EPHESIANS-SERIES NR 5
Theme: Paul: The man & his ministry
In order to properly understand Eph 3: 1-13, there is something one should note, namely that verses 2-12 are actually an interjection. Verse 13 should really follow verse 1.
Listen: Verse 1: “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles – “
Verse 13: “I ask you therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory”.
What then is happening in verses 2-12?
The Apostle interrupts himself – his mind is wandering and he is saying a few things about himself and his ministry.
A good way for us to understand this passage is to ask two questions: 1) What sort of man was the Apostle Paul? What kind of spirit did he have in him? 2) What was the message that he preached?
You will discover, that if we allow Eph 3: 1-13 to answer those two questions, the meaning of almost all 13 verses becomes clear to understand. Let us have a look:
1) What kind of man was Paul?
a) He was strongly convinced that the Lord’s hand was at work in everything that happens.
Look at v1: “I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ”. “A prisoner of Christ.“
The Lord Jesus’s hand is in the fact that Paul is innocently sitting in prison. He is there as a result of the Jews’ anger about his preaching. He did not do anything illegal. But he does not bemoan his circumstances. He is also not rebellious. He can see the Lord’s hand in what was happening to him. The Lord manages, guides and directs everything.
b) He is cherishing the clear conviction that it was the Lord who called and brought him (Paul) to where he is.
Verses 2, 7: “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you. I became a servant of this Gospel (the Good News) by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of His power”.
Paul did not appoint himself to preach the Word. He is not what he is as a result of something out of himself. He was made what he is.
c) He is a humble man with a consuming realization of how privileged he is.
Verse 8: “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches in Christ. “
An absolutely humble spirit. He regards himself as the least of all the believers – simply privileged, that is all. Even the dreadful circumstances in prison could not destroy his realization of how privileged he was. What a privilege it was to preach the riches of Christ! What a privilege to have been saved! The least of all the Christians.
Yes, Paul could not forget how he – before his salvation – had slandered and persecuted the Lord. If there was ever someone whom the Lord should have passed over, then it was him. That is why he was so amazed about the fact that particularly such a person as he could come to repentance and faith, and was called to preach the riches of Christ to the Gentiles. How gracious the Lord was towards him! He was privileged.
d) He is more solicitous about others than about himself.
Verses 1, 2 but especially 13: “I ask you therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory”.
He is in prison in their interest. He is innocently imprisoned, but he is not thinking about himself. He is saying: “Do not become discouraged by what I am suffering. Because it is in your interest that I am suffering!”
Is it not thrilling to know how deep the Spirit changes a person? That even in terrible circumstances, your focus is on other people – while all people are by nature so bitterly self-centred. But the Spirit’s work of renewal is powerful and mighty!
e) Paul enjoyed fellowship with the Lord.
Verse 12: “In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence “.
Jesus is the One through whom we may approach God with confidence. Because Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross has opened the way to the presence of God. That is why we now can approach Him the way a child does his/her father.
Listen: That is one of the unique attributes of the Christian Faith: that an insignificant mortal being may enjoy 24 hour fellowship with the God of heaven and earth. You will not find something like that in any other religion.
The meaning is not that we should imitate Paul to try to be like him. Not at all. Then we would be falling back into legalism.
What we should see though is the wonderful FRUIT that the Holy Spirit produces in us without any effort on our side.
Fivefold fruit: 1) Start noticing how the Lord’s hand is at work in everything 2) Conviction that the Lord has made you what you are 3) Humble realization of how privileged you are in every way 4) More concerned for others than yourself 5) Enjoying personal fellowship with the Lord.
2. What kind of message did Paul preach?
a) The message he received from the Lord himself.
Verses 3-5: “The mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.”
The Gospel message is NOT made up or conjured by humans. It was REVEALED by the Lord and received by the Apostles and prophets – and we now have it in writing in the Bible. Ever since they had received it, nobody has been able down 2000 years to receive any new authentic revelations with so-called equal authority to the Bible! The message that Paul preached, he had received from above – it is not a message designed by humans. It can be trusted 100% in its entirety.
b) It is a Message dealing with the great mystery.
Verse 6: “This mystery is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus “.
In the NT the word “mystery” is not used the way we would use it today. It is not something like an inexplicable riddle.
In the NT “mystery” points to “something that was previously unknown but was then revealed to a few people in order for them to share it with everybody”. It is an open secret.
What is the mystery that Paul is talking about here? What was it that was not made known in the OT-times?
The mystery is this: That – since the first coming of Christ – converted Jews and Non-Jews (gentiles) would be forming ONE BODY/ONE NATION and that what had previously divided them, would be destroyed in Christ.
None of the OT-prophets had seen this mystery. But it was revealed to Paul and the other Apostles. And Paul preached it boldly.
And yet there are a lot of people today who do not understand it and think that the Jews are still the special Nation of God, and that we should still be talking of “Jewish Christians” and “Christians from the gentiles”. Well, such a view plainly contradicts the mystery!
c) It is a message meant for the whole world.
Verses 8-9: “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches in Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.”
Paul’s desire was that literally the whole world must get acquainted with the unsearchable riches of Christ. He had a deep yearning that people all over the world would get into a personal relationship with God by that which Christ has worked. His message was truly for the whole world – not only the Jews. Do you and I also have such a burning vision?
d) It is a Message for the angels?
Verse 10: ”His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.”
This is probably the most surprising verse in the entire NT. The ANGELS (“rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms“) must learn something about being church when they observe how saved humans behave.
Remember: angels do not have insight in how the redemption of a sinner works (1 Pet 1:12). The only way they can have insight, is by looking at the Lord’s church and to listen to what is preached there / listen to how there is testified / how evangelizing is done / see changed lives.
Even though the angels are with God and have observed from the beginning how God created everything with super-intelligent design and saw how God called Abraham and how He took His people to the promised land – the angels cannot understand how a holy God can forgive and save a sinner without compromising His holiness.
The wisdom with which God designed His salvation-plan – namely to send the second Person of the Trinity to earth to die in the place of sinners so that He can forgive sinners based on that sacrifice, that is above the angels’ understanding. The spiritual powers in the heavenly realms cannot understand the wisdom with which God worked the atonement at Calvary. People who are saved and redeemed in Christ Jesus, have much more insight than the angels.
The only way the angels can get this insight, is to look at the church and to hear what is preached. Is that not soul-stirring! What a privilege and honour true believers have – to unknowingly give instruction and insight to the ANGELS. Also a huge responsibility!
e) It is a Message by which God’s eternal intention becomes a reality in people’s lives here-and-now.
Verse 11: “According to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
Just think: We preach Christ – and God’s eternal intentions take root in people’s lives by faith and repentance. That what God has intended from all eternity, boils down in people’s lives here-and-now where we witness to them / help them spiritually / have serious talks with them. What a supernatural Message it is, that can change people’s lives so completely!
To summarise: The indwelling Holy Spirit in a believer’s heart is a reality.
Look at the kind of people he made of us: new creations in Christ (Paul the man) and look with what a Message he has equiped us (Paul’s message). We CAN change our world! We do not need more than the Holy Spirit and the wonderful Message of the Gospel!
The Apostle Paul mostly remained in churches only for a couple of months or a year or two and then he said: ”I am leaving now, you are now the leaders – the Spirit is with you, go and preach the Message to all nations. “
And bear in mind: They did not have the complete Bible. Only the Greek translation of the OT combined all that the Apostles taught them in a very short period of time. But they were able to turn the world on its head without Paul’s presence and help. Because the Holy Spirit was present and the Message was powerful. And we are still in possession of it.
Translated by Marthie Wilson