GRANTING THE GENTILES EQUAL ACCESS AND PRIVILEGES IN THE BODY OF CHRIST MANIFESTS THE MANIFOLD WISDOM AND ETERNAL PURPOSE OF GOD
Andrew Lincoln: 3:1–13 is formally a digression on Paul’s apostolic ministry to the Gentiles and on the mystery which had been revealed to him and was at the heart of his ministry. The original intention of the thought begun in 3:1 is not completed, because the reference in it to Paul as a prisoner for the sake of the Gentiles leads to an expatiation on this theme. 3:1, then, is anacoluthic, and the repetition of the opening phrase τούτου χάριν, “for this reason,” in 3:14 suggests that at that point the writer takes up again the intention with which he had started out in 3:1, which can now be seen to be to intercede on behalf of his Gentile Christian readers.
Grant Osborne: The organization of this section is determined by grammar. An opening and a closing (vv. 1, 13, respectively) frame two lengthy sentences (vv. 2–7, 8–12), and the two parts of this material are verses 1–7 and 8–13. These two parts describe the what (the mystery of God revealed, vv. 1–7) and the how (proclaiming and illuminating the mystery, vv. 8–12) of Paul’s ministry.
Clinton Arnold: A key function of this passage is to give Paul’s readers a broader, divine perspective on his imprisonment and suffering, which he alludes to again at later intervals in the letter (4:1; 6:20). This divine purpose is fulfilled in Christ’s work in creating the church, but the implications of his work extend through all of creation, reaching to the heavenly places and the hostile principalities and powers (3:10).
The function of this passage appears to go beyond a divine perspective on the role of Paul’s suffering, however, to incorporate the fulfillment of his apostolic role of illuminating his readers’ understanding about the nature of God’s plan, which he calls “the mystery” in this passage (see 3:9). In other words, by writing this letter, praying for his readers’ eyes to be illuminated (1:18), and explaining the nature of the mystery, Paul is fulfilling his divine commission. Paul’s life also serves as an inspirational example to his readers on the all-important task of proclaiming the riches of Christ (3:8; see also 6:15, 17; 4:10–11). . .
God has revealed a new and definitive stage in his eternal plan that involves creating a people for himself consisting of Jews and Gentiles united to Christ and joined to one another. All who have faith in Jesus Christ become a part of this new community and have direct and immediate access to the Father. This new plan, which Paul calls a “mystery,” reflects the infinite wisdom of God and is a message of defeat to the evil supernatural realm. Paul explains that God has given him the ministry of proclaiming and explaining this marvelous plan.
Stephen Fowl: Verses 2–12 remind readers of God’s eternal purpose to bring together Jew and Gentile in Christ, reconciling them in one body through the cross. Moreover, such a purpose was hidden from previous generations and unimaginable apart from the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Even so, God graciously revealed this “mystery” to Paul and to others for the establishment of the church of Jews and Gentiles, a church that is capable of bearing witness to the powers of God’s manifold wisdom in Christ. Thus any suffering that comes Paul’s way in the course of fulfilling this commission must be understood in the light of God’s providence. This account establishes Paul’s credentials as an interpreter of God’s gracious activity on behalf of the Gentiles. At the same time such an account makes it clear that Paul is no more than a servant of this gospel, whose revelation and acceptance is ultimately in God’s hands. In this light, Paul’s imprisonment is not a crisis. Rather, it simply represents a further episode in the drama of salvation.
“for this reason”
Bruce Hurt: refers back to Eph 2:11-22 in which he described the building together of the saints – “seeing that you (Jew and Gentile) are being built together“. Because you Gentiles are fellow citizens with God’s people, and especially because you Ephesians are included in the temple of God, a dwelling of God. He is introducing his prayer for them but immediately digresses and will not pick up the prayer until Eph 3:14 which also begins “for this reason.”
Ray Stedman: In Eph 3:1. Paul says, “For this reason I, Paul.” I want to stop right there. If you move down to verse 14, he uses the exact terminology: “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father.” Paul starts off to pray in chapter 3, but immediately he backs away. Before he prays, he wants them to understand something. Verses 2-13 could be put in parenthesis. He starts his prayer, suddenly stops, and then starts up again in verse 14. Why does he do that? Well, he wants to tell them of a mystery that has been revealed to his heart. The bottom line is that he is going to pray that what has been revealed to him will be revealed to them.
William Barclay: Someone has spoken of Paul’s habit of “going off at a word.” A single word or idea can send his thoughts off at a tangent. When he speaks of himself as “the prisoner of Christ,” it makes him think of the universal love of God and of his part in bringing that love to the Gentiles.
I. (:1-5) THE REVELATION OF THE CHURCH (A PRECIOUS TREASURE) HAS BEEN ENTRUSTED TO FAITHFUL STEWARDS
(THE EXAMPLE OF PAUL — STEWARDSHIP OF THE GRACE OF GOD)
A. (:1) Picture of a Faithful Steward = “Prisoner”
Great analogy because Paul writes this epistle from prison – but he views his imprisonment as unto the Lord in a greater mission rather than unto the enemies of the cross of Christ who are trying to fight against God’s program
Clinton Arnold: The reason for Paul’s incarceration has nothing to do with a moral lapse, God’s displeasure, or anything that should cause the readers’ concern. It is possible that some of the Gentile readers were concerned about Paul’s imprisonment and thereby questioned his authority over the churches and their lives. In point of fact, Paul is in Roman custody precisely because of his unswerving and sacrificial commitment to fulfill his divine commission to make the gospel known to the Gentiles (see Acts 26:19–23). The Gentile readers of this letter are among those who owe their salvation to Paul’s obedient fulfillment of his apostolic call.
- Serves in Submission to the Master = “Christ Jesus”
- he has given up all rights and completely surrendered to the will of the Master
- a voluntary, liberating type of bondage as opposed to the bondage of sin and death
- Serves for the Benefit of Believing Gentiles
“for the sake of you Gentiles”
not serving for his own benefit
Andrew Lincoln: Paul’s imprisonment was integral to his special apostolic ministry of proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles. Historically, his advocacy of a law-free Gentile mission was what provoked the opposition which led to his arrest and imprisonment. Now it is not just Gentiles in general, but the readers in particular, who are to see themselves as indebted to the sort of apostleship which would suffer in this way, as the form of direct address, “you Gentiles,” is continued from the previous pericope.
Clinton Arnold: In other words, what prompts Paul’s digression and his discussion of the unique call of God on his life is a concern for the spiritual health and well-being of his Gentile readers.
John Phillips: The Jews were infuriated when Paul taught that believing Gentiles were full members of God’s family and the fellowship of saints. The Jews’ national pride was stung. Even in the church many Jewish believers thought that Gentiles should become Jews in order to be Christians, or at least they should be regarded as second-class citizens in the kingdom. Paul’s emancipating gospel annoyed many Jews, even within the church. They disliked his wholehearted acceptance of Gentiles into the church, free from all Jewish laws, traditions, and customs. They resented his vocal and tireless championship of the Gentile believers’ cause. They felt threatened by his zealous, far-reaching efforts to bring more and more Gentiles into the church. The vast majority of unbelieving Jews regarded Paul with horror and considered him a dangerous heretic. Paul, however, did not criticize the Jews for opposing him. He knew where they were coming from; he had been there himself.
B. (:2) Precious Nature of the Treasure
- “given to me”
- “for you”
Van Parunak: The object of the stewardship is “the grace of God.” Throughout Paul’s epistles, the focus of this grace is the unexpected and unmerited admission of Gentiles to the privileges of the people of God, and his privilege in bearing that message.
Kenneth Wuest: Paul was given the responsibility of having oversight or management over the grace of God in the sense that he was to administer it in its publicity. He was given the revelation of the grace of God and the responsibility of properly preaching and teaching it.
C. (:3a) Process of Being Entrusted with the Treasure
“by revelation there was made known to me the mystery”
Def. of “mystery” – previously unknown, but now God was revealing it
not something that Paul studied or figured out on his own;
not something that was in any way corrupted or confused
Clinton Arnold: Paul now explains the source and nature of this stewardship that God has entrusted to him. It is clearly not an insight or a plan that Paul himself has conceived. It has come directly to him by revelation from God (κατὰ ἀποκάλυψιν ἐγνωρίσθη).
B. (:3b-4) Propagation of that Insight
- Communicated Briefly in Earlier Writings
“as I wrote before in brief”
- Elaborated on in this Epistle to Provide Fuller Understanding
“And by referring to this, when you read you can understand”
- Focus of this Insight – Transition to Point #2
“insight into the mystery of Christ”
This is the key that needs to be understood
John MacArthur: Paul’s hope was that they would come to understand his God-given insight into the mystery of Christ. Sunesis (insight) literally means to bring together and metaphorically refers to comprehension and understanding, mentally bringing knowledge together in order to grasp its full meaning and significance. Spiritual insight must always precede practical application, because what is not properly understood cannot be properly applied.
Bruce Hurt: Insight (4907) (sunesis from suniemi = to comprehend, reason out in turn derived from sun = with + hiemi = send) literally is a sending together or a bringing together. Sunesis describes the putting together, grasping or exhibiting quick comprehension. Sunesis is the ability to understand concepts and see relationships between them and thus describes the faculty of comprehension, intelligence, acuteness, shrewdness. Sunesis suggests quickness of apprehension, the penetrating consideration which precedes action. Sunesis was originally used by Homer in the Odyssey to describe the running together or a flowing together of two rivers. In secular Greek sunesis first meant union and confluence (cf two rivers becoming one) and then comprehension, understanding and discernment. Sunesis describes “a union or bringing together of the mind with an object, and so used to denote the faculty of quick comprehension, intelligence, sagacity… that quality of mind which combines: understanding not only of facts, but of facts in their mutual relations. (Vincent)
C. (:5) Privilege of Revelation and Enlightenment
- Not a Privilege enjoyed in the past
“which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men”
- But a Privilege made possible in the present
“as it has now been revealed”
- The Divinely Appointed Ministers of this Message
“to His holy apostles and prophets”
- The Divinely Appointed Medium for this Communication
“in the Spirit”
II. (:6) THE CONTENT OF THE REVELATION EMPHASIZES THE EQUAL ACCESS AND PRIVILEGES AFFORDED TO THE GENTILES IN THE BODY OF CHRIST
Clinton Arnold: Paul reveals that at the heart of the mystery God has revealed is the fact that Gentiles now share equally with Jews in the blessings of the new covenant life with God. Paul brings this out with the threefold repetition of the preposition (σύν) as a prefix attached to the key nouns of the verse. This threefold stress on “together” emphasizes the obliteration of any distinctions in God’s way of bringing salvation to his people. God’s people will now be identified by their togetherness in a multiethnic loving group endowed by the Spirit of God rather than by circumcision, ritual purity, and bloody sacrifices. . .
Gentiles come to participate in these blessings when they hear and respond to the gospel (διὰ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου; see 1:13–14) and enter into a dynamic union with the living Christ (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ). By entering a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Gentiles become children of Abraham and become heirs of the promised blessings made to him (Gal 3:7, 26–29). Union with Christ reverses the curse of exclusion that Paul spoke of in Eph 2:12.
A. Equal Access and Privileges with True Israel – “Gentiles are”:
- “fellow-heirs” – Future Inheritance
Van Parunak: The inheritance that the Spirit has sealed to us (1:14) is one that we hold in common with spiritual Israel. The word is used in Heb 11:9 to describe the relation between Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; we share as closely with Israel in God’s promised blessings as did the patriarchs with one another. This adjective emphasizes our membership in the family, through which the inheritance is passed, cf. 2:19, “members of the household of God.” It is a remarkable claim, when we consider how important inheritance rights were to Israel. Even within Israel, one family could not take over the inheritance of another in perpetuity (e.g., the restoration of land to the original family in the year of Jubilee, Lev 25). But now we Gentiles are made fellow-heirs with Israel. Relation to “partakers of his promise”: we are named in the will. Leads us to expect a share.
- “fellow-members of the body” – Present Fellowship / Total Inclusion
no second class citizens
S. Lewis Johnson: And that’s a magnificent relationship we have it is not? Gentiles and Jews now brought together in one redeeming company, fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, this one new man, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ by the Gospel. . .
It is a new international community, too. Jews and Gentiles, all equal in Christ. They are not joined to the Jewish nation and subordinated to them in significance, but there is one new, or to use the adjective “new” in its stress, one fresh man, for that’s the idea of the Greek word kainos which is used there instead of the word neos. One fresh man. Isn’t that a magnificent thing, that we Gentiles are now members of the church of Jesus Christ, fellow partakers of the promise in Christ by the Gospel? We’re called Children of Abraham, seed of Abraham, because we possess those promises. Something remarkable and new in the unfolding of God’s program.
- “fellow-partakers of the promises” – All Guaranteed by a Faithful God
Van Parunak: This is the fruit of the first two. Because we are fellow-heirs and in fact members of the same body, we enjoy the benefits that God has promised Israel.
Grant Osborne: They are also “sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” The term “sharers” means fellow partakers or participants in an enterprise, and the promise refers to “the promised Holy Spirit” in 1:13. Jew and Gentile in this sense are virtual business partners in the Spirit’s promised new enterprise, the church. There is probably also a reflection of the Abrahamic promise that in Christ the Gentiles would be blessed. All of this takes place “in Christ Jesus,” a key theme throughout Ephesians. It is only through the work of Christ and in him that all these wondrous new realities have come to pass.
As Paul stresses throughout this letter, the union of the disparate people groups in the church takes place only through their union with Christ. Union with him makes possible our union with one another. Only in this way can the wall of hostility between us be nullified (2:14).
B. Centered “in Christ Jesus”
C. Accomplished by the Power of the Gospel
“through the gospel”
III. (:7-11) THE PURPOSE OF THE REVELATION IS TO MAKE KNOWN THE RICHES OF CHRIST – UNFOLDING THE WISDOM AND PURPOSE OF GOD’S PLAN FOR THE CHURCH (WITH SPECIAL EMPHASIS ON THE ROLE OF THE GENTILES)
A. (:7-8) Privilege of Being Made a Minister of the Gospel
Clinton Arnold: With this transitional verse, Paul brings his discussion of the content of the mystery to a conclusion and begins to explain his divinely commissioned role as a steward of the mystery.
Martin: Re “minister” — Paul was made a servant by God’s gift. This is the word transliterated in English as deacon — one who serves or waits on tables. Paul never considered his office something high, removing him from other men. He always spoke of himself humbly.”
- Based on Grace
“according to the gift of God’s grace”
- Enabled by Power
“which was given to me according to the working of His power”
- Not Based on Merit
“To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given”
Frank Thielman: Paul’s reference to himself as “the least of all the saints” in 3:8 probably shows us the link between these two uses of the term “grace.” God’s willingness to use Paul to preach the gospel among the Gentiles was a signal demonstration of his grace (3:7; cf. Gal. 1:13–16; 1 Cor. 15:9–10; 1 Tim. 1:12–16). Just as in salvation generally, God’s grace is evident in his desire to save those who are dead in trespasses and sins, so with Paul specifically, God’s grace is evident in his use of a former persecutor of the church, and zealot for an exclusivist form of Jewish tradition, to preach the good news that the Gentiles are now included among God’s people.
- Method of the Mission
- Target Audience
“to the Gentiles”
- Inexhaustible Depth of the Message
“the unfathomable riches of Christ”
Frank Thielman: If the previous section (3:1–7) was primarily about the link between Paul’s administrative responsibility and the mystery of the Gentiles’ inclusion in the church, then this section [:8-13] is chiefly devoted to the ways in which he has carried out that role (Schnackenburg 1991: 129; Best 1998: 292; Hoehner 2002: 453) and why the role was necessary. He has fulfilled the role that God gave him in two ways.
- First, he has proclaimed the good news of the unsearchable riches of Christ to the Gentiles (v. 8b),
- and second, he has illumined everyone, whether Jew or Gentile, about the mystery that the Creator of the universe has now revealed (v. 9).
B. (:9-10) Privilege of Making Known the Mystery of God’s Wisdom
- Mission of Enlightenment
“and to bring to light“
- Mystery of God’s Working Behind the Scenes of Human History
“what is the administration of the mystery“
Grant Osborne: Here the emphasis is not on the what of the mystery but on the how: the way God has implemented his plan of salvation for the world. As missionary to the Gentiles Paul is part of that plan, and he wants to pass on his insights to the church so they can take their place as part of that mission. In other words, the mystery is the outworking of the gospel in the mission of the church, the proclamation of the salvation brought about through the sacrificial death of Christ and the new union of all people groups that has resulted.
- Muzzled for Ages
“which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things“
- Manifold Wisdom of God
“in order that the manifold wisdom of God“
Van Parunak: “Manifold” means literally “many-folded,” and describes something that has many components, that brings many diverse things together. Cf. the exhaust manifold on an engine, which brings together the exhaust from the different cylinders. The Greek word means “many-colored, variegated,” describing an embroidered garment, but the figurative sense is the same. “Manifold wisdom” or “variegated wisdom” is complex, with many parts and perspectives, apparently paradoxical, unable to be summarized simply.
- Medium and Timing of Enlightenment
“might now be made known through the church“
- Mighty Audience
“to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places“
Grant Osborne: Many believe that the “rulers and authorities” are composed of both good and bad angels, but Paul is interested here only in the forces of evil, who are focused on doing harm to the cause of God and Christ in this world. When Satan entered Judas and led Christ to the cross, he may have thought this was a great victory (though he undoubtedly knew Isaiah 52–53 as well as we do), but Colossians 2:15 tells us that at the very moment of his death Christ disarmed the evil powers and led them in his victory procession. The church participates in that victory every day through its mission to the world and by believers living holy lives.
E. F. Scott: The hostile powers had sought to frustrate the work of God, and believed they had succeeded when they conspired against Christ and brought about his Crucifixion. But unwittingly they had been mere instruments in God’s hands. The death of Christ had been the very means He had devised for the accomplishment of His plan. So it is here declared that the hostile powers, after their brief apparent triumph, had now become aware of a divine wisdom they had never dreamed of. They saw the Church arising as the result of Christ’s death and giving effect to what they could now perceive to have been the hidden purpose of God.
C. (:11) Privilege of Unfolding the Eternal Purpose of the Church
“This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in
Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Clinton Arnold: The idea here is not that God thought up this plan, but that he had this plan in mind before he created humanity and is now bringing it to realization. Jesus Christ is the central figure in the fulfillment of God’s plan. He has been exalted to the right hand of God, a position of power and authority, and will completely realize God’s plan that will lead to the summing up of everything in heaven and on earth (1:10). For the hostile principalities and powers, this will entail their ultimate subjugation.
(:12-13) CONCLUSION: TWO APPLICATIONS
A. (:12) With Regard to Our Relationship to Christ Jesus our Lord
- What do we have?
Clinton Arnold: Combined with “access”, this expression explicates the new “nearness” (2:13) with God. Because of his kindness, love, and mercy coupled with the reconciliation that has taken place by the blood of Jesus Christ, believers can experience a closeness to God. As part of this relationship, God’s people need feel no restraint in approaching God in prayer or worship. They can pray at any time with no fear of being turned away because of ritual impurity or some form of unworthiness. Because of the work of Christ, which constitutes the means of their reconciliation, there are no ritual performances of any kind that are necessary to approach God. Because of what Christ has accomplished, they can approach God with full confidence (πεποιθήσει). This term simply reinforces the idea of freedom of access to the Father with no fear of recrimination or rejection.
“through faith in Him”
B. (:13) With Regard to Our Inner Peace of Mind and Heart
“Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.”
Be Encouraged … Not Discouraged —
Paul’s Imprisonment Has Been Worth the Suffering
Clinton Arnold: The fact that Paul fears that these readers might become disheartened because of his sufferings reveals that they have a sufficient personal knowledge of him and a bond of affection toward him so that his adversity could have an emotional impact on them. This strongly personal tone reflected here needs to balance the often-heard remarks by some commentators that this letter is impersonal. This statement of concern also needs to be factored into the array of reasons that has prompted Paul to write this letter.
Grant Osborne: The mention of Paul’s suffering here brackets this section, along with verse 1, where he calls himself “the prisoner of Christ.” Paul’s own suffering prompts him to think of what the Christians in the province of Asia are going through for Christ. There was indeed intense persecution, as seen in 1 Peter and, reflecting the situation thirty years later, in Revelation; both these letters were written to churches in the area. Paul’s point throughout this section is that his and their suffering is more than worthwhile, since through them the gospel is being proclaimed and the mystery of Christ being worked out in the growth of the church. All of this takes place in the midst of, and partly because of, all they are going through. Paul has never minded afflictions as long as they are serving the cause of Christ (see Rom 8:31–39; 1 Cor 12:21–29).
The theme of 1 Peter can be summed up as “Suffering is the path to glory.” That is the theme of this verse as well. Paul had by this time been suffering imprisonment for about four years. He had been arrested in Jerusalem (Acts 21:27–36), was taken to Caesarea after the Jews threatened his life (Acts 23:23–35), and was incarcerated there for two years (Acts 24:27) before being sent to Rome. There he stayed in a rented home for which he himself paid, though he was chained to Roman guards (Acts 28:20, 30). He had freedom and space in his apartment to entertain visitors (Acts 28:17, 23) but was on trial for his life before Nero. Even two years into his imprisonment he did not know whether he would live or die, though he expected that God would spare him for his ministry’s sake (Phil 1:19–26). Still, Paul rejoiced because God was using his imprisonment to advance the gospel (Phil 1:12–14). Could we handle all of this—four plus years on trial for our life, with an entire nation ostensibly seeking our death? From this perspective our own difficulties suddenly don’t seem so arduous!
Therefore, Paul admonishes the Ephesians not to be discouraged at all the suffering he is enduring.
Stephen Fowl: This section concludes with a sentence that helps bring the two long expositions of God’s mystery and of Paul’s role in proclaiming that mystery into clearer perspective. The sentence begins with “Therefore.” This conjunction brings to completion the conditional sentence that began in 3:2. It summarizes the point or aim for which Paul has discussed the stewardship that God has given to Paul, about which the Ephesians have already heard. Because Paul has now discussed at some length the nature of his stewardship, the Ephesians are in a position to assent to a request. That request is that they not lose hope in Paul’s tribulations on their behalf. Presumably these tribulations find their current focus in Paul’s status as a prisoner (cf. 3:1).