Pauline Studies The Epistle of Paul the apostle to the Ephesians - New Testament Bible study Ephesians 3

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Chapter 3


Ephesians 3 v 1 - 21. Paul's Ministry to the Gentiles.


A Prisoner for the Sake of the Gentiles.


1. For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles.


From his prison in Rome, Paul could look back over the years of his ministry as the apostle to the Gentiles. Although the Gospel had already been heard by many Gentiles, Paul was the first to be sent by Christ on a large scale mission to the Gentile world. It because of this mission that he found himself in prison, since the Jews' antagonism toward him at Jerusalem, which led to his imprisonment, was largely the result of his ministry to the Gentiles. (The full story of this episode in Paul's life is found in Acts chapters twenty one to twenty seven).


Paul's Preparation.


2,3,4. 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).


According to W.E. Vine, the word "dispensation" signifies "the management of a household or of household affairs", that is, a stewardship. The stewardship God had given to Paul by His grace was the responsibility of making Christ known among the Gentiles. God prepared Paul for this ministry by revealing Christ to Him supernaturally, first of all on the Damascus Road, where the risen Christ both spoke to him and appeared to him personally, (Acts 22:6 - 7), and later as He revealed the truths of the Gospel to him, not through any intermediary human teacher, but by visions and revelation of the Spirit (Gal. 1:11 - 17). This accounted for Paul's understanding of the Gospel, which was briefly outlined in chapters one and two of this epistle.


5,6. 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: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the Gospel.


The Holy Spirit especially impressed Paul's heart with the truth that the Gospel is for all men. It had been God's purpose from the beginning of time that men of every nation should receive the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, and become part of a new body, the Church. This purpose was not known to men in former times, but now has been made clear by the Holy Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets.


It was through his meeting with Cornelius that the Holy Spirit taught Peter that the Gospel was for Gentiles as well as for Jews (Acts 10). Some time at the beginning of his ministry, Paul received a similar revelation, separate to Peter, which prepared him for his ministry to the Gentiles.


Paul's Preaching.


7,8. 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.


Paul's call to the ministry came with the effective working of God's power in his life, which eqipped him for the task of preaching the Gospel. Whenever God calls us to do a thing, He equips and enables us to do it. Paul saw himself as the least worthy among believers (for he had previously persecuted the Church of God - 1 Cor. 15:9), but was always conscious of the great responsibility which had been entrusted to him. He realized that the grace of God had been given to him so that he might devote his redeemed life to preaching the Gospel among the Gentiles.


Through the Gospel we learn of the "unsearchable riches" that become ours in Christ. In God's sight, true riches are those which are spiritual and eternal (Luke 16:11). All these eternal riches are found in Jesus Christ, who is the fulness of God; and since we have received Christ we have received all these blessings with Him. All things are ours (1 Cor. 3:21), for the God who gave us His Son gives us freely all things with Him (Rom. 8:32). These riches are described as "unsearchable" since they are a measure of the infinite worth of the Son of God.


9,10,11. And to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 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.


God's purpose to bring mankind into fellowship with Himself through Jesus Christ could only be known when Christ came. The prophets had foretold it, but they did not understand it; nor did those who heard them (1 Pet. 1:10). It has now been revealed to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.


The tremendous privilege which was given to Paul (and to every preacher of the Gospel) is to proclaim Christ, so that through faith in Him, men and women might become children of God.


God's work of redeeming sinful men and women displays His wisdom and mercy to such an extent that even the heavenly host wonder at it. The wonder of God's eternal purpose in saving sinners compelled Samuel Davies to write:


Great God of wonders, all thy ways display the attributes divine; but countless acts of pardoning grace, beyond thine other wonders shine.


It is not in some future day, but now, that the heavenly host of angels, cherubim, and seraphim wonder at the Church, with its huge variety of men and women from all nations and backgrounds; saved from their sin by God who by His grace has made them His own children.


12. In whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.


Since Christ's propitiatory work is complete, we have access (through Him and by faith in Him) into God's presence at all times; with absolute freedom and assurance of His acceptance. (Heb. 10:19 - 22). It is by virtue of our relationship with God that we have boldness to enter His presence. Through faith in Christ we have become God's children, and He is our loving Father. We have nothing to fear from Him. Let others hesitate to come, but let the child of God "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16 NKJV™).


Every believer in Christ has access into God's immediate presence at all times. It is a permanent right of entrance.


When Esther pleaded with King Artaxerxes on behalf of the Jewish nation, she knew that the only way she could enter the King's presence without being summoned was for him to extend his golden scepter to her. Entrance was not guaranteed her at any time. But since God has extended the scepter of His sovereign grace toward His children, we have been granted unlimited, anytime access to Him.


Paul's Suffering.


13. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.


Paul mentions his many sufferings for the Church briefly, for the Ephesians were well aware of them. Rather than lose heart at his sufferings, the believers should make it their boast that he suffered for his ministry to them for Jesus' sake. If God had expressed His love for the world by the gift of His Son, so did Paul express the love of God in his willingness to suffer for the sake of the faith of his converts.


Paul's Prayer.


14 - 19. For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height-- to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.


Ever since these Gentile converts had been included "in Christ", Paul had not ceased to regularly bow his knees to God the Father and pray for them. His chief concern was for their spiritual well-being. He felt a oneness with them as he prayed to the One whom they all knew as the Father "after whom the whole family is named."


Paul asks that God, who is Spirit, and who has made us partakers of His divine nature, would grant from the infinite riches of His being (His glory) such an impartation of Himself by the Holy Spirit that would strengthen their inner man by the exertion of His power. He prays this so that Christ might be formed in them; that they may become mature and complete in their spiritual lives, with an ongoing likeness to Jesus Christ.


Paul recognized that there must be continual growth and development in the spiritual life of every Christian. As our faith is strengthened and matures, we become more deeply assured of Christ's unchanging love, understanding and experiencing it. This love is immeasurably beyond any human ability to comprehend or describe. Its greatness should be considered in terms of the infinite worth of the gift (Jesus) that it was prepared to give. Yet God's children, as they grow in grace, are able to appreciate it more perfectly, and as they do so, they shall be increasingly filled with all the fulness of God (1 John 4:16).


Paul's Praise.


20,21. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.


Paul praises God that He is not only able to do what he has asked on behalf of the Ephesians, but will do so in a superabundant measure - in a far greater way than we could ask or understand - a measure which corresponds to the mighty power of God which is at work in us. This is the same power which "raised Christ from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:20). To God be glory, and may He be glorified by the work of His own hands - the Church - throughout all time and eternity. Amen.

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