Second Corinthians

Commentary on the Book of Ephesians

By: Tom Lowe                                                Date: 6/8/17

 

 

Lesson 13: The Wisdom of the Mystery Revealed to Angelic Beings (3:8-13)

 

 

Ephesians 3:8-13 (KJV)

 

8 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;

9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:

10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,

11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:

12 In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.

13 Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.



Commentary

 

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;

 

“Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints” is an example of the great humility of the apostle, and I believe that most of you who know the word of God would agree that the greatest saints are, generally speaking, the most humble people; men such as Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and others have the lowest opinion of themselves, and the best of others. They rejoice in the grace of God displayed in others; they are willing to receive instruction and advice from ordinary believers; they have the least opinion of their own work and actions, and are the greatest admirers of the grace of God; and do most cheerfully submit to the sovereign will of God. The reasons for their great humility are: (1), because they have received a large amount of the love and grace of God and Christ, which are of a soul humbling nature; (2), they are the most conscious of their own sinfulness, vileness, and unworthiness, which keeps them from being pretentious and conceited; (3), they are generally the most afflicted with Satan's temptations, which are allowed to badly affect them, “lest they should be exalted above measure”; (4), they are the most fruitful souls, and are willing to share the Gospel with the very lowest of humanity; and (5), they are the most conformable to Christ, who is meek and lowly.

 

“Who am less than the least of all saints” is one of the class of expressions unique to Paul. The phrase means here, “who am incomparably the least of all the saints; or who am not worthy to be reckoned among the saints.” It is expressive of the deep sense which he had of the sinfulness of his past life; of his guilt in persecuting the church and the Savior; and perhaps of his sense of his low attainments in piety. Paul never could put the guilt of his former life behind him; never forget the time when he was engaged in persecuting the church of God.

 

“Less than the least” is similar to “more than the most” or “higher than the highest,” etc. “No disciple of Paul’s would have thought of giving the apostle so low a place” among the Saints of God; furthermore, it is obvious to any thoughtful person that “no Christian who ever lived” would have given Paul so low a place! That is, none except the holy apostle himself who wrote the epistle.

 

“Is this grace given” that is, the gift of grace, the ministerial gift:

 

“That I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”; the riches of Christ, as God, lie in the perfections of His nature, in the works of His hands, in His empire and dominion over all, and in the proceeds of glory, which result from the “riches of Christ”; and these riches are inherent and beyond description, and are too wonderful for words, and inconceivable to our finite minds.

His riches, as Mediator, lie in the persons of the elect, in the grace that is laid up in Him for them, called the “riches of grace,” and in the inheritance He has kept safe in Heaven for them, called the “riches of glory”; and these rich things are transmittable, as well as solid, satisfying, and lasting; and they are unsearchable to the natural man, and cannot be fully investigated by believers themselves; they will last for all eternity: and they will appear unsearchable, when it is considered what they have procured, and what blessings have been dispensed.

What a large family Christ has maintained by them, and how richly and fully he has provided for them, and to what honor and grandeur he raises them all. Now it was great grace to entrust the apostle with such a ministry, to put such treasure into an earthen vessel; it was great grace that qualified him for it; and it was great grace in particular to the Gentiles, that he should be appointed to publish these among them; and so the apostle considered it, and himself unworthy of such honor.

There is no more emphatic expression in the New Testament than this. It shows that the heart of the apostle was full of admiration for the sufficiency and glory that was in the Savior; that he wanted words to express it; and that he considered it the highest honor to be permitted to tell the world that there were such riches in the Redeemer. Paul’s thought in this connection was that such unsearchable riches were to be provided for all mankind through his preaching. There was a sense in which he could give such incredible wealth to everyone on earth! This was why Paul so appreciated and honored the office which God gave him, that of the apostleship.

 

And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:

 

“And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, in order that the whole human family might see the glory of God in the plan of salvation. Up till now the revelation of His character and plans had been confined to the Jews. Now it was his aim that the entire human race would be made familiar with it.The message of salvation is to be preached to human beings, not angels, spirits or other non-terrestrial beings. It is important to keep this in mind when we come to the next verse.

Someone is sure to ask, “What is the fellowship of the mystery.” Instead of “fellowship,” most versions read “dispensation,” and most interpreters consider it the genuine reading. The mistake might easily have been made by a transcriber. The meaning then would be, “to enlighten all with respect to the right dispensation of this mystery;” that is, to cause all to understand the manner in which this great truth of the plan of salvation is communicated to people. If the word “fellowship” is to be retained, it means that this doctrine, or secret counsel of God, was now “familiar” to all believers. It was not to be confined to any class or rank of people. Other commentators have rendered it, “and to make all people perceive how this mystery comes now to be communicated to the world”; and “the common participation of the mystery;” that is, of truths formerly unknown, and which could not be known by man‘s unaided powers, but which were now laid open by the gracious dispensation of Divine Providence; no longer concealed, or confined to a few, but to be shared by all. Essentially, Christ himself is the mystery; there is a thumbnail biography of Christ in which He is actually called the mystery⸺“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was 1manifest in the flesh, 2justified in the Spirit, 3seen of angels, 4preached unto the Gentiles, 5believed on in the world, 6received up into glory” (1 Timothy 1:13). The six items of that biography are the various elements of the mystery.

The “great mystery” in Christianity was made known to all. It was concealed from none and there was no distinction made among those who were believers. No truths which God had revealed were held back from any part of Christianity, but there was a common participation by all. Christianity has no hidden truths reserved for only a part of its friends; it has no reserved doctrines; it has no truths to be entrusted only to a sacred priesthood. Its doctrines are to be published to the whole wide world, and every follower of Christ is to be a partaker of all the benefits of the truths which Christ has revealed.

The general sense is that Paul felt he was called into the ministry in order that all people might understand now that salvation was free for all, a truth that had been concealed for ages. The impact of this great truth is that he felt that he had a message of incalculable value for mankind, and he desired to go and proclaim it to the entire world.

 

“Which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God; God's plan of human redemption has always existed in the purpose of God, the fact that it was hidden indicates that there were people who might have understood it if God had chosen to reveal it. God does not owe it to anyone to explain why the mystery was concealed for a long time; as a matter of fact, He doesn’t owe anyone, anything. It was concealed not only from the Gentiles, but also from the Jews; and according to 1 Peter 1:12{1], it was also concealed from the angels in heaven. It was even concealed from the holy prophets of the Old Testament who were given revelations in words which they did not fully understand concerning this very mystery (1 Peter 1:10-12{2]).

 

“Who created all things”is clear enough; but it is not quite so clear why the declaration is introduced in this place. Some suppose that it refers to the new creation, and that the sense is, that God transforms and manages this new creation entirely through Jesus Christ. But the expression contains a truth of much greater importance, and naturally conveys the idea that all things were made by God, and that this was only a part of His great and universal handiwork. The meaning is, that God formed all things, and that this purpose of extending salvation to the world was a part of His great plan, all along, and was under His control. The reason for injecting this word about the creation would appear to be “to indicate the relation of the matter in hand to the mightiest works of God. This is no trifling matter; it connects with God’s grandest operations.”In fact, all through Paul’s writings there prevails the impression that the saved in Christ are a part of infinite plans, all creation, even previous intelligent creations (such as angels) being destined to share a common purpose with the redeemed when God shall sum up all things “in Christ.”

The reason for injecting this word about the creation would appear to be “to indicate the relation of the matter at hand⸺God’s plan of Salvation⸺to the mightiest works of God. This is no trifling matter; it is on par with God’s grandest works.” In fact, all through Paul’s writings there prevails the impression that the saved in Christ are a part of infinite plans, all creation, even previous intelligent creations (such as angels) being destined to share a common purpose with the redeemed when God shall put all things “under Christ.” I make no pretense of being able to explain such things.

 

“By Jesus Christ,” reveals that He is the One “Who created all things.” There is a striking resemblance between this verse and Colossians 1:15-16{3]. Some versions leave out this phrase; but it is not “very” material whether it is retained in this place or not, as the same truth is taught elsewhere (see John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2). If it is to be retained, the meaning is that the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, was the great and immediate agent in the creation of the universe.

 

10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,

 

“To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers{4] in heavenly places, makes reference to, not civil magistrates, much less evil angels, but the good angels, the angels in heaven. The meaning is that it was with this thought in mind, or that this was the purpose for which all things were made. One grand purpose for the creation of the universe was so that the wisdom of God might be clearly shown by the church. It was not enough to demonstrate it by the formation of the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, the seas, and the mountains. It was not enough to show it by the creation of intelligent beings, the formation of immortal minds on earth, and the various ranks of the angelic world. There were aspects of the divine nature which could be obtained only in connection with the redemption of the world. That's why the universe was created, and why man was made, not merely to illustrate the divine perfections in the work of creation, but in a still more illustrious manner, in the work of redemption. And that is the reason for the deep interest which the angelic hosts have always shown in the salvation of man.

 

 “Might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, not the perfection of the wisdom of God, nor Jesus Christ the wisdom of God, nor the Holy Scriptures; but the Gospel, which was produced by the wisdom of God. The Gospel is gloriously displayed in many ways, and some of them appear below.

The Gospel is present:

  • In its doctrines (such as election).
  • In basing it not upon their works, but His own grace, for the magnifying of His grace.
  • In redemption. This is seen in the person of the Redeemer, who is both God and man.
  • In the manner in which it is achieved, being both for the glory of God’s grace and mercy, and for the honor of His justice and holiness.
  • Anywhere Satan is humiliated and shocked, sin is condemned, and the sinner saved.
  • In justification, whereby sinful men become just with God. God is just and yet the justifier of him that believes; the ungodly is justified, and yet not justified in his ungodliness, but from it.
  • In the pardon of sin, in which iniquity is forgiven, and yet vengeance is taken on men's lies; it is an act of mercy, and yet of justice; it is by price paid, and yet of free grace; and similar things may be said of all other doctrines of the Gospel.

And the Gospel may be called “manifold,” because of its various doctrines and promises and because of the instances of wisdom in them, and the various persons to whom it is made known, and the various times in which it has been displayed. And now, the Gospel is more clearly known, or made known to the angels by the church of God, through the ministry of the word preached in it, with angels in attendance, for they desire to look more deeply into the mysteries of it; and by the displays of the wisdom and grace of God unto His church and people.

In the redemption of the church, there is not merely one form or one phase of wisdom. It is wisdom, ever-varying, ever-beautiful. There was wisdom manifested when the plan was formed; wisdom in the selection of the Redeemer; wisdom in the incarnation; wisdom in the atonement; wisdom in the means of renewing the heart, and sanctifying the soul; wisdom in the various dispensations by which the church is sanctified, guided, and brought to glory. The wisdom thus shown is like the ever-varying beauty of changing clouds, when the sun is reflected on them at evening. Each aspect is full of beauty. One bright cloud differs in appearance from others; yet all tend to fill the mind with elevated views of God.

 

11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:

 

“According to the eternal purpose” is only five words, but they have been interpreted in several ways:

  • “This was in accordance” (NASV)….”
  • “This was according to” (RSV)….”
  • “In conformity to that timeless purpose which He centered in Christ Jesus”

 

 God has not had to change His plans in reaction to unexpected opposition from men or angels. The church is an essential part of God’s eternal purpose. It is the “one body” in which God planned to save all believers⸺“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body” (Ephesians 5:23). God's Plan, which becomes visible in the church, is not some whim of God, but the result of God's eternal purpose (Ephesians 1:11). God brought this part of His plan to fruition through our Lord’s earthly ministry. Specifically, the Jews’ rejection of their Messiah resulted in the postponement (from the human viewpoint) of the messianic (Davidic) kingdom and the beginning of the church. The blessings of grace, which, for Christ’s sake, God bestows on those who believe, are the fruits of His eternal purpose, and are given not merely to save them, but to show to the universe the perfections of His character since they could not otherwise be made known. All that God does in the work of our redemption, by which He sets forth his manifold wisdom, He does according to what he had from eternity past determined that He would do, and then to do them just as they have been planned.

God's great saving power in all of history is focused in and through Jesus Christ and His church!!! The church was not substituted for the kingdom because the Jews rejected His initial proposals. The church was not a stop-gap measure until the kingdom could be introduced at the second-coming of the Lord. He has no new plans. He has had no plans revised because of man’s rejection of His Son.”  Here are some interesting observations concerning the “Church” and the “Kingdom of God”:

  • They share a common origin in date and place (Isaiah 2:2-3; Acts 2:1-47).
  • They share an identical boundary and territory (Daniel 2:44; Mark 16:15).
  • They share the same ownership (John 18:36; Matthew 16:18).
  • They share common rulership (1 Timothy 6:15; Ephesians 5:23).
  • They have the same requirements for entrance (John 3:5; Acts 2:38).
  • They share the same membership when it comes to citizenship in fellowship (Colossians 1:13-14).
  • They share the same memorial supper (Matthew 26:29; 1 Corinthians 11:20-27)
  • They anticipate the same time of deliverance (1 Corinthians15:24; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)”

 

“Which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord”not only according to the eternal Wisdom of the Father, but as intended in God’s decree that He would be the Head of the church, and through Him God would in time execute his eternal purpose.

Instead of “which he purposed,” it should be, “which He wrought,” or made, for the word is quite distinct from “purpose,” and is in itself ambiguous, capable of meaning either ordained or worked out. Either sense will suit the passage; but the latter is perhaps better, since the idea throughout the passage pertains to the completion and manifestation of the mystery of God’s purpose in the Lord Jesus Christ.

12 In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.

 

“In whom we have boldness and access.” “Inwhom”; or by whom, or through whom, or into whom (being engrafted and incorporated), “we have boldness and access” to the Savior, Jesus Christ. It is only because of Him that we, Gentiles, have this liberty of speech, whereby we may say anything by prayer and supplication; and it is only through Him that we have this introduction into the Divine presence by faith in Christ. It is only in His name we can pray to God, and it is only through Him that we can come to God. There is no one else that can give us an introduction to God but Christ Jesus, and it is only for His sake that God will either hear or save us. It is on the basis of such scriptures as these that we conclude all our prayers in the name, and for the sake, of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Like many other passages in the Pauline writings, this corresponds very closely to the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 4:16{5]). Christian boldness or freeness of speech is revealed as being at least partially the responsibility of the Christian himself to maintain it, encourage it in others, and to manifest it openly in all places and circumstances. It is the spiritual equivalent of the confidence displayed by a good athlete who “talks a good game” with his teammates, while displaying at all times a winning attitude; it isthe reverse of that fear which the consciousness of unpardoned sin produces both in our race and in our individual guilty conscience. This boldness, literally, freedom of address, is the state, gift, and enjoyment of the reconciled soul in addressing God. It signifies that liberty and spiritual security, by which we come to God as to a Father, in the freedom of children, not the fear of slaves (See Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6; 1 John 3:21). It is unrestrained liberty of speech, such as children use in addressing an indulgent father, when, without fear of offending, they disclose all their wants, and make known all their requests.

“Access” is Paul's word for the privilege of approaching God in prayer, of coming boldly to the throne of grace, of possessing the right to petition the Father through identity with the Lord Jesus Christ, and needing no go-between, mediator, priest or any other person who claims to be a dispenser of spiritual privilege, or even an aid in such things. Christians are priests of God in Christ Jesus who is the “One Mediator,” and no other mediators are needed; nor is the name of any saint, nor the use of any religious device or symbol, nor is the requirement of any human creed. No creed can circumvent or countermand this fundamental right of the redeemed in Christ, who without any qualification whatever have “access with boldness” to God “in Christ Jesus.” Is this through their own faith in Christ? NO, but by reason of the perfect faith and obedience of Christ, and in the meaningful sense, actually Christ, who is a part of His spiritual body.

There is yet another sense in which the word “access” is used; that is, to signify an access by way of “introduction.” One of the best illustrations of this is in the Bible; a little further on in our Genesis study we will be told that Joseph took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim by the hand and presented them to Jacob; so does Christ take His people and lead them into His Father’s presence. The believer has access to the throne of God; not only in prayer, but in all the close associations we have with God by faith in Christ. Peter wrote: “For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God….”  (1 Peter 3:18);that is, reconcile us to God, and procure for us access to Him with freedom and boldness (Romans 5:2 Ephesians 3:12). 

“With confidence by the faith of him” means either securely without fear, or with confidence of acceptance by God, and obtaining what we ask for, “by” or through, “the faith of him” that is, “faith in Him”—namely, Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22; Mark 11:22).

 That faith whose object is Jesus, is the means by which all who are Christ’s obtain “boldness,” for their belief in the Divine Mediator gives them courage; and “access,” for their realization of His glorified humanity warrants and enables them to approach the throne of grace. These blessings are possessed “in confidence,” for they feel that for Christ’s sake their persons and services will be accepted by the Father.

 

The sense of the phrase “by the faith of him” is that we may now come confidently and boldly to the throne of grace for mercy in the name of the Redeemer. Boldness is not rashness; and faith is not presumption; but we may come without hesitation, and with an assurance that our prayers will be heard.

We perceive that this entire verse is a picture of Oriental despotism. We are afraid to approach the royal presence, but the monarch’s son is our benefactor. Fear is therefore removed. By faith in that Son, we will have freedom to speak, an introduction, and confidence of receiving our request.

 

13 Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.

 

“Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you. The words translated here as, “Wherefore I desire,” have also been rendered, “I pray you.” This is an exhortation to the Ephesians, not a prayer to God, for that follows in Ephesians 3:14.

The apostle was a man that had to deal with many tribulations, and great afflictions, either from God or men, and he did not undergo them because he was a bad man. He was not ashamed because of them, but instead, he gloried in them and took pleasure in them, for they had a lot of the presence of God in them. They did not come to Him as a surprise, since he always expected them, and he always looked forward to the glory which followed them. This was his support while he was afflicted by them; and these tribulations were endured for the sake of the elect, for Christ's body's sake; the church, and among other things he endured for the Ephesians, for the sake of preaching the Gospel among them, and for proof of their faith in it. And yet they were a stumbling block to them. They were ready to faint at the thought of them; but he hoped they would not, since they were sent on account of the Gospel, which he had such a distinct knowledge of, and so clear a call to preach it. The apostle preached the truth, but the preaching of the Gospel, he says, was the cause of my sufferings, and your salvation. And since tribulations were sent for their sakes, and since he and they had such nearness of access to God by the faith of Christ, with so much boldness and confidence; and seeing also that they turned to their account: which is your glory; meaning either that it was a matter of glorying to them, and what they might boast of, that the apostle's afflictions were not for any crime that he had done, but for preaching the Gospel to them, and that it was an honor to suffer in such a cause; or that their perseverance and consistency in the doctrines of the Gospel, notwithstanding the scandal of the cross, would be an honor to them.

 

“Which is your glory,” refers to “tribulations,” and that means they are “your glory.” The thought is not that it would be a disgrace for them to have a founder who fainted or fell away from Christ when faced with tribulations, and that his not fainting is their glory, but that the reason they should not faint is the nature of his tribulations, as the Apostle to the Gentiles. They were for his readers, were tokens of the love of God in sending His ministers to suffer tribulation so that the Gospel might be universal and the Gentiles share in its blessings. It was the sympathy of Christ, in whom the Apostle’s “boldness and access” was possessed “in confidence,” that gave to him such sympathy for them. He was concerned for them rather than for himself. It will be seen how well this view agrees when the thought is resumed in Ephesians 3:14, and the subsequent prayer.

 

 

 

Scripture and Special Notes

 

[1} “Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the Gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:12).

[2} “Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the Gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:10-12).

[3} “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him” (Colossians 1:15-16).

[4} principalities and powers⸺the angelic hosts; the intelligent beings that surround the throne of God.

[5}  “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

 

 

 

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