jews and Gentiles together united in Christ by grace.


3:10-13:

...to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.”

We first encounter the terms “principalities” and “powers” in Eph. 1:21, and they show up again in chapter 6—except, in the last chapter, it is obvious that these rulers are malevolent and work against God and His people. And so, the revelation of God’s wisdom through the Church appears to be specifically aimed at the evil, supernatural beings who rule from the “heavenly places” (cf. Eph. 2:2).

In a helpful parallel passage, Paul elaborates on God’s “manifold wisdom” that is made known through each member of the body of Christ: “...God has chosen the world’s foolish things to shame the wise, and God has chosen the world’s weak things to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27, HCSB). Though believers were once powerless and captive to these hostile powers, in Christ they are now living proof of God’s wisdom that triumphs over these corrupt rulers who govern by knowledge/intelligence and brute force alone.*

*David says in Psalm 23:5, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies..." This passage along with Eph. 3:10 provides a whole new perspective on communion [a.k.a. the Lord's supper], whenever the body of Christ gathers together to remember Jesus' death and look forward to His return (see 1 Cor. 11:23-26).

In a world where the strong prey on the weak, this revelation concerning the outworking of God’s “eternal plan” that was “accomplished in Christ” is powerfully reassuring:

“Far more than most Christians realize, the supernatural battle for the cosmos impinges upon the seemingly mundane, and often painful, lives of believers here on earth...Christians are the ongoing and live evidence of divine victory and the pledge of ultimate triumph to all supernatural hosts and entities” (Kuruvilla, 95).

Through Jesus, believers are free to approach the Father “with boldness” and “confidence” at any time (cf. Eph. 2:18; Heb. 4:14-16). And in Eph. 3:13, Paul concludes with a bold and confident statement that his suffering should not result in prolonged confusion or discouragement. The fact that he is in prison for sharing the gospel is in accordance with God’s plan to shame the “wise” and the “strong.”

“If Paul had not dispensed to the Gentiles the stewardship of God’s grace, then Jews would not have been hostile to him and he would not have been imprisoned. His preaching brought salvation to the Gentiles, but it incurred the wrath of many Jews on him. However, many others became members of the church, Christ’s body, and this was their glory” (Hoehner, 630-31).

The manifold wisdom of God is displayed in the Church, putting to shame rebellious principalities in the heavenly places.


Application to the Body of Christ:

Summary of 3:1-13:

“Paul’s divinely empowered role in the administration of God’s plan forms a paradigm for the ministry of all believers, as God is made known to the cosmos through the Church" (Kuruvilla, 97).

In this week's section, we find repetition of several key ideas such as "God's grace," "for your sake," and "dispensation (stewardship) of the mystery." Paul had a monumental task assigned to him by God and the forces of darkness arrayed against him. However, instead of letting his past or present circumstance dictate his mindset, he chose to view his life and ministry from a heavenly vantage point.

The overall message of 3:1-13 is also summarized succinctly in Colossians 3:2, "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (ESV). This word is most needed in times of great discouragement, when our resources are depleted and our backs are against a wall. Believers in Christ need to know that there is more going on that what they can observe with their five senses.

If you have ever thought that your life doesn't matter, or if you have ever felt insignificant to the point of self-hatred and deep disappointment, then this message is for you. Every single member of Christ's body has a vital role to play in God's grand scheme to reconcile people to Himself and consummate all things through Jesus, His Son. Paul's ministry is a pattern for everyone, not just the "super-Christians," or those in the world's spotlight.

Brothers and sisters, the spotlight is on all of us who take up our cross daily, deny our self-interests, and pursue Christ (Eph. 3:10). The entire unseen realm watches with awe and wonder as the age of grace unfolds. God saves us by His grace in order to give us all a ministry (which is a gift of His grace as well). Such a great privilege also comes with the great responsibility to be a trustworthy steward of the gospel. And, in order to be successful in our stewardship of God's mystery, we must remain humble and do all things with love (1 Cor. 8:1; 13:2; Eph. 6:23).


Post A Comment

11 comments :

  1. ["Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (ESV). This word is most needed in times of great discouragement, when our resources are depleted and our backs are against a wall. Believers in Christ need to know that there is more going on that what they can observe with their five senses.] Thank you Jeff, for the encouragement & for the wisdom to be gained from this Bible Study by all believers.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Most excellent study, Jeff! Thank you brother. This is one of those Bible tidbits that makes you realize we're part of massive cosmic story far bigger than this little blue dot.

    "that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amen. The truth of Eph. 3:10 is staggering and mind-boggling.

      Who are we, creatures made of the dust, to whom God would be so gracious and kind? (Psalm 8:3-8).

      This week's section is an encouragement to every believer no matter how unknown they may be or insignificant they feel. Even in the smallest acts of faith, when we serve and do the work of the ministry given to each one us by the grace of God, we advance the grand purpose of God's reconciliation and consummation of all things through Christ. We are a part of this grand story and outworking of the redemption of the entire creation, seen and unseen ("things in heaven and on earth - Eph. 1:10).

      I am grateful to participate with you, Gary, and the rest of the crew here to advance God's plan and purpose for this age of grace---which is soon coming to close! Get into the one new man while you still can!

      Delete
  3. https://metro.co.uk/2019/02/19/nasa-photographs-mysterious-dragon-aurora-rearing-head-sky-8669057/?fbclid=IwAR00fuNvy6Qzact-Ynji_jzTfwEmuKv-xxg3dUKXAi1VMpNj0LfOfgZcuK4

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Archangel.

      Darren Jack found that this recent "dragon aurora" appeared 144,000 minutes after the "phoenix aurora" on 11/11 last year.

      Phoenix/dragon rising, and 144,000 on the horizon too (Rev. 12–13).

      Delete
  4. You're welcome, Jeff. Another magnificent sign in the sky from our gracious Lord and soon coming King !

    ReplyDelete
  5. im not gonna miss this Jeff, tomorrow it is brother!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Just finished reading this section, Jeff. All I can say is : thank you, thank you! What an encouragement!

    ReplyDelete


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