Ephesians:3:1-13,  “More About God’s Work In Calling Together All Into One Body

By

Jim Bomkamp

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1.     INTRO:

 

1.1.               In our last study, we looked at verses 11-22 of chapter 2, and we observed in this study the incredible way in which now Paul began to detail for us that God through Jesus Christ has worked in bringing down the barriers that exist between people groups.

 

1.1.1.  We saw the incredible miracle God performed in the early church in making all people regardless of race,  nationality, or prior religious background to become one “in Christ.”

 

1.2.               In our study today, we are going to look at the first 13 verses of chapter 3.

 

1.2.1.  Our study today is really a continuation of the previous study.  In the original manuscripts for the writings of the scriptures there was not included chapter or verse divisions.  Those were included when the Bible began to be printed.  Generally these breakdowns of the scripture are helpful and chapter headings begin new subject matter.  In the case of this study however these first 13 verses of chapter 3 really belong with the subject matter of our previous study which began at verse 11 of chapter 2.

 

1.2.2.  In our previous study, Paul detailed for us the incredible miracle wrought by the Lord when He brought Jews and Gentiles into the body of Christ and all were worshipping and serving the Lord alongside of each other with one mind and purpose.  We discussed the fact in our previous study that our world is a world filled with divisions.  People are divided along the lines of nationality, race, gender, and religion.  Jews despised Gentiles and considered them to be unclean like a leper and Gentiles despised Jews.  However, in an incredible miracle God had brought both together as one in the church.

 

1.2.3.  In this study, we will observe Paul provide more background for our understanding of the things that the Lord is doing in the church and the world in bringing about this unity between all different people groups.  Paul will also discuss his own calling and ministry in bringing about this tearing down of the barriers that exist between Jew and Gentile.

 

2.     VS 3:1  -  1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—   -  Paul tells the Ephesians that he is the prisoner of Christ Jesus and this is for the sake of the Gentiles

 

2.1.               At first glance, this verse appears to be out of context of Paul’s writing and some have criticized Paul for getting off on so many tangents in his writings.  However, those who say such things haven’t grasped the reason why Paul has written many of the things that he has written.  In reality this verse is very pertinent to Paul’s topic that he began in the last chapter when he began discussing the incredible miraculous work that God began in bringing Jew and Gentile into one body and making all to be one in Christ.  Paul was very logical in his writings, being highly educated and trained in the arts, and he had a good reason for writing everything that he wrote.

 

2.2.               Paul was aware that there were many who were grieved and troubled and some even had their faith shaken because of the incredible hardships that he had and was experiencing as a result of his ministry as an apostle and missionary.  At the present time, Paul was in prison in Rome and had been in prison now for about five years, with his imprisonment first being in Caesarea.  Many in the church must have wondered how that a great and effective man of God could suffer so many persecutions and hardships, especially in light of the fact that Paul preached often of how the Lord takes care of and protects His people who are the very apple of his eye.  It has been a major topic of discussion throughout history, “Why do good people suffer?”  Why does God allow good people to go through some of the horrible things they experience in this life?  Paul in this verse as well as verse 13 attempts to explain why these persecutions were occurring in his life and why no one needed to worry about or be distracted because of him.

 

2.3.               Perspective is such an important thing in our life as Christians.  When we keep our eyes focused upon our God and all of His many promises to us then we can survive any tragedy or difficulty with our faith in tact.  Keeping proper perspective we can be overwhelming conquerors in all of the things that we go through in this life through Christ.  The incredible testimonies of all of the Christian martyrs that we read about in books like “Foxes Book Of Martyrs” reveal to us also the fact that God can give us the grace to endure whatever we experience with joy and victorious faith.  The apostle Paul in all of his letters, many of which were penned either when he was in prison for preaching the gospel or healing up from his persecutions, never complains or pities himself.  He doesn’t act stoically about the persecutions that he was experiencing in his life either.  Paul always writes with pen strokes of praise to God and from the perspective of one who has a great and mighty God watching over his life and keeping him until the day of Christ Jesus.

 

2.3.1.  We Christians need to keep in mind that people around us, including those who live within our own houses and those whom we work and associate with, are watching our lives because they know that we claim to be Christians.  We need to realize as a result of this how important it is that we keep a proper perspective upon things in our life.  How we handle things will dictate how effective our testimony to others will be.

 

2.3.2.  The way that Paul always kept his perspective ought to be an encouragement to all who would lead God’s people to follow his example.  When a leader of God’s people keeps his focus on the Lord it is much easier for others to do the same. 

 

2.4.               In this verse and in verse 13 Paul attempts to communicate to the Ephesians a few things about himself and the hardships he endured in order to keep them from worrying unnecessarily about him as well as to allay them of doubting the promises of God and God’s ability to keep and protect His people:

 

2.4.1.  Paul was the prisoner of Jesus Christ.

 

2.4.1.1.      Paul does not call himself the prisoner of the Jews, the Romans, Caesar, or anyone else.  He is the prisoner of Jesus Christ.  Paul’s perspective included the fact that God was always leading in his life and that everything in his life had a meaning.  He might not understand the meaning, however he knew that God was always placing him exactly where he was supposed to be

 

2.4.1.1.1.           How much needless agony was as God’s people experience when we lose our perspective and put our focus upon our many problems rather than the greatness of and care of our God for our lives.

 

2.4.2.  Paul knew that he was suffering for Christ’s sake, not for himself or because of any wrong that he had done.

 

2.4.2.1.      Paul believed that suffering just happened to be what he was called to experience and he joyfully accepted it for his life.  He followed from the heart James’ admonition in Ja. 1:2-3, “2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

 

2.4.2.2.      Paul’s situation reminds me of several years ago when we had a wonderful friend, a woman in her early 40s who was a new Christian, newly married, and with the combination of her older grown kids and her husbands kids from a previous marriage, had two young kids ages about 5 and 7.  She came down with lung cancer and was given a short time to live.  After a round of chemotherapy and lots of prayer on her behalf the cancer went away and she was in remission.  However, two years later the cancer returned and she was again given a short time to live.  This woman however accepted her circumstances as coming from the Lord.  She didn’t let her circumstances with cancer get her down and she determined that she would serve God with cancer.  Even though she couldn’t sing she would worship God from her heart and lift her hands.  Even though she had to be constantly hooked to an oxygen tube in her nose she tried to live her life as normally as possible.  Even though she had very little energy she spent several hours every day calling her former clients telling them the news that she was dying with cancer but that she knew that she was going to heaven because she had accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.  What an incredible testimony she was to untold numbers of people simply because she accepted her circumstances and determined to not allow them to keep her from serving the Lord.  How much we all learned from her faith and example. 

 

2.4.3.  Paul’s sufferings were working for the glory of the Gentile believers.

 

2.4.3.1.      Paul knew that many good things were occurring in the church because of his imprisonment.  He writes in one place that because of his imprisonment that many who wouldn’t have done so before were preaching the gospel, some from wrong motives, but the word of God was getting out even more because Paul was locked up.

 

2.4.3.2.      Looking at things from our perspective today, we can see that if Paul hadn’t been imprisoned for as long as he was then he wouldn’t have written his many wonderful and edifying prison epistles and we wouldn’t be able to grow from reading these letters.

 

2.4.4.  Paul was suffering for the sake of the Gentiles and indeed he was ready to die in order that they might come to know Christ.

 

2.4.4.1.      Paul’s imprisonment and sufferings were for the sake of the Gentiles and if you look at the events that led to Paul’s imprisonment in the book of Acts you will see that Paul was continually persecuted by the Jews primarily because of his desire to reach out to the Gentiles.  As Paul was in Jerusalem he was arrested because some Jews who had seen Paul with a Gentile named Trophimus assumed that Paul had brought Trophimus into the temple, which he did not.  Paul’s arrest was the direct result of the very message he has been writing about in this chapter, because he preached and believed that Gentiles and Jews were fellow heirs and members of the body of Christ and that no distinction between Jew and Gentile should be made.

 

2.4.4.1.1.           Acts 21:26-40 tells us the story of how Paul was arrested for reaching out to the Gentiles with the gospel, “26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them. 27 When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was provoked, and the people rushed together, and taking hold of Paul they dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. 31 While they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 At once he took along some soldiers and centurions and ran down to them; and when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the commander came up and took hold of him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; and he began asking who he was and what he had done. 34 But among the crowd some were shouting one thing and some another, and when he could not find out the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 When he got to the stairs, he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob; 36 for the multitude of the people kept following them, shouting, “Away with him!” 37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 “Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 But Paul said, “I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.” 40 When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, saying,  1 “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you.” 2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said, 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today. 4 “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, 5 as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished. 6 “But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, 7 and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ 8 “And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 “And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. 10 “And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ 11 “But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus. 12 “A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. 14 “And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. 15 ‘For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 ‘Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’ 17 “It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, 18 and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ 19 “And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. 20 ‘And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’ 21 “And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” 22 They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” 23 And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.”  Notice here that when Paul addressed the crowd that it was when he announced that God had sent him to preach to the Gentiles that the crowd went crazy and began to cry out for him to be killed.  It was for Paul’s calling and desire to reach the Gentiles with the gospel that Paul had been arrested and for which he suffered most of his persecutions.

 

3.     VS 3:2-8  - 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. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, -  Paul tells the Ephesians about his calling to make known the mystery of the Gentiles being fellow heirs and members of the body of Christ

 

3.1.               Examining the Greek in verse 2, this phrase ‘if indeed you have heard’ should really be translated “because you have heard.’  All of those in the Ephesian church had heard about Paul’s ministry for Paul had pastored this church for a couple of years during his third missionary journey recorded in the book of Acts.

 

3.2.               In the first nine verses of chapter 3 this word ‘mystery’ is found four times.  We have mentioned a few times in our study of Ephesians the fact that Paul felt that his calling was to unravel for God’s people many “mysteries” that previously were not understood but which were revealed to him in the New Testament era so that he might enlighten God’s people to all that the Lord has accomplished through sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to be our redeemer.   The “mysteries” which Paul always refers to are not knowledge which he cannot or does not reveal but rather things that he was called as an apostle to reveal to the church.  They are things that can be understood clearly by all who approach Paul’s writings with an open, prayerful, and reverent heart towards the Lord.

 

3.3.               The ‘mystery’ that Paul refers to in the verses we are studying today is the ‘mystery’ of God calling the Gentiles to be equal and joint heirs with the Jews through Christ, and thus all might be of one mind and purpose together in the church.  Paul says that the Gentiles are ‘fellow heirs’, ‘fellow members’, and ‘fellow partakers’ with the Jews “in Christ.”  There is no superiority of Jew over Gentile or Gentile over Jew, all have equal status and importance in the church and in God’s plans for this age which leads up to His Millennial Kingdom that He in the future is going to establish.

 

3.4.               Paul describes the nature of his ministry and calling:

 

3.4.1.  Paul considered himself the ‘least of all saints.’

 

3.4.1.1.      Paul was a humble man and therefore God could use him.

 

3.4.1.2.      Paul doesn’t say that he is the least of all apostles, he says he is the least of all saints.

 

3.4.1.3.      Paul knew that he was totally unworthy of God’s calling to minister to anyone, let alone to even be considered a Christian.  Paul never lost sight of what God had saved him from, and thus he always considered himself the “chiefest of sinners” because of how before coming to Christ he had persecuted the church. 

 

3.4.2.  Paul saw the ministry that he was entrusted to as a ‘stewardship”.

 

3.4.2.1.      Paul never lost track of the fact that he was called just to be a servant.  This is an essential key to effective ministry for God.

 

3.4.2.2.      Paul always sought to be a good steward of the things of God he was called to preach about.

 

3.4.3.  Paul’s ministry came about because of ‘God’s grace.’ 

 

3.4.3.1.      Paul was a steward in his ministry and the ministry was one of the grace of God.

 

3.4.4.  Paul saw his ministry as an administration of the ‘grace of God.’

 

3.4.5.  It is obvious that Paul knew that he was “called by God” in the ministry.

 

3.4.5.1.      It is important for those who are in the ministry to know that they are called.  The ministry is a very difficult field to be in and if you don’t know that you are called you are going to struggle and fail.  Jon MacArthur says that any person who is in the ministry yet unsure of his calling is “a usurper” who will cause much harm to God’s people.

 

3.4.6.  He preached to the Gentiles ‘the unfathomable riches of Christ.’

 

3.4.6.1.      This word translated ‘unfathomable’ suggests “infinite depth” and the fact that though one may study all of the riches believers inherit in Christ that he would never really get to the bottom of it.  There was always more and it was always beyond completely being able to be described.

 

3.4.6.2.      Paul believed that the grace of God was infinite in its ability to meet us in any and every need that we might ever have.

 

3.4.6.3.      This is the job of all who preach and teach God’s word.  It is the ‘riches of Christ’ or all of those blessings and provisions that Christians possess simply because they are “in Christ” that God’s people need to have taught to them.

 

3.4.6.4.      As I have mentioned before, we Christians need to know what Christ has done for us before we should be asked to do anything for Him.  This is why we need to be taught these ‘unfathomable riches of Christ.’

 

4.     VS 3:9-11  - 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, -  Paul speaks of his calling as an administration of the mystery which he is making known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

 

4.1.               Paul speaks more fully here about the ministry that he had been called to of reaching out to Jew and Gentile alike with the gospel.  He says here that his ministry is ‘to bring to light’ what is ‘the administration of the mystery,’ and that ‘mystery’ has been ‘hidden in God.’  Again, the ‘mystery’ that Paul speaks about in this chapter is the ministry of God bringing down all of the barriers that separate people and calling Jew and Gentile alike to be fellow heirs of Christ and serve and worship alongside each other in the church.

 

4.2.               Paul makes a very intriguing comment here when he says that his ministry in reaching out to the Gentiles with the gospel was ‘so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made know through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.’  Paul is again stepping back and describing some of God’s overriding purposes for the things He is doing in the lives of His people through Jesus Christ.  We as people tend to be ego-centric and see salvation and God’s working only from our own personal experience and perspective, however Paul is saying that God is teaching the angels many different types of object lessons about His grace and mercy through how He has provided salvation for mankind in sending Jesus Christ, the Son of God from all eternity, to earth to die upon the cross and pay the sin penalty for every person who ever has or will live.  1 Peter 1:12 tells us that the holy angels long to look into and know about the things God in His grace is doing in the lives of men and women, “12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.”

 

4.3.               Notice that Paul refers to what Jesus accomplished on Calvary as he speaks of these things being according to ‘the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

 

5.     VS 3:12  - 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. -  Paul writes that we Christians have boldness and confident access to God through faith in Christ.

 

5.1.               Paul encourages the Ephesians here as he speaks of the fact that in Jesus Christ we have ‘boldness and confident access through faith in Him.”  Again, we mentioned in our last study the fact that salvation through Jesus Christ for a person who had been separated from God because of his sin brings him ‘access’ to God the Father.  The believer in Christ is ‘brought near’ to God through Christ, he now has ‘access’ 24/7.

 

5.2.               We Christians need to accept the fact by faith that we can boldly come before God’s throne of grace whenever we need mercy and that the Lord will meet us and give to us what we need.  Also, we need to realize that we can be confident that we can always have ‘access’ to God through Jesus Christ.  God knows us and will never turn us away if we will humble our hearts before Him and trust in His promises.

 

6.     VS 3:13  - 13 Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.” -  Paul asks the Ephesians not to lose heart because of his tribulations on their behalf because those tribulations were occurring for their glory.

 

6.1.               We talked about this verse when we discussed verse 1.  The fact was brought out that many in the early church grieved and had their faith shaken to some degree because of the things that the apostle Paul suffered in his life and ministry. 

 

6.2.               Paul asks the Ephesians here to not ‘lose heart’ at his ‘tribulations.’  Then, he tells the Ephesians that his ‘tribulations’ have occurred ‘on your behalf.’  Again, Paul’s ‘tribulations’ had occurred because of his reaching out to the Gentiles and treating them not like pariah but like joint and fellow heirs of God along with the Jews.

 

6.3.               We as Christians have tremendous blessings in our lives but Jesus also promised that in this world we will suffer tribulations.  Paul accepted his tribulations as being from God.

 

6.4.               Finally, Paul tells the Ephesians that these trials and tribulations that he had been experiencing because of his calling and ministry were for ‘your glory.’  Because Paul was willing to suffer as he was the Gentiles had heard the gospel, churches had been planted all across the known world, and God had begun an incredible work in reach the lost with the gospel.

 

7.     CONCLUSIONS:

 

7.1.               As we consider this study and how we ought to apply it to our lives, let me ask you if you have been keeping your focus and perspective where it should be?  Have you been keeping your eyes upon the Lord and looking to His promises and many resources that His word tells us that He has? 

 

7.2.               Lately, how do you view the tribulations that you have had to go through?  Are you following Paul’s example and keeping a tongue full of praise to God and realizing that you are right where the Lord has placed you all of the time?  Do you recognize that the Lord is in fact directing every step of your life and that you are right where God wants you to be right now? 

 

7.3.               Do you accept your sufferings as being the sufferings of Christ?  If you have to suffer, are you suffering for Him?

 

7.4.               How wonderful it is to have a leader like Paul who can encourage us to do the right things in the midst of very difficult and trying circumstances.  Suffering for Jesus’ sake always precedes being used greatly by God.

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