Last week we discussed “oneness in Christ”. That is, how the sacrifice of Jesus Christ has broken down every barrier between those near (the Jews, God’s chosen people) and those far off (the Gentiles). Now both have the same access to God through the same Spirit. We are no longer strangers and aliens sojourning in a foreign land. We are now all fellow citizens and holy members of God’s household.
Paul then proceeds to describe a building that is founded on Christ, whom He calls the chief corner stone. Form this corner stone, the foundation of the apostles and prophets was laid. And on top of that foundation we, the body of believers, are being built up together into a holy temple, a dwelling place for the Lord. This paints for us a detailed and grounded picture of the church today…the body of believers in which God may dwell in His Spirit.
In the Old Testament this temple was a physical structure where God dwelled. This structure was meticulously kept clean and well maintained to be a holy sanctuary. While the Jews were wandering in the desert for 40 years they had to physically take down, move, and re-construct this temple over and over as they wandered the desert. How fortunate we are that we do not to have to do this since we carry the temple of God in our bodies. Still, it is wise for us to keep our bodies free from sin so as not to contaminate the temple of God, which results in pushing God farther away from us.
Now the focus of what Paul has taught us is that we are now the temple of God through the Spirit. All barriers have been removed so that all of us (Jew or Gentile) may have access to God. Here in Ephesians 3:1-13 we are going to dive into this topic of oneness in Christ more deeply.
1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
Paul begins with the statement “For this reason…”. This reason originates from what we just read last week at the end of chapter 2 that the Gentiles were fellow heirs with the Jews and citizens of the household of God. Then Paul states that he is a prisoner of Christ Jesus. At this time Paul was a prisoner of Rome, incarcerated for his preaching to Gentiles. However, he specifically states that he is a prisoner of Christ Jesus. Paul sees his situation as it truly is. He is a prisoner not because Rome decided he was to be incarcerated, but because Jesus, his Lord, deemed it so. But he continues on with “for the sake of you Gentiles”, meaning that he was a prisoner due to his calling from God to preach salvation to Gentiles. It’s almost as if his imprisonment was a joy, signifying that he was doing the Lord’s work.
Now Paul interrupts his thoughts here and returns to them later in verse 3:14. What we see here in verses 3:2-13 is called a parenthetical or a brief interlude that is designed to explain something in more detail. There are a couple of clues to this. First, notice that verse 1 and verse 14 both begin with “For this reason…”. In verse 1 Paul begins a thought and then interrupts himself in verses 2-13 to explain deeper this mystery which was revealed to him and why it was revealed to him. Then in verse 14 Paul restarts his initial thought from verse 1. Second, many times a parenthetical is set off by some type of punctuation, in this case the punctuation is the em dash at the end of verse 1. In fact, all the Bible translations that I looked through had this same em dash.
Let’s take a closer look at this parenthetical. It seems to be broken down into two main sections 2-7 and 8-12, with a final thought in verse 13.
2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you;
3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.
4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,
5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;
6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,
7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.
Paul begins this section by saying “If indeed you have heard…” or a more apt translation would be “Surely you have heard…” (the verb have heard, being indicative or factual in nature). Paul was saying that by now everyone should have heard that he was granted the stewardship of preaching Christ to the Gentiles by the grace of God. But Paul doesn’t keep himself as the focus here. Rather, he says that this calling of his was for you…the Gentiles. It was not to puff up Paul and make him look special or important. No, it was for the good of the Gentiles. This was evident in his present circumstances…his incarceration.
Now we get to the revelation of this mystery that was given by revelation to Paul by Jesus. We’ve been talking about this “mystery” throughout Ephesians, which is that Jesus has broken down the dividing wall and now all may have salvation. But it’s also a bit more than this as the children of God could now worship together in one Spirit. This was the church that was now being revealed. This church is like the temple of the Old Testament where we can now boldly come before God to worship and fellowship with Him. Verse 6 spells this out.
Verse 7 echoes what Paul stated in verses 2-3, that Paul was given this ministry by the grace of God. Notice here that Paul expands on what he said in verse 2 that it is nothing of himself, but everything from God that made him this minister (God’s great grace). This great grace was given to him according to the mighty working of God’s power. This is the mindset of a person who can have joy in a terrible situation (his imprisonment). This is the faith Paul has, to see things as they really are. Paul isn’t the one who is powerfully working to save the Gentiles, God is. God alone does the work and we simply have to step into the works that He has prepared for us, Ephesians 2:8–10:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The topic of the church is a deeply involved one. I ran across this article (https://www.9marks.org/article/what-is-a-church/) from 9Marks that has a very good examination of the word church (in Greek “ekklesia”) and what it meant to those in Paul’s time. It’s a very interesting read.
8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ,
9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things;
10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.
11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,
12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.
Verses 8-12 continue the parenthetical by furthering Paul’s thoughts on the mystery of Christ and His church. Paul again states here that he should not be glorified because he has been given the responsibility to preach Christ to the Gentiles. Rather, Paul classifies himself as the least of all saints and puts the focus on the unfathomable riches of Christ and the grace that was given to him to preach this to the Gentiles.
In verse 10 Paul gives a reason for the church (the body of believers) to now come to light, being hidden by God up to this point. That reason is for the wisdom of God to be made known to rulers and authorities in the heavenly realm (i.e., angels both good and evil). Proverbs very succinctly sums up wisdom in Proverbs 9:10:
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
In essence, the church was to be put on display so-to-speak to the heavenly realm as a display of God’s manifold (multifaceted, as a gem stone is multifaceted) wisdom. This display of wisdom glorifies God even more.
13 Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.
In this closing line of this parenthetical, Paul intends to comfort and encourage believers not to become discouraged due to his present circumstances. Paul, being imprisoned, knows that his situation would certainly cause fear and timidity among the body of believers. Here, Paul explains why believers should not lose heart. They (and we) should realize that Paul’s imprisonment is ultimately for their glory (and ultimately ours too). That is not to say that we glorify ourselves or that Paul is glorifying the saints; rather, we are being glorified through Christ. When God looks upon a believer, He sees Christ. Our glory is based not on ourselves but on Christ and what He has done.