Second Corinthians

Commentary on the Book of Ephesians

By: Tom Lowe                                                Date: 5/16/17

 

 

Lesson 12: The Content of the Mystery Revealed to Paul (3:1-7)

 

 

Ephesians 3:1-7 (KJV)

 

1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,

If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:

How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,

Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)

Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;

That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:

Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.



Commentary

 

1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,

 

For this cause

What was “this cause?” It could have been one or more of the following:

  • The apostle believed that his mission was to preach this doctrine; that is, the doctrine that the Gospel was to be proclaimed to the Gentiles.
  • Paul was convinced that the Gentiles were given access to all the privileges of the Jews, and all the blessings of the new covenant, without being obliged to submit to circumcision. Once he revealed this conviction,⸺probably placed in  his mind and heart by the Holy Spirit⸺the Jews persecuted him, and caused him to be imprisoned, first at Caesarea, where he was obliged to appeal to the Roman emperor, which resulted in him being sent as a prisoner to Rome (Acts 21:21-28).
  • That you, Jews and Gentiles, may be a habitation of God, through the Spirit.

 

I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ

“Paul,” calls himself “the prisoner of Jesus Christ;” that is, a prisoner in the service of the Lord Jesus; or made a prisoner for His cause. Not a prisoner for crime or debt, or as a captive in war, but a captive in the service of the Redeemer. He was apprehended by Him on the Damascus Road, where He was immediately made Christ's prisoner, the Jews' prisoner, the Romans' prisoner, the Gentiles' prisoner; Christ's prisoner, because he suffered for His Gospel; the Jews' prisoner, since he suffered from their accusations; the Romans' prisoner, for he would suffer as a result of their sentence; the Gentiles’ prisoner, because he suffered as the result of his struggle in order to bring them the Gospel of salvation. He was in prison for preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles and showing that they were not bound by the Law of Moses, and yet were called to be fellow citizens with the saints; for this very cause the Jews persecuted him, saw to it that he was imprisoned and conspired to take his life. This proves that at the time of writing this, Paul was in bonds, and there can be no question that he was in Rome.

 

For you Gentiles

This Epistle is supposed to have been written when Paul was at Rome, confined and in chains (Acts 28:16, 30.). When Paul wrote this, he was awaiting trial under Nero and in all probability fully aware of the ultimate martyrdom that awaited him; but there is no word of complaint here. In fact, he is not Nero's prisoner at all, but the prisoner of Christ! When Paul suffered, from whatever cause, it was all for Christ. To all outward appearances Paul was a prisoner of the Roman government, but that is not the way Paul looked at it, at all. He thought of himself as suffering and being imprisoned for the sake of Christ.

 

The cause of his imprisonment and of all his difficulties was that he maintained that the Gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles; that when the Jews rejected it God rejected them; and that he was especially called to carry the message of salvation to the pagan world. In addition to Paul's defense of the right of "the Gentiles" to be received "into Christ," he labored to bring the Jewish and Gentile Christians together; to remove their suspicion of each other and to build their trust, for he knew that if the Gentile Christians were declared to be non-Jewish, then they came under Roman laws regarding illegal religions; but so long as they were regarded as a Jewish sect, they were immune from such laws with their death penalty.

 

2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:

 

If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God

By “the dispensation [rendered “stewardship” in Luke 16:2-4] of the grace of God” is meant either the apostolic office and gifts granted to Paul, for the purpose of preaching the Gospel among the Gentiles, (Romans 1:5); or the knowledge which God gave him of that gracious and Divine plan which he had formed for the conversion of the Gentiles.

 

What is NOT meant here by “grace” is the free love and favor of God in His heart towards His people; nor internal grace formed in the heart of the apostle; but either the gift of grace, which is the subject of Ephesians 3:7 [“Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power.”]; qualifying him for the work of the ministry; or rather the doctrine of grace, the Gospel, the subject matter of which is the grace of God; it is a declaration of the free grace of God in the salvation of men; and it is the means of conveying the grace of God into their hearts. The title given to the Gospel is the grace of God; partly because the glad tidings which the Gospel brings are the effect and product of God's grace and favor, and partly because the Gospel is the instrument and means of working peace in the souls of persons.

 

Now the apostle had the authority and freedom to preach this Gospel committed to him; he acted with authority, and as a steward of the mysteries of God, which he faithfully dispensed to the family of Christ, who appointed him to this service. The Ephesians had heard of this, from the associates and friends of the apostle, and others, and so, they knew it themselves, having often heard him preach, for he was with them for the space of three years. Therefore, this is not said as if he questioned whether they had heard or not, but as if he took it for granted that they had.

 

which is given me to you-ward

“The Gospel” was not given to him for his own private use, nor was the gifts of the Spirit given him solely to qualify him for dispensing it, but for the sake of others, especially the Gentiles, and particularly the Ephesians.

 

 There is reason to believe that while Paul was at Ephesus, he had said nothing on these subjects, since no necessity for doing so had arisen; for no controversy had taken place among them about the calling of the Gentiles. If he had made any mention of them in his discourses, he would have reminded the Ephesians of his former statements, instead of referring generally, as he now does, to common knowledge and to his own Epistle. He did not, of his own accord, provoke unnecessary disputes. It was only when the wickedness of his adversaries made it necessary, that he reluctantly undertook the defense of his ministry.

 

3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,

 

How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery

Modern theologians have argued over whether Paul derived his thinking from Greek philosophers or Jewish rabbis, but Paul clearly states that it came from God. Various truths about the Bible are learned from “revelation”:

  • It is understandable. It was designed (by divine wisdom) to be understood by all. It infers that unaided human wisdom is bankrupt.  [Or after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (1 Corinthian 1:21)]
  • It means that God’s truth cannot be learned by “feelings” or “intuition” (Proverbs 16:25).
  • “Paul had not discovered God’s mystery by natural means. He had not figured it out through reasoning.
  • Man had not whispered it into his ear. Listen to what Paul said in his letter to the Galatians “But I certify you, brethren, that the Gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12).

 

Therefore, Paul’s letters are not “Paul’s Theology.” It is God’s point of view and in God’s own selected words [Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:13)].

 

Again, Paul had not reasoned it out or stumbled upon it. Everyone on the face of this planet would be completely ignorant of the Gospel message and God’s will for mankind, if God had not spoken [But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)] The Gospel is not a product of the elite or super-smart. It had to be “made known” to Paul. This phrase contradicts the idea that Paul “invented” the Gospel he preached or parts of it.

 

Three times in this short paragraph Paul uses the word “mystery” (3:3, 4, 9). In English a mystery is something dark, obscure, secret, and puzzling. What is mysterious is incomprehensible, even bizarre at times. In Christianity there are no obscure mysteries reserved for a spiritual elite. On the contrary the Christian mysteries are truths which, although beyond human discovery, have been revealed by God and so now belong openly to the whole church. This mystery includes Christ and His new people, which would include both Jewish and Gentile believers [Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds (Colossians 4:3).].

 

So, what is the mystery? Or mysteries? It has been defined as an undisclosed fact existing in only the foreknowledge of God. The Gospel, which is sometimes called a mystery, the mystery of the Gospel, the mystery of godliness, and the mystery of faith. The several doctrines of the Gospel are the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; such as a trinity of persons in the Godhead, the union of the two natures in Christ, the saints’ union to Christ, and communion with Him, the resurrection of the dead, and the change of living saints, and the whole doctrine of salvation by Christ, of justification by His righteousness, pardon by His blood, and atonement by His sacrifice. All this was made known to the apostle, not in a mere theoretical and speculative way, but in a spiritual and saving manner; not by men, for he was not taught by men, nor did he receive it from them, but had it by the revelation of Jesus Christ, and by the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.

 

as I wrote afore in few words

Other versions render this clause as: “As I have already shortly written to you” (Con). “As I have already briefly told you” (TCNT). “I have already written a brief account of this” (NEB). This statement probably refers back to verses 2:14-16, in which Paul had briefly mentioned or explained this mystery in the first two chapters of this epistle, which are a brief overview of the mystery of the Gospel, in its several parts; that is, predestination, election, redemption, regeneration, and salvation by free grace.

 

Ephesians 3:20-21 sum up Paul’s whole message in a doxology to God the Father through Christ Jesus. It may be compared with the other more solemn doxologies in the New Testament; such as Romans 16:25, 1 Timothy 5:15-16, Jude 1:24-25, Revelation 1:6. Each has its distinctive character. Here the prevailing idea of the preceding chapters is the wonder and the mystery of God’s fore-ordaining love, overflowing in the riches of His grace to those who are made one with Him and with each other in Christ Jesus. Hence, God is here described as He “who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think,” and to do all “by His power dwelling” and working in us.

 

4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)

 

Whereby, when ye read

 Paul is not speaking here to “lost” men and women, but to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps someone in the Ephesus Church had said they couldn’t understand what he was saying; the apostle had written many letters to this particular church. He says here, “When you read the above chapters, and seriously consider what is contained in them, you may understand my knowledge,” or “perceive my intelligence.” “When ye read,” implies that, though the mysteries of this Epistle are deep, the best way for anyone to understand them is to read his letters (2 Timothy 3:15-16{1]). By perceiving his understanding of the mysteries, they, too, will be enabled to understand⸺the view which he held of the plan of salvation, and the knowledge which he had of God‘s method of saving people, particularly of His intention in regard to the salvation of the Gentiles.By reading what he had written, they could judge his knowledge of the mystery of Christ. What he had written might be taken as the standard or evidence of his knowledge.

 

ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)

This does not refer to anything “mysterious” in the person of Christ; or the union of the divine and human nature in Him; or to anything difficult to understand about the work of the atonement. It means the previously concealed doctrine that through the Messiah, the Gentiles were to receive the same privileges as the Jews, and that the plan of salvation was to be made equally free for all. This great truth had been up to that time concealed, or only partially understood, and Paul says that he was appointed to make it known to the world. His “knowledge” on the subject, he says, could be determined by what he had said, and from that they could judge whether he was qualified to state and defend the doctrines of the Gospel. Paul evidently supposed that the knowledge which he had on that subject was of obvious value; that it was possessed by only a few; that it was important to understand it. That’s why he dwells upon it. He speaks of the glory of that truth. He traces it back to the counsels of God. He shows that it entered into His eternal plans; and he evidently felt that the truth which he had communicated in the former part of this Epistle, was among the most important that could come before the mind.

 

“Mystery of Christ,” may mean the mystery or revelation concerning Christ; or of which he is the author (i.e. of the secret purpose of redemption), or which is Christ. Christ himself is the great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh. He is the revelation of the secret purpose of God, which had been hid for ages. Thus the apostle in writing to the Colossians says: “God would make known the riches of the glory of the mystery among the Gentiles; which (i.e. the mystery) is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27”.

 

5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;

 

Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men

That is, the mystery of Christ, and of the Gospel, was not made known to men in general, nor was it stated as clearly as it is under the Gospel dispensation. Nor was it made known to them that the Gentiles could find salvation without coming under the yoke of the Mosaic Law, and that the Jews themselves could be freed from that yoke of bondage; these were discoveries totally new, and now revealed for the first time by the Spirit of God. Some hints of it, though, were given to Adam, immediately after his fall; and the Gospel was preached to Abraham, Moses, and David, and others knew something about it; and it was given out even more fully in the times of the prophet Isaiah, and the prophets who followed him. Nevertheless, the knowledge of it was not as extensive, or as clear as it is now, for it lay hid in types and shadows, in obscure prophecies and short hints. Moreover, this may have to do particularly with the calling of the Gentiles, which is how it appears in the following clause.  This was, in some measure, made known; that in Christ all the nations of the earth should be blessed,  that the Messiah should be an example for the people, and the Gentiles should seek Him; that he should be the covenant of the people, and a leader and a commander of them; and that there would be a time when a great many would flock to Him; but then this was not known to many, and the time, mode, and circumstances of it were understood by only a few, so that comparatively speaking, it was not known.

 

as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the spirit.

The apostles and prophets{2] were the superior officers in the Gospel dispensation; the former being the twelve apostles of Christ, and the latter being those who had the gift of interpreting the prophecies of the Old Testament, and of foretelling things to come, having received gifts from Christ to equip them for such offices and services to which they are called, some apostles, some prophets; and to these a revelation was made of the mystery of the Gospel in general, and of the calling of the Gentiles in particular, by the Spirit, who searches the deep things of God, and reveals them, and leads into all truth; and who, by falling upon the Gentiles, as upon Cornelius and his family, and by the success which He gave to the Gospel in the Gentile world, made their calling clear and manifest.

 

The phrase “by the Spirit” proves that those who exercised the office of prophet in the Christian church were inspired. They were persons endowed in this religion. There is no evidence that this was meant to be a permanent order of people in the church. They were necessary for putting the church on a permanent footing, in the absence of a full written revelation, and to lead the church when the apostles were away. When God’s revelations were complete, and the doctrines of the Gospel were fully understood, the functions of the office ceased.

 

6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:

 

That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs,

“That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs”i.e., have the same right to the heavenly inheritance that the believing Jews have⸺is the substance of that mystery which had been hidden from all mankind for ages, and which was now made known to the New Testament apostles and prophets, and more particularly to the Apostle Paul.

 

Another part of this revealed mystery is that the Gentiles come on the same basis as believing Jews and partake of all the promises of God without having to become Jewish proselytes. They are fellow-heirs. That means that upon believing they inherit the promises made to Abraham and the Prophets, and now they belong to the commonwealth of the true Israel.

 

That the Gentiles were to be saved was no mystery (Romans 9:24-33; Romans 10:19-21). The mystery "hid in God" was the divine purpose for making Jew and Gentile an entirely new thing⸺“the church, which is Christ's body,” formed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12; 1 Corinthians 12:13) and in which the earthly distinction of Jew and Gentile disappears (Ephesians 2:14-15; Colossians 3:10-11). The revelation of this mystery, which was foretold, but not explained by Christ (Matthew 16:18) was committed to Paul. In his writings alone we find the doctrine, position, walk, and destiny of the church.

 

Do you agree? The real mystery, I do believe, is that God would save any man, especially a man like me. Friend, if you have been saved, it is entirely due to God’s mercy and grace, because you do not deserve it.

 

and of the same body,

They are fellow-members of the body; the same mystical body of which Christ is the Head.

This is the body mentioned in Ephesians 2:16{3], the new man made of both Jew and Gentile united with Christ. The important thing is not the body but the oneness of it. So, they are no longer alienated. They are fellow-partakers of the promise. Thus they are no longer strangers to the promises. They are one body together ‘in Christ’, joint heirs, joint members, joint beneficiaries. The mystery was not that the Gentiles could be saved⸺there is much in the Old Testament concerning that, particularly in Isaiah⸺but that they should be joined with Jews in one body!"

 

and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:

“And partakers of His promise” refers to the great promise of the covenant, which incorporates all the rest under it. “His promise in Christ” is the promise made to Abraham and extended to the Gentiles. The apostle has essentially proved in his Epistle to the Romans and particularly in his Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 3:14) that it was to be fulfilled to them by and through Christ. And that these blessings were to be announced in the preaching of the Gospel, and received upon believing it, he declares everywhere, but more especially in this epistle.

 

“In Christ” means that all the promises have their accomplishment in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

 

“By the Gospel” provides the means or instrument by which God builds the faith whereby they are made partakers of the promise, fellow heirs, etc. “In Christ by the Gospel” is how the miracle has been brought about, through the offering of Christ Jesus on the cross as a sacrifice as proclaimed in the Gospel and by their being united with Him in His body (Ephesians 2:13; Ephesians 2:16; 1 Corinthians 1:17-18).

 

The Gospel was designed to make all who embrace it children of God, and members of one family; to give them free access to Him as their Father, and lead them to love one another as brethren. To the extent that it does not produce these effects on those who profess it, they have reason to fear that they have never experienced its power.

 

It is difficult for us to appreciate how great this change was. As a Pharisee, Paul had believed implicitly in the superiority of the Jews in all things related to God. The Gentiles were in the shadows, with a comparatively few coming humbly to take hold of the coat tails of the Jews. But now all this is turned upside down. Now all God’s ways are open on equal terms to all who believe, and all are equal in God’s sight.

 

7 Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.

 

Whereof I was made a minister

I was made a minister; a runner, servant, minister of the Gospel, not by men, but by God. He is a true minister of the Gospel who is called by God to the work of the ministry, and is qualified by Him with grace and gifts for it; and who faithfully performs it according to the ability God has given him. This describes a Gospel minister; in Paul’s case, an apostle. Minister of the Gospel, means one whose business it is to preach the Gospel. This is his service; the work for which he is called, and to which he is bound by the Holy Spirit to devote himself. There are two things which Paul here and in the verse following says in reference to his introduction into the ministry; first, it was a great favor; and secondly, it involved the exercise of divine power. [Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8).]

 

according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me

He was made a minister, not according to his natural ability, his liberal education, or acquired learning; but according to the gift of the grace of God given to him. “The gift of the grace of God,” may mean the gracious gift, i.e. the gift due to the grace of God; or, the gift which is the grace of God; so that the grace, as Paul often calls his apostleship, is the thing given. In either way the gift referred to was his vocation to be an apostle. That he who was a persecutor and blasphemer should be called to be an apostle, was in his view a wonderful display of the grace of God.

 

Paul and all “called” ministers of the Gospel have the gift of interpreting the Scriptures, and of explaining the truths of the Gospel to the edification of men; and which is a distinct thing from natural abilities, human learning, or internal grace; for there may be all these present in one person, and yet that man is not fit to be a minister of the Gospel; what qualifies men for that is the above gift, which God, of His sovereign good will and pleasure, gives to some of the sons of men.

 

by the effectual working of his power

 

The gift in question was given by the effective working of His (God’s) power. Paul's vocation as an apostle involved his conversion, and his conversion was the effect of the power of God. This refers to the nature of the work, and not to its mere circumstances. It was not the blinding light, not the fearful voice, which he refers to as the power of God, but the inward change, by which he, a malignant opposer of Christ, was instantly converted into an obedient servant. The power of God is present when grace works in the hearts of men to make them believers in Christ; and it is also displayed in the gifts of the Spirit bestowed upon men, which is called a person endowed with power from on high; power for the conversion of sinners, and the edification of saints. In Ephesians 1:19, Paul wrote; “And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power.”

 

 

 

Scripture and Special Notes

 

[1}And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:15-16).

 

[2} Those who exercised the office of a prophet or inspired teacher in the Christian church (1 Corinthians 12:1).

 

[3}And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby (Ephesians 2:16).

 

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