A. God's mystery and man's place in it revealed.
1. (1-5) Preface to the revelation of the mystery.
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:
a. I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles: During his Roman imprisonment, Paul was under house arrest. In the day he was free to move around the house with the supervision of soldiers, but every night he was chained to a soldier to insure that he would not escape before his trial before Caesar. But he sees himself as the prisoner of Jesus Christ. He knew that Jesus was the Lord of his life, not the Roman government, so if he was a prisoner, he was Jesus' prisoner.
i. In the same way, we don't work for a boss; we work for Jesus. We aren't parents for children; we are parents for Jesus. The same principle applies to any area of life.
b. But Paul was also a prisoner for you Gentiles. The entire reason he was under arrest, awaiting trial was because of his missionary efforts on behalf of the Gentiles.
i. Paul suffered for the very truth he would explain to the Ephesians, and this did not make him back down one bit.
ii. The last thing Paul wanted was people to feel sorry for him because he was imprisoned. He wanted his readers to realize that it is a benefit for them that he was a prisoner.
c. If indeed you have heard: This suggests Paul knew his particular calling to the Gentile world was well known among Gentile Christians.
d. You have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you: The word dispensation speaks of the "strategy" of God's plan in the church. "Here as in Ephesians 1:9, however, it is to be interpreted rather as the implementation of a strategy." (Wood) God now deals with man according to the "strategy" or plan of grace.
e. How that by revelation He made known to me the mystery: Paul speaks of a mystery, but "In English a 'mystery' is something dark, obscure, secret, puzzling. What is 'mysterious' is inexplicable, even incomprehensible. The Greek word mysterion is different, however. Although still a 'secret', it is no longer closely guarded but open . . . More simply, mysterion is a truth hitherto hidden from human knowledge or understanding but now disclosed by the revelation of God." (Stott)
f. Paul does not hesitate to claim that the mystery he will reveal has been given to him by revelation. But it was not only given to him by revelation, it was also given specifically to Peter by revelation (Acts 11:1-18), and is consistent with prophecy in the Old Testament (such as Isaiah 49:6) and the specific words of Jesus (Acts 1:8).
i. However, it seems that God used Paul to declare specifically how Jews and Gentiles would be joined together in one Body of Christ. This was something hinted at through others, but only specifically detailed through Paul's revelation. Paul trusted that his readers would understand what God revealed to him.
g. In this sense, Paul can say that this mystery was not made known to the sons of men, as it now has been revealed. In the Old Testament, the salvation of Gentiles in the Messiah is prophesied, the coming together of Jew and Gentile into the Church is never spoken of.
2. (6-7) The mystery described.
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.
a. Simply put, the mystery is that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs of the same body; that believing Jews and believing Gentiles are joined together into one Body of Christ, into one Church, and no longer separated before God as such.
b. This makes believing Gentiles partakers of His promise in Christ; a privilege no longer reserved only for the believing Jewish person.
c. This can only happen through the gospel, where all men have an equal standing in Jesus. This is the same gospel Paul is a servant of, because of the gift of grace given to him by the working of God's power.
i. Paul says he is a minister, but that is a title of service, not exaltation. In classical literature of ancient Greece, the minister (diakonos) "is a table waiter who is always at the bidding of his customers." (Wood)
3. (8-9) Paul's presentation of the mystery.
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 fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;
a. To me, who am less than the least of all the saints: Paul marvels at the grace given to him, by which he was called to preach the gospel that makes the mystery a reality. When we consider Paul's personal history, we see that his calling really was all of grace.
i. The ancient Greek word translated "preach" literally means "to announce good news." Paul's preaching was simply the announcement of the good news of what God has done in Jesus.
b. This mystery is really the unsearchable riches of Christ for the Gentiles. They can now come before God in a standing they never could dream of before.
i. Paul tried to figure out the greatness of God's grace, and started tracking it out as one might track out the shore of a lake. But he soon discovered that it wasn't a lake at all, but an ocean, an immeasurable sea. God's riches are unsearchable; we will never know them completely.
c. To make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery: Having been entrusted with such riches, Paul's passion is to make this gospel known to all people. He wants everybody to see and share in the fellowship of this mystery - which is a mystery precisely because it was unknown and unknowable until God revealed it.
d. We should pause at the term fellowship of the mystery. This is not only a fact to know, but also a life to live, united in Jesus with other believers, without any separation such as existed between Jew and Gentile.
3. (10-12) The purpose of the mystery.
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.
a. To the intent: God's intent for this mystery and its revelation is that His manifold (many-facetted) wisdom would be made known by the church to spiritual beings, both angelic and demonic.
i. This reminds us that we are called for something far greater than our own individual salvation and sanctification. We are called to be the means by which God teaches the universe a lesson, and a beautiful lesson. Manifold also has the idea of beauty, like the intricate beauty of a flower.
ii. "It is as if a great drama is being enacted. History is the theatre, the world is the stage, and the church members in every land are the actors. God himself has written the play, and he directs and produces it. Act by act, scene by scene, the story continues to unfold. But who are the audience? They are the cosmic intelligences, the principalities and powers in the heavenly places." (Stott)
iii. Stott quoting Mackay: "the history of the Christian church becomes a graduate school for angels."
iv. This is why the conduct of the church is so important: because angelic and demonic beings are looking on, and God's intent is to teach them through us (1 Corinthians 11:10; 1 Peter 1:12; 1 Timothy 5:21).
v. A popular interpretation today sees the principalities and powers as modern political states and economic structures. The idea is that the church primarily is a witness to them, and should redeem governments and social structures through its witness. But Paul specifically says that these principalities and powers are in the heavenly places.
b. According to the eternal purpose which He accomplished: The mystery reveals and furthers God's eternal purpose in Jesus, previously described in Ephesians 1:10 - that in the fullness of the times, God will gather together (essentially, to sum up or resolve) all things in Jesus.
c. The mystery of the unified Body of Christ is according to that purpose. It is a preview of what Jesus will ultimately do in the fulfillment of summing up all things in Himself.
i. "The church thus appears to be God's pilot scheme for the reconciled universe of the future, the mystery of God's will to be administered in the fullness of the times when the things in heaven and the things on earth are brought together in Christ." (Bruce)
d. There is a sense in which Paul can say that this eternal purpose is already accomplished. Its fulfillment is a certainty (as shown by the initial work of bringing Jew and Gentile together in Jesus), so he can speak of it as already finished.
e. Through faith in Him: The fact of this unity is shown by the truth that we (Jew and Gentile collectively) have the identical boldness, access and confidence before God - because it has nothing to do with national or ethnic identity, only with faith in Him (Jesus).
i. The word for boldness has the idea of "freedom of speech." We have the freedom to express ourselves before God, without fear or shame.
ii. Divisions in the church have not always been between Jew and Gentile. The Reformers spoke out against the division between "clergy" and "laity" and the teaching of the priesthood of all believers insisted that all had the same access to God.
4. (13) Paul's current personal participation in the mystery.
Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.
a. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart: Though under arrest for the sake of the gospel, Paul asks his readers to not lose heart. Paul didn't want them to be discouraged for his sake, because Paul was still being used in the service of God's eternal plan.
b. And he was, probably in a greater way than he ever imagined; this Roman imprisonment produced the letters of Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. They all certainly have a place in God's eternal plan!
c. In the same manner, each of us has a place in the service of God's eternal plan. Knowing this and working towards it is a great guard against losing heart in the midst of tribulation.
B. Paul prays in light of the mystery.
1. (14-15) Introduction to the prayer.
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,
a. For this reason: The basis of Paul's prayer was his knowledge of God's purpose. This means he confidently prayed according to God's will. We can't pray effectively if we do not have insight into God's purpose and will.
b. I bow my knees: Paul prays in the posture of a bowing his knees. This position of utmost humility was in contrast to the more normal posture of prayer in that culture, to pray standing with hands raised up.
i. The humility comes when he considers God's great eternal plan, his place in that plan, and how God's work is unstoppable even when Paul is imprisoned.
c. To the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Paul directs his prayer to the Father, who is presented as the "planner" among the members of the Trinity. Prayer is usually directed to the Father, through the Son, by the empowering and direction of the Holy Spirit.
d. From whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named: In remembering that all God's family is called after His name, Paul shows that his mind is rather taken with this idea of the essential unity of the Body of Christ. God is Father of both Jew and Gentile.
2. (16-19) Paul prays again for the Ephesians.
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.
a. Paul asks that they would be strengthened with might, and that according to the riches of His glory (a most generous measure). He also prays that the strength would come through the Holy Spirit and that it would be put into their inner man.
i. This request speaks to the essential need for power in the Christian life. If Christianity becomes just a list of rules and advice, then it is really better than no other religion. But if it is in fact a source of power, it is completely different.
b. Paul asks that Jesus would dwell in their hearts through faith, even as Jesus promised in John 14:23: If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.
i. Two ancient Greek words convey the idea "to live in." One has the idea of living in a place as a stranger, and the other has the idea of settling down in a place to make it your permanent home. Dwell uses the ancient Greek word for a permanent home. Jesus wants to settle down in your heart, not just visit as a stranger.
c. Paul asks that all this would take place as they are rooted and grounded in love. The meaning seems to be that they are rooted and grounded in their love for one another, more than being rooted and grounded in their love for God and the knowledge of that love.
d. Paul asks that they may be able to comprehend with all the saints (together, in community) every dimension of the love of Jesus. That they would know it by experience, and not just in words.
i. Can we really comprehend the width and length and depth and height of God's love? To come to any understanding of the dimensions of God's love, we must come to the cross.
ii. The cross pointed in four ways, essentially in every direction, because . . .
· God's love is wide enough to include every person.
· God's love is long enough to last through all eternity.
· God's love is deep enough to reach the worst sinner.
· God's love is high enough to take us to heaven.
e. Paul asks that they may be filled unto all the fullness of God. The word unto is a better translation than the word with. Paul wants Christians to experience life in Jesus Christ, the fullness of God (Colossians 2:9), and to be filled to their capacity with Jesus, even as God is filled to His own capacity with His own character and attributes.
i. And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace (John 1:16).
f. These things (spiritual strength, the indwelling Jesus, experiential knowledge of God's love, and the fullness of God) are ours as birthrights in Jesus. However, they must be received by prayer and can be furthered in the lives of others by our prayers for them.
3. (20-21) A glorious doxology.
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.
a. As Paul comes to this great height (what can there be higher than the fullness of God?), it is logical to ask how this can ever be. How can something so far above us ever become reality? It can only happen through Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.
i. But this doxology belongs not only to the prayer which precedes it, but every glorious privilege and riches and blessing which God has spoken of in the first three chapters. Who is able to bring such things to pass? Only God!
b. God cannot only do more than we ask; not only more than we think; but exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think - is your God too small?
c. And God is able to do this not beginning with heaven, but beginning right now - because it is according to the power that works in us at the present time.
d. To Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus: The only fitting response to this great God is to give Him glory - especially in the church, the company of His redeemed, and that He receive that glory throughout all ages, world without end - Amen!
i. When the church understands and walks in God's eternal purpose, God will be glorified and the church will fulfill its important duty of simply glorifying God.