{5}         New Ministry (Eph 3:1-13)

Introduction

PART I. CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE. SECTION B. NEW COMMUNITY.

Paul took his call from God to be apostle very seriously. After two chapters of explanation about what Christ has done, first for all for humanity and then specifically for the Gentiles, Paul switches the topic to himself and his unique ministry to the Gentiles.

Today God continues to call believers first to Himself and then to his purpose for their lives. God’s purpose for us might resemble the kind of unique ministry that Paul had. It might not. But He does call. And He wants us to respond to that call with the same faithfulness as Paul did.

 

Question: Have you found yourself in a situation in which you felt called to do something?

 

Outline:

3:1-6                God’s revelation of the mystery of the gospel to Paul

3:7-13              God’s commission to Paul to communicate the gospel

 

        Paul explains his unique role in God’s plan for the Gentiles. He describes himself in order to emphasize the unique privileges God had given him to work as the apostle to the Gentiles.

        Paul uses the same expression twice (“God’s grace that was given to me”) to refer to two privileges that God gave to him: [1] God’s revelation of the mystery or the gospel in v.2-3, and [2] God’s commission in v.7-8.

 

Explanation

3:1-2    While Paul is physically a prisoner of the Caesar, Paul is spiritually a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of the Gentiles. This indicates that he believes in the sovereignty of God over the affairs of men. He is convinced that his whole life, including his present imprisonment, is under the lordship of Jesus.

The nature and purpose of his imprisonment was indeed on behalf of the Gentiles. Paul was persecuted, arrested, and imprisoned because of the fanatical Jewish opposition to his mission to the Gentiles. The Jews accused Paul of “teaching men everywhere against the people and the law and this place” (the temple) (Ac 21:27-28). He was in fact teaching that Jesus Christ was creating a new people and building a new temple (the truth that he preached in Eph 2).

Here, Paul seems to begin another prayer for his Gentile readers: “For this cause I Paul…” But he interrupted himself, and did not actually begin his prayer until v.14. This whole passage therefore acts like a bracket of information which precedes the prayer.

3:3-4    Paul uses the word “mystery” 3 times in this short passage. In English, a “mystery” is something dark, obscure, secret, puzzling. But in Greek (mysterion), while it is still a secret, it is no longer closely guarded but open. It is a truth which, although beyond human discovery and hidden up to now from human knowledge or understanding, has been revealed by God and so now belong openly to the whole church.

It is described as “the mystery of Christ” (v.4), “made known to me by revelation” (v.3), “not made known to men in other generations” (v.5), “has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets” (v.5), and “you will be able to understand” (v.4).

3:5       The mystery was new revelation. It is true that the OT did reveal that God had a purpose for the Gentiles. It promised that: [1] all families of the earth would be blessed through Abraham’s posterity, [2] the Messiah would receive the nations as His inheritance, [3] Israel would be given as a light to the nations, [4] one day the nations would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and even “flow to it” like a mighty river (Gen 12:1-3; Ps 2:8; Isa 42:6; 49:6; 2:2-4). Jesus also spoke of the inclusion of the Gentiles and commissioned His followers to go and make them His disciples. But now, God revealed that there will be a new international community, the church; that this church would be the body of Christ, organically united to Him, and that Jews and Gentiles would be incorporated into Christ and His church on equal terms without any distinction. This is radical new revelation.

3:6       This mystery is described by Paul with 3 Greek words that all begin with the same prefix “syn” (meaning together with). The content of it is “that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise.” Jews and Gentiles are in a complete union as:

[1]   co-heirs (Gr. synkleronoma): fellow heirs of the same blessing

[2]   concorporate (Gr. syssoma): fellow-members of the same body

[3]   co-sharers (Gr. symmetocha): fellow-partakers of the same promise

It is a double union: union with Christ and union with each other.

This is shared privilege in Jesus Christ and through the gospel. Paul has virtually equated “the mystery” with “the gospel” because the gospel announces the mystery, so that people came to hear it, to believe it, and to experience it.

3:7       The good news had been revealed to him in order to be communicated. The first gift of God’s grace to him was the revelation of the mystery; the second gift was the ministry (to share the mystery with God’s people) which had been entrusted to him. Paul regards this as an enormous privilege.

3:8       The original term “less than the least of all God’s people” is linguistically impossible. Paul takes the superlative “least” or “smallest” (Gr. elachistos) and turns it into a comparative “leaster” or “less than the least” (Gr. elachistoteros). Perhaps he was deliberately playing on the meaning of his Roman surname “Paulus” which is Latin for “little” or “small”. Also, church tradition says Paul was a little man. He may be saying, “I am little, little by name, little by stature, and morally and spiritually littler than the littlest of all Christians.” He is deeply conscious both of his own unworthiness (because he “formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted” Christ, 1Ti 1:13) and of Christ’s overflowing mercy towards him. But his modesty did not hinder him from taking responsibility as an apostle. In this passage, he twice uses the self-conscious apostolic pronoun “I” (Gr. ego). He combined personal humility with apostolic authority. He minimizes himself but he magnifies his office.

Paul elaborates his ministry of spreading the gospel as 3 stages: [1] making known Christ’s riches to the Gentiles (v.8), [2] making known the mystery to all men (v.9), [3] making known God’s wisdom to the cosmic powers (v.10).

[1]   Evangelize the Gentiles: “Preach” here (Gr. euvangelizo) means to announce good news which consisted of “the unsearchable riches of Christ”—the riches which He possesses in Himself and which he bestows on those who come to Him. From ch.1 and ch.2, these riches include: [a] resurrection from the death of sin, [b] victorious enthronement with Christ in the heavenly places, [c] reconciliation with God, [d] incorporation with Jewish believers in His new society, [e] the end of hostility and the beginning of peace, [f] access to the Father through Christ by the Spirit, [g] membership of His kingdom and household. All this is only a foretaste of yet more riches to come: the glory of the inheritance on the last day.

“Unsearchable” (Gr. anexichniastos) means “not to be tracked out”. It is used in the Greek version of Job 5:9 and 9:10 to describe the wonders of God’s creation and providence which is beyond our understanding. Like the earth they are too vast to explore, like the sea too deep to fathom. Perhaps translating it “infinite” is simpler and clearer.

All revealed truth is held in stewardship. It is given to be shared, not monopolized. It is important to share God’s revelation and truth. But it is also important to share Christ’s riches.

3:9       [2]        Enlighten all men:  v.9 is a step further than v.8 in 3 ways: [a] “Make plain” here (Gr. photizo) is to enlighten or illuminate. The thought shifts from the content of the message (good news in v.8) to the condition of those to whom it is proclaimed in v.9 (in the darkness of ignorance). In Ac 26:17-18, Jesus told Paul to preach to the Gentiles “to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.” Paul can appreciate the urgency of the message after he was temporarily blinded. In 2Co 4:6, Paul says, “It is the God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ who has shone in our hearts.” Christians are commanded to bring light to those in darkness. [b] In the “mystery”, the thought turns from the riches of Christ in v.8 to the church in v.9. [c] The object of Paul’s message was to the Gentiles in v.8 and is now to “everyone” in this world in v.9. The God “who created all things” in the beginning will recreate all things in the end.

3:10     [3]        Demontrate to the cosmic powers: Through the church, the gospel brings a message indirectly to the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms”, that is, ranks of angels and demons. The church, this new multi-racial humanity, displays the wisdom of God. It demonstrates God’s mighty power in 1:19—2:6, God’s immeasurable grace and kindness in 2:7, and God’s “manifold” wisdom (here).

The word “manifold” (Gr. polupoikilos) means “many-coloured” and was used to describe flowers, crowns, embroidered cloth, and woven carpets. A simpler Greek word (poikilos) with the same root was used in the Septuagint (Greek version of the OT) to describe the “richly ornamented robe” which Jacob gave to Joseph (Gen 37:3,23,32). Here, it refers to the church as a multi-racial, multi-cultural community, like a beautiful tapestry or mosaic. Its diversity and harmony are unique. This many-coloured fellowship is a reflection of the many-coloured wisdom of God.

The idea here is a divinely directed cosmic drama where history is the theatre, the world is the stage, and church members of different colours are the actors. The audience are the cosmic intelligencies: angels and demons. Our knowledge of these spiritual beings is limited, and we must be careful not to go beyond what the Bible teaches into idle speculation. Of course they are not omniscient. The apostle Peter tells us that these angelic beings did not fully understand the good news of salvation in Christ as prophesied in the OT (1Pe 1:10-12). What happens in the church is somethings that they need to learn about (see 1Co 4:9). It is through the old creation (the universe) that God reveals His glory to humans; it is through the new creation (the church) that God reveals His wisdom to cosmic powers.

Some Bible scholars interpret “rulers and authorities” as not being cosmic intelligences but rather politico-economic structures of human society. This is probably inaccurate.

3:11     The cosmic intelligencies learn from the church not only God’s wisdom but also God’s eternal purpose. The emergence of the church is accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

3:12     In Christ and through our faith in Christ, all of us, whether Jews or Gentiles, have boldness and confidence of access to God. This universal access of all Christians to God through Christ is termed “the priesthood of all believers” by Martin Luther.

Note the different phases and media in the circle of God’s communication of the good news: [1] God to Paul through direct revelation, [2] Paul and others to all mankind through verbal proclamation, [3] the church on earth to cosmic powers in heaven through a visual model.

3:13     Paul concludes this section as he began it: by a reference to his own sufferings and imprisonment in the Gentile cause. In the NT, “suffering” and “glory” are constantly linked. Jesus said that He would enter His glory through suffering, and that His followers would have to walk the same path. Here, however, Paul writes that his own suffering will bring the Gentiles glory. He is determined to pay the price of suffering for the church.

 

Summary

        The major lesson taught by this first half of Ephesians 3 is the centrality of the church. Some people construct a Christianity which consists entirely of a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and has virtually nothing to do with the church. Some even boats of not going to church. Others make a grudging concession to the need for church membership, but add that they have given up the ecclesiastical institution as hopeless. Every church in every place at every time is in need of reform and renewal. But we need to understand how much value God has place in His church.

        The church is central to the eternal purpose of God (v.11). As God is the ruler of history, the church is central to history. The church is central to the gospel. The church is also central to Christian living.

 

Application

 

Prayer

        Ask God to open your eyes to His grace in your life. Ask Him to make clear to you His call to serve. Praise God for His church, the body of Christ. Ask Him to help you to grow in your appreciation of the church.