STUDIES IN EPHESIANS

Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2003

STUDY FIVE: GOD'S MYSTERY UNVEILED IN CHRIST [3:1-13]

Paul was absolutely overwhelmed by the Gospel. He never ceased to be amazed at what God accomplished in and through Jesus Christ, and he never ceased to impress the wonder of it all on his hearers and readers. Even when he had something else that he wanted to say, his thoughts and his words kept returning to what God has done in Christ.

In 1:15 Paul, having stated some of the spiritual blessings which both Jews and Gentiles have in Christ, began to say that 'For this reason ... ' he constantly thanked God, then, without finishing his report of his prayer, went off into a further exultant description of the Gospel. Now, in 3:1 he begins again 'For this reason ... ' and again he interrupts his description of his thankfulness and prayers. This time his interruption focuses on the 'mystery' of the Gospel, a mystery that has been unveiled in Christ.

A. PAUL'S DESCRIPTION OF THE GOSPEL

Task #1: From 3:1-13 list in the table below the different words or phrases used to refer to the Gospel; discuss them and list their meaning and significance.
Verse
Word or phrase
Meaning

2

'administration of God's grace'

3

4

6

8

9

10

11

A.1 The Gospel as 'the administration of God's grace' [3:2]

The Greek word translated 'administration' is derived from oikos- house, and nomos- law. It refers to the administration of a household. Paul has just told us that Gentiles who believe in Christ are members of God's household along with Jews who believe in Christ. Now he refers to the Gospel as 'the administration of God's grace'. He is telling us that at the core of the Gospel, its operating principle is grace. Gentile and Jew together in Christ exist as the household in which grace rules. [See Romans 5:21]. God, in and through the Gospel, does not operate his household on the basis of performance or merit, but on the basis of grace.

A.2 The Gospel is 'the mystery', 'the mystery of Christ' and 'the administration of this mystery' [3:3-6, 9]

Although Paul calls the Gospel a mystery, he does not mean that it is still a mystery. It was a hidden mystery once, before Christ came, but now it is 'a mystery made known to me by revelation' and into which Paul has 'been given insight'. Because it is now out in the open it is available for all to understand, because it 'has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.' Paul speaks of the Gospel as 'mystery' in other letters as well.

Task #2: Check out these references below and note what they teach about the Gospel as a now revealed 'mystery':

Romans 16:25-26

1 Corinthians 2:6-16

Ephesians 1:9-10

Ephesians 6:19

Colossians 1:25-27

Colossians 2:2-3

Colossians 4:3

1 Timothy 3:16

A.3 The Gospel is 'the promise' [3:6]

Here Paul takes the Gospel way back into the Old Testament in which the promise of God was given to Abraham and his descendant [Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6; 22:17-18]. This promise, long believed by the Jews to have reference only to themselves, is now, in the Gospel, said to incorporate the Gentiles. Note also that the whole concept of 'promise' takes the Gospel out of the realm of human merit and into the realm of God's purpose and God's choice.

A.4 The Gospel as 'the unsearchable riches of Christ' [3:8]

Here is another of the exuberant phrases Paul uses in this letter. We have already read of the 'riches of God's grace ... lavished on us' [1:7,8]; of the 'riches of his glorious inheritance' [1:18] 'his incomparably great power for us' [1:19]; and 'the incomparable riches of his grace' [2:7]. Now Paul calls his message 'the unsearchable riches of Christ'. The Gospel is rich beyond our most extravagant thoughts and imaginations - we would never have worked it out, we would never have come up with such a massive plan with such massive results. What God did in and through Jesus Christ is so big that unless God himself opened our eyes we would never come to it by our own thought processes. And what God did in and through Jesus Christ, we will never be able to say 'Oh, I understand it all ... now give me something else to think about.' This is no paltry gift, no paltry message. Thus Jesus Christ promised that all who believe and follow him will never ever be hungry or thirsty again: his Gospel is absolutely and continually satisfying [John 6:35]. We will never exhaust it. The Christian who is not content with Jesus Christ, but goes off seeking some spiritual reality beyond or beside Jesus Christ, has not even begun to understand this immensity of the Gospel.

A.5 The Gospel as 'the manifold wisdom of God' [3:10]

The Gospel is the 'manifold wisdom of God'. [The Greek word is actually an intensified form of the normal word for 'manifold' It should be translated something like 'exceedingly manifold'. Although it is so simple that even a child can understand and appreciate it, it is comprehensive and deep. God has left nothing out. There are no questions, no 'what ifs' or 'what abouts' that cannot be answered and addressed by the Gospel. The Gospel, this very-many-faceted wisdom of God, has got every base covered. God, the all-knowing One, the omniscient One, has not, as we would in our ignorance, forgotten or overlooked or been unaware of anything.

Task #3: Check out the following verses on God's wisdom and write their meaning in the boxes.

Reference

Meaning

Isaiah 40:27-28

Isaiah 55:6-9

Romans 11:33-34

1 Cor. 1:20-24

1 Cor. 2:6-7

Ephesians 1:8

A.5 The Gospel as the eternal purpose of God accomplished in Christ Jesus [3:11]

The Gospel is no after-thought, and no Plan B, that God had to suddenly come up with after he saw what a mess we made of our humanity in Genesis 3. No. Before he created the world he knew what we would do. Before he created the world, before time and space existed, he also knew what he would do. Here is an amazing mystery of grace: that God, the triune God, went ahead and created - knowing that to create us meant also to then have to redeem us through the incarnation and death of his Son. When the first hill, the first tree, the first human, were created, God already knew and purposed Calvary.

Task #4: Read these texts and write what they say about God's eternal purpose in the boxes.

Reference

Meaning

Ephesians 1:11

2 Tim. 1:9-10

1 Peter 1:19-20

Revelation 13:8

Note that this eternal purpose of God is accomplished in Christ - it is not accomplished by us. It all depends on Jesus Christ.

B. PAUL'S TEACHING ABOUT WHAT THE GOSPEL ACCOMPLISHES [3:1-13]

B.1 Through the Gospel 'the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel' [3:6]

B.2 Through the Gospel 'the Gentiles are ... members together of one body' [3:6]

B.3 Through the Gospel 'the Gentiles are ... sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus' [3:6]

Paul has already told us all of this in 1:11-13 and 2:11-22. It would seem that he understood how difficult it is for us to grasp that in Christ the previously existing distinction has been removed. Even now, two thousand years later, large sections of contemporary Christianity struggle with this, tenaciously maintaining the distinction between Jew and Gentile. But the Scripture is clear:

      • 'heirs together'
      • 'members together of one body'
      • 'sharers together in the promise'.

The Greek text is even more clear:

      • suykleronoma- sun [with, together] + kleronomos[an heir, a possessor]
      • sussoma- sun [with, together] + soma [body]
      • summetocha - sun [with, together]+ metochos [partaker, associate, partner, sharer].

As Paul as stated in 2:11-22, the previous distinctions and divisions between Jew and Gentile have been eliminated by the Gospel. Together in Christ both share in the eternal purpose of God as we have seen at length in Study Three. It is this elimination of the Jew-Gentile distinction, in essence a law-based distinction, that Paul defines precisely as 'the mystery' of the Gospel.

B.4 Through the church [which is the result and product of the Gospel] the manifold wisdom of God is made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly realms [3:10]

This verse teaches us about God's intention in the Gospel. It is that:

      • 'now' - as opposed to previously when it was all a 'mystery' hidden in the eternal purposes of God;
      • 'through the church' - that is, through that body in which the previously divided and distinct Jew and Gentile are now the one people of God; through this body, which is comprised of those who were once dead in transgressions and sins, and separated from the life and the promises of God;
      • 'the manifold wisdom of God' - God's all-embracing, comprehensive, multi-faceted wisdom;
      • 'should be made known' - even before the church opens her mouth in proclamation, her very existence as the people of God created and redeemed through Jesus Christ, is witness to the wisdom of God. The church exists - against all odds, against all expectations, against all human abilities and possibilities, against all perceptions of justice. This fact, that through the Gospel the church now exists, bears, if we only knew it, testimony of the tremendous wisdom of God. No one except the omniscient God could design this salvation.
      • 'to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms' - that is, to all spiritual beings both good and bad, on God's side and on the enemy side. Were there spirit beings who questioned God's wisdom in creation? Their questions are all answered here, in the existence of the church. Were there spirit beings who doubted there was a way to undo Genesis three? Their doubts are answered here in the church. Were there those, like Satan, who maintained that true faith is an impossibility? They too are silenced here. Were there those who believed they had the upper hand and that God was a fool? Their confidence crumbles here. Is there one who believes himself to be the god of this world? His arrogance met its end in that act of God in Christ through which the church was created.

For further reading about spiritual principalities and powers go to: Romans 8:38; 1 Corinthians 15:24,25; Ephesians 1:19-21; 6:11-12; Colossians 1:16; 2:10,15.

All doubts about God, all minimizations of his authority, power and control, all questions about his love and integrity are silenced in this: that he has, in and through Jesus Christ, reunited us with himself and with each other in the church.

B.5 Through the Gospel we have free and confident access to God [3:12]

As a result of the Gospel God now sees every believer 'in Christ.' Paul here tells us that 'in him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence'.

What does this mean? It means that each Christian has, or ought to have, this confidence: my pre-conversion, pre-faith, pre-Christ separation from God because of my sin and guilt no longer exists. No longer am I banned from approaching God. No longer are his ears shut to my cries. No longer do I need fear his rejection, condemnation and judgement. Why? Because he has placed the believer in Christ, our substitute on the cross and our representative in the presence of God.

Task #5 Check out these Scriptures and write their significance in the boxes.
Reference
Significance

Romans 5:1,2

Ephesians 2:18

Hebrews 4:14-16

Hebrews 6:19,20

Hebrews 9:12,25

Hebrews 10:19-22

1 John 4:17-18

Those things which separated us as unbelievers from the presence of God no longer have the legal authority to do so. The sin-barrier between us and God has been ripped away.

C. PAUL'S ROLE IN GOD'S PURPOSES

Paul brought this section of his letter to a close by writing: 'I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory'.

Why does he say this?

Already in this letter he has identified that:

      • he is 'an apostle by the will to God' [1:1]
      • he is 'a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles' [3:1]
      • the 'administration of God's grace was given to' him [3:2]
      • the mystery of the gospel was 'made known to' him 'by revelation' [3:3]
      • he had 'insight into the mystery of Christ' [3:4]
      • he 'became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace' which was given to him' by the working of his power' [3:5]
      • he considered himself 'less than the least of all God's people' [3:8]
      • he considered his ministry of making the gospel plain to everyone a 'grace ... given to him' [3:8]

At the time of writing he is prison because, from the human perspective, he preached the gospel to the Gentiles, proclaiming their incorporation into the people of God, eliminating the Jew/Gentile distinctions and divisions. [Read Acts 21:17-21, 27-36; 22:1-22]. From God's perspective, he was in prison in Rome because in God's plan he was to testify about Christ in Rome (a Gentile city) also [Acts 23:11]. From both perspectives, then, his current imprisonment was directly because of God's purpose to make the Gentiles his people in and through Christ.

Paul is saying in Ephesians 3:13: it is worth it all. To have had such a role in the incorporation of the Gentiles into the people of God, to have had such a role in the establishment of the church, to have had such a role in making known the eternal purpose of God in Christ, to have had such a role in the unveiling of the previously hidden mystery of God, to have such a role in exposing through the Gospel the multi-faceted wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in heavenly realms; to proclaim the assurance of uninhibited access to God - all of this makes his suffering meaningful. Indeed, he says, the sufferings he was enduring for the sake of the Gentiles, were their glory. If he had not suffered what he suffered the Gentiles would not know what they now know; if he had not proclaimed the message that provoked persecution, they would not now be experiencing the glory of the knowledge of God and salvation.

D. PAUL'S PRAYER [3:14-21]

Finally, Paul returns to his description of his prayer for the Ephesian Christians.

Task #6: Fill in the answers to the questions in the table below.
Verse
Question
Answer

14-15

Describe the One to whom Paul addresses his prayer.

16

Paul prays that God will strengthen them. Identify [1] the source of this strength; [2] what it is that God strengthens them with; [3] how God strengthens them, and [4] where God strengthens them.

[1]

[2]

[3]

[4]

17a

What is the outcome of this?

But Christ already dwells in the hearts of believers, so what do you think Paul means?

17b

What is the basis of Paul's prayer that starts in this sentence?

18

What does Paul want God to help them understand?

19

What does Paul pray that they will know?

What does Paul expect will be the end result?

20

How does Paul describe God in this verse?

21

What are the two places where Paul prays that God will be glorified?

Task #7: Review the first three chapters of Ephesians. In the box below make a list of truths that have been significant for you. If you are doing these studies in a group, share one or more of these truths with the group and discuss their significance.